Thursday, February 24, 2011

County Show

The Sky cameras will follow the Addicks to the tidy surroundings of Meadow Lane, where the only certainty in an unpredictable season will be the terrible state of the pitch.

Man City almost became a cropper on it before £27m striker Edin Dzeko spared their blushes.

As Charlton fans know from the London Broncos days, sharing a pitch with a rugby team is not conducive to lush surfaces, and Colin Powell must be delighted he doesn't have to deal with such issues on his immaculate Valley turf.

However it's not clear the quality of the pitch is doing Charlton many favours at home, playing instead into the hands of opposition teams more technically accomplished on the ball.

Chris Powell's lengthy Evening Standard interview tonight made it clear that he favoured a passing approach, although there's precious little sign of it yet. Friday evening may not be the time to start however.

Having generated some considerable debate on this blog after the undeserved Peterborough result made it four wins in a row, two bad defeats against Hartlepool and Exeter provided some unwanted justification for my views.

If it was clear to me that no progress had been made after those four games, then I suspect my views would not have changed after the last two, even if I'd seen them.

The question is whether it's reasonable to have expected some improvement in performances by now, if Powell is potentially going to be a very good manager.

Given the addition of two accomplished forwards and having played four home games out of six, I'm tempted to suggest 'possibly' although I may be being unduly harsh.

His calm personality probably suggests he was never cut out to be an 'impact manager', so if he does turn out to be successful it's more likely to be a Curbishley-esque slow burn.

The crowd for the Exeter game was terrific, and at least puts to bed the idea that we've lost some of the missing 10,000 or so fans post-Premiership for good.

The £5 tickets were obviously a big attraction, but it still requires an effort to carve out a few free hours in busy lives, and to get to and from the stadium.

I suspect there weren't many first-time visitors, instead the usual 5,000 or so matchday home ticket sales are a rotating subset of fans (like me) from a pool of 15,000 or so who are only occasional attendees.

My own reasons for attending sporadically are family and travel-oriented, but the main conclusion from Saturday must be learning just how many of those occasional fans are unable to attend more often for financial reasons.

Thus if the Board just give themselves a pat on the back and forget about this conclusion, they are potentially missing a big trick (and one I've discussed previously on this blog).

In short, the club needs to find ways to increase the number of different season ticket price points, both at the upper and lower ends of the scale (in the hope that fans attracted to the former can pay for the latter).

If 8,000 or so extra fans were willing to attend the Exeter game because it was a fiver, then how many of those might be willing to attend every game if it was also a fiver?

It would require some imagination to offer season tickets for £115, but so long as the seats chosen are limited in number, and blighted in some way (eg. too close to the pitch; in the corner quadrants etc.) then you are turning seats that are probably empty for every match into occupied ones.

These seats can also be available for a fiver on a match-by-match basis too.

The key issue is that a fan who currently attends say seven matches per season at £17.50 each (the cheapest matchday price for a total spend of a roughly equivalent £122.50), will only be present seven times per season to spend money on other ancillary things (programmes, beer, hot dogs, merchandise etc.).

That same fan who attends every game might not generate any additional ticket revenue, but he/she is likely to generate considerably more revenue in other areas (as well as contributing to the atmosphere and 'sense of occasion').

Conversely, it seems perverse that the highest price a season ticket holder can pay will now be £375, or just £16.30 per game.

There must be a few hundred or so fans who are able and willing to pay considerably more than that (the tipping point is probably not reached until £650 or so), so long as they receive something small in return.

Other than obviously being given the best seats, perhaps simply a free programme, a comfortable lounge facility to have a pre or post-match drink, and a cushioned seat will probably do the trick.

Anyone who has been to the Emirates will know how successful the 'Club Level' concept has been. Something similar at The Valley can be achieved on a much smaller scale to offset the lost revenue from cheap tickets.

If something like this existed at The Valley, then I'd rush to buy not one but two or three tickets, attractive for inviting neutral friends/clients/acquaintances knowing that they will at least watch the game in comfort, even if the onfield product is lousy.

This type of temptation is visible across an entire swathe of industries that we see every day.

