Bradford City vs Arsenal: a great occasion, so long as we get it right

By Jason McKeown

When Manchester United’s Scott Wootton fouled Chelsea’s Ramires in the penalty area just as the referee Lee Mason was due to blow full time on a 3-2 United win, you could hear the groans from Bradford City fans across West Yorkshire.

A long, long day of waiting for the League Cup quarter final draw had just been delayed by at least 30 minutes, after Chelsea took the game with United into extra time. But finally, after the two sides shared another three goals from which Chelsea emerged victorious, and after two advert breaks, tediously long studio debate and Sir Alex taking the time to moan about Nani, we got the draw – and what a draw – to relish. Groans replaced with very loud cheering at almost 11pm. Once again, I’m very sorry to my neighbours for all the noise.

Bradford City will play Arsenal. A sentence I will not be bored of writing or reading for some time. Tuesday 11 December is going to be a wonderful evening, with a packed out Valley Parade making an almighty racket and the world watching on via Sky Sports’ live coverage. After so many years of disappointment and despair, this is a reward for keeping the faith. We may get thrashed, but the club cannot lose.

Nevertheless as the euphoria dies down and attention turns to the bread and butter of regular City matches, the club’s board are faced with some important dilemmas over making the most of the occasion. They are going to benefit from a huge windfall that cannot have been anticipated, but there are more than monetary considerations as the city of Bradford and the region woke up on Thursday morning to the news the local football club is hosting a glamour game that a lot of people will want to see.

First of all is filling the stadium. Valley Parade has, of course, never been sold out to capacity since Geoffrey Richmond’s over-ambitious redevelopment plans were concluded when the Bantams were in the early stages of a bumpy slide down the leagues. Up in the heavens (top deck of the Main Stand) there could even be seats that have never once supported a person’s bum. Only Stuart McCall’s testimonial in 2002 has seen a capacity crowd at the redeveloped Valley Parade. This occasion offers the opportunity to change that.

However, such has been the lack of demand for tickets, relative to capacity, over the past decade, two sections of the ground – the lower tier of the Bradford End and the North West corner between the Main Stand and Kop – no longer have valid safety certificates. Therefore, if the club wish to open them for the Arsenal game, they are going to have to spend time and money obtaining a valid certificate for what is probably going to be a one-off use. If they remained empty, however, the prominent positioning of both sections to the TV cameras would look pretty poor to the watching world.

I guess the maths are simple on this one. How much will it cost to get the relevant paperwork vs how much revenue can these filled seats provide? If the latter is significantly greater, it is surely a no-brainer for the club to get them fit for purpose. Even though there are no guarantees they will be able to sell these areas out.

Which brings us onto the other dilemma – ticket prices themselves. Do the club ‘cash in’ and price them fairly high (up the road, Leeds United are charging £28 for their quarter final tie with Chelsea), or make sure they are affordable to one and all? To me it would look embarrassing if City do not sell out this match, and will be a pretty poor reflection on the city of Bradford. But let’s not forget that the game will take place two weeks before Christmas and is being shown on Sky. Price the tickets too high and it will be easy for floating supporters to elect to watch it from the comfort of their home or at the pub instead. The club will surely want to avoid this.

With League Cup requiring Arsenal fans get 15% of the stadium (3,765 tickets if all of Valley Parade is open) and 8,400 City season ticket or Flexicard holders (who, we must assume, will all get priority booking – heck, if I’m committed to buy a regular seat to watch City play Accrington and the like, I’m bloody getting my regular seat for this game), there would be just short of 13,000 tickets available for the general West Yorkshire public. It is hard to see how City could not easily sell these, but pricing is going to be important.

Clearly there is no need to go to bargain prices. I would not expect to only have to pay £10 or £15 for such a glamour tie. But if tickets are more than the £20 it costs to watch a regular League Two fixture at Valley Parade, the Board will leaves themselves open to accusations of cashing in. It is surely inevitable that tickets will be priced at £20 for adults – a very fair price for what is a huge, huge game for the club.

That is the balance sheet, but what the Arsenal game offers is the chance to build a new legacy around the city. How many people who turn up will be setting foot inside Valley Parade for the first ever time? Or how many will be attending their first Bradford City match for years (maybe not since the Premier League days)? Many people in the home ends will not necessarily be intending to support the Bantams, but if we can provide them with a superb atmosphere and great experience – well, maybe we can encourage a number of them to return again. Think of the number of young kids who will be taken to their first ever football match. We can blow their minds, and win their hearts.

