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Thursday, 9 July 2015

Swans: True to 22 - Some thoughts and figures

Back on Sunday I wrote about how '..The way clubs treat the Away Fans initiative is symbolic of what they think of their fans' so I was blown away yesterday when Swansea announced their True to 22 scheme.

I'd argued previously that although Swansea were one of the clubs putting the most effort into the Away Fans Initiative, I felt it was better spent on lower ticket prices rather than programmes, free shirts etc., I suggested that the £200k would best spent on those who may find it hardest to afford to go and without means testing everyone that'd probably be the Under 25s.

What Swansea have done has gone hugely beyond that, in their statement launching the scheme they estimate the saving to be £300k but personally I think it'll be closer to £500k.

The figures are a bit back of a fag packet but Swansea's figures estimate someone going to every away game will save £250, not everybody will end up buying tickets via the Jack Army subsidy but I think a huge amount will, especially for the bigger (and usually more expensive) games.

Last year's Chelsea allocation was 2,200, I've seen the odd post mentioning it may be 3k this year.  If we take the lower figure that could be £60k subsidy in one game with similar if not more for Man Utd Away.

Clubs are prohibited from charging more for away fans than the equivalent seats for home fans (Newcastle have got fined for this in the past) so teams can't just whack up the price knowing Swansea will pay the difference, but it may be that after finishing 8th and being in their 5th season in the Premier League there may be fewer Category C type fixtures such as the £25 v Arsenal.

Ultimately whether it's £300k or £500k it's still relatively small beer to the sums clubs are receiving from TV etc., but is a hugely symbolic step, time will tell if the Swans are swimming against the tide or are able to force the hand of a few other clubs as well.

For anyone who feels that home fans are being missed out, 19 games at £22 each=£418 and early bird prices for season tickets were from £419 so from that point it seems fair and that's before you've factored in travel costs etc.,

While you'd have too be mad to criticise the scheme there will be some consequences of it.  The system is being changed slightly so Jack Army members who are season ticket holders can still buy in the second week of sale (which seems fair enough), what they haven't said is if the 30% of any allocation that was kept back previously for the 2nd week will still be happening.  I'm assuming so or otherwise the full allocation could well be gone in the first week.

Even if the 30% are held back then that means for Chelsea for example there could be 660 tickets available for non-ST holders which could end up going in minutes (maybe I'm over-hyping things but £22 for first game of the season at the title holders could go quickly, even if it's live on TV and a 5.30pm kick off).

This seems like the perfect time to make use of the Jack Army points system which for the last couple of years has been largely redundant.  There's plenty of ways you can quantify who 'deserves' first crack at tickets, but is hopefully something that'll be looked at and that's before we get on to anything Wonky Sheep related....

There's plenty of conspiracy theories flying around and some inter-forum bickering but they are legit as confirmed by Vice-Chairman Leigh Dineen:
It's a bit of an extreme scenario but the main question is what happens if 3,000 Jack Army season ticket holders want to go to Watford but there's only 2,000 tickets? When the ticket office (virtual and real) open at 10am one Monday morning, who is at the front of the queue, do Wonky Sheep get priority or already have a number of tickets allocated to those who meet the ticketing criteria or do Wonky Sheep customers risk the ultimate nightmare of a weekend in Watford without even getting to watch football?

Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Symbolism of the Away Fans Initiative

For me, the Away Fans Initative/Fund is a great example of how the Premier League works with even something as relatively small fry as this producing vastly different approaches for clubs in ways in which they deal with their fans.

For those of you that haven't heard about it, to encourage the 'Away Fan Experience' the Premier League persuaded/encouraged/forced each PL club to assign £200k of its budget each season to benefit Away fans.  It isn't extra cash just a small proportion ring-fenced for a certain area.

I've written about this in the past here showing how at the end of the 13/14 season Southampton seemed to blow most of it on the final game of the season at Swansea, but it seems that Swansea themselves may have done something similar (albeit on a smaller scale) with their 'Free Home Shirt' voucher offer on their last game of the season at Crystal Palace.

For those buying tickets for the Palace game, along with the tickets they also received a voucher for the 2014/15 home shirt and as a result the Swans received a fair amount of positive publicity.

Looking at the May minutes of the Swansea supporters trust, there was the following paragraph:

"The Away Fan initiative continues which has been successful in helping the fans absorb some of the cost of away travel, as usual there has been ticket reduction as well as a meal deal, free programme and for the Crystal Palace fixture a free shirt"

This suggests that the cost of the shirts (which had recently been reduced to £15) has been taken from the £200k budget (if that's not the case I'm happy to stand corrected, but haven't heard back from a couple of the board members I tweeted about the Away Fans Fund).

Not everyone would redeem their vouchers but probably would have been about 2-3,000 redeemed, so £30-40k of the £200k budget spent on a single game (again if it isn't out of that budget happy to stand corrected).

This isn't a case of sour grapes as I was one of the people that got a free shirt out of this but personally I think the budget could be better spent.  Another example was the free programme for the game away to Arsenal.  It's a nice programme (always good to read Michael Cox/Zonal Marking's view on things) but at £3.50 a time (assuming Arsenal charge cost price) that's maybe another £10k of the budget gone.

Michael Cox bang on the money again in his preview of Arsenal-Swansea before Gomis' late winner.
Some clubs are a bit boring and just knock a few quid off every ticket, some like Everton make more of an effort and actually work on the Away Fan Experience at Goodison Park (along with things for travelling Evertonians).  Then you have Hull where it seems they've taken quite an extreme approach and look to have spent most, if not all of it on facilities/services for Away fans travelling to Hull, whether this is out of spite for the whole 'Hull Tigers' situation or an aim to keep any spend within the club I don't know but certainly seems to have annoyed Hull fans.

Although Swansea are one of the more proactive clubs with regards to any away fans initiative, in my opinion rather than free shirts or programmes, the fund would be better off spent on subsidised tickets/travel for those who need the assistance most with the most obvious example being under 25s (some matches/clubs have reduced prices for under 18s or even under 22, but it's a bit sporadic).

I'd rather a sizeable discount went to fans in this group than on a 'nice to have' item such as a programme for everybody.

None of this touches on the wider area of ticket pricing in general but at the very least it'd be good to see an itemised list of what each club has spent the £200k on so that approaches can be compared across clubs, the closest thing is this from the FSF which showed clubs plans early on in the season but wouldn't take too much more to fully show where the money is spent.

There's a breakdown of the FSF finding and more over at The Swansea Way.