Doing the right thing on the price of football

Q. What do you get if you travel 630 miles to watch your club play at Valley Parade?
A. After the sixty odd pounds you will put in your tank for petrol – a bill for £27.80 each.

Or at least that is what today’s cost of football survey tells us with City coming top of the League Two list of expensive days out.

A list that is – well – not right at all. The vast majority of people who go to a game at Valley Parade will be using the cheapest season tickets in professional football to watch the club and while a pie and a pint might set you back a bob or two the cost of getting into the ground – for most – is superb value.

The BBC’s figures show walk ups – to use the vernacular Mark Lawn did when talking about the 1,000 – 2,000 people who come to Valley Parade for a game who do not have season tickets including the supporters alluded to in the opening paragraph who would have travelled up from Torquay to watch the Gulls play City.

The same price would be paid for a guy who walked 630 meters from Bradford city centre on a Saturday afternoon and one wonders how often that happens. The door price at Valley Parade – over three times the season ticket cost – is expensive.

Need it be that way? BfB talked to Mark Lawn and he said that no one at Valley Parade had really considered bringing down the walk up price.

The pricing at Valley Parade is one of the things we can be genuinely proud of our club for. When times are hard for people Bradford City are not gouging into your pocket, they are showing a loyalty rarely afforded to fans in football. And they are doing the right thing.

Perhaps – in the interests of stability – City might look at the idea of the Price of Football survey and create their own shopping basket to tie the season ticket price at Valley Parade too. Football should cost the same as a trip to the cinema (currently VP is a bit cheaper), or a medium Pizza Hut Pizza, or three pints of bitter, or the average of these things. A built in escalator would stop the price of the season ticket falling behind inflation while underlining the message of cheaper tickets – that they align the price of football to other activities a person does.

And perhaps the walk up price should be the same. Tied to that figure with extra on top to reward people who commit their cash. If £7 is the cost of the City shopping basket then perhaps double it for walk ups. £14 is a more attractive proposition than £20.

That is fair, if old fashioned, thinking. A more modern and more radical approach would be to charge the same for both and to season ticket holders added value. Reductions on shirts, away travel, that sort of thing.

One doubts though that £6 – or £13 – difference will matter that much to the fan coming up from Torquay who obviously is following his or her club regardless of price. Those people deserve a medal for their commitment.

At the moment though the club is doing the right thing on pricing for season ticket holders and – if possible – it would be good to see them extend that where they can to walk ups. City are doing great things to keep football affordable for the fans who make the commitment to the club, it would be good to find a way to reward the most committed fans of other clubs, and set an example to the rest of the game as a way to do the right thing in football.

The Last Time

In front of me right now, just waiting to be filled in, is my application form for next season’s ticket. It is a form that, despite the poor taste of its promotional pictures, represents positive forward thinking from the club and excellent value for money for the supporters. And yet I am wondering whether I should bother this time.

Now I am well aware that there are those who would never consider giving up City. Those who sing of their lifelong commitment to the club are to be commended but I for one have never joined in that particular song. Maybe it is superstition, tempting fate or just the reality that advancing years brings that is reflected in my reluctance to participate in claiming such allegiance. Whatever the reasons, whether through choice, fate or necessity I am prepared to accept that there will come a time when I will no longer go to Valley Parade.

I know there are those whose commitment to City goes back a lot further than mine but I count my support in decades rather than seasons so there is no short-termism in the decision to question my renewal. So why think what for many would be the unthinkable?

Well to put it bluntly, I am finding it less and less enjoyable turning up and not recognising so many of “our” team. I am finding it more and more difficult to rationalise the thinking behind the team selection and then the unforced changes within games.

I am at a loss to explain what appears to be favouritism shown to some players and the dismissal of others regardless of their on-field performances. And any justification or explanations that do come from those in charge seem to have a hollow and inconsistent tone.

Now this is nothing unusual in football – we all know you can’t please all the people all the time – but the uncertainty of my renewal is not based on results but on my perceived attitudes of those making crucial decisions. And the trouble is that once you get to feeling this way there seems to be so many more decisions that add to the sense of irritation.

As supporters we all like to feel that we have some kind of ownership through our involvement with the club. Our contributions – both vocal and financial – to what happens at the club are, in principle at least, united in a common cause. But this is becoming more of a delusion that we literally and all too readily buy into and right now I am not sure I want it to continue. So what would it take to get me to sign up for another year?

Well, to put it bluntly once again, it would take something that would make me feel that my support mattered. Rightly or wrongly, I need to identify with the players that make up “my” team as well as the team itself. I find it difficult to do this with the manager’s involvement of so many loan players, especially when it is in preference to fit, contracted players.

