Saturday 21st June sees the deadline for the early bird season ticket pricing come and go. At £195.30 for an adult ticket for Championship football, it seems like an absolute steal. However, despite the rock bottom prices, sales are reportedly sluggish at best. With only around 4,000 season tickets sold at the time of writing, the club currently look like losing a large percentage of the 10,000+ season ticket holders from the past few seasons.
Naturally, some will be waiting right up until the deadline, and another 1,000-2,000 could still be shifted before the 21st, but a significant drop-off in the number of people willing to commit to a season ticket is likely. Back in April we suggested a seven point plan that the club could adopt to prevent such a mass exodus; those points being that Karl Oyston should…
- Admit that mistakes have been made
- Step out of the spotlight
- Embrace the Supporter Liaison Officer role
- Get the season ticket pricing right
- Not put a deadline on season ticket pricing
- Put a proper structure in place
- Pray for a miracle on the pitch
At best, just three of those have been achieved to date. Karl Oyston did admit that he had become sloppy and complacent in his running of the club (#1), but stopped short of a full and frank apology for his incompetence in recent years. That said, keeping the pricing at the reduced rate of £195.30 (#4) was a shrewd move and the wished-for miracle (#7) was achieved on a sunny day at the DW Stadium, against all rational expectation.
Conversely, the other four points can be judged as near total failures, and at this moment in time will impact on the reduced number of season tickets shifted. Rather than step out of the limelight (#2), it seems that Karl Oyston looks more intent on stepping into it. The departure of club secretary Matt Williams has left a gaping chasm in the operational structure of the club, with his replacement seemingly more limited to the administration side of things, as opposed to the more sprawling nature of Williams’ previous role.
In an interview given to local media following the appointment of José Riga, Oyston has stated he will seek to play a bigger role in keeping an eye on the football side, and there seems little prospect of him stepping back from media commitments either. Until quality is delivered, both on the pitch and off it, Oyston’s personal brand remains toxic and his latest interview will have done him few favours.
The prospect of a fresh view of the Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) role (#3) remains unlikely, with club journalist Mark Ridgway continuing to double up in this role, despite not fulfilling many of the criteria suggested by UEFA in their job description. Likewise the structure of the club (#6) seems more flakey than ever before. The aforementioned departure of Williams means that Oyston is without his de facto chief executive, and with Riga’s backroom staff yet to be assembled, the football operations team looks shallow to say the least. Oyston spoke of a fresh approach to how the club would be run last week, but as alluded to in the previous post on Measured Progress, there was scant detail, suggesting these platitudes may not be followed through on.
The difficulty of addressing the issues above varies from point to point, but by far the easiest problem to remedy is that of the season ticket deadline (#5). With so many still on the fence, there is little need for the club to back themselves into a corner. Both Karl Oyston and José Riga have discussed that they have not been in a rush to appoint a manager or sign players respectively, so why should fans rush into buying a season ticket when the club at this point in time looks so under-prepared for the forthcoming season?
The notion of a deadline and the reasons why putting a time limit on sales makes sense largely don’t apply in this case, but for the sake of completeness, let’s address a few of those…
“We need season ticket money in to aid cash flow over the lean summer months”
In the past, this was a bona fide justification for clubs, including Blackpool, to encourage early season ticket sales so that the club’s coffers could be sustained through the summer when there are no gate receipts to rely on. The current day Blackpool however are sitting on positively mountains of cash reserves, so meeting staff costs through the summer – however small they may be on the football side with just six registered players – is no problem.
“We can’t set the budget without knowing what income we’ll generate from season tickets”
Again, the significant cash at bank position Blackpool currently boast, tied in with a final year of parachute payments from the Premier League in the region of £8m, mean that the Seasiders should be able to budget without waiting to see what the likely attendance will be. Also, when the tickets have been priced so cheaply, the potential season ticket receipts are just a fraction of the club’s projected income anyway, so again this reason for demanding early purchases falls down.
“We can’t sell new season tickets if we have to hold back seats of existing season ticket holders”
When it looks likely that are sizeable portion of fans will be leaving in droves it’s hard to imagine there will be a queue of new season ticket holders lining up to take their place. There will be little to no new demand, and as such it should be possible to allow season ticket holders to renew right up until the first home match of the season. Once the season starts, fans should then lose their claim on their seat and new fans can potentially move into those vacated spots, but until August there really is no need to free up space.
“Real fans deserve the best price for showing loyalty up front”
The club has made poor choices in dividing the support in the past with the controversial banding scheme for the allocation of away tickets in the Premier League season, but if protecting the feelings of those precious enough to raise this particular complaint is awarded a higher priority than trying to retain as much support as possible, then the club’s judgement should be brought into question. Fine, make the reduced two-year season ticket an early bird perk if need be, but honouring the existing deadline just to keep loyalists happy would be a misstep.
A dangerous game of poker
Among those who are yet to renew, some will do so just before the deadline regardless of what the next few days has in store, some will be 50/50 and some will take significant convincing that the club will right the wrongs of the past few years. However, it seems vital that the club recognises just how dangerous it would be to call the bluff of those sitting on the fence.
If the deadline comes and goes and the price reverts to £360 for an adult season ticket, for some it will be the perfect justification to walk away. “Sod ’em”, some will say, “they obviously were only on the bandwagon and are shirking away from the fight when the club needs them”. Absolute nonsense. The only chance of a positive future and maintaining Championship level (or higher) in the long-term is to keep a strong base of support through season ticket holders.
Once the club loses some season ticket holders, they will take years to win back at best, and at worst will be lost forever. All Blackpool fans should long for a packed Bloomfield Road, watching a team playing entertaining football, but by giving supporters cause to stay away, those days could soon be a distant memory.
Perhaps most importantly, there is no real significance to the 21st June cut-off date, it’s simply an arbitrary point at which time the club has decided the discount period should end. For the various reasons outlined in this article, there is absolutely no need to bring the early bird pricing to an end this weekend. If they choose to do so, they have so little to gain, and so much to lose. Only stubborn inflexibility, which in the chairman’s defence is his forté, warrants the decision to put the prices up after Saturday. There is no benefit to the club in ending the early bird discount period.
It says a lot that the club have had trouble selling season tickets sub-£200, but such are the bridges that need building. And that is why extending, or altogether scrapping, the deadline makes sense – it’s an easy, quick win. With one small gesture, the club can earn back some goodwill and buy themselves some more time to prove to supporters that the club can change their ways as a squad is assembled for the 2014/15 Championship season.
If the club won’t budge, it could be a long time before the crowds return. It’s vital they don’t make this mistake when there is an easy way out. An email to supporters on Monday night stressing the approaching deadline would seem to suggest the club will stick to their guns; a choice they will surely rue, but it’s still not too late for a change of heart. Over to you, Karl…