Although Arsenal at home is a big, big match for the Bantams, it is not going to determine our season and will be looked back upon next May as a footnote, whatever happens. This season we are going all guns blazing for promotion, and the signs at this stage are very encouraging. Perhaps some of the West Yorkshire general public who attend the Arsenal match might enjoy it so much they want to be part of that promotion campaign too.

And maybe, just maybe, we can have a few more near-capacity Valley Parade crowds during the closing stages of the season (and in a play off semi final, if needed). And perhaps renewing those lapsed safety certificates will see those parts of the ground needed for more than just a one-off.

Categories: Opinion

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13 replies

  1. Hi Jason I agree with most of your sentiments other than pricing. For this game I would have no objections to the club cashing in slightly as we will need the cash to help bolster the team for the push for promotion. With our 2 centre backs out long term we need to dip into the loan market and half decent players will cost us money. To this end I would rather see a price of £25 for the game as I think we could still sell out at this price.

  2. I have a suggestion to the board of bradford cty.
    Why not introduce a voucher system like this.
    Season tkt holders and 50/50 holders will im sure get there seats for this game.
    But why not do this with floating supporters.
    After the chesterfield game ,if they attend all home games before the arsenal game they get a voucger that entitles them to a tkt for arsenal. The club could make a few quid more on the home games leading upto arsenal game ,and give the floating supporter there tkt for arsenal? .i want valley parade full , I want to show potencial investers in bradford cty what a succesful club could generate in terms of support. Plastic fans I dont care all welcome , lets make this game a,statement to the cty.

  3. Let us not forget that the games v Arsenal in the Premiership were not sold out. The attendances at Valley Parade for those games were 18,276 and 17,160 and neither match was live on television to persuade the armchair fans to move their backsides. Indeed, during the Premiership days crowds rarely (ever?) topped 20,000, so let’s not get too carried away, although the rarity of a “big” opponent will probably spark extra incitement. The fact is that I have spoken to a number of neutrals who have the misfortune to follow the likes of Leeds, Burnley, Man U etc, etc, who were thinking of buying a ticket. Now they are delighted that they can watch it at home/pub instead.
    I’m not trying to deny that this is a fantastic match, a great reward for fans, a huge money spinner and the most exciting match for 10 years. However, I’m not too sure that a requirement to open long closed stands to cater for the hordes of fans desperate for a ticket is a reality. Anything over 20,000 would be a bit of a surprise to me. I hope you are right Jason and I am wrong.
    As for pricing, I am sure the board is having long conversations about this. They have also opened discussions with fans which resulted in the excellent Flexicard scheme so they will feedback general opinion. For what it is worth, anything less than £20 would be silly, anything more than £25 would turn away many of those potential fans you talk about above. Not an easy decision for the board and, of course, one for which they are going to get slagged off for by some fans.

    • Agreed ian, however im sure at that time ,season tkts were far more to purchase? also this is a one off game, that may never be repeated. If the board of bradford cty get this right ,a full house can be achieved. Ive had phone calls from friends asking to get them a tkt . The key lies in season tkt holders getting there friends in to watch the game. If the club allowed me 6tkts for the game , I could sell them.

    • Ian, 18,276 was a sellout in our first season in the Premier League. The second season can be excused, because as we all know the team were absolute garbage and the novelty for many people had worn off.

      I’d be absolutely amazed if we don’t get 20,000+ for this one. As well as it being Arsenal, this is the quarter-final of the 2nd biggest domestic cup. How often do we get to see that? The 10,000 hardcore will be there, plus a sizeable Arsenal following. We got 17,000 in the ground not too long ago for a League 2 game. The fans are there if the incentive is there for them.

      Sure, some people will watch it on Sky, but I know Leeds fans who are still planning on going even allowing for that. If the game can attract Leeds fans, surely even City fans would rather be part of the occasion than sat on their sofa? I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t turn out for this one. After all, I’ve patiently sat through 5 years of depressing League 2 football, I feel like I’ve earned it.

