Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Season Tickets - Deal or No Deal?

In the 2003/4 season, the first in our superb new stadium, we played our games in front of virtually full houses, with just under 900,000 people watching our Premiership games. A few less people per game watched us in the following season but we still attracted over 45,000 per game.

This season, however, crowds have dropped away alarmingly and we now regularly see crowd figures well under 40,000, with an average to date of just less than 39,000. The practice of counting season ticket holders, whether they attend or not, masks even lower figures. So we often have ten thousand unsold seats and this impacts us in a number of ways. Lower ticket revenue is the most obvious, closely followed by lower revenues for ancillary sales of things like programmes, catering and merchandise. Then there is the intangible effect on the match-day atmosphere of having ten thousand less voices in the stadium.

There are a number of possibilities as to why crowds are dropping; quality of football, saturation TV coverage, inconvenient kick-off times, changes to kick-off times at short notice and last but not least, prices. The issue of prices has some into sharp focus this season, largely because of Manchester City fans’ unwillingness to pay ludicrous prices for tickets at Bolton, Wigan & Blackburn. This brought about a sea-change in two of those clubs’ attitude to pricing for subsequent games, with the desire to fill seats taking precedence over squeezing every last penny out of fans’ pockets.

In a normal business this would be a cause for serious concern but football is different because the largest part of a Premiership team’s income comes from people who watch on TV, via Sky. Next season the impact of TV money will be even greater with possibly another £15-20m coming into City’s coffers, via the new Sky deal. However half-empty stadiums are a poor advert for our game and Wigan chairman, David Whelan, has recognised this. He announced on Tuesday night that tickets for all games, regardless of the opposition, will be £15 next season. He has recognised two things. The first is that the increase in TV income will more than cushion the effect of lower ticket prices. The other is that people lost to the game may be lost for good and there is the distinct danger that football stadiums become glorified TV studios. This should guarantee a few thousand visiting Blues next season instead of less than fifteen hundred and will increase Wigan's total revenue. So a good commercial decision as well as some good PR.

Our club have said on many occasions that falling attendances are a football-wide problem but this simply isn’t correct. Many Premiership clubs are maintaining numbers pretty well but a few (us, Wigan and Blackburn among them) are not. This is particularly noticeable among season ticket holders, down about 25% from 2003/4 to this season. Next season could be even worse and as season ticket income is very important to the club’s cash flow this could be a significant problem.

Another issue is that season tickets have to be paid for in advance but give a small discount on paying on a game-by-game basis if you attend every home game. The advantage is that you are guaranteed a seat but people are now looking at the empty seats, even for the most attractive games (e.g. Arsenal) and thinking that it’s not worth paying up front when you can pick and choose games. We are on TV so often that you could save money by not renewing your season ticket. What’s the incentive for coming out on a wet cold Monday night to watch Watford, when you could watch in the comfort of your own home or go to the pub?

So with renewal time looming, what are City going to do? There are a number of possibilities:

1) An increase in prices. This would certainly be commercial suicide and would probably half the number of season tickets at best. The financial equivalent of two fingers to us fans.

2) Another price freeze. This will not help the situation and is surely indefensible with the huge rise in TV income due to come in. Season ticket renewals would probably drop to around 20,000 if they do this.

3) A fall in prices. If we followed the Wigan example then a season ticket would cost around £250. Of course this is a gamble but at least offers a tangible incentive to fans to renew and will be cushioned by the increase in TV revenue.

4) Some other incentives.

a. I remember that we used to get most Cup games with a season ticket in the 70’s. Why not give the first two rounds free to season ticket holders? We believe Arsenal offer a number of cup games free.

b. Offer interest free payments over 3, 4 or even 6 months. They operate direct debit for the Cup Tickets Direct scheme so presumably the infrastructure exists.

c. Ask people to pay something up front (e.g. £100) for the right to a period of exclusivity for purchasing reduced price match tickets on a game-by-game basis.

d. When we played Reading, they advertised tickets for games against Manchester United & Chelsea. However you could only buy these if you also bought one for their game against Sheffield United. So this would make paying on a game-by-game basis less attractive.

People are deserting our club and we may not get them back. If we don’t get them back then we don’t get their kids. The simple question for our board is this. Do they want to fill seats or not? If the genuine answer is yes then neither (1) or (2) is an option. So come on City, when you send out those renewal notices then give us an excuse to renew. Or get used to thousands of empty seats.

So will it be Deal or No Deal?


At 10:56 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot onj , a brilliant summary of the situation. I really hate seeing empty seats at Eastlands,hope the Board ahve the imagination to take one of the suggestions. I fear they will bury their heads in the sand and can only see our crowds falling further.I despair at times.Keep fighting the good fight

At 10:57 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting article as always. Like the idea about paying up front for reduced price priority tickets. A couple of other factors you didn't mention though which I'd like to chip in:

1) Falling attendances is connected to a wider economic downturn, and clubs in the North have been hit hardest (because in London the population in general is growing and the City is doing well).

