By Jason McKeown
During a couple of years of turbulence and change at Valley Parade, it is reassuring to see that some Bradford City principles have been firmly retained. Today’s news about Bradford City’s season ticket prices for 2019/20 reaffirms a long-term commitment to affordable football. Prices have come down after last year’s modest hike, and the club continues to lead the way in making professional football accessible to its community.
The most eye-catching element of next season’s season ticket structure is the restoration of the value of Flexicards – turning them into an option that becomes more attractive and relevant than ever, after it seemed they were being slowly killed off by Edin Rahic.
I’ve got my own personal experience of Flexicards, and why I think they really matter. Between 2006 and 2013, my wife became a Bradford City season ticket holder alongside me, albeit less enthused as me. So when our first daughter was born during that summer, it made sense for her to get a Flexicard, so she could still attend games every so often. And between 2013 and 2018, that’s exactly what she did. On average she’d come along to 5-8 games a season, sitting next to me after turning up and paying the £10 entry for Flexicard holders on the day.
During the 2017/18 season, the arrangements for Flexicards became more restrictive, as they required you to book your seat before a matchday. With attendances on the up, the club understandably didn’t want to reach a point where games were sold out and yet there were empty seats left vacant by Fexicard holders, and so this arrangement gave them the option to sell seats that weren’t going to be used. But living in Skipton, it simply wasn’t convenient to get to the Valley Parade ticket office before a Saturday to book a seat with the Flexicard. So my wife only attended one game last season.
For the 2018/19 season, the cost of Flexicards went up from £50 to £70, and it no longer guaranteed you a specific seat. This made them utterly pointless, inconvenient and poor value for money. WOAP understands overall sales of Flexicards fell off a cliff. It was a really poor message to give to Flexicard holders – you don’t really matter to us. We certainly didn’t bother to get one – what is the point when the wife wouldn’t be guaranteed a seat near myself and our eldest daughter? And so for the first time in 13 years, my wife no longer has a seat at Valley Parade.
What makes Flexicards such a brilliant initiative is it acknowledges the changing world we are in. There are thousands of people who absolutely love Bradford City, but they have other work/life commitments and interests that mean having a season ticket isn’t suitable for them. They can of course pick and choose which games to attend, but with match day prices higher, to subsidise the affordable season tickets, it’s not the most enticing of offers. Some people can’t go to 23 home games a year, but could get to 5, 10 or 12 – the Flexicard is a great way of encouraging them to attend when they can, and making them feel valued.
With the Flexicard scheme, Bradford City has for several years recognised that not everyone can be as fully devoted to the cause, but that doesn’t mean you have to close the door and treat them the same way you would a casual match-goer. There are different shades of loyalty and dedication in-between hardcore fans and floating supporters. The Flexicard caters for the in-betweeners. These fans might not provide as much commercial value to the club as season ticket holders, but the Flexicard helps keep supporters engaged when they might otherwise drift away from the club.
You might have work commitments on certain weekends, but still want to go when you can. You might be away studying at University, and so can only get home a few times a season. You might love going to Valley Parade for big games, but aren’t neccessarily prepared to go to Tuesday night encounters against Fleetwood. You might have family priorities or health concerns.
Of course, there is an element of City support who dislike the notion of Flexicard holders. And, in fact, will not welcome today’s news about a season ticket reduction. The argument is that making Valley Parade so accessible over recent years has diluted the atmosphere. That having season ticket prices so cheap has limited playing budgets and, with it, hindered City’s on-the-field prospects. And at a point where the club has racked up a significant loss, paying more for season tickets now will reduce that deficit.
It is a major, philosophical debate that cuts right to the heart of Bradford City’s purpose and ambitions. Should the club be for the people of Bradford, accessible to a part of the world that has keenly felt economic hardship over the past 20 years? Or is it here to serve the hardcore, committed supporters who will pay double if not three times the amount for a season ticket, such is their dedication and affluence, and who would appreciate more and deserve to enjoy greater success?
Well, personally I think this season ticket offer can do both. It means that the price of going to watch Bradford City remains within the reach of most of the Bradford district population. Bradford City continue to be an accessible football club that doesn’t exclude on wealth, to a point at least. During an era where people have never had more choice when it comes to their leisure time, Bradford City can compete for affordability and enjoyment.
But for those who can afford to – or would like to – pay more, the restoration of the Flexicard offers you that opportunity. If you were prepared to pay £200 on your season ticket next season, why not still spend that much? Buy your season ticket, and get a Flexicard too. Because now that Flexicard holders don’t have to be assigned to a single person, it can be something that multiple friends, family members and even co-workers can make use of during the course of next season.
We all know City fans who love the club to a lesser degree than we do, and so are more irregular attendees. We probably also know of people who have given up going to games because of recent events. Perhaps others who can’t afford to go. By having a Flexicard, you can allow others to come along with you to the odd match. Your mum, your dad, your brother or sister, your best mate, your work friends, your kids, your nieces or nephews, your grandkids, your neighbour. Do your bit to promote Bradford City to others in your life, and at the same time contribute more towards the strength of Bradford City’s finances.
Sure, the users of the Flexicards may not know all the chants, or want to join in with all the singing – but the relatively flat atmosphere at Valley Parade this season pokes holes in the argument that a family focus at Valley Parade has held back the noise. When my daughter first starting going to games, the noise, colour and vibrancy of the Valley Parade atmosphere was the most enticing factor – this season, it has seemed grey, flat and way too quiet. Having more people attending can lead to greater noise and excitement. We don’t want to go back the bad old days of pre-2007, when the ground was barely a third full and the atmosphere was dreadful.
Raising season tickets now would have seen a drop off in support. Those who have stopped coming recently would have less reason to come back. Those who have found this season more of a chore might be nudged into not bothering renewing. And while fewer of us paying more might make financial sense in the short-term perspective of our current problems, is it really worth throwing away more than a deade of building up our support base through principled ticket pricing?
The new season ticket initiative is win-win. If you can only afford £150 for a season ticket, you’re not going to be priced out. If you’re in the fortunate position of having more wealth, you can contribute more and give something to your friends and family. This could be the catalyst to reverse falling attendances. To make sure Bradford City’s doors remain open to its community, whilst having a more competitive transfer budget. Alongside renewing mine and my daughter’s season ticket for next season, I’ll certainly be getting a Flexicard again.
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