If roles were reversed and the players had to sing to us about their commitment to the club then reality says that we wouldn’t expect “City ‘till I die” because players – no matter how popular – move (or are moved) on. Their on field commitment whilst playing for the club that signed them is enough for most of us. But too many of the “City” players of Peter Taylor’s managerial tenure would struggle to sing more than “City ‘till next month” Loan players have their uses but the quality and quantity used by P.T. has not been good for the club. (Is there anyone out there who can tell me exactly how many have been and gone and how long they were with us?) If this is what is felt is needed to bring about “success” I do not share that view.

Commitment whether from supporters, players or managers is a reciprocal thing and the lack of this from those making these decisions is what prompts me to consider my commitment. Questioning these decisions, whether by commentators, writers, supporters and now players is given short shrift. It has the ring of dictatorship rather than discipline, of confrontation rather than cooperation.

I hope I am not alone when I look for a team I can identify with. Right now I feel that as a supporter I am being taken more and more for granted. The management and the supporters need to reconnect and do so round a shared view of progress that makes sense to players and fans alike. Maybe then those that sing of a lifelong commitment will be rewarded and those of us who have kept up our support despite so much disappointment will feel we are getting our team back and will commit once again.

This could be the last time, Maybe the last time, I don’t know.

Has lowering prices really been for the good of the club?

Events on Saturday as the club remembered the fifty six people who died in the fire of 1985 were both touching and upsetting and as the afternoon unfolded Bradford City fans were shown in many lights with an impeccability observed minute’s silence at the start of the game and an ill-advised pitch invasion that culminated in an aggressive taunting of the visiting Northampton Town fans at the end.

City’s fans are welcome up and down League Two charged £20 a time as the biggest away support in the league but the reduced cost of following the club at home sees City operating on a reduced budget the money that used to go to Valley Parade perhaps being spread around the division by our away support which has run into trouble down at Exeter last season while witnessing problems caused by other fans down at Luton last term.

We consider these events and others as The Barry Articles asks the question…

“Has lowering prices really been for the good of the club?”

Dave Pendleton Bantamspast Curator & Former City Gent Editor

I’m disturbed by the implication of this question as it seems to suggest that those who misbehaved on Saturday were poor and are only at Valley Parade because of the cheap season tickets. Of course, it is total nonsense. Remember the much more violent scenes when City played Cardiff on the last day of the season in the 1990s? There were no cheap season tickets that day. The question even mentions trouble at Exeter last season – our longest away trip and one hardly likely to attract those on the breadline. I could go on to mention last day pitch invasions that have taken place for decades, or the 1970s and early ’80s when Valley Parade was notorious for hooliganism. The fact that we were shocked by Saturday’s events tells us that we have moved on significantly since those dark days.

The cheap season ticket deal has been the best thing to happen to City over the last decade. It has kept our support levels high and has brought football back to the people. We should be immensely proud. Frankly, if ticket prices were raised all it would do is bring in the same income with less people in the ground. Even if we did suddenly enjoy a windfall would that automatically translate to success? Last season tells us that there nothing is guaranteed by throwing more money into players’ wages. Football has to break its unsustainable wage inflation. It has to start somewhere, so why not Valley Parade? As I’ve written before I would even reduce the matchday admission prices. Then football would really have been brought back to ALL of the people and not just those committed enough to buy season tickets. There are many Bradfordians who cannot even afford our cheap season ticket deals and yet they are denied the chance to support City by ridiculously high matchday admission prices. £20 for Division Four football is far too high – another reason to try as hard as possible to sort out once and for all the ownership of Valley Parade.

I hope we keep the cheap season tickets and continue to be a beacon for the rest of football. The obscenity of wages in the Premier League has caused a trickle down effect to reach right down the divisions. Of course, at Valley Parade there are few, if any, on unsustainable wages. That is a good thing, even if it costs us success in the short term. The fact that our club is operating within its means is another thing we should be proud of. We can hold our collective heads up high – despite the hundred or so idiots who let down the Bradford City family on Saturday. Bad behaviour is bad behaviour and has nothing to do with the price of tickets.

Adam Hepton One of the first BfB Writers

Die-hards of the club will buy a season ticket no matter what, unless something terrible happens in their lives and they cannot do so. A cold hard economic fact is that most fans (of any club) do not fall into this category.

The club has increased the gross number of people attending games, but its core fanbase remains the same. These “casual” fans are perhaps even more demanding, and it is not cheap tickets that will get them to stay and become a die-hard fan: it is making them feel special.

