By John Nicholson
Being a season ticket holder is sometimes held as a symbol of a fans commitment to a club. When you are prepared to invest so much money, upfront, it is an act of faith in the club. It says you care.
The clubs have always been quick to tell us that they want everyone to get their season tickets as soon as the old season ends so that they have money to use in the transfer market. They expect fans to cough up again, usually without actually giving the fans any reason to do so, apart from that tug on their heart strings, that loyalty test.
If your club is mostly packed out most of the time, the only chance of seeing a game is to get your season ticket. But that doesn’t apply to most clubs. Indeed, as the season progresses, and as crowds dwindle in parallel to the dwindling quality of football on show, at some clubs, pricing initiatives are often brought in, making it cheaper to just turn up on the day, especially when you account for the fact that many season ticket holders can’t go to every home game due to some other commitments or because they have to do shift work. So that money is often effectively lost.
It’s never been less true that Premiership clubs need season ticket money to put transfer money into their coffers when they are stoned immaculate on the heavy dope of TV money.
And if you support the 30% of Premiership clubs who no one wants to watch very often such as Blackburn, Wigan, Middlesbrough, Birmingham, Fulham, Manchester City or Bolton, almost no game will be a sell out in the coming season, so you can pretty much pick up a ticket for any game that takes your fancy. And all other clubs apart from the top four will have tickets available for many games simply because not every home game sells out.
In order to further bully fans and punish non season ticket holders, a lot of schemes exist to give priority to season ticket holders for cup games and finals etc. This is presented as a reward to the loyal fans but more cynically is also a way to force the hand of the fan at the start of the season into parting with a lot of money for a product of unknown and almost certainly variable quality.
Of course, football isn’t a product like any other but there is nonetheless some disgruntlement amongst fans who feel that they are a milk cow having their udders furiously pulled for all they are worth. Like politicians who only turn up when they want your vote, clubs often only woo fans when they want them to renew their season ticket.
All the promises of ‘significant’ summer signings that come out in early June are all intended to get fans to believe next season will be a great one but often prove to be false.
The pricing of tickets finally became an issue last season and prices were reduced at some of the clubs that no one wants to watch – though I bet season ticket holders were not sent a refund for effectively over-paying up front – commitment is all too often a one way street in football and fans, many having given decades of support and money, are rewarded by poor quality football played by uncommitted players who stay 18 months before moving on and are then berated by the club for being too quiet or not being supportive enough. But true fans are in it for the long term; they’re in it for whole their lives. Longer than any player, manager, chairman or owner will be at the club. Without the fans, no club would exist, though many act as though they could do.
What would clubs do if no one bought season tickets? Do the upfront purchases of a whole season of tickets make the club complacent? If fans withheld their money until they felt as though the team and the club deserved it would it motivate the club, manager and team to put in more effort? To try harder and to play better? It’s impossible to tell but it’d be a good experiment to try.
John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.
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