Empty Red Seats: So how are Swindon Town going to fill them?

Attendances at the County Ground have declined somewhat and there remain plenty of empty red seats. The club have finally taken some action so Ron Smith gives a manifesto for increasing the gate… 

An attendance of 9,291 watched Swindon Town beat Coventry City 2-1 on 21st December 2013, yet two thousand fewer supporters watched the same fixture a few weeks ago as only 7,299 were at the County Ground. The trend has been downward so far this campaign in all five League One games as hosts. 889 fewer supporters watched the Crewe fixture than last season, which was also played in August and so it’s easy to draw comparisons between the two. Taking the five League One home games, the average attendance has reduced in a season from 8,312 to 6,951; Town’s lowest now for nine seasons.

So right now we’re all rightly bemoaning attendances at the County Ground being circa 1,000 down from last season, but finally the club have woken up and taken much-needed some action. Their decision to allow supporters the opportunity to purchase a ‘match card’ of multiple tickets for six or eight games at discounted matchday prices rates is certainly something to shout about and will hopefully put a few extra hundred on the gate. However the real and perennial issue of underachievement in bringing enough supporters through the turnstiles has never been fully addressed.

To be honest, even if attendances were back up to the average level of the previous five seasons of between 7,800-8,500 we still shouldn’t be content. The ground holds just under double that amount and with a population within the Borough of 209,000, plus a significant Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire hinterland there’s always untapped potential, yet the majority rarely attend. Am I the only one who looked around the County Ground during the highs of Di Canio wondering why the place even then wasn’t full, in particular when we received the League Two trophy..?

There are clearly other structural forces at play that have restricted attendances. These have been here for decades and something radical needs to be done in and outside of the club to boost numbers through the gate…

1. Price shouldn’t be the sole focus

So far this season only the Sheffield Utd game was above £25 level of matchday prices last season, yet attendances have been down on all games in League and Cup. So we can deduce that matchday price isn’t the primary driver towards attendances and the club must not focus only on the cost of tickets when implementing any strategy to boost supporters through the gate.

The perception remains that attendance is directly linked to price and it’s safe to say there is a link, however this correlation is more apparent in season ticket sales. In the past 12 seasons, three of the four highest average attendances have come in a significant part to some of the lowest season ticket renewal prices. However, there is no such link in terms of matchday pricing, whereby the highest average attendances have arisen from the highest ticket prices. What this demonstrates is matchday pricing is greater influenced by performances on the pitch, the level of away support and, a few years ago, an Italian managing the team.

The extent to which offering reduced matchday prices will have the desired effect is therefore somewhat limited to performances on the pitch, so thankfully Mark Cooper’s strong league position and brand of football will be the other desired factor needed to increase the matchday gate.

2. Engage the masses to give it a go, only once or twice a season, and don’t demonise those who don’t attend games regularly…

I bought a season ticket, so that’s some money in the club’s coffers. They then don’t necessarily mind that I didn’t go to the Scunthorpe United game, but would rather I attend a few so there aren’t quite so many red seats on display. Work commitments meant I missed the visit of Brighton and there will undoubtedly be a few more games I’ll miss this season. Without the ties of a season ticket I can only imagine the weekly decision and balance of whether to watch Town – home or away. Your reasons / excuses are all valid, who am I to question..?

With a population of around 300,000 live within 20 miles of Swindon there should be enough people around that many deciding not to attend will be balanced by others considering, or following through on their intentions to watch Town. If a reasonable percentage of these 300,000 attended once or twice per season then that’s an excellent start. You don’t need to come every week and us all, myself included sometimes, shouldn’t demonise those supporters who cannot attend every week, as failing in some sort of patriotic duty.

3. A massive 87% of Town fans want safe standing, so properly join the campaign and do something about it?

If atmosphere and matchday experience is what the club should focus on, then why not listen to supporters? Given 27% of those surveyed stated the introduction of safe standing at the County Ground would directly lead to their greater attendance of games, then that’s an untapped potential.

The headline statistic highlights the appetite for safe standing. Yes I realise the club can only act with a change in the Law, however only the clubs can really push this through with the FA and Football League. Steps have been taken earlier this year with the League announcing a formal review, however we’ve had little news since on the club’s stance in the vote earlier this year to confirm whether they’re taking this matter seriously, or whether they would now consider trials if they were able to conduct them.