With less money coming in, and the money spent on facilities and stadium security not being increased to match the amount of attendees, the matchday experience is suffering: we have terrible food and drink offered to us at a premium, and we have to suffer the club’s name being tarnished by morons rushing at the away fans.

The club has decided that more people who might well go to Leeds or Huddersfield next week coming through the turnstiles is preferential to providing adequately for those who’ll always come – but you don’t get awards or column inches for doing that, do you?

Paul Firth City fan and Author of Four Minutes To Hell

Talking to supporters of other teams, they are all amazed at our season ticket prices. They suddenly realise we’re not a ‘big spending club’, despite our comparatively massive gates. Such media reporting as we attract is favourable – pricing football for the masses.

The original impetus came from the fear that normal pricing would produce a poor atmosphere in a huge stadium. Sometimes we wonder whether the existing atmosphere is worth it – see the original ‘Barry’, as in booing. Now we wonder whether we really want some of those who could not otherwise afford to come regularly.

Although we clearly don’t want the mindless idiots, the answer is not to increase prices just to try to keep them out. Some poorer fans are still true fans; some better off fans still ran on to the pitch.

The board must conduct its budgetary process every year. It wants the best income it can achieve, to provide the highest viable player budget. It is a delicate exercise. How many would still pay another £10 a season? £20? £30?

We need to attract families. They are the next generation of supporters. We need to remind all fans that we are special. We can have low prices and proper supporters.

Monday, Monday

On Easter Monday evening, BBC 2 showed the whole of “EXTRAS”: Series 1 – fine if you are a fan of Ricky Gervais’ cringingly uncomfortable humour otherwise one to avoid.

Earlier on that same Monday, Bradford City, with its own team of “extras” put on a cringingly uncomfortable performance that brought to mind Ricky’s follow-up and the catchphrase “You havin’ a laugh?” only it wasn’t funny!

In fact Monday’s performance ranked among the worst I have seen this season (fortunately I don’t go to away games) and that was a view echoed by many as I made my way back down Midland Road.

O.K. so the weather and the pitch were poor to say the least and the enforced absence of some of the few remaining crowd “favourites” did nothing to help the situation but none of these excuse such an abject performance.

Now before I go any further I need to say that I have refrained from contributing to BfB since Stuart left – not because I had taken my bat home but to give Peter Taylor a fair chance to make his mark on the side. I had decided that I would follow his lead and wait until the end of the season but yesterday proved too much for me and my resolve failed…. because I care!

Peter Taylor is the best option for Bradford City and its future success I have no doubt about that. But despite all the right noises and some ruthless removal of players, the performance on the pitch is still important to me and Monday was just not good enough.

Much has been said about Taylor’s teams being dour and difficult to beat. Monday’s was dire and too easy to beat. The revolving door policy regarding strikers has proved nothing except that what we have is better than what has been brought in. When the opposition put five in our box for most attacking moves and we are left with Gareth Evans working to almost no avail waiting for support it seems to show that defensive responsibilities are overriding attacks even at home.

The sight of a loan centre half playing as a lone striker proves that none of the “extras” brought in by Taylor can cover for James Hanson in either threat or fitness and, no disrespect to James, but he is an inexperienced player in his first league season. Such a sorry state we find ourselves in.

Do we blame the replacements or is it the style of play that renders them inefficient? Monday’s wind did not help but I lost count of the number of aimless long balls pumped forward with little hope for the front men. This has become increasingly characteristic of Taylor’s teams and goals from open play, whilst spectacular, have been rare.

Without the threat of an outlet player, the all eleven back defensive strategy simply keeps us under threat longer. We don’t look like scoring many and from what I have seen and read on this site the successes we have had are more down to opposition misses rather than defensive strength. (Darlington and Dagenham could so easily have inflicted home upsets if we are being honest.)

Monday’s midfield seemed caught up in the “give it away” panic that permeated the team with only Luke O’Brien showing any vision and perhaps laying down a marker for a more central midfield role next season. We missed him in the second half. At the back we were far too easily outmuscled and mistakes were once again punished in a way we seem unable to replicate when they work in our favour.

As for the despicable treatment of Zesh all I can add is that for once the boo boys were put firmly in their place by those who realise the good he has done in games despite an erratic season.

So if they were bad, it was a meaningless game so why does it matter? Well this week saw the introduction of the second low-rate offer on season tickets – something for which those charged with the running of the club should be given credit. But if the aim is to attract another 5,000 or so to invest in a season ticket then the team should be busting the proverbial gut to demonstrate what such good value they will be getting. How many of the not yet committed would be keen to sign up for another season of what we saw on Monday.