  4. Good point and I’m certain Leeds will charge more than the board of Bradford cty

  5. A very good point made by Gareth, the game being the quarter final of the League cup will make it a 25,000 sell out, as long as mentioned above, the safety certificates lapsed are renewed and of course sensible ticket prices for the game are put in place.

  6. I think the board have done everything in their power to keep ticket prices low over the last few years. There will no doubt be supporters who hope that ticket prices are kept low for this one as well. Thats symptomatic of low season ticket prices in recent seasons. However its a one off game that will attract a massive crowd and the club should cash in. Absolutely they should. Its for the benefit of the club. Make hay whilst the sun shines and whilst there will be the odd one or two who expect to get in for a tenner or fifteen quid Im sure most fans will see that the directors deserve this one. If it means keeping this squad together in January and maybe adding one or two decent players to the squad Id happily pay the extra fiver or so. £25 an adult ticket and lets make some money.

  7. Money is tight. I think £20 is about right.

    I agree with Ian regarding attendance. The highest attendance that we’ve had in the ground in its current state was 22,057 for the Liverpool game on 1st May 2001.

    That is still 779 below what the ground could hold now (without even bothering to renew the safety certificate for the NW Corner), and this is a League Cup game against a side coming from further away than Liverpool.

    Still, I reckon a crowd of approx 20k.

    • The difference between these league attendances and the cup tie is that arsenal are guaranteed 15% of the tickets – which they will sell easily. They wouldn’t have had anything like that number for the league game. That should be enough to bolster the gate past 20k.

  8. Pricing ourselves out of the market is potentially what I think we will do.

    I will hold my hand up and say that I was one of the “plastic” fans that went to the Wigan
    game – maybe on the hope of seeing an upset, or maybe more in hope of seeing City play some good football. I was happily satisfied that my £10 was well spent. I have been impressed so far with what PP is doing and the direction that the team is going and I have been listening to the games with optimism that we might actually get up there this season.

    I think that the club are potentially missing out on an opportunity here – why not have a cup double ticket ? £25 gets you into both CUP games, plus you get a half price voucher for the next home game after that. Enticement to get bums on seats for the long term, not just for a one off is where we should be looking at. The potential to get the stayaway fan back into VP on the back of the recent good form should not be dismissed by the desire to make a quick buck.

    My last City game prior to that was the final game of the 2009-2010 season watching from my season ticket seat in the Kop and the misery that was Mr Taylors tactics. Hopefully after the new year I will once again be looking at having a season ticket…

    • The trouble is Craig is that you are amongst a growing number of people who are starting to expect a kick back when you go watch City.

      Let me make myself crystal clear here. I do not blame any fan for wanting tickets as cheaply as possible and I do not blame you for suggesting ways that the club should ticket this game. Nor am I judging you because you dont go as much as you used to.

      However this is how I feel about it all.

      Why should the club have to cost this game cheaply? Why should they offer enticements for people to come along? It is City v Arsenal. The tickets will sell themselves at a good price so let the club make some money. How much more do the club need to do to tempt people back? ST’s under 200 quid, flexi cards so people can get in for a tenner, kids for a quid, the list goes on and on. I think its about time the fans started to turn up because they want to watch the team play, not because the club are selling cheap tickets. Times are hard indeed, they are hard for the club as well and it is my opinion, just for once, that the fans should accept this is a money spinner for the club, buy a ticket if they can afford one, park their back sides on a seat and get behind the team.

  9. Paul,

    At no point do I expect to get any kick back from the club – I received the mail shot asking me to buy a season ticket/flexi card and I declined – my decision and thus now I will be paying full price if I want to go watch them.

    I agree totally that the club need to cash in and that they need to sell out this game to help fund reinforcements in January but what I am trying to point out is that this is a golden opportunity to get even more people back on a regular basis and not just for the single game – surely the wave of optimism that is surrounding the club is something that must be taken advantage of as we look to the new year and the season ticket releases.
    Yes the club have done loads to get people back and this is just another chance to get more people through the turnstile for the future.

    But lets also look at the game itself – it is on a Tuesday night. It is live on Sky. It is against an Arsenal team who have in recent seasons played a second string side. It is also 2 weeks before Christmas – an expensive time for many. People’s budgets must come into consideration somewhere.

    The club need to tread a very fine line on how they price this, be too greedy and some will simply go to the pub or sit in their armchairs. Price it far too cheap and they will not make the figures that they have been banding about recently.

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