4. Promote games properly…

Not everyone uses social media or email, however these channels are becoming the sole focus of the club for launching promotions. I’m sure, if the club asked for help, they’d find some supporters to organise with flyers to hand them out in the town centre, outside supermarkets, schools, businesses, leisure centres etc to promote games, ticket deals etc. Directly market to the town and don’t hide within a virtual reality and hope everyone turns up!

5. £30 for Junior Reds…

Okay so £30 gets you…

  • £30 per season membership
  • FREE use of the J-Town Room on matchdays
  • Play FIFA14 in the J-Town Room
  • Personalised membership card
  • Exclusive Christmas gift!
  • 5% discount on STFC mascot packages
  • Junior Red e-birthday card
  • FREE meet the players events
  • Chance to be mascot and sit in the dugout for warm-up
  • FREE entry to all home league fixtures for U10s

So what’s missing from the above..?

Driving Engagement – The matchday programme content for JRs isn’t too bad, so why not send out a monthly or quarterly magazine in the post using the template of the programme section for the JRs? This will help keep kids informed throughout the season, including stories about their favourite players, assist their reading, be fun, engage with them directly etc. Surely this can’t be too difficult for the club as a means to help them reach out to the JRs, who then might ask their parents if they can go to the next game..?

Designated family stand – There’s no family area within the ground. It’s been tried a few places, including the Town End and lower in the Arkells Stand, without success. With the JR room located in the Don Rogers stand the family area this seems the most appropriate location for the family area.

6. Reach out to the community…

As above, there’s a whole town and many who would welcome to join in and help if asked. It seems the football club forgets the ‘club’ part as it operates as a somewhat distant business, viewing supporters as customers rather than part of the ‘club’. We’re all proud Town fans and I’m sure many, myself included, would jump at the opportunity to help and assist in any way we can, so reach out to the community as we can help increase the support. Don’t be afraid to ask, particularly the Supporters’ Trust and Supporters Club who can mobilise and organise plenty of supporters to promote the club.

7. Give us reasonable travel options…

£10 to park at the ground is a joke. I appreciate there are not many spaces and we all should ‘travel sustainably’ so why not give us some reasonable travel options..?

Apparently Swindon Town ticket holders can get a small discount on First Great Western rail services. I only found this out a few weeks ago and wonder why it’s not promoted in any form, such as on the club’s website, ticket office or season ticket brochure? Something that needs promoting…

Turning to the town itself, Swindon is a sprawling medium density town. To walk from the far outskirts of the town to the County Ground takes around 1 hour 30 minutes for the 4.5 mile distance. A bus journey will be circa 37 minutes for that distance, plus the walking time at either end. Then if you’re travelling by bus there’s the issue of a lack of stops near the County Ground and the bus timetable having never heard of an approx.4.55pm finish to the game. You’re left with having to leave early to walk 5 minutes to queue on Queens Drive or County Ground, or wait to enjoy the finish and miss your bus. The club should liaise with the bus companies to provide more appropriate bus timetables and dropping off facilities in close proximity to the ground on matchdays, which just might sway a few more supporters in, or at least make it a simpler journey to the ground for many. Hey, why not just go the whole way and offer a subsidised bus service, even from out of the town, on matchdays..?

8. Booze…

I watch cricket and rugby with a pint in my right hand, so why not football? Yes football supporters have a historic bad reputation, similar to the bans of standing that seek to differentiate the game from every other major spectator sport in this country. I certainly know that being able to watch Town in comfort and a pint (in designated areas of the ground) would add to supporter enjoyment of a significant number. Like safe standing this isn’t a Swindon specific issue, however clubs themselves are the bodies who first need to wake up and start promoting such initiatives to the authorities otherwise the situation will never change.

9. Loud and Proud…

Campaigns like the ‘Ultras Swindon’ and ‘Red Army Loud & Proud’ between 2004-2008 certainly brought a bit of colour, fun and life back to enjoying watching Town from the ‘terraces’. Atmosphere has frequently been a complaint I’ve heard of why some supporters do not attend games, so what can the club do to help fund and assist supporters who want to inject a little more life back into the ground. In the end this opportunity is down to us, supporters, to work together, promote and make the noise…

As ever your comments are welcome…

14 comments

  • Great and much needed article. Whenever I have taken friends along to the CG they have always come away saying the same thing ‘I can’t believe your fans chant against and abuse eachother’. If we want to improve atmosphere, surely this should stop: focus on the football and opposition while supporting our team together

    Like

  • Swindon lost the plot in the close season. The court case – this came as a surprise to many supporters and they feared the worst and so did not purchase season tickets.