The lack of commitment by some players may well be a valid area of criticism but commitment has to work right through the club and the supporters. Peter Taylor has been accorded the role of manager but to me there is a lot of the “Emperor’s new clothes” about his current situation. Too many seem to feign blindness to the reality of the situation and the way it has been handled. If you want commitment from players and commitment from fans you need commitment from the manager.

Despite all the right noises that commitment is not as yet forthcoming. All the talk about looking at players for next season that has perhaps excused some performances of late that would, under other circumstances, have been loudly derided has a hollow ring to it. Here today, gone tomorrow players have been the norm of the last month or so but we still don’t know if we have a manager for next season. Am I being unduly pessimistic or just realistic? We should soon know but in the meantime it is doing club, players and fans no favours.

As the season struggles to a close we need a lift of some kind to generate the ticket investment for the coming season. If those of us who have already committed feel this way how can we promote the future to those who remain undecided? Much sense has been said on this site about the need for a plan and the need to be open about it.

Tell us the plan, commit to it and just maybe we can forgive last Monday.

Put prices up to compete? City should be extending the reductions

After three years of what are called “cheap” season tickets there is talk that Bradford City should abandon the policy and begin to charge comparable prices with the rest of the league for admission to Valley Parade to make the club more able to compete in League Two.

The people putting forward this idea have been following City for a long time – Mike Harrison is editor of The City Gent and he put the opinion forward, Darren Slingsby who made the suggesting in the T&A letters page has been supporting the Bantams longer than I have been alive – and they make fine and valid points.

However, as I lay claim to first mooting the idea back in September 2005, I feel I should speak for the defence and say why I believe that not only is the scheme a good idea but also one that should be extended.

The idea behind the reduction in prices at Valley Parade is a mixture of ethics and the rudiments of supply/demand. The Bantams have a massive supply of seats for football matches at Valley Parade – about 25,000 of them – which outstrips the demand which even at the reduced price only runs to around 11,000. This is not uncommon in football at the level we are at by any stretch of the imagination. Most filled ground in League Two belongs to Burton Albion who cover 62% of seats. City are sixth on this table with just over 45% of seats at VP occupied – or at least paid for.

Rochdale’s 29% and Bury’s 26% come from clubs that are doing well – perhaps speaking to the idea that wins are what puts bums on seats – and Notts County’s 33.5% suggests that simply throwing money at a club does not guarantee packed houses.

Supply is common and demand tends to be low for League Two clubs at least and a look at the league above where Leeds fill fewer seats as a percentage than Burton suggests that this will not change even with promotion.

I come from the position that the status quo at Valley Parade in these terms are very much the one we have to live within. Price elasticity of demand governs how sliding this price up or down will effect that 11,000 and those who believe that increasing the price will give City more ability to compete come from the perspective that should it double then over 5,500 people would renew with similar points on that sliding scale having a similar response. They might be correct, they may not be. The science of economics is much less of a science than one would expect.

The effect of increasing prices would no doubt be fewer people in Valley Parade with the effects that will have on the atmosphere – not necessarily making it worse, but having an effect – but at some point one ends up recalling the Jasper Carrott joke about turning to the guy next to him at half time and say “Oi! You over there? Can you hear me?”

Joking aside the ethics of – while in the worst recession in eighty years – not pricing an afternoon at the local football team as more expensive than one to the cinema are admirable. Both are entertainments that people seek to enjoy on a regular basis and by making football affordable we make it inclusive.

By being more inclusive Bradford City are more relevant. The 11,000 Bradford City supporters have more weight when talking to Bradford Council about why they fund Bradford’s Rugby team rather than the footballers when one looks at how The Bulls pulled in 9,244 for a game with Wigan last week. The fact that City get more Bradfordian bums on seats should not go unnoticed.

Bradford City have supply, I believe that we need to increase demand – which is to say the number of people who come to Valley Parade – to enable us to compete better by virtue of having more funds available.

Away supporters pay £20 a head to come to Valley Parade and casual home fans pay a similar amount. Should we half that price then not only would it fit more easily alongside the season ticket prices but it would perhaps tempt the transient support to give City a try.

The typical family of four can more easily afford a £20 plus pies to go to a game than it can £40 and by welcoming those people – the parents and children – to Valley Parade we move to growing the support.

Few football fans start as season ticket holders and if we are to try grow the support then we cannot expect a person to go from sitting at home watching the results come in or staying in the pub doing the same on a Saturday to holding a season long commitment to the club.

