The Tyranny Of The Season Card

IT’S TIME to smash the tyranny of the season ticket. The current flawed set-up is now more trouble than it is worth. What was once a throbbing financial engine for the club has now become a political prison. What was once powerful symbol of unity and solidarity with the Riverside Revolution has become divisive and a point of friction.
Scrap the entire tattered system and start again.

Back in 1995-96 the Red Book was massive. With sell out crowds it helped the club get cash up front and ensured fans could get a seat. It was the only viable option. If you wanted to see matches you HAD to have a season-ticket. But that brought problems. Little ones that have grown over the past 15 years to haunt us.
Firstly it excluded people. Those who could not get a Red Book at the time were outside the magic circle. So if you worked away, were in the forces, a student, unemployed or just too young and didn’t have a Boro loving parent to indulge you, tough. The years of sell out ensured that those people did not get back in.
It also ensured that new layers of young fans couldn’t get in, even offspring of Red Bookers because there were no spare seats next to Mam/Dad/Uncle Brian… and there was no chance of a group of lads from the estates or school finding six together. All the traditional routes into the magical universe of the match were closed.
That has changed in recent years as crowds have fallen off and gaps have appeared. And the club’s attempts to fill those gaps have pointed to another problem: the season ticket has reshaped the relationship between club and fan and made it an almost entirely financial one, and now the enobled gold card supporters are not about to let their privileges go lightly.
The Red Book was sold as a financial incentive. Buy one, save 15%, get three games free and get first dabs on tickets for big games. Which is fair enough. But traditionally season tickets were an emotional investment not a financial one. There was a small discount but that was negligible, all they really did was remove the inconvenience of queuing. Even in the Holgate there was a ‘season ticket holder only’ turnstile.
A season ticket wasn’t the mark of the “real fan”. It didn’t carry any kudos. If anything the step up to a season ticket marked the end of a certain phase in the supporting lifecycle; it was almost retirement from being a “real fan”, the sort who queued and jostled and EIOd and took their chances on squeezing onto the terrace for big games. A season ticket brought with it images of tartan rugs, flasks and gentile applause.
There were never more than a few thousand at Ayresome Park and they never held any special status. They didn’t get into the 100 Club, they didn’t get 10% off in the club shop and Charlie Amer didn’t send them a birthday card. It wasn’t expected. The season ticket just signified they had stepped up from the throng and were there for life. It was primarily an emotional commitment.
But at the Riverside it was a different beast. It became primarily a financial commitment. Initially it wasn’t. Initially it was a symbol of buying into the new world, the new ground, the new era of big name stars and big dreams.
But gradually it developed a mentality that was more that of a customer than a fan. Fans started to treat as they would their insurance, looking to renegotiate the premium each year, expecting breakdown cover, a courtesy car and a free map.
The Red Card enabled the club to engineer that situation. It suited them. Get the money up front, give them a Sunday Lunch discount and 10% off in MSV and stuff the rest. In fact, the rest were penalised.
The Red Book glut allowed the club to artificially raise the match day price to walk up customers sometimes by up to £8. It was outrageous and short-sighted and flew in the face of business logic (who charges more for unsold stock?) but the near sell out allowed then to pursue that flawed model. The number of empty seats was minimal and there were always enough part-timers daft enough to buy for Man U or Arsenal.
The trouble came when the Red Bookers started to drift and then suddenly the need to fill those seats became more pressing. How do you market something that your most dedicated fans have already started to give up on? And especially when your model dictates that they should be sold at a premium? The club had painted themselves into a corner with punitive ticket prices. “We can’t sell these to our diehards for £20… to you £25!” isn’t exactly the catchiest of slogans.
