Thursday, January 19, 2006

Criminal Charges

Many Charlton fans are rightly astonished at the ticket prices for our upcoming game at Chelsea (48 pounds), but some of them need a healthy dose of today's new reality. Chelsea have no interest in 'fairness' or competitiveness or any of those nice 'touchy-feely' traits that used to characterise sport. They are a business owned by the richest man in Europe, and run by hard-nosed businessmen like the odious chap photographed.

It's a free market and Chelsea are free to charge whatever they like for the fixture and Charlton fans have a choice whether to attend or not. The biggest clubs and the richest clubs (Chelsea are in the latter category, not the former) have implicitly and in some cases explicitly, put in place a clear 'priority list' for different sub-categories of fans. This is clear not only from the prices charged on Sunday, but also from the approach taken by fellow London rival Arsenal for selling out their new stadium.

At the very top of that list are the corporate hospitality packages which sell rubber chicken lunches and a cushioned seat to global corporations eager to entertain key clients. The big London clubs clearly have an advantage here given the preponderance of mega corporations in the city.

Also near the top of that list is a further sub-category of fan which in recent years has become extremely important, namely the foreign 'tourist fans' particularly from Asia who purchase extortionately expensive tickets as part of a wider tour package. Not only do these 'fans' pay up for their tickets, they also tend to supplement the club's income through club shop spending sprees.

About halfway down the list is the bog-standard home season-ticket holder. They are important to the club because they are stable and large in number, but they tend not to spend much additional money, often showing up five minutes from kick-off having used up their pre-match cash in local pubs instead of at the stadium. Charlton, given our high proportion of season ticket holders compared to total capacity, have a disproportionate number of these types of supporters, but we lack the glamour to attract the high-margin categories.

Just below the season-ticket holder is the 'fairweather' fan. Again they have some 'value' because they are loyal to one club and they help to fill the stadium for the bigger games, but they can't be relied upon to attend every game and their preference for game-by-game tickets is also less attractive from a cashflow perspective compared to prepaid season tickets.

Right at the bottom of the list, and for good reason is the away fan. For those clubs with excess demand for seats, the away fans presents little more than aggravation. Some purists might argue they add to the atmosphere, and they are right up to a point, but on the flipside they add to the police bill, they don't spend any money beyond the admission price and regardless of the quality of the product on show, they will never consume it again (until the following season's fixture). Given that clubs are obliged to offer a certain amount of tickets to visiting fans, their only rational objective (in the absence of any rare displays of altruism) is to maximise revenue from them. Admittedly in the case of Charlton and other less well-supported clubs, charging 48 quid may backfire on this score (might halving the admission price more than double our away support?, but Chelsea know that over the course of a season they will be better off with this policy.

Before Charlton fans get all high-and-mighty on this issue, it is worth remembering we don't exactly treat our visiting fans with a great deal of respect. The admission prices may be fairer, but we house them in an old stand with seats bolted to an existing terrace, minimal catering facilities and a great big pylon in line with the centre of the goal.

To put the issue another way, the policy of clubs like Chelsea can be compared to an airline's ticketing policy. At the front of the plane are the highly sought-after businesspeople enjoying first-class service for an astronomical fee, all paid for on expenses. Behind them are varied categories of passengers, ranging from businesspeople travelling on a tight budget in economy class (somewhat valued by the airline, akin to a season-ticket holder), to the backpackers with no concept of loyalty to the airline (akin to an away fan).

Instead of moaning about it, the best thing Charlton fans can do is refuse to attend and watch the game in the comfort of their own home or the pub, thus depriving Chelsea of any revenue at all. Unfortunately we will instead have the worst-case scenario of 500 or so ripped-off fans, unable to provide the team with much vocal support, and suggesting to tv viewers that we are (again) terribly supported away from home. At least a completely empty away section could have generated some media coverage and perhaps embarrassed Chelsea into a more generous pricing policy.

And for those of us unwilling (and in my case, unable) to attend, just add 'ticket prices' and 'Sunday lunchtime kick-offs' to that ever-growing list entitled, "Reasons I Don't Attend Football Matches As Much As I Used To."


At 4:59 PM, Blogger Ken J said...

Surely, the prospect of watching Steve Bennett's refereeing excellence is worth the price of admission?

At 5:51 PM, Anonymous suzisausage said...

good post, however, I believe we could try to change it rather than just refusing to go.

only 200 fans going to chelsea in the charlton end, isn't going to prove a point.

its not just the fact that its £48, its the fact the game is live on sky as well. if the game was on a saturday at 3pm then more people would pay the £48.

sky are the bad party here.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

Unfortunately Sky are football's biggest customer by far and as a result, have far more barganing power than the fans (even if they were better-organised). But refusing to attend is the single-best way to persuade the clubs to change. Writing letters will just see them say, "Thanks for your comments - see you on Sunday."

Sky don't have any ability to dictate to clubs on admission prices - personally speaking, whilst I don't like everything Sky does, I do appreciate being able to watch Charlton more often than I otherwise would, and it gives me the choice of travelling to the game with all the accompanying aggravation, or watching it in comfort at home.

Fans do have to remember it's a free choice to attend, not an obligation. On a similar note, whilst the scheduling of the Newcastle fixture was crazy, one Charlton fan apparently rang 6-0-6 and said, "How dare Newcastle Utd risk my life by forcing me to drive in the ice and snow?" I find that point of view extremely disturbing, and helps to explain how clubs are able to treat fans like mugs (unfortunately they often behave like them).

At 9:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Corporate Hospitality -

Don't do the 'budget' version at The Valley it is shocking ~£240 for 3 little chef breakfasts - mineral water is an extra - followed by tea and custard creams at 1/2 time - there is a finger buffet afterwards which I missed, all served with that 'why I am here and what should I be doing?' attitude that can drive a grown man to despair. In fact, the clueless service is 1 of the reasons I often don't bother to buy a pint at 1/2 time.

I'd consume more 'extras' if the buying wasn't such a chore.

[Rant over]

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Glass Half Empty said...

What happened to reciprocal charging? Wasn't there a rule that the home side and away sides pricing had to have parity? Surely we didn't charge Chelsea fans £48 at the Valley.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger New York Addick said...

I'm not sure reciprocal pricing was ever enforceable, but may have been informally agreed between some clubs. I wouldn't be surprised if we charged Chelsea upwards of £40 for the game earlier in 2005 and perhaps would have charged the full £48 had we known the pricing for the return fixture.


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