Add to that the idea that by cutting the prices for away supporters the Bantams bring about a situation where more away fans can come to the game. The cost of a coach or car to Bradford for one of our rivals might be £30 – not cheap – but if slicing our prices in half means that that can be offered at £20 and thus get more uptake then let us do that not just because more visitors could increase the atmosphere or because we can guarantee that twice as many would be interested but because it takes a moral lead in the game that says that the very lifeblood of football – people who can be bothered following clubs away from home and could be dubbed “committed fans” – are not ripe to be ripped off.

Following City up and down the country is an expensive business and from Rochdale to Rotherham Bantams fans spend a lot doing it. We should – for the sake of some empathy with other football fans – try to set an example that respects the visitors to Valley Parade and rewards them with a break in the pocket. We can do it, we have the space, and I believe should do it.

Further ways of increasing demand require a longer term effort and I could never promise a reward from them but they are worth investigating.

There is much talk about a safe standing at Valley Parade campaign which is being given just attention. If we could get people back to the club by allowing them to stand then we have a way to increase demand.

My memories of football in the nineties are all about going to games with a number of friends which could be as low as two or three or as many as twelve or thirteen but the season ticket nature of Valley Parade at the moment means that unless one person is not attending then it is impossible to bring someone new to the match.

I have no idea of the legality or safety implication of allowing people to buy a season ticket not for “Seat 82 Row G Block F” of the bottom of the North Stand but rather for “The Bottom of The Kop” but that ability to float around as we used to do in the old days could allow the fan of today to drag a few of his mates enough to get them to come along. Something worth investigating in the name of rolling out further reductions and bringing innovations that might fill empty seats with paying customers rather than adding to the cost of the seats already filled.

We are three years into a revolution in pricing which – I believe – needs to be a permanent commitment to fans to respect them and thank them for the backing they show with affordable prices. There are problems with the model for sure, but rather than having those problems see us step back I would suggest that they are indications that we should push on, learn the lessons and find out how we can grow the support of the club.

Ultimately the problems with the level of competition the Bantams can show would be solved with a far greater change in the status quo at Valley Parade and the ownership and rent situation of the ground. On this subject I note the efforts of The Cambridge United Supporters Trust who are trying to buy back The Abbey Stadium.

The supporters buy the ground and allow the football club business to play there. Sounds like an idea to me.

Bradford City and financial reality

Commercial reality works two ways in football. The fans and the directors may look at money matters from different perspectives, but the club is still there in the middle. David Baldwin and Mark Lawn have both been telling the media in the last few days how they see that reality at Bradford City. Fans trying to come to terms with short-time working or no work at all can hardly be expected to forget about four consecutive defeats before the deadline for the cheapest tickets passes.

Bradford City are victims of their own publicity in two respects. At the start of last season the manager said that anything less than promotion would be a failure. So, by those standards, a failure it was. This season it was the board’s turn to explain on more than one occasion how they had put together a budget that they expected to produce a £600,000 loss, which would be justified by the much hoped for promotion.

In this respect City are not alone. Brentford, for example, are apparently aiming to wipe out the best part of a £10 million debt by getting themselves promoted. Just how the prospect of League One football produces anything like that amount of extra income may baffle some of us, but Brentford’s board are best placed to decide these things. And we won’t even begin to consider how Darlington’s business plan for the season depended on gates of almost double their actual attendances.

But by far the best piece of publicity City have achieved in recent years, even bringing them a trip to the House of Commons (I wonder what the second prize might have been!), was the cheap season ticket deal from two years ago. In those days when Julian Rhodes was the only chairman we had, he made it plain that the offer would only be taken up by the club if 10,000 or more supporters signed up for the deal. You do not need to be Einstein to work out the sums. Then along came Mark Lawn and his money, which allowed a little bit of juggling to extend the deadline for those 10,000 and eventually, including the free tickets for under elevens, over 12,000 were on the list.

The disappointment of a mid-table finish reduced that number by 1,000 or so for this season, but the excitement of automatic promotion prospects kept the idea very much alive for next season. The cheapest tickets (£99 in the Bradford End, but generally £150 for an adult) had to be bought by the end of December and then the £175 ticket deadline was the end of this month. The December sales went well, not least because on deadline day the team was just goal difference away from an automatic promotion spot. The later sales, we now know, have gone less well and it isn’t difficult to see why.