But the years of driving the Red Book as a financial mechanism meant that Season Ticket holders had become acutely tuned to any notion that the walk-up fans might have parity… and God forbid they should get something cheaper!
You are supposed to be fans, you should revel in more people coming to the game, the buzz of the full house, the zealous missionary work of getting fresh converts in to testify. Yet the idea that the club should market the unsold seats is now seen as an insult. As the calculation now is financial the default response was “but I paid more.” Without anyone even noticing it people had ceased to be fans and had become customers. You’ve got to haggle.
The logic is frightening. It means the club are locked into their fast receding season ticket fan-base. They can never sell seats for less than the season ticket holders have paid. They have painted themselves into a corner. That generation that were cast adrift because they couldn’t get a Red Book cannot be enticed in. If they are to come they must pay more that the existing customers. For a product that has lost it’s sheen.
Meanwhile the entire subtext to the Red Book itself was holed under the waterline as crowds fell removing the necessity to buy one to get into games and when the moment came for them to trigger their much vaunted priority the system failed: notably in the Eindhoven ticket distribution when however you dress it up and whatever the mitigation, thousands of S and T holders and many thousands of others did not get UEFA Cup final tickets. It the guarantee of glory was removed, what was the point?
Worst still, the season ticket has ushered in a pernicious caste system. Whenever offers are mooted the irate element of season ticket holders stars wheeling out the insults: part-timers, Johnny come latelies, BOGOF band-wagon jumpers… as if anyone who wants to come to watch Boro v Scunthorpe can really be called a glory hunter!
These ‘part-timers’ are supporters, or why would they be there? They may be old blokes who served their time on the Holgate when things were bleak. They may be kids we need to blood now to lure them in for the future. They may be shift-workers, ex-pats or part of the employment disboro for who buying season ticket is not viable. Are you really going to stop them coming in for a tenner because it is an insult to you?
And the caste system works internally too. Under the old ticket number system I heard grown men denigrate fellow fans because they weren’t S or T prefixs, or people denounce other loyalists for only having a G… even though the lad concerned probably wasn’t even born when the Riverside opened. And then there is the inter-stand squabbling. West Stand Upper fans pay more for their tickets so by definition are better fans than the cheapskates in the North Stand.
It is time to end this nonsense. Season tickets should not be a way of ranking fans according to their financial contribution. Neither should they be a way of excluding others who want to join the fun. And neither should they be used to proscribe what prices or initiatives the club choose in order to put bums on seats.
Season tickets should be a symbol that people buy into a shared vision, a joint adventure and a collective experience irrespective of how much they paid or how long they have been going. It should be a democratic and inclusive thing.
There are faults on both sides of the current system. It is time for a radical rethink.
There should be a system based on a broad-based membership scheme, run by a joint body that has fans on the committee that can provide real benefits and be a voice for supporters on all cultural aspects of the clubs. Membership – for a nominal fee – should be open to all who declare themselves fans, Red Bookers, part-timers, those who for whatever reason do not buy a season ticket should be equal members and should be eligible for all offers, discounts and benefits.
It would allow the club to target offers at people who have already declared themselves to be true fans. It would end the artificial divide between those who go to every match and those who go to just a few. It would give recognition to those ex-pats who can’t get to home games but maybe go to away games in the south. It would give a route into fans culture for youngsters who maybe haven’t started to go to every game yet.
We need something to end the current cultural and political paralysis in the club.
All ideas gratefully received.


