The season ticket and matchday prices for the 2012/13 campaign at the County Ground were unveiled on Saturday.
In what is seemingly becoming earlier and earlier every year, the pricing strategy was released with sixteen matches in League Two remaining and at least a strong possibility we’ll be paying to watch League One football come August.
Unless you’ve been lucky and secured a big lottery win in recent years, everyone has been feeling the pinch in their finances. With the cost of living rising there will be many season ticket holders disappointed at the prospect of paying 26% more to renew their seat in the Arkells or Don Rogers stands and 28.4% extra for the Town End.
The renewal price in the Town End now stands at the highest it has ever been, eclipsing the £279 in 2007/08. However, the renewal price of £350 for the Arkells and Don Rogers hasn’t yet reached the £360 paid to endure the dying days of Andy King and relegation under Iffy Onoura in the 2004/05 and 2005/06 seasons.
In the supporting message by Jeremy Wray and Nick Watkins the rationale given to explain the hike is threefold; current subscriptions are one of the lowest in the Football League; the board need to recoup significant investments made in managerial and player appointments and; providing the club with a stronger footing to retain highly prized assets.
Following their takeover back in January 2008, the Andrew Fitton led consortium realised the widespread antipathy that had existed between the previous regime and many supporters. Attendances had been declining and the unprofessional attitudes at the County Ground ran deep, so much so that the club couldn’t guarantee payment from their supposedly key shirt sponsor. Therefore it was no surprise one of their first moves was to slash the renewal season ticket prices by around 21% in the side stands and 4% in the Town End in an attempt to bring back the lost support; which culminated in our tickets for 2011/12 being the seventh cheapest in professional English football.
Four years on and while we find ourselves in League Two and not the Championship (as planned), attendances have steadily improved and our pride being restored after the debacle of a year ago. The greatest measure of the upward change being the increase from an average home gate of 7,419 when we last played at this level, to the 7,910 so far this season and rising.
With punters enjoying a real season to remember, witnessing some of our finest football in years orchestrated by the ever flamboyant Di Canio, it seems the price we’ll have to pay for success and the board’s objective being fulfilled, is the sacrifice of the heavily reduced tickets.
I can fully understand their rationale. How can anyone be surprised that we have finally found ourselves staring at the 26 and 28.4 percent increases; it was always a question of when would be the right time. The hike takes the cost of watching Town at the County Ground – for early bird renewals and new season tickets – only back to the 2002/03 levels for the Arkells and Don Rogers stands. In a time when the cost of all other subscriptions have risen sharply the Club must still be credited with keeping the prices no greater than we were asked to renew for ten years ago; and that’s not even taking into account inflation.
Importantly, you only need to look at the cost of following League One clubs – yes that IS where we’ll be playing next year – to see that paying £350 for a season ticket in the side stands remains one of the best deals out there. Early renewals at Exeter will see you typically pay £411 for the side stands and £292 for the Big Bank terrace. At MK Dons a typical price for the side stands is £336 and £300 for the Cowshed. At Huddersfield, a renewal for the side stand is £339 and £289 behind the goal. Sheffield Wednesday will be charging between £405-450 for the side stands and £315 for the Kop. Meanwhile Charlton fans will be paying between £350 – £375 for the side stands, but a more than reasonable £240 behind the goal.
Let’s not forget, what amounts to £15.22 per game to watch a probably stronger Di Canio inspired XI at a higher standard opposition should equally justify the increase.
While the prices look relatively rosy in the side stands, the same cannot be said for the Town End. It is a stand oozing atmosphere, however the sightlines are woeful, yet the renewal price is only £30 less than the Arkells and Don Rogers. Supporters wishing to purchase in the Town End have been the hardest hit by numerous price rises over the years, from paying £195 to watch in 1994/95 to the current £350. The gap has closed from £93 between 2004-2006 to the £30 for next season.
This pricing strategy does contrast with the remainder of League One, who all recognise the value of attracting strong support behind the goal, providing an ‘affordable’ option for their supporters. None of the four clubs mentioned have their prices above £300 behind the goal and Charlton offer a fantastic £240 deal, which will probably represent superb value to watch Championship football. I urge the club to rethink the pricing for the Town End, whose supporters are being unfairly penalised with the increase from £229 to £320.
Another aspect of the review of the tickets strategy is positive. The withdrawal of Club Red, an irrelevant add on that should have come as an automatic for all season ticket holders, to be binned after two seasons. The downside…the club will no longer be offering any discounts as standard in the club shop, which is a real shame that our loyalty is not rewarded, particularly with the hefty price of the Adidas merchandise.
There is at least another punch in the teeth for supporters, who will be expected to shell out significant sums for their phase 1 season tickets in a month when the high Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final tickets and admin fees are paid; although the season ticket installment option – with a £35 admin fee – can be used to spread payments.
In the end, we are all facing the harsh reality of a successful team meaning this is now the first time the board could seriously consider restoring our season ticket prices in parity with the rest of league. So long as the quality of the football reflects the price paid I doubt we will have grounds for complaint in twelve months time…
By the way if you have the season ticket and matchday prices between 1998 and 2003 and prior to 1994 then get in touch