The problem, however, is that within two years the fans have come to regard a revolutionary idea as something perfectly normal. Those running the money side of the club are desperate to point out the huge price differences between City season’s tickets and those at virtually every other club in this league. It is, in my view, unfair to single out any individual club for comparison, such are the vast differences between the have-nots and the have-even-lesses of the fourth division. But, if you take the average price of season tickets in this league, City’s prices will be as far below as our average gates are above those of our rivals.

A few things clearly need spelling out. The first is that the prices for 2009-10 are fixed, no matter how many people take up the offers available before or after the end of March. Any scrapping of the cheap ticket scheme will not be before 2010-11.

Whatever income the club gets from its season tickets goes a very long way toward fixing the players’ budget. Match by match income is unpredictable and guesswork is no way of running a business that has, to say the least, had its recent financial problems. So every season ticket that isn’t sold is that much less to spend during the summer on players’ contracts.

Of course fans are currently very disappointed about recent form, none more so than those who have spent money, which brings no benefit to our club, in watching defeat after defeat away from home. That disappointment will only grow if promotion by one means or another is not achieved. Such are the expectations which nobody has seriously tried to dampen. Nor should anyone be anything other than positive.

But football fans generally concentrate on matters on the field of play, sometimes paying insufficient regard to matters behind the scenes. Whether it be £175 this month or £250 next, a Bradford City season ticket is great value in the fourth division, even if the product may not do exactly what it said on the tin, and excellent value in the third. For some fans, the state of their finances will have deteriorated since they bought this year’s season ticket. No football club can ignore that, but, equally, no club can lower their prices to the extent that would help those on a vastly reduced income.

The question that the rest of the fans have to face is whether they are prepared to pay £175, £250 or the instalments plan of £200 to give Bradford City the best chance of having a strong squad in 2009-10, regardless of which division they are playing in. The alternatives – a weaker squad and/or paying £20 a game and presumably not getting to as many, if any, matches – are just about all there is to consider. This is the financial reality of being a Bradford City supporter.

Halifax picking the wrong target when complaining about City’s season ticket offer

Mark Lawn is a no nonsense sort of guy.

When he talked about a plan to give Halifax people cheaper season tickets to go to Valley Parade as being a way to get them to follow a second club he did so in honesty. You can tell this because if he had nefarious intent his plain speaking style would have had him say “We are going to steal your fans.” Say that he did not.

Lawn is still finding his feet in this football game in the long term the offer could be a public relations hiccup but little more. If Bradford City were to drive to the Shay and – at gun point – force every Halifax Town supporter to buy a season ticket, a replica shirt, match days programmes and 23 pies a year then the story might get a column inch mention deep in the sport section buried under the news that Christiano Ronaldo had got out of bed on a different side this morning.

Stealing fans – as City stand accused of – is a reality in modern football. Back in the late 1990s Peter Risdale talked about Leeds United having a catchment area that included all of West Yorkshire disregarding the three other league club but Leeds themselves were under threat from bigger fish.

A wander through any town centre in those days would have shown you Manchester United, Liverpool and the odd Arsenal shirt. These days you can add Chelsea, AC Milan and Real Madrid to that list. Bradford City and Halifax Town are hardly getting a look in.

Whole industries are based on pushing the Premiership product and small clubs are getting swamped. Newspapers see clubs go to the wall but never break from the coverage of the top flight. 24 Sports News coverage does not flinch when administration but ranks the story under someone’s contract negotiation from someone at Old Trafford.

The likes of Halifax Town and Bradford City ring supporters to ask them why they have not renewed season tickets but the football fan on the other end of the line is assaulted on a daily basis by competitive messages. If football below the Premiership level got smart it would band together to make a more attractive proposition for all.

Halifax Town supporters are probably be right to be angry at Mark Lawn who like all other chairmen is looking after his club first and while I doubt he had any malice in what he did and like 99.9% of people who have seen a game in the lower two leagues last year he will be horrified by what is happening at The Shay there is still a persistent problem with self-interest in the game.

Recent articles on BfB about Leeds United and Huddersfield Town have produced a 2:1 ratio of abuse to sense in the comments the site receives and much of that abuse centred on the idea that it would be “funny” if Bradford City went out of business.

Football fans are programmed to want each other’s destruction when in truth the better our rivals do the better we tend to do. When we were in the Premiership Leeds were in Europe, Huddersfield the second flight and Halifax in the league. Is it really a coincidence that now we all struggle? Often – to steal a phrase – what is good for the tea and biscuit company is good for me.

Huddersfield Town vs Bradford City over the last few years has seen both clubs enjoy large attendances, added interest and the spoils of rivalry that make supporting a club so enjoyable but one comment on BfB last week said (paraphrasing) “I hope you don’t sell the 7000 tickets you need to stay in business.” as if there is a benefit for Town in not having a Bradford City.