44 thoughts on “The Tyranny Of The Season Card

  1. I have to agree with what you say the fans are starting to strangle the club.
    Ive been a season ticket holder since moving to the Riverside but I would not begrudge people getting tickets cheaper than me when times are tough and spaces avaliable. As you point out if things are not selling you drop the price.

  2. Neil Bausor’s quote in the Gazette article ‘season ticket holders are our priority’ speaks volumes doesn’t it?
    Why are season ticket holders a priority? All fans should have equal priority surely. There are 35000 seats to fill and Boro need to be as creative as possible in the way those tickets are sold/marketed in order to maximise sales.
    To withdraw the offer because of a noisy few complaining they are been badly done by is just plain daft, short sighted and leaves little room for manouvre in the future.
    Clearly the main cause of the decline in match day attendance is the declining performance of the team, but Teesside must be bursting with fans who cant afford to shell out up front a big lump of cash. To penalise such people borders on the immoral.
    I’m not immediately sure what the answer is but it needs to be found sharpish.
    Steve Gibson has stated that he is ‘custodian’ of a club which belongs to the fans, he needs to be careful that for fans he doesn’t mean ‘season ticket holders’.

  3. Are we in danger blowing up this situation out of proportion?? I would be interested to know exactly how many calls the club recieved from complaining season ticket holders which made them change their minds.
    It would seem the club are guilty of the same thing that is happening elsewhere in the country – the vocal minority get all the attention and exactly what they want whilst the majority get ignored. I would wager that the vast majority of season ticket holders did not complain.
    I am a season ticket holder and if the club decides to give a special offer half way through the season to attract more fans back then why shouldn’t they. I’d rather sit with a stadium filled by supporters who have paid half as much as me, than sit with a half empty stadium with only those who have paid full price like myself!!
    My only complaint about the offer was the lack of ambition it showed from the club who were obviously not expecting to win four in a row!! As I said in a post last week – money back if we didn’t win four in a row would have displayed some confidence and which might have attracted people back!!
    Lets hope we build on the weekends fine performance and give the home crowd something to cheer at last tonight
    Come on Boro!

  4. A worthwhile concept that the club should consider…
    Living and working in London I’ve been in the ‘daft’ position of paying for the Man U games, then again I’ve paid to sit and watch a game versus Derby and witnessed a poor performance for not much less (we had to laugh about being covered in snow though).
    I’d like to see the club test some games with a new pricing policy, plus the awareness campaign that goes with that type of business model. If that upsets season ticket holders the club could refund the difference in ticket price to each season ticket holder that attends the match, or give the gross difference to e.g. Help for Heroes. Maybe one of the Tuesday home games would be worth a go?
    I’ve worked in and around companies that use ticket price yielding, it works and I’ve often wondered why football clubs don’t do it (leaving red seats against the Blackburn’s and Bolton’s last season).
    A membership scheme could remove some of the doubt around cash flow that most accountants fear and at the same time offer the opportunity for the club to re-engage with current and potential fans wherever they are.
    As far as payment goes, instead of an up front lump sum, the club could use membership cards, perhaps loading credit per game manually or direct from each fans nominated bank account (as per the Oyster card system used on public transport down here) so the barcode scanners can still be used?
    C’mon Boro..!

  5. AV, you sound ideal as chairman for this committee. Good write-up, absolutely spot on.
    But i do think a lot of it comes down to cost. When i was a lad! it cost £8 to get into the Holgate. I lived at home and could afford it. Now I earn about double what i did then, yet the tickets are now £25.
    I have a family, mortgage, cars and bills to pay and supporter or not, its too expensive!! We’ve been served up rubbish since Eindhoven, and i dont have the desire to shell out for it.
    Years of mercenaries, half-baked Brazilians falling over and sulking and getting relegated whilst learning lessons a blind man could see have had an effect
    and I know there are plenty who feel the same
    The whole business model needs a re-think and fast.
    Would it not be a good idea to fill the ground with everyone paying £15, buying a beer and a programme and creating some atmosphere?

  6. What an absolutely fantastic article.
    Reading articles and comments in blogs and forums, it’s felt for too long now that Boro supporters are (not exactly at war with the club) but ‘in it for themselves’. And as long as they have the comedy figure of Larry Lamb to deflect all of the blame onto, they can keep viewing the club as at fault for everything that goes wrong.
    In fact, just today I read an article on a BBC forum in which people were having a go at the Lamb for scrapping the season card offer. The same ones that were upset that the season card offer existed.
    The club can’t win because Boro fans only want to criticise it and have a go at it. For crying out loud, it’s not like we have Mike Ashley in charge.

  7. Spot on AV.
    I cannot understand season ticket holders moaning because someone might, MIGHT, get something for free. You buy a season ticket, presumably, to have “your” seat for the home games, and to be able to show your commitment. So why try and hijack an attempt from the club to fill those empty seats around you with more people who’ll create an atmosphere?
    I can see the argument that you don’t want to feel as though your loyalty is being taken advantage of, however STs still give a discount on the at the gate price. This still doesn’t explain the vitriol aimed at the club for an attempt to raise revenue and boost crowds!
    In effect though the real losers are Boro. The club came up with a genuinely innovative idea – and it was innovative, and a little quirky – but they didn’t think it through. They should have offered a similar offer to STs, something like “pay £15 for an extra seat for those 4 games now, and get 2 free if we win all 4”.
    The U-Turn only serves to embarrass the management further, and re-defines the relationship between fan and club management. They’ve shown that they are weak and desperate to be loved, which is almost never a successful business model.
    I would rather that they try to be respected, and get the basics right.