2) The club know that many of us will renew whatever the prices are (unless there's a massive rise). So dropping or freezing prices will need to mean that we get quite a lot more season ticket holders before it actually makes commercial sense, otherwise its just a subsidy for people who would have paid anyway.


At 11:02 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

spot on we need to make loud continuous noise about this if we are to get any reward, however knowing city i think they will continue to treat us like mugs.

At 11:28 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent brief article.
It's nice that the neighbours are showing the way. Once City would have been the leading light. Just hope they follow Wigan and common sense prevails with pricing. I have got used to NOT attending away games over this season (mainly due to cost). Lets just hope Wigan stay up as with this lead they certainly deserve to. I don't want to not attend home games but an increase in Season card price would certainly mean I would have to reviw my options.
Another cup game on a Sunday!!! Arrrrrgh! I work on Sundays.

At 11:35 am, Anonymous nick said...

just received my letter ollie its option 2 with a price freeze and £95 for under 16 that doesnt help me I have to buy two at full price. I am depressed can we do anything to change this ollie???

At 12:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

have you forwarded this article to the club ?

At 12:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Received my renewal details in the post today. Adult prices are frozen at 2006/07 levels but juniors are £95 for under-16's anywhere in the ground (£5 per game). Whilst applauding this stance on junior pricing, it is very disappointing that no reductions have been made for adults. This is a very clever ploy by the club as this age group are generally accompanied by an adult anyway. So where is the extra TV money going to end up. Not in the already vastly overpaid players pockets, surely. The rich get richer! I can see a fans revolt on the horizon.

At 12:28 pm, Anonymous Bagpuss said...

Hi Bagpuss from Wookies here.

An excellent summary.

Just one point though, as an exiled mancunian I have a 250 mile round trip to games and the ratio of Sky live home game to away games (currently 3 to 1) is serriously making me wonder whether a SeasonCard is worthwhile. for it to be worthwhile, the ratio of televised home and away games has to even or it just isn't worth the hassle - A Citycard would be far more cost effective.

if this ratio is to continue City would have to give me a large discount on subscriptions to Sky Sports (and from next season Setanta) to make a Seasoncard worthwhile.

At 12:38 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is little more I can add re. prices. The basic reason I have found it hard to renew after over 20 years and almost certainly won't next season is that we have simply become Man U without the trophies, one might stomach the commercialism, the marketing scams, etc but not if the product is not right. Fans used to turn up because that is what we were -the supporters of a cause. On our season cards we are no longer patrons but customers. As such, why pay premium prices for a crap product. I get fed up of hearing nonsense about how Wardle saved the club etc. If the Board sell at a low enough price to reflect their ineptness and lowering of the value of the club then new ambitiouus investment will come in. The Board gambled in the Keegan era and left no funds in reserve. In fact it has got worse, as not even the SWP and Anelka income has not been reinvested. 3 years without proper investment in the team, boring football, inflated prices in the stadium e.g. catering, poor service from catering, expensive parking outside the ground, no hope of a trophy, raised expectations only to be badly let down. Falling attendances is the only way to send a message to the Board that this is no longer tolerable. Demos outside the ground, a MEN campaign to remove the Board, force them to pay for their mistakes by selling low to attract investment. Don't feel sorry for these will still be rich men, who would have happily reaped the profits if the gamble came off. It is the fans aka customers who I feel sorry for!

At 12:40 pm, Anonymous MIKE COOKE said...


At 1:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Price isnt the major issue for me. The quality of football is! I'm bored watching it! Something oblivious to our chairman as he says there is never a dull moment!

At 2:16 pm, Anonymous Mike said...

I believe that people are beginning to see through the myth that is the Premier League. In effect it's not a League at all but several League's within one and the bottom line is that for all but the "big 4" the rest of us are supporting no hoper outfits who cannot compete finacially with the budgets of the big players. Thus, right now, for the "minnows" like Newcastle, Villa, Spurs, Everton (yes I know they had one tilt at glory)and City our greatest aspiration is to get a cup run!
The powers that be exacerbate the inequality still further by rewarding the succesful with an even greater share of an already enormous pot and that domestic success only leads to further enrichment in the "Champions League"
For any sport to have a future and attract spectators it has to be competitive, you have to have the possibility of success and yes failure. The gangs that run the game cannot seem to see that they are removing this unpredictability.
I'd happily renew my season ticket if I thought we had a chance of some glorry, well do we, punks?

At 2:22 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well worded article. I for one am seriously questioning whether or not to renew next season. With attendances on the wane (and I personally put this down to the style of play under Pearce) more supporters will choose to pay for individual games. A good example of this is a friend and former season ticket holder who manages to buy a ticket next to me whenever he chooses. I moved to the back of the 3rd Tier Colin Bell with hundreds of others and I now have the benefit of there being only 2 of us in a block of 50 seats.