Pizza Express offers customers the chance to show they're willing to spend a further £1.50 on a 'Romana' base. Last time I was there I ordered it and I've still no idea what it was.

My daily train service tempts me with the comfortable first class carriages, whilst I join the vast majority cramming into the hot standard class carriages. I'm close to chomping on that carrot too.

As the Board clearly knows, low crowds can become a self-fulfilling prophecy especially in a stadium which is clearly currently too large for League One.

Watching football in a half-empty stadium can be dispiriting for even the most loyal supporter, and lead more to drift away.

They have begun to move in the right direction, but some more 'out-of-the-box' thinking is required to optimise the ticketing policy, the goal being to maximise both crowd numbers and revenue.

Returning to matters on the pitch, Notts County are an 'all or nothing' proposition at home, registering just one League draw at Meadow Lane (against Walsall).

Eight home wins is the best record in the lower half of League One however, the goals of Craig Westcarr and Lee Hughes providing the foundation for a reasonable first season post-promotion.

Our last two trips to the ground saw us battle out 3-3 draws in the mid-1990s, a result Powell would probably settle for again.


At 12:39 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

I don't disagree with your logic for the other priced tickets, as long as it isn't in the East Stand on the half way line.

My only reservation to that is that I believe the club relieved most of those fans with money to burn by selling them five year season tickets last year. A deal that looks poor value today with all tickets £50 less than paid less than 12 months ago (in advance).

I also have some doubts that you can add much value to third division football to justify the extra cost. Remember that access to the lounges costs, I believe, close to £200 a season

At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There would be the danger that a number of fans currently with normal priced season tickets would simply "trade down".
As there are plenty of empty seats at the moment then they would not be replaced.
So net effect could be no increase in fans attending but a reduction in income.
Where I very much agree with you is that it makes sense to fill the empty seats and brind in an income for food, drink and programmes.
One way could be to "massively" promote the "kids for a quid" initiative to use those same seats you mention and charge the accompanying adults £5.00 if say they bring two kids.
An adult and two kids would bring in £7.00 for otherwise empty seats and I would guess a pretty decent family "other spend" on ancilliary items on a day out.
Even giving away totally free tickets to say a cub pack or youth group whose leaders committed to attend with a minimum number of kids could vastly improve the atmosphere and bring in that additional spend. Every little helps. Also encouraging the fans of the future.
I know these initiatives are not new but as long as there are empty seats then I guess you can say they are not being promoted successfully or agressively enough.
On the Powel appointment. I agree he is a risk - but then even appointing a manager with a "track record" and "experience" is a risk these days (actually always has been). You are quite right he was never going to be an impact manager and I think, now that he has been appointed, he needs at least until the end of next season to show what he might be capable of. Unless of course it becomes obvious that we are in danger of further relegation or it is clear he loses the dressing room. Then I guess all bets are off and the owners will protect their investment. Lets be patient.

At 11:42 AM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

KHA - good point about the 5-year season tickets, although I suspect these were aimed at true stalwarts willing to lock in an inflation-free (not looking so great now) season ticket price, with some 'optionality' on possible Championship/Premiership football. I think my idea is different, aimed frankly at the snobbish element of our support (the current ticketing arrangements don't encourage them to 'reveal themselves'!)

David, it would be important to limit the no. of £5 per game season tickets to say no more than 2,000 to avoid this possibility. However, I don't think there would be much 'trading down' by existing season ticket holders - most fans like the seats they have, and the mere fact that they've found the money to buy a season ticket in the first place suggests they wouldn't rush to move to a worse seat to save say a tenner a game.

The bigger problem is frankly one of stewarding - how do you stop people buying the cheap tickets, but moving and sitting in empty better seats?

I think they should be allowing kids under the age of 14 say(accompanied by paying adults obviously) in for free. As you say, kids are profitable because they no doubt demand refreshments/merchandise, whilst we are creating the fans of the future. When I took my 3-year old to MK Dons v Charlton, it was interesting to note that his ticket was free - lucky really as he forced us to leave at half-time.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

Great idea about the kids getting in for free, although for £49 for a season ticket it's almost free anyway.