  8. Great article. Vive la revolution!
    It’s time season ticket holders realise that they took a gamble with the purchase of the ticket, just as anyone does when they buy something and then see it cheaper else where or reduced in the sales. Is it common practice for shops to refund customers to the lowest price they have ever sold soemething at?
    Already had great ideas on this blog for numerous promotions and marketing opportunities. How about something for local soldiers returning from active service or an offer for the unemployed to put this club back to where it should be, at the heart of the local community. Time for everyone to pull together during these difficult times for club and region.

  9. The first step would be setting up that Supporters Committee and actually having a true link between those running the club and those supporting it.
    It is becoming increasingly tiring these days with the constant bickering over the running of the club, with any lack of information simply providing a bigger stick with which to beat Lamb and Gibson, whether justified or not.
    Unity is what they called for, particularly when sacking Southgate, and unity is what we need. Creating a new link between the running of the club and the supporters would help there.
    As for the actual season cards, I say get rid of them altogether and have a membership just like the current Boro Pride card. With that membership you can ‘reserve’ your seat for the season and have until a specific day to purchase your chosen seat before match day. Once that deadline has passed the club is free to sell the seat to anyone else.
    Prices should be a fair price for all, somewhere in the region of £18 – £25 maximum for the best seats.
    Not quite sure how to deal with special cup matches where demand may be higher than supply? First come first served?

  10. Spot on!
    Some season ticket holders now consider themselves superfans.
    The club should give them a lanyard for wearing around their neck so they can display their cards at all times and the rest can bow and doff our caps in their presence.

  11. Rubbish idea doing away with ST’s.
    If people want to purchase them for the same seat they have had for many years, then let them. I have been a season ticket holder for over 20 years (approximately same seat position at AP and RS) and I want to keep it.
    I am sure there are hundreds of others who do too, whether it be West, East or North stand. You pay your money in advance for this benefit. Personally, I dont have a problem with the recent ST offer. If it had worked, great. I want to see less empty red seats throughout the ground.
    You are never going to please everyone all of the time, but there are some who will moan & whinge regardless what is done.
    I’m sure there must be a way to allocate areas of unreserved seating so that “Mam/Dad/Uncle Brian” and whoever else want to sit together can do. I liked the suggestion of the “Priority Seating”, paying a sum upfront to give you first option on a particular seat (but I still want mine)
    **AV writes: I am not saying there is no role for ST, just that it can not be the be all and end all if the club is to maximise the crowd. We live in a world of flexibility, tailored bundles and entertainment on demand, yet ST seem to a monolithic approach. Plus, cultural aspects of the ST are now becoming a problem.

  12. My debate over database management (with AV) started pre Carling Cup when it became obvious the club hadnt a clue who had bought tickets for the ties prior to the final.
    I lost out because I lived too far away to suddenly queue with my three stubs. Others lost out because season ticket holders with cup stubs gave them to friends. The club compounded the folly by saying if you had enough stubs you could buy up to 5 tickets. Touts were allegedly selling them to queueing fans.
    The club could throw its hands in the air and say how can you manage the situation. Easy, a proper database.
    But it still wasn’t a big issue for fans with season tickets until the Eindhoven fiasco saw many not get to the final. Even more galling was the fact there were fans in the Boro end who had done nothing to deserve to be there.
    That is when it hit home to season ticket holders, possibly some who had given their Carling Cup stubs to their friends.
    Now the season ticket is of less importance but fans are not.
    At least we have some form of database so that people like John Powls who sees lots of Southern games should have his support recognised. He spends far more than a Boro season ticket holder who lives on Teesside but has been disenfranchised by the club in the past.
    It has to find a way to encompass all strands of support.
    Not everyone lives in Gibsons Golden 5 mile radius, works sensible hours on good pay so can buy a season ticket, get dropped off in Doggie an hour before the match, then gets picked up after a pint.
    Some cant afford it, some have too far to travel, some work odd hours, some have other family commitments.
    The club has to be inclusive not exclusive

