By Jason McKeown
With two weeks to go until the 2012/13 cheap season ticket deadline, the signs do not look good. This morning the Telegraph & Argus has reported that just 3,000 season tickets have been sold, with the two Chairmen rolled out to give a “rallying cry” for people to buy theirs. Human nature when it comes to paying any bill dictates that a lot of people will be waiting until the last minute (31st May) to purchase, but even allowing for this late rush it seems inevitable the club is going to fall short of whatever target it has in mind.
This will be the sixth year in a row of the club offering season tickets at rock bottom prices – relative to the rest of UK professional football – but what has always hampered this superb initiative is poor marketing and PR. From the cringe-worthy ‘Santa Dave’ campaign in 2010 to this year’s flyer full of quotes from players banging on about City getting into League One, there are either mixed messages about quality or too big a difference between what is being promoted and the reality of the product.
Mark Lawn has stated: “For those people who want to see a competitive squad out on the pitch next season, Phil needs an appropriate budget. To be able to do this, as I’ve said it in the past and will stress again, season-ticket sales are critical in order to increase Phil’s budget to strengthen the squad. In essence the playing budget is in the fans’ hands. Julian Rhodes and myself both have confidence in Phil to put together a squad that’s fit to win the league or at least get a play-off position.”
The insinuation – that high sales will lead to success – fails miserably on the back of five years of stagnation in League Two. When season ticket sales have previously been at a high level which, next season, we unfortunately cannot hope to emulate, success on the field did not occur. Yet year on year we are urged to spend a wad of money buying a season ticket on the premise that – if we do our bit – the rewards will come. If this is really the incentive for us to buy a season ticket, then we have been repeatedly miss-sold – and it’s therefore no real surprise that sales have declined.
I’ve no axe to grind with any supporter who has not renewed for whatever reason at some point over the past five years. But it stands to me that if you target people to buy tickets who will judge its true value on the final league table – or in marketing terms, look to get consumers to buy a product that does not achieve what it is set out to do – you will see a drop off in future sales.
But equally, declaring only 3,000 season tickets have been sold so far for next season and that the final outcome will largely dictate next year’s budget will hardly fill floating buyers with much confidence. For sure, they can each do their own bit and invest their money – but if not enough other people do too, and we are left with a poor squad that cannot hope for much more than avoiding relegation again – these people will feel let down and be less likely to believe next season’s rhetoric.
There are, to me at least, far more compelling reasons to buy a season ticket than to merely hope to be part of a promotion party. Football supporting is a way of life, and as we stand here just two weeks into the close season, the emptiness of a Saturday afternoon with no City to fret about has already fallen sharply into focus. A few more weeks of this, and we will be aching for football all over again and desperate to view the (occasionally) lush green grass of Valley Parade. We will be missing all that goes with the matches too – from the pre-match pint, the frustration of people moaning behind you, and to the adrenaline and excitement of a cracking home win. Football and City gives us a purpose, and a season ticket is the only way to truly satisfy that itch.
The Bantams apparently averaged 10,171 last season (down by 26% from the first year of cheap season ticket sales, in 2008/09). This is after four years of failed promises from the club when it came to buying a season ticket, yet still people have kept coming back. Logic surely dictates that these people are therefore not renewing because they “must” have a successful team. Something else keeps them going.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be targeting promotion next season – of course we should. Equally, there is a very significant correlation between season ticket sales and the budget that the manager has to work on, so it does matter how many of us renew. But if year on year we are going to measure ourselves against a target we have so far not even come close to achieving (League One football), then we are always going to feel bad about themselves.
It would be nice to get promoted next season, of course it would . But it would also be nice – and more realistic – to simply improve upon the last two desperate campaigns of 18th-placed finishes, and to be able to buy into a vision of how that might happen and where we would then go from there. Because if we accept and understand that season ticket sales are declining, to then promote the following year’s offer on the premise that a good take-up is more likely to lead to a successful promotion push means the club looks increasingly daft.
Ultimately, this Board is suffering from losing touch with supporters and failing to grasp the issues that are leading to growing disillusionment. It has made a poor attempt at trying to paint last season as a success by blaming the concepts and personnel they were promoting when they were urging us to buy last season’s season tickets.
I have bought my season ticket for next season. Not because I expect us to get promoted, but because I can’t imagine my life without this football club occupying my time. And because I can’t stand the thought of missing out on the next great moment we celebrate, or of witnessing the next set of excellent players who emerge and entertain us. When Valley Parade roars in triumph I want to be part of that roar, even if it’s not to roar at the biggest of triumphs.
Maybe somewhere in those random thoughts, there’s a more successful marketing campaign.