Today’s season ticket price announcement from Leeds United represents by far the most notable and praiseworthy act of GFH-C’s tenure at Elland Road so far. Having listened to supporters and taken on board concerns about ticket prices, the owners resolved to test the waters with the ‘Watch Leeds for Less’ promotions and the subsequent success of these offers has clearly now been instrumental in shaping next season’s pricing strategy.
A number of long-term issues have finally been addressed; with standard adult tickets falling by between 13.8% and 19.7%, there are now a plentiful supply of reasonably priced tickets available. Sitting in the Kop now equates to less than £20 a game over a 23 game season for those who renew – a much more realistic level of charging. Significantly too, the supply and choice of the lowest cost tickets are far greater; for the first time in years, South Stand season tickets are available, a very wise move considering that it was the ends that sold out for both the Peterborough and Blackpool fixtures.
The policy on concessions has also been radically overhauled. In most areas, the rates of reduction for child places are almost doubled with 25.5% and 32.9% discounted off this season’s prices in the North/South and West/East Upper stands respectively. While the prices may still fall some way short of the sub-£100 kids deals at many clubs, it still represents a big step in the right direction. Similarly the decision to introduce ‘Young Adult’ and student prices is another taken in mind of the longer term benefits rather than maximising profits on a match-by-match basis.
However, at a club where by common consensus – and not just by rumour or hearsay, but in the comments from management and owners alike – funds are tight, it does also on the surface represent a very bold, brave move. With the summer to negotiate, and with it most likely, the appointment of a new manager, which in turn will bring demands for transfer funds, GFH-C face having to deliver another significant outlay against this backdrop of lower pricing.
With a large advance from season ticket sales already mortgaged against the cost of the East Stand redevelopment, not to mention other outstanding liabilities to cover, and with no match day income to speak of rolling into the club for almost 3 months, it would seem critical on the surface that the new pricing strategy proves to be an overwhelming success. Bearing in mind then that just to recoup the shortfall of income incurred from the reductions, Leeds will need to increase sales by around 20%, this bold, brave, applaudable move could also indubitably be construed by some from a financial perspective as a ‘high risk’ or even a foolhardy manouvre.
While prices have proved enough to lure supporters back to Elland Road on a one-off basis, will it be enough to get many to commit to an entire season? I’m sure it could be enough for a significant number of them, quite possibly enough indeed to ensure that overall income from sales doesn’t drop. Yet in order to make the re-pricing a real success, GFH-C will surely hope for a lot more, especially as monies from match-by-match sales will naturally fall, both as a result of lower prices and a smaller market of regular purchasers (as some will have bought season tickets), should Leeds struggle in mid-table again.
It was notable, that as efficacious as the ‘Watch Leeds for Less’ promotions have been, they still didn’t quite have the impact of the original exercises back in 2006/07. Back then, with Leeds struggling against relegation and gates struggling around the 20,000 mark, the club offered £15 tickets for a midweek February game against QPR and an early March, Saturday fixture with Luton; 29,593 turned up to the first match and 27,138 to the latter. On the day of each game, Leeds were rooted at the very foot of the table, but the pricing enough was alone to bring the crowds back. This time, with Leeds still in play-off contention, 25,532 attended the Blackpool game and 24,240 were at Tuesday night’s clash with Peterborough. Logic might dictate that you would have expected higher crowds to watch a more successful team, but back in 2007, ticket prices (despite a dreadful season) were considered the main barrier to people going to Elland Road, in 2013 following a further 6 miserable years, apathy has become just as formidable a deterrent.
Only a sound, exciting managerial appointment and good quality signings are likely to satiate the hunger of many of those naysayers who fall into the bracket of the ‘totally disenchanted’, to return. Only ambition on the pitch is likely enough to entice those back and transform a significant goodwill initiative into a huge success. Having been at the reins now for almost 3 months and presided over consistently low crowds (outside of the promotions), it would seem inconceivable that Messrs. Haigh, Patel and Alrayes themselves don’t appreciate and understand this. Figures don’t lie.
So in examining these prices, noting that the 5-month payment plans remain available, does it all add up? Does this arguably represent a gesture of generosity, that as much as they may like to, GFH-C just can’t realistically offer when working within such tight constraints at a club rooted in inertia?
My initial reaction would be ‘yes’, but with a ‘yes’ with a caveat. When an investment bank gets involved in an institution, the last thing those in charge are likely to do is jeopardise their investment by raising the degree of risk to an ‘unnecessarily high’ level. While the promise of Premier League riches does represent a huge prize, as Salem Patel has openly admitted, it would also seem that GFH-C aren’t in the business of so readily losing a multi-million pound, potential-rich asset to the administrators either.
Talks have been ongoing and rumours have abounded over outside investment being courted almost since the day GFH-C took control of Leeds United back in December. More recently speculation has intensified that an announcement was imminent. With a new season ticket initiative now launched, the success of which is as much down to inspiring the fans with ambition as it is to do with pricing, then could we be right to assume that another big story could be about to follow?
It all adds up…
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