  13. I think selling season cards or season tickets as they were once called is vital for the club to get some income in before the season starts, I think that just makes business sense.
    I’ve been a season ticket holder since the old days when I held a ticket in a lovely old wooden seat in the south upper at Ayresome. I graduated from the holgate, just as you describe AV. However, though I didn’t get a ticket for Eindhoven as an S ticket holder, I don’t moan about it anymore, and welcome any incentive to sell tickets to try and tempt fans back.
    I would honestly like to see Boro sell tickets for a £1 to try and fill the stadium, I am embarassed that we have such a small following these days, though I do understand where the blame lies (poor football, relegation due to poor business decisions).
    The latest attempt to sell half season cards was commendable, so I would like to see who the season card holders are who complained. After all, I think you blogged AV that in fact all they were purchasing was a raffle ticket with their purchase of committing to suppport Boro for the remainder of the season.
    No, it’s the pricing policy with season tickets that is wrong in the 21st century. Gate income can’t account for more than 28% (AV can correct me on the true figure) of a clubs’ income surely. Therefore, if they sold tickets at very low prices, filling the ground might benefit the team and bring in income through walk up purchases such as programmes, burgers and memorabillia.
    The accountants can then be tasked with looking for more novel ideas to bring income into the club through sponsorship and other deals.

  14. A view from a cold-hearted businessman on what I would do:
    The first thing to look at is what other clubs offer.
    The issue that MFC have is simple supply and demand – you don’t see Man U having to come out with half baked offers to try and win over fans, and you don’t see supporters quibbling about pricing – they put their name up for the season ticket, join the waiting list and eventually get one, at full price, if they are really lucky, because of good performances and clever marketing of the brand as a premium product, because what they are offering is in demand.
    The fact is Boro are now viewed as a discount brand, we have no premium cache – we are Lidl to Man U’s Marks & Spencer. The club has focused purely on “local” and “discount” and we have no national presence, and no money to improve it.
    The only real way of improving the situation is to address supply and demand. There are simply too many seats, and not enough want them. The brand of football we play will not attract more without a vast (and vastly unlikely) financial injection similar to the one seen when the Riverside was launched, so if the money is not there to increase demand via marketing and investment on the pitch, you have to reduce supply.
    The only way to do this is to reduce the number of available seats. Now ripping out the ones in place would be costly and equally unlikely, but it is also unlikely that we can fill them with paying customers, so you need to occupy them in other ways.
    We should have a restricted number of seats in prime locations reserved for fans, and a restricted set number reserved for away fans, which should probably total around 20 – 25,000.
    The rest should be filled constantly for free with free offers to local schools on a rotating basis, going outside the of traditional areas down to Harrogate, Ripon, York, Scarborough etc to increase fanbase and get over the small town in Yorkshire syndrome that has afflicted MFC, with an accompanying teacher and buses laid on if necessary. These school seats should not be made available to anyone else under any circumstances. These will bring in thousands of kids spending £5-10 each on half time drinks, snacks, stuff from the club shop etc.
    The restricted number should mean that there are always a small amount of pay on the day customers that are turned away due to the limited numbers – the “always build one less than you can sell” motto.
    You then have constant demand so can dictate prices to ST holders rather than having to discount, a packed full stadium, and a set number of seats that can be adjusted each year as numbers vary to ensure the maximum amount of paying customers whilst maintaining demand and creating the awareness that there is limited supply so people have to act quickly to buy the season tickets or they wont get one.
    This would be purely for the good of the club to maximise revenue, and would result in some fans moaning that they cant get seats when they are being given away for free to kids but you’re going to get moaning anyway. The club could even set up a charity that they give the seats to and use them as a huge tax write off! – supporters couldnt moan about giving to charity. Other clubs have moaners that they can’t even buy a season ticket, and that’s the sort of moaning we need.

  15. Brilliant article Vic!
    “Season tickets should be a symbol that people buy into a shared vision, a joint adventure and a collective experience ”
    Couldn’t agree more.
    Those season ticket holders that complained claim to be better fans because they go to every game and pay up front.
    All they have achieved through their moaning is that the club they claim to support will have less revenue, and the team will have less fans at the games.
    Well done!

  16. Vic said “West Stand Upper fans pay more for their tickets so by definition are better fans than the cheapskates in the North Stand.”
    I would say the opposite is true. Part of the problem with Boro’s small-minded majority is that the West Standers are posh and not fit to be at the games because they’re not swearing and falling down drunk.
    I lost count of the amount of times walking through the stadium car park I saw Boro “fans” yelling abuse of spitting at the BMWs or Mercedes drivers in the car park. Jealousy is one of the most vile things.
    As regards tickets, the “if we win four you get your money back” was a joke. The offer should’ve been “if you have a season ticket then you get to bring a friend for a tenner.” This bolsters the crowd and alienates no one. Is it perfect? No….but it’s a start.
    **AV writes: When Boro did a “ST can buy extra tickets for a tenner” last season there were complaints from ST holders that why should their own friends get in for less than they had paid. Seriously.