I would worry about any promotion that sold tickets cheap on the basis that you bring children as I think it would be difficult to police. For example a £7 deal for an adult and two children could merely be used as an adult for £7. With the number of adults using U18 season tickets I think we can assume that our fan base will have no problem with 'cheating' the system.

NYA I was going on to say (before My iPad locked me out of the field) that the £200 a season access to the lounges offers those more smoggy fans the option to pay more for that little extra service. The West Stand car park is another example of price discrimination. If that is not 'snobby' enough I think there are still seats available in the directors enclosure, and we don't sell out all e executive boxes.

In then event that all of these 'Premium' seats were taken I can see how offering more would be an option but I, personally, think that it would be difficult to add something to the match day experience that would justify an increase in cost that is not covered by what is already on offer.

I could well be wrong, but I just don't think football has, yet, made that transition into a higher middle class pastime.

At 12:36 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

I've never looked into the current options that closely but it was my understanding that only the Crossbars option existed, which is based in the North Stand (not much use if your seat is in the West Stand).

At the end of the day, I'm just throwing a few ideas in the air but if there are even just 200 fans willing to pay an extra £250 per season, it seems silly not to take that £50k and put it towards a new midfielder.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

NYA, as you know, I agree that it makes a great deal of sense to think very hard about the number of pricing points and how each might be positioned.

It seems to me that the key insight here is that across the fan base [i.e. not just those that attend regularly, but also including those that might] there are likely to be a wide spectrum of “budget constraints” and “elasticities of demand”. To be more concrete, there is probably some part of the fan base which would more than double its demand if ticket prices halved, say, whilst at the other end of the spectrum there is no doubt a cohort that would be indifferent if prices rose sharply, up to a point anyway.

The challenge for the Club [and for many businesses] is to find a way of cutting prices in order to attract the budget constrained, price sensitive “customer” who may not otherwise buy a season or match day ticket without, quite unnecessarily reducing prices for those that would have bought anyway.

The recently announced deal for next season’s season tickets is a case in point. I’m unable to judge whether the proposed price reductions will lead to higher revenues [i.e. if demand is price elastic in economics speak] or whether the Club feels that other, wider benefits justify the decision. However, what I do know is that I’ll now save £100 on my season tickets and that from the Club’s standpoint this is a waste; I’d have bought the tickets anyway. Indeed, I’d have paid more if asked. That’s got nothing to do with “snob” value; it’s simply that I’m not price sensitive in and around the current price range. I doubt very much that I’m alone.

However, I am sensitive to being ripped off. So if I’m going to pay more I do need to feel that I’m getting something for my money. The challenge is to figure out what might that might be. I’m not long on ideas I’m afraid though it may not need to be very much. The 5-yr deal didn’t really work for me, but in any event the idea is to make the price insensitive fan pay more not less.

Perhaps the Stadium isn’t configured in the right way to make significant differentiation work? Nevertheless, if I were the Club I’d be thinking really hard about this question.

At 3:44 PM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

Chris, good points as always.

It may be the case that the club does not need to offer their price insensitive fans any more than the best seats in the ground, and some away ticket priorities.

Maybe just carve up the best two blocks in the Upper or Lower West and make them £5-600 per season. Some fans may have to lose their existing seats if they can't afford the increase, but the club is a business not a charity (even though it's run more like a players benevolent fund).

You make a good point about the stadium perhaps not being configured to offer lounges, but I'm sure with some imagination a solution can be found.

Clearly Arsenal for example had a big advantage in being able to design the Emirates from scratch with this in mind. However their 'club level' tier is pure genius from a business perspective - the tickets cost £2,500-£5,000 each for which fans get only lounge access (plus the ability to book an overpriced meal) and a free HT drink. Yet every single one is sold out.

Admittedly they get to see Fabregas whereas we get to see Semedo, but the point is still valid.

At 8:26 AM, Blogger Richard said...

Brighton are moving into a new stadium next year. The season ticket prices were in the programme the night of the Charlton game back in December. The cheapest seat is £395. More than our most expensive. I know that they are having a good season, but still i think that is way too much for League 1, and a bit much for Championship. New stadium or not.
Some of you guys have got way too much money.


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