At 2:38 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

its not just the pricing its the playing staff the team structure is stagnent no one of any real quality brought in and another season of relegation dog fighting yet again,why should i pay stupid prices again next season.
why dont we employ an ATTACKING COACH?
show us were our money is going regarding good quality signings and maybe we will start to buy tickets again .........

yours life long city fan
fed up with being ripped off and having to smoke 20 fags and drink 8 pints to calm my nerves evey game...


At 4:07 pm, Anonymous Kramer said...

Get rid of StuP for starters and get in a manager who plays attractive football and really gives the kids a chance then drop ST prices and make the fans feel part of teh "club" again Make buying match day ticker easier and have cash payment for unreserved seats on the gate bring back standing and get rid of the little hitler stewards

At 5:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering if we'd have the guts to reduce the prices, but apparently not. Well I'm not renewing for next year and that means my mum won't either. I've already missed 2 home games this year due to other committments so that's my season ticket saving gone. Add in the home games on Sky I could watch in comfort and I'll be quids in. Plus, I can turn over when it's rubbish i.e. every week at the moment.

This does mean that I'll be less likely to take my children, one of whom has just got into going and therefore they are unlikely to become real football fans. But who cares about the future? The club is a disgrace.

For anyone who's thinking of renewing, remember, the Sky subscription for sports is likely to go up to cover their costs, so you are going to be paying heavily to watch park standard football. Whilst I don't expect fans to stay away from the games, I implore all City fans to not renew your season tickets. You can still get into any game you want to, but lets give teh board a real message of intent.

At 11:51 pm, Anonymous European dreamer said...

Interest rates are rising. Fuel costs are rising. Inflation is beginning to get out of control, so most of you think that City should half the season ticket prices? Subsidise our excess spending in other areas, so we can still keep going to the game? How many of you will sacrifice your Sky Subscription or Chelsea Tractor to keep going to see City, which is something you love and believe in?

Alright our football is not attractive at the moment (which is the real reason that people aren't going)but by not supporting the club through the turnstiles you are just making the problem worse.

We're supposed to be the best fans in the country and our ticket prices haven't risen for the past 2 years. We shouldn't need to subsidise prices like Wigan and Blackburn who historically have never had as big a fan base.

The true reality is that our attendances are finding their true level of the past 30 years and the Johnny come lately's are using the price as an excuse. I accept that this doesn't account for all of the lost fans and peoples circumstances change over time.

But I'd rather have 38,000 genuine fans than another 10,000 people who don't genuinely want to be there unless we're winning!

At 11:11 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ticket prices for the recent Southampton game were £19 (and just £5 for kids) and yet the stadium was still half empty. Given this, you have to wonder how influential ticket prices are on attendances. If the club had sense, they'd slash ticket prices for one league match, just to see what happened.

At 1:33 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eurodreamer. How patronising and misguided?

The club is due to receive a huge cash windfall. The customers will see none of it, like any other business. However, neither will the shareholders, unlike any other business. So how is any of that acceptable? In the real world, a business run this way would be signalling the onset of the death throes!
What a lot of fans are asking for is a gesture to reward us sticking by them through thick and thin - I get points at Tesco for shopping with them and when I collect enough, it usually covers the cost of Christmas dinner for me and my large family. I pay less for Tesco ownbrand product compared to better known labels and some may say superior product. We are serving up Tesco own brand footie. I should pay a price commensurate with that.
I agree we should support the club and not boycot games. We are the best fans in the country.
I am surprised though to read you contradicting yourself - turn up for games, but Johnny Come Lately's stay away. The more people in the ground, the more money we can get into the club, which is what you've been asking for.
To put it simplistically - 35,000 paying £25 a time on average = £875,000 into the club per match. 48,000 paying £20 a time on average = £960,000 into the club per match. Which would be preferable?
We all have to start somewhere on our journey with City - mine was well over 30 years ago and I guess that probably made me a Johnny Come Lately to numpties like you back then.
From what I am reading, these people here are looking out for fans like me. I'm happy to join in and see where this goes.

At 1:38 am, Anonymous SORTED said...

Excellent article.

Given the club will get an extra £30million or so from TV revenue next season, and taking in to account dwindling attendances, I find it hard to believe the 'lifeblood' only got a price freeze. Well thanks for nothing City.. what with that and a blanket SMOKING BAN anywhere in the stadium, you've made my mind up for me. Accesscard for the big games it is then!


If the supporters trust were to consider getting a petition going - advoating a price reduction for adults also - then I for one would be delighted to offer my assistance.

I'm on your mailing list as joneslee ;o)

Keep on fighting Lads and Lasses!


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