  17. You people live in a dreamworld. The season ticket holders are the most important for a non premier league club by a long way. I have a perverse desire now for Boro to do this “abolish season ticket” plan so I can just see your reactions.
    Football teams now need the money up front, it lowers risk. 15,000 people have bought season tickets so Boro know they have a minimum of some much income and therefore know what the can spend, and could therefore sign players more accurately.
    Without season tickets the club is taking a risk with every decision, if they dont know how much income they are going to have as it depends on every game they are going to have to guess and therefore will get players on lower wages so there is less damage.
    If we didnt have season ticket holders, I guarantee that Boro would have sold O’Neil and Wheater in the summer to lessen financial risk.
    Season ticket holders are the core product of a football club and therefore need to be prioritised. What MFC should be doing is making the ST more desirable so people think I want in on that action.
    I would like to end with the point that I have got one hell of an marketing idea for Boro, and I am going to post it to them with a copy of my CV, and that would get part timers and Season ticket holders unified into fans and working together to get the stadium full. Its genius.
    **AV writes: I’m not saying that there is NO role for season tickets, just that the whol eissue needs to be reimagined to make sure it is not a disincentive.
    You say the ST hardcore is the bedrock of the club’s income and that is true…. but it has eroded rapidly over the past few years and something must be done that shores it up while also bringing back the thousands who want to go but maybe not every week.

  18. I’m one of those fans squeezed out by season tickets holders, stood in the Holgate for years but come the ‘Riverside Revoloution’ couldn’t get a ticket and I wasn’t prepared to buy a season ticket when work commitments could mean I’d miss games I’d paid for.
    I did pay 3/4 times what i used to pay in the Holgate to get a ticket to the first game at the Riverside against Chelsea. The concourse in the west stand was full of lads in designer suits, their girlfiends in dresses, all there to see Robson’s super stars in the new stadium. Wonder if they’ll all be there for tonights game against Blackpool??

  19. The problem with doing away with the season ticket is that the club gets a guaranteed ticket sale for every home game that season from an individual. If they are ill, on holiday or just don’t feel like attending that day, then the club still gets their money.
    How many of the current season ticket holders who paid up in June/July this year hoping/expecting winning home football would now choose not to come once the poor home form kicked in.
    As it stands, many only come now because they have paid up front. How low would those crowds have fallen earlier this year if people hadn’t paid for the ticket already? In fact, given the atmosphere at some of these games, I suspect this may be closer to the mark.
    Yes, those crowds may have been higher if ticket prices were lower, but for a cash strapped club, you cannot really blame them for trying to get fans to pay for the whole season up front before it has even begun (what business wouldn’t want to be paid up front for its services, regardless of the quality of the product delivered!!).
    As for backing down on the latest offer – plain daft really. You choose to buy something in Summer 09 for price A, that is your call. Don’t complain if the value of the product has diminished in the interim. The club should stick to its guns here. What are these season ticket holder who complained saying? They will not buy a full season ticket next year and wait for a similar gambling offer at Christmas 2010? I doubt it!!

  20. I have a been a season ticket holder since the Holgate days in the 80s and frankly I couldnt care less how much anyone else pays for their ticket to the match to be honest – it holds no interest to me whatsoever (whether cheaper or more expensive) as I am comfortable with what I pay and as far as I am concerned a fan is a fan and all are equal – regardless of what each has paid to get in.
    I doubt I will stop buying a season ticket while I remain happy with the price I pay (and I know am fortunate to be able to afford what I pay, I am not being crass in my attitude). Whilst I would expect my season ticket to guarentee me my current seat I dont expect any guarentees that the club will not make offers throughout the season to try and fill the ground or on anything else.
    I would definitely rather see the ground full than half empty so any idea that gets people in has my backing regardless of whether it means someone has paid less than me ‘after the fact’ or not.
    The small mindedness of those ST holders who have complained baffles me – if you arent prepared to accept the club may make offers through the season to try and generate funds / fill the ground then dont buy an ST and just buy on a match by match basis and take advantage of the offers.
    If you would rather see the ground half empty than full and the club losing money because of some perceived grievance relating to your freely made decision to buy a season ticket in advance of the season then, in my humble opinion, it really has to be asked if you really are a fan of the club or not…..?

