WE’VE done our bit – now you do yours! That’s the message from Steve Gibson as Boro unveiled an attractive new season ticket price structure that has slashed the cost of going to the game for the crucial next generation of young supporters.
In a radical – and much needed – development the club have chopped back matchday costs in these crucial areas to pocket money prices: for under 18s it will tumble by up to 75% to a juicy ÃÂ£5 a game, competing favourably with an afternoon mooching around MacDonalds, while ST cards for 18-21 year-olds have been reduced to just ÃÂ£195 in the North West and South West corners – down from ÃÂ£300 this year – making that an affordable tenner a game.
Prices for adults have been frozen for the fourth year running, which will spark the complex annual argument between whether given inflation it constitutes a cut in real terms or whether, given the pressures of the rising prices of bills for utilities, council tax, food and petrol it still constitutes an over-priced luxury hobby.
But for existing adult card holders there is a three year deal on offer with prices frozen and a swanky personalised plaque on your seat, surely set to become the new cultural battleground, either prized as the new status symbol of the unconditional pre-emptive loyalist or derided as the mark of the uber-fan, a ra-ra badge of distinction to be polished lovingly with a foam hand.
This may fall short of the housing market style “readjustment” that many believe is needed to stop the steady drift from terraces to pub, or the symbolic major cut needed to spark a return to the heady days of full houses. In truth the real engine for that seismic shift in the prevailing mood will only come from success on the pitch or a real “spectacular” signing.
There will be some consumer resistance and talk of how far bigger cuts were needed, especially targeted in those area most prone to red seat rashing in low profile games – the pricier seats of the East End Upper and the main stand corners (both being addressed instead with concessions for the younger fans) – or calls to include cup games for free (an unknown factor) or a guarantee to mirror any one-offs with a retrospective discount for card holders.
The money is certainly there in the game with the new TV deals to fund more creative structures. The issues that prompted tabloid newspapers, government ministers and football bigwigs to call for price cuts at the start of this season have not gone away, indeed, given the changing dynamics in the domestic economy the problems are actually sharper.
But, whatever the quibbling, there can be no doubt that the reductions at the bottom end are an unprecedented (if belated) recognition of one of the key problems facing the game. We have talked at length on here about the changing demographics of the crowd, older by the year. Rising prices and the season ticket sell out (remember that?) helped lock out an entire generation of fans, the noisy, cocky passionate teenagers that we once were who make such a contribution to the atmosphere.
The cuts for kids – “Today’s Football, Yesterday’s Prices, Tomorrow’s Fans” in PR speak – are to be welcomed as a way of countering that drift to tartan blanket Meldrewism. The new prices can be a vital bridge for getting a generation in danger of being frozen out back into the ground and hooked on the narcotic appeal of this emotionally testing club of ours … and more so, the club will think, if the younger ones bring their full price paying parents with them. It is another significant step forward in the club’s newed relationship with supporters.
Now, after making the major political moves to tackle one of the trickiest area of prohibitive pricing, Gibson is calling on fans to back the clubÃ¢ÂÂs ambitions with bums on seats, an annual rallying cry but one this time backed by concrete concessions that are hard to argue with.
The chairman believes Gareth Southgate is building a squad capable of competing at the highest level and promises to back him by signing Ã¢ÂÂthe best global talentÃ¢Â?. He insists the people of Teesside should be proud of a club that is the ambitious flagship of the town.
Ã¢ÂÂThe groundwork is in place for the team and the club to really go forward next season,Ã¢Â? said Gibson, speaking for a DVD to be sent to existing season card holders. Ã¢ÂÂWe want to bring the best that we can to this club. We have a search for global talent. We want to be in a position to be able to attract the best. WeÃ¢ÂÂve done that with Alves, Tuncay and others and just look what weÃ¢ÂÂve done in the past with the likes of Juninho, Ravanelli and Merson.Ã¢Â?
Gibson stresses that the club is nothing without the supporters and asks for continued support through the turnstiles. Ã¢ÂÂThe fans are everything,Ã¢Â? he said. Ã¢ÂÂWithout them, thereÃ¢ÂÂs no point in us being here. We need their vocal and financial support for all games, not just the big fixtures, and we want full houses.Ã¢Â?
Asked what message he had for wavering fans considering the investment, Gibson pointed to the achievements of the Riverside era that has seen more than a decade of unbroken Premier League football, five cup finals, two European runs and the clubÃ¢ÂÂs first major trophy.
Ã¢ÂÂLook at the last 10 years,Ã¢Â? he said. Ã¢ÂÂWe understand weÃ¢ÂÂve had some inevitable lows but look at the tremendous highs weÃ¢ÂÂve had. Be proud of the club, get behind the club, get behind this manager – and we will do everything we can to produce a team that the town and the fans can be proud of.Ã¢Â?
Boss Gareth Southgate added: Ã¢ÂÂI wonÃ¢ÂÂt make any empty promises by predicting that weÃ¢ÂÂll achieve a top four finish or qualify for Europe next season but I can tell you that my sights are firmly set on us breaking into the top half of the table where those type of targets become achievable. Fans can be assured that we will do everything we can to further improve the squad over the close season as we continue our policy of bringing youth and pace into the side.Ã¢Â?
Chief Operating Officer Neil Bausor, who has been involved in a string of focus group meetings with lapsed and current season ticket holders in a bid to identify the stumbling blocks and price triggers involved, said the cuts are Ã¢ÂÂthe most exciting season card initiatives in Boro historyÃ¢Â?.
Other highlights of the 2008-09 packages are:
A new Family Area in the Riverside’s East Stand Lower for 2008-09, which will be the focus of pre-match and half-time entertainment activities.
Card holders who wish to renew the same seat can do so online.
An exclusive three-year season card, offering fans a personalised aluminium plaque on their seat, free entry into a regular prize draw and a price freeze at 2007-08 prices.
A new away season ticket, giving season card holders who are regular away travellers the chance to guarantee their tickets for every league and cup away match.
HOMEGROWN Boro stars added their support for the new ticket prices for younger fans.
“I was a ball boy for Boro and I know how much kids get out of seeing the top players close up,” said Stewart Downing. “If kids start supporting Boro when they’re young they build a relationship with the club and they become fans for life.
“Things have changed over the last couple of years, with us getting to the UEFA Cup final and our other cup runs, and you see more kids in the street wearing Boro colours. We’re just a couple of players away from being a very good team. If we can make the right signings I think we can make the top seven at least next season.”
Defender David Wheater said: “It’s important to get young fans in because they are the supporters of the future. They are the ones we’re going to need behind us in the long run.
“The more fans we get into the ground the louder it gets and the better the atmosphere. It makes you feel good about yourself and when the crowd at the Riverside are singing your name, it’s the best feeling you can have. One of the things that makes Boro special is we have mainly local support. Some other clubs get fans from all over the place, but when you have local fans they really feel a passion for the club.”