    Also the style of play last season may have been attractive to the purist but to the average fan there was very little real action in the opposition goal areas. Hence fans found tippy tappy footy boring.

    Thankfully this season, with the departure of Pritchard replaced by Brad Smith (not the finished product but providing us with pace alongside the improvement in Byrne), our forward advances have increased significantly. However 2 mins of highlights on TV does not get the message through to Jo Public that things are now more exciting at the County ground. The only way that that can happen is via regular supporters gossiping to their mates. I got 2 supporters who had not been this season to the Sheff Utd game by promising them an exciting footy afternoon. What a relief that I was right!!

    What is the point of the Gold Silver and Bronze games. There has been one bronze game – did any fringe supporters notice and think that “It is £2 cheaper” and I will go? Also is that the sort of price differential that makes a real difference to numbers? It is vital that where there are two or three games in a week that there are deals to encourage people to come – many cannot really afford two games in 5 days.

    After such a long gap in games it will be interesting to see how many turn up for Rochdale on a Tuesday night. Losing the Preston game will badly affect the coffers as the midweek crowd for the re-arranged game will be a lot less for one of our key fixtures. Now with the realisation that the Bristol City game is likely to have to be postponed due to yet more internationals, a fixture that might have attracted a near full house, is likely to be lot less. If we are unable to postpone due to say only 2 being selected for national teams, then we could be at a major disadvantage against City and so not attract the Swindon fans.

    In the end, the only real factor that will bring back the crowds is success both in the league and the need for a good FA Cup run.

    Like

  • They should look at the local schools, in turn give a few hundred Free, yes FREE ticket seats to each child and say 15 pound a parent, also one parent can take up to 3 kids say under 15.
    Once the kid’s are in the ground they will want pop, food, chocolate, programes club shop items and more.
    It’s a win-win with empty seats in the ground each home game

    Like

  • How about banning short corners? That would get the fans back.

    Like

  • Warwickshire Red

    I am the wrong person to ask as I am a ST holder and have been for some years now – the real people to ask are those who do not turn up. However I still think that our gates are pretty ‘good’ given the size of the Town, and this is backed up by working out the average attendance as a percentage of the population (ok I had 30 mins to spare). We are mid table with 3.75% which is comparable to MK Dons but better than Brizzol. So it could certainly be better but equally it could be worse.

    I do not think there is 1 silver bullet to get bums on seats and the 6 & 8 Match ticket is to be applauded but I have my doubts that it is far from the overall solution. Thoughts I have had to get supporters back include:

    – Better supporters club infrastructure in other regions of the UK and neighbouring towns to reduce transportation costs and help extend the promotion of the club outside of the town.
    – Stop ripping off the fans at the ground with shocking food quality and prices. I wish people would stop buying this tripe to drive prices down.
    – Stop ripping off the fans in the club shop with over priced replica kits. Yes it is very nice to have an Adidas kit but I would prefer a £30 top of lower perceived quality of brand. Improve the range and quality of products sold too and get rid of the plastic tat.
    – Urgent improvement of basic facilities within the stands, we know the DR Stand has another concourse level waiting to be used – how about a seated area for a drink and bite to eat?
    – Improvement of away fans facilities would help generate more numbers and putting a simple roof on the Bank. Housing the away fans a roofed Bank would also help generate a much better atmosphere in the ground which would be reciprocated by Town fans making the matchday a better experience.
    – Season Ticket Prices are too high and I would like to see improved flexibility on packages so that it is easier to mix and match adults / children combination and also the student discount is laughable.
    – Improved fan / Club interaction at games. Would it kill Cooper / Lee Power to come out to applaud the fans after a game?
    – Stop talking about stadium redevelopment and get on with it. Aside from the fascicle situation at the Ricoh Arena, the vast majority of clubs who have done this have increased their fan base significantly.

    Like

  • I live in Chippenham and myself, wife and two son’s are season ticket holders but the travelling and dining on a matchday still make it a costly day out, but as we are neither big drinkers or smokers, watching the Town is our addiction that we will continue to fund as long as we are able to.

    I remember many years ago when I was a lad there used to be a subsided coach that used to pick up from Calne on a matchday to ferry people to the game and if memory serves there always seemed to be quite a crowd waiting for it.