  21. Some very fair points made here. I am a ST holder.I have absolutely no problem with the club coming up with ideas although I thought this was ill thought out. I have no problem with them putting on cheap ticket offers from time to time in fact I’m all for it.
    In the past £10 adult, £5 kids was very successful last year against Hull and Fulham as was the 2 for £20 for friends and family of ST holders. I cant imagine anybody being hugely bothered if these offers were on every so often.
    The problem for the club is that the vast majority who do attend are ST holders and the walk up crowd can be pitifully small. Even in the Premier League with 19000-20000 ST holders there were gates of 23000 for unattractive fixtures.
    The bottom line is that the crowd is dictated ultimately by the quality of the product on offer and what you are having to pay to watch it.For a long time the overall quality has been poor and the price particularly in the second division is too high.
    When I renewed my ticket early it equated to around £16 per match in the North stand which I was quite happy to pay. I had two friends visiting the area for the Plymouth game[Strachan’s first game] and I offered to get them two north stand tickets.The cost £26 pounds each.
    I have to say I think this is too much and I am not somebody living on the breadline.£52 is what I would expect two people to pay for a very decent meal out.To pay that for a second class game of football is too much.
    I’m not criticising the club .It is a fact that all football is overpriced in my opinion.I am told that the minimum charge for a walk up customer at Darlington is £18.That has to be a joke.

  22. I have to say that this is one of your most ill thought articles I’ve ever read. To imply that anyone who parts with a substantial amount of money to buy a season ticket as being a mere customer and not being a fan is an insult….a real slap in the face.
    I skimp and save and make many sacrifices to be able to afford a season ticket for my wife and I. To accuse of us being mere customers is outrageous.
    You say we should all want the same things….a full house…..great atmosphere etc….so why don’t the club give tickets away? I’ll tell you why, because they need as much income as they can get.
    Offering potentially free season tickets was an offer which was fundamentally flawed and could have led to an even bigger division within the fan base than those you appear to be trying to create (or inflame)in your article.
    I don’t see anyone moaning about the fact that Teesside students are getting entry to the Cardiff game for a tenner on Sunday. A one off offer…..but half a season potentially for free.
    It’s not the unlikeliness of winning four games back to back but the fact was an offer was made to non-season ticket holders that wasn’t available to their bread and butter fans err sorry customers….. who turn up every week in all conditions ….like tonight as I’m just about to set off for a cold midweek game against the exotic talent of Blackpool.
    Do you think there will mainly fans or customers there tonight? If their where no season ticket holders and matches where bought on a game by game basis how many do you think would be there tonight? Answers on a pinhead please.
    The impression I get from your article and from several of the comments is that being a season ticket holder is rapidly becoming a dirty word. I can easily solve that problem and become “popular” overnight by simply not re-newing next season.
    What do you think the club would prefer, a fan without a season ticket or a customer who shells out close to a grand a year?
    Answers on the back of the same pin head please.

  23. Surely of no consequence to you AV, you get in free and have the benefits of the press box
    **AV writes: yes. And if only they would let my wife and kids into the press box free too then I would be really sorted.

  24. That’s it, Vic. Light the touchpaper, lob the firework into the crowd, and scamper off into the ether!
    In my view it was good the club was thinking of something to get more people to buy half-season tickets. It’s just that they got it slightly wrong with the particular offer. It needed a little more thought.
    Many ST holders do not mind efforts to get more fans in, even if they might have ended up paying more than the new ticket holders. SOME will always complain. You can’t please everyone.
    For example, it is a downright certainty that I will hear some foul language today at the game (and I’m not talking just about a few “F” words though they will be there in profusion), that I will see massive “disrespect” to the referee, our opponents and others even if the ref has a generally good game, and despite the FA Campaign.
    I’d prefer it if football fans were all civilised but sadly all are not. Go to see the Leicester Tigers play rugby – they probably get a bigger crowd than their high-flying football neighbours – and you see families together, beers in hand and next to opposition fans. No trouble will be seen. And the number of police officers on duty will be minimal.
    And now for the game. FINGERS CROSSED.

