Sunday 27th January 2013 at 11:56AM
Growing attendances is a complex matter, but on occasion football clubs can invent ‘barriers’ to growth that, under closer inspection, simply reveal a legacy of a historical lack of engagement and understanding.
A popular misconception – in my view, at least – is that earnest attempts to attract new fans are seen as undermining the value of the season ticket: the most high profile badge of honour a loyal fan can have.
A pal at a club in League One taking their first few steps along the road to engagement tells me that new fans often report that existing / longer term fans goes as far as making them feel unwelcome, which seems strange when match day revenue forms such a massive percentage of the club’s total income.
It’s often reported to me that attempts to introduce family tickets, for example, are seen as another dagger in the heart of the season ticket holder, the long term fan, the one for whom supporting the club is a lifelong commitment, not a ‘fun day out’.
Those clubs introducing dynamic (demand-based pricing) are also at pains to explain that whatever the discount available to those purchasing way in advance, it will not encroach upon the threshold of the average match day price enjoyed by season ticket holders.
Price, therefore, seems to be the key factor.
I’ve heard from clubs in League Two where the cheapest family ticket, for example, would be calculated at twice the average match day price paid by a season ticket holder, plus maybe two kids come free. That might come out at about £40, which is a pretty decent deal in my book, but it still comes way under the £25 offer that, as far as I’m aware, Wolves still make (2/3 games per season) for a family of four under their Wolves4FamilyFootball initiative (and this was available at Molineux in the Premier League last season).
I’m not making any judgements about what the average price per match is for Wolves season ticket holders, but just arguing that we’re unlikely to succeed with growth if we believe that our longer-term fans only judge our actions by the prices we apply to them.
I spend a lot of time talking to long-term fans and it’s clear that while price is an important factor (they’re only asking for equanimity after all), its’ feeling valued’ that truly determines the quality of their relationship with their club. There was a time, until recently with most clubs, but happily less so these days, when the only occasion a season ticket holder would hear from his or her club would be at renewal time, when they want your money.
Yes, no 30-day survey to see how you feel after your first few games. No opportunity to attend a fan panel to discuss how you see things. No opportunity to vote on issues of importance (regardless of the ownership model of the club). No special day where season ticket holders are celebrated for their long term support and where (to follow Cardiff City’s example) they are invited to bring along a couple of pals at maybe £5 or £10 each. No opportunities to sit in the dug out during the pre-match warm up. No loyalty points for doing the things that long term fans do (turning up in all weather to see a low key game on a Tuesday night; patronising club facilities 2 or 3 hours before kick off; loyally purchasing the club shirt as an annual ritual, travelling the length and breadth of the country regardless of the team’s performances on the pitch, etc).
In summary: no attempt to understand what their club means to them, so that their experiences and relationships with / at the club could be re-configured to actually reflect something of the reason they love the club in the first place.
Much of this speaks of the ‘punter mentality’ that characterises the hegemony practised in football back from its Victorian roots. The problem is, like that annoying Mr Selfridge programme, we still can’t escape it today!
Price is an important factor, of course, but it should not be singled out as the only driver of growth relevant to season ticket holders, as their relationship is deeply emotional and, as a result, something that cannot be calculated in pure monetary terms. However, because we’ve taken so many of our core fans for granted over the years, they’re likely to watch your pricing like a hawk and strike when perceptions of value are at their lowest.
One the biggest moments for me at Doncaster Rovers (see previous blog) was when, at our recent fan panel, a fan stood up and talked about price promotions being undertaken by the club. We took a deep breath as we listened, expecting him to launch into criticism. But no. He urged other fans to recognise the importance of attracting new recruits to the cause. He urged fans to see beyond the odd initiative and recognise the strides the club was making to ensuring everyone felt part of the movement.
So to ensure the strategies required to grow your club don’t alienate your core fans, try engaging your core fans first.
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