Tickets: The Club Is Listening
BORO have announced a ticket offer for the televised Sheffield Wednesday game. Walk up prices on the night will be £12 for adults and £7 for concessions. Half-price. That's fantastic. And neccessary: with a midweek night automatically lopping a couple of thousand (Friday night brings its own problems) and live screening tradiitionally scything away another slice of the walk-up gate, it nothing had been done Boro were looking at a new record low.
Let's hope the people of Teesside respond and support their team. Let's hope those who been priced out seize the opportunity. Let's hope some who have drifted away can be lured back and re-energised. Let's hope some new fans can be attracted in by the price and are caught up in the buzz. And let's hope the team deliver.
It will be followed by other tailored and targeted ticket deals aimed at the key fixtures that anyone of us could put a red ring round right now as obvious lows. The fixture list has not been kind to Boro with so many pairs of back-to-back home games that are hard on the pocket of potential walk-up supporters. Especially in the run up to Christmas. The details on those deals are still being fine-tuned but will be revealed in the Gazette soon.
It is a short term marketing move that makes perfect sense in the current climate. You could argue that it is long overdue. It is an important first step to addressing a pressing problem. But more than that, it represents a significant shift in position by Boro. They have shown they are listening and they are ready to respond.
In short, myself, Gazette Boro writer Philip Tallentire and fanzine king-pin Rob Nichols were invited to a meeting with Steve Gibson and chief executive Neil Bausor specifically to discuss the thorny issues and ideas raised in my Tickets: Time To Bite The Bullet blog last month.
That blog sparked a massive debate, here and on other forums, dominated the BBC Tees airwaves for a week, got picked up nationally and went viral in the blogosphere, echoing as it does the experience and problems of fans at many clubs. It got 150 responses (several of them very well informed fully costed proposals, almost all of them articulate, impassioned and understanding of the problems). Importantly, it also got a response from the chairman. Hence the invitation to the boardroom.
Most of what was discussed is obviously off the record but the results of a very positive and very encouraging meeting will filter out in the months to come.
The club accept that the Gazette is the main player when it comes to shaping the unfolding daily agenda on Planet Boro and reflecting changing opinion around the club and are keen for our imput. Which is nice. And as it should be. Fly Me To The Moon is also important as it also plugs directly into the supporters' psyche in a different way.
The chairman stressed the fans are at the heart of everything he does at the club, the lifeblood, the reason the club exists - although he accepted that Boro have not always communicated that as well as they could have. There have been PR own goals.
The chairman had read the blog closely (he mentioned some of you lot by name!) and with some interest and agreed with much of it. And he wants to act.
He stressed that the club are acutely aware of the economic landscape on Teesside and the pressure on pockets - and were feeling the bite themselves - and they know they need to urgently do something to get people back on board. The bottom line is that Boro are debt-free but cash-strapped themselves. There is no magic chequebook, no transfer kitty being held back, no major savings to be made in cutting infra-structure; most of that has already been done. Any aspirations for success must be funded through the gate. If we are well placed for a promotion push and want to bring in players in January that can only be justified by increased cash-flow through the gates.
Boro want bums on seats. But that doesn't come automatically through cutting prices Gibson explained. There was a flip chart and pens and lots of numbers, many of them in red. Generalised big price cuts that eat into the revenue from the usual walk-up crowd can actually reduce overall income - take per ticket can fall while fixed costs remain and the costs of stewarding and policing can increase. So tweaking ticket prices can only be justified if it increases not just the crowd but also the revenue.
The chairman talked through the specifics of some of the creative suggestions from posters on the blog, crunched some numbers and explained why some ideas were impractical, or not cost-effective or could possibly reduce revenue. Fair enough.
But he also picked up on some others that could work and was keen to look at the feasibility of them for future games. They are taking various suggestions on board and are exploring some that they think could tick the various boxes. So watch this space.
The chairman is also open to some of the suggestions raised over the configuration of the stadium. It may be possible to move the away fans and it may be possible to move the Red Faction closer to the action behind the goal in the South Stand. That will depend on some changes in the current segregation arrangements and the need to factor in some flexibility for abnormally large away followings - from Leeds say, or in the FA Cup. It may also be possible - not mid-season but in the future - to tweak some of the wider seating and pricing arrangements to encourage migration to areas more visible to the cameras and to fill those taunting empty red acres that embarrass us on TV.
The club stressed - and we agreed with - the need to preserve the season-ticket base. There will be no sustained, standardised price-cutting on a regular basis. The cheapest, most practical and most desirable way to watch Boro will continue to be a season ticket. But there may be more one-off deals aimed at particular markets and games.
The reaction to the Sheffield Wednesday ticket offer from supporters may help shape the agenda on this. If it proves a success - and let's hope it is in all asenses and a bouncing crowd get to celebrate a stirring win - that may encourage Boro to be more pro-active.
If the town show they are willing to turn out then the club may be encouraged to try more creative ideas. Re-engaging the fan-base will not happen overnight. It may take a couple of faltering small steps first. It is important to keep trying different things to find a blend of price initiatives that work across the course of a season and across the demographic because Boro as a club will not be firing on all cylinders again - emotionally and financially - until we can get the crowds back in significant numbers.
We will be meeting again in a month or so to kick around some more ideas. Not just on prices but also on easy feelgood tweaks to the peripherals of the matchday atmosphere and how the club can engage more with supporters so keep the ideas rolling in. Hopefully by then we will be looking at how to harness a promotion push.