City kicked off something special in football and some – including I note Huddersfield – benefited and is now offering cheaper tickets and getting full stadiums with great atmosphere. What was good for the one was good for all. Perhaps the same sort of innovation should be continued in a way that admitted that clubs at this – and to be honest every – level are yoked together.

I would suggest one chairman contacts all 24 clubs in League Two and proposes an away season ticket that did the same for travelling fans as City did for home fans and offered cheaper prices. Imagine paying £240 in the summer for away entry to every City game. Sure Rotherham would lose out on the £17 they scalp you for on the turnstile when you have driven down the M1 but they would get that money back from those Exeter supporters who took advantage of the offer for cheaper, nearer games.

All of which is to illustrate what could be done if clubs worked together. As it is the culture in football is very much every man for himself and while Halifax Town’s supporters trust rails against Lawn they do so because City have emerged as a clear target when they are up against a faceless system which robs them of support on a far greater scale than the Bantams ever could (or would) and exist in a community which has yet to recognise that when one is damaged all are.

Time to deliver on and off the field

One of the great things about emailing people is you can pretend to be sincere.

When I mailed a Leeds-supporting friend if she’d at least enjoyed her day out at Wembley last weekend I was able to do so without the immature smirks and wisecracks Leeds-supporting colleagues who sit near me have had to endure. I was equally glad she wasn’t able to see me shaking my head in despair after receiving her reply.

Yes she’d enjoyed the occasion, but was still carrying a sense of injustice that her beloved whites had lost to Doncaster Rovers. Not because she felt the players deserved more than the 1-0 defeat they suffered, but because the Leeds United supporters had notably outnumbered their South Yorkshire counterparts.

The Doncaster fans were rubbish for the number of empty seats they left she claimed, while ignoring the fact Rovers were forced to suspend ticket sales due to the number of ticketless Leeds fans attempting to buy them. I couldn’t help but feel it was a flawed logic to believe one club deserved to beat another on account of how many supporters they could muster.

Typical Leeds United fans – arrogant and looking down their noses at clubs who are now their equal, perhaps another season in England’s third tier will teach them to be more humble.

But wait. Supporters convinced success is their privilege on the basis of the number of their own, belief that opposition players won’t be able to handle the ‘intimidation’ of your big crowds, the feeling you can sit back and enjoy assured success…it all sounds a bit familiar – like us a year ago?

If there’s one thing the 2007/08 season should have taught us it’s that having more supporters than your rivals is not an advantage on its own. With our crowds averaging 10,000 more than many others, it was easy to get carried away in the belief these small clubs wouldn’t fancy running out at Valley Parade and we’d sweep everyone aside. The reality proved somewhat different as nine defeats contributed to the best supported club in the division managing only the 11th best home record.

Another year on and, despite the lack of success on the pitch, the aim is to dramatically increase crowds once more with a second remarkable season ticket offer. The daily updated figure at the bottom of City’s official website suggests it doesn’t appear to have yet captured the Bradford public’s imagination, but with many likely to be holding out until the last minute the club are still confident that the 9,000 adult applicants needed to trigger everyone getting a free second season ticket will be reached.

The season ticket initiative deserves all the applause it’s getting, but it does throw up plenty of questions for the season ahead. Will everyone who receives a free season ticket find someone to use it and, even then, will they go to every game? Are there enough supporters anxiously waiting until just before the deadline to see if the club are close to the magic 9,000 target, where they can then split the cost with a friend confident of getting that free season ticket?

The number of season ticket holders increased markedly following the £138 offer for 2007-08 season, but many of these were clearly floating supporters lured by the optimism that Stuart McCall’s return generated and novelty of live football. If, after watching a failed campaign of League Two football they renew it’s an achievement of sorts, but do they have other friends they can persuade to join them or will they think £75 a ticket or not bother? And what if 9,000 isn’t reached, what does the club plan to do then?

The growing uncertainty of if the season ticket initiative will succeed is similar to last season, where as City failed dismally to fight against relegation the number of supporters pledging to buy a season ticket was worryingly short of the 10,000 target. Julian Rhodes decided to run the offer anyway and the summer euphoria of Stuart’s return and Mark Lawn’s investment helped the uptake exceed expectations. There will be no such off the field moves this close season and it’s unlikely Stuart will be making the sort of headline signings that would trigger large queues at the ticket office. The next few weeks are going to be very interesting.

