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.