    I totally agree about the lack of promoting the club both within the town and the surrounding area’s.
    Both my sons’ schools have STFCFiTC coaches run weekly sessions, one a primary in Chippenham, the other a specialist secondary near Devizes. So far neither have brought home any material promoting Town matches, offers, JR Reds or anything to get bums on County Ground seats at all. To me this seems like a huge opportunity missed as the number of schools that have coaching from the FiTC must be quite vast.

    As for the JR Reds scheme itself, it’s obviously a no brainer for under 10’s, getting a season ticket for £30 on top of the extras. However although one of my boys is only 8 it works out a cheaper option to add him to the family pack when buying a season ticket and means if he doesn’t go my older son can take a mate. Last season I still paid the extra £30 each for them to join JR Reds but this season I didn’t as over the last couple of years it has gradually lost a few benefits.
    There used to be more engagement with JR Red members including training sessions exclusively for JR Reds members and their families. Now it seems more of a distraction to the club rather than a tool to reach out to the future generation of Town fans. The JR Reds room is too small, and non members can use it as there is no check on members. 5% discount on mascot packages is derisory, the meet the player events are a Christmas and end of season party, which despite the best efforts of Clare and her team, are a complete shambles. The food offering at the County Ground is not at all family friendly, as well as the high cost there doesn’t seem to be a suitable option for a family to sit and eat together.

    Hopefully the multi ticket initiative introduced this week will help bring a few more to watch some of the best football seen at the County Ground for years, but the club really need to make the whole match day experience more fun for all.

    Like

  • Some great comments on here which are all valid, from the extortionate prices for a bad pie and chips (Frying Fish at the magic roundabout is twice as cheap and infinitely tastier with decent service thrown in) to the roof at the other end, how much better would the atmosphere be with fans behind both goals?
    I take my lad and we’ve sat in the family stand in the Arkells for last few years after moving from the Don Rodgers due to the choice language and select group of aggressive clowns who made half a season unbearable, and physically threatened us when I asked them to tone it down a bit. He was a Junior Red last 4 year’s but agree on comment above that it’s lost its way – my lad is 10 now and massively into his footy – where is the buy in for him to want to come?
    On a side note, the seats are uncomfortable
    Also, can’t the scoreboard give scores at half time or even a real time league placing at the end of the match? It’s not hard, just copy from the BBC sport site!
    Final point, staff inside the ground are SO miserable it’s untrue – enjoy it people!

    Like

  • Re your comment number 8 about Booze… A few weeks ago, I went to Bath Rugby. It was a good game but, unfortunately, I missed four of the tries because there was a constant stream of (big!) blokes going along row in front of me to buy two-pint (plastic) glasses of beer and then going to the loo. One bloke went past me EIGHT times during the course of the game. By my calculations, that’s once every ten minutes. And that was just one bloke. Multiply that by the number of people who were drinking and you can probably guess how annoying that was and how much of the game I missed. I know alcohol consumption at football has been related to trouble but I think the trouble would be caused by ME if that kind of thing were to happen at the County Ground and it meant my missing some of the action!

    Like

    • That’s an issue, but one that could be solved by restricting sales during the match itself. The current situation of sales and consumption of alcohol at football only within the concourses does encourage binge drinking to down several pints before the game or at half time.

      Like

  • It pains me to see lower attendances like this and it’s been said by many that the County Ground is a tough place to go for away teams, we should take pride in this and provide a better atmosphere. Admittedly this would be helped if they provided us with an all singing area, or just made an attempt to give the fans more comfort and enjoyment.
    Sadly it’s true the club don’t market or promote themselves properly. Almost like they’re shy of calling out to the many people of the town and surrounding areas that they’re showing real entertainment which isn’t on. The number of people who live in Swindon and openly support the Town is plenty, let alone the people of Wiltshire and other counties, why aren’t we appealing for something to help that? The parking situation could definitely be better too.

    I know it’s good that Lee and Mark are working really hard to make the team stronger and ensure we’re performing well, but the town faithful seem to be a bit neglected,the stadium could always do with improvements, the queuing for food and drink on some match days takes up all of half time, and is a real chore to the point that most of my friends just bring their own refreshments.

    We’re a strong club looking up towards Championship football next season. They really need to try and help out people. Promoting games and adding services for the more distant fans should be a must.

    Like

  • Pingback: Six ways to get the County Ground crowds back | The Washbag

  • It’s simply the price

    Like

Comment Here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s