The hope is that the offer will succeed for more reasons than for those of us who have bought a season ticket for 2008/09 to get a second free. When Rhodes unveiled the first season ticket offer in February 2007 his motivation was to make the local football team affordable to everyone in the area. Football’s incredible rise in popularity over the last 15 years has sparked unprecedented interest, but seeing it in the flesh has gone beyond the reach of many.

The original season ticket sought to readdress the balance and, after some prodding, captured people’s interest. Other clubs have since replicated what City pioneered and, as the Premier League becomes further grasped from reality, Football League clubs have the chance to re-establish their importance in local communities by being a place young and old can afford to be.

Should the 9,000 be reached, prompting the second free season tickets, more fans will be supporting City next season than during the 1998-99 promotion season exactly 10 years earlier, a fact which underlines the high ambition of the initiative. Clearly it’s going to be touch and go if this is achieved and, even if it does, question marks over the future will remain. What about season ticket prices for 2009-10? What about 2010-11? It’s unclear if Rhodes and Lawn will have such a long term strategy and ultimately it could be out of their hands.

All of which underlines the importance of things going right on the pitch next season. City must mount a stronger promotion push sooner rather than later or the renewed interest in the Bantams will fade for many as quickly as it was rediscovered. There is a hardcore support who will continue to follow City come what may, but no amount of great offers will persuade the more fair-weather supporters to keep coming if we’re going to continue struggling against the likes of Accrington and Barnet. If City can be celebrating promotion the cheap season tickets will remain popular, but it seems unlikely there will be a strong uptake next year if another season of mid-table mediocrity follows.

The statement of ambition from Julian Rhodes this week, while putting pressure on the management team, is welcome. Whether the club should believe they can be in the Championship in two years is debatable, but the old saying of shoot for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars could be on the chairmen’s minds. Certainly the immediate aims should centre of promotion from the basement league and provide those of a claret and amber persuasion the first opportunity to celebrate success in nearly a decade.

The pictures of Leeds United supporters crying at Wembley might have give us all a good laugh, but they should also act as a warning that big crowds at Valley Parade next season offer only limited help to achieving the goal of promotion. It’s appears such lessons are being taken on board with the announcement Stuart is to have a larger than anticipated budget to mould a team capable of achieving the dreams of a fickle and impatient Bradford public – before they conclude that even some of the cheapest season tickets in the country aren’t worth it.

Where Do The Good Times Start When The Fans Contact The Club Once A Year?

Today I got a message on my Facebook page – yes dear reader even the bloke what does BfB wastes time on Facebook – talking to me about trying to help City reach the 9,000 mark for season ticket sales. Have a visit and think about how City are using modern media to promoted the club which is welcome and a turn away from the face of most football clubs.

On Saturday I stood under canopy at Valley Parade at midday queuing for the single window of the ticket office to renew my season ticket and as each of the six or seven people in front of me were processed slowly. It was not cold and there was no wind whipping past the ticket office. The queue moved slowly but this was understandable because applications that go beyond the simple take time and the one guy processing them was working as fast as he could but in the end he is still one guy.

“I hope this is a simple one,” he commented as I got to the front and it was and I left having queued for a long time that kept within the limited of what could be called acceptable – probably because I was not too cold or too wet – and went on my way and my issue is not that I felt like I had been treated badly just that I did not feel as if I had been treated well.

The largest club superstore is attached to the ticket office. It is big, it is warm, it is empty – more or less – and in my head I picture a sofa with a coffee pot waiting for you as you go through the details of your application opposite the same man who rather than having to shout through a glass wall is opposite with a laptop in front of him entering information. I imagine the kids that were wandering around me outside watching the TV screens of the Manchester United game or browsing for products. I imagine a much more welcoming experience of renewing a season ticket.

For this May ritual of renewal is – for many people – the only contact with the club outside of a match day environment and while it is very typical of the rest of the game it is hardly something that one would relish and perhaps the club that lead the way in season ticket pricing might look at the way that tickets are renewed.

The day of treating all football supporters as if they are potentially violent thugs one must be separated from by sheets of glass are surely behind us and with so much space available to the club and understanding the unique nature of this contact between club and fan could more effort not be made to make a better experience?

A comfy place to sit while you are dealt with and a warm environment around you is going to make for a more pleasant half hour than one current enjoys when making the once yearly contact. The club that led the way on customer pricing can also start to make moves on customer service. I’ve no complaints with how I was treated when getting my season ticket but with some care and attention it could go from necessary evil to a comfortable, rich and enjoyable way of the club saying Hi to its main backers once a year.

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