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.