  25. 1st Get rid of pigbag – please! It used to represent everything positive about the club and sounded great when things were good. Now it’s just an embarrassment. I cringe when I watch the team take the field to it.
    2nd The ticket distribution in the past has been a disgrace. In this technological age there are no excuses for deserving fans missing out on tickets.
    3rd It’s very easy to criticise the policy of season ticket sell outs now. What other business would give up the opportunity to fill their order book a year in advance? This enabled the club to purchase world class players.
    4th Stay in the Championship for a few years before getting promotion. This guarantees sell outs. Look at all the sell outs at teams promoted to the Premiership. Boro fans have been spoilt.

  26. From the sublime to the ridiculous……
    And I think I have the reason why it would be a mistake to get rid of Season Tickets. After a few more home games like the one against Blackpool (actually, insert a number of teams here – Leicester, Plymouth, WBA….), if it were not for the ST holders who have already paid for their seats, how many others would be likely to pay on the day? How many ST holders only turn up because the have paid for the match?
    If it was a cold and rainy February evening, against a team you have no interest in seeing, who are struggling in the league but you just KNOW are going to “do a job on us” – it would be tempting even for the diehards just to nip around to the pub to watch it on the TV. The club would get nothing. The fans would save the time travelling and save money even after half a dozen pints. Even if they had a take away on the walk home….
    They might enjoy their beer and the curry a little bit more than the claimed 18,089 enjoyed the game tonight.
    Still…look on the bright side! Home to Cardiff this weekend (on a game shown live on TV). And Cardiff beat WBA 0-2 away tonight: the same WBA that stuffed us 0-5 a short while ago. I wonder what the odds are for that game?

  27. Very good point Dormo, back in the days of few season ticket holders (as AV stated) I was watching Boro struggle in the second tier in front of crowds of less than 6,000.
    I dread to think how many renewals there would be next year if Boro continue to slide into mid-table obscurity – nine points from both automatic promotion and relegation.
    I thought last season was bad but we rarely got hammered at home by average teams – the QPR bubble was burst before it had a chance to enjoy being inflated – we should have capitalised on WBA losing again but the team is just mentally weak.
    Back on the subject of season tickets – people who bemoan ST holders wanting the cheapest deal should realise that this only reflects standard business models.
    The airline industry moved from offering cheap last minute prices (in order to fill the plane) to making the cheapest seats available to those who book first – businesses want the cash in the bank and will make it worth your while to do this.
    OK, Boro could scrap season tickets and introduce a type of Loyalty Card like – a bit like all supermarkets now have. So when you buy a ticket you gain points – with perhaps offers of more points on less attractive games. These points could then have a cash value or be used to give preferential booking for better seats or over-subscribed games (should that situation ever arise again).
    Although online booking is available on the Boro website it could be a lot better with an easier to use stadium plan – I checked yesterday and the website is still showing information for Premier League and the 2008/09 season – this is just sloppy and an indication of poor management in the marketing department.
    Also I find the design of the website amateurish with a poor use of space – yes I know Boro play in red but that doesn’t mean red has to be so overly dominant – sometimes in design less has more impact and usability is the most important issue
    **AV writes: There will always be a role for season tickets because the hardcore of every football crowd is the obsessive loyalists who will be at every match no matter what. But it does not have to be the only mechanism. In fact, if it is then the problems will get deeper and more damaging.
    The problem is that Boro have lost 10,000 ST in five years. If the club concentrate on that shrinking market income and crowds will fall. The key to regalvanising the crowd is getting in the missing thousands and attracting new fans.
    The work on getting kids in over the past year has been fantastic (and it has also disguised and mitigated the collapse of the adult ST crowd) but the club need to do more flexible schemes to get adults in.
    There has to be a recognition by ST holders that not every potential support wants to or is able to go to every game. That does not make them lesser beings. They remain valuable and vital to the well-being of the club and making it easy and viable for them to attend is a benefit for Boro and for the atmosphere.
    There are people for instance who only want to go to the most attractive half dozen games say. Or work four on, four off so go to games in little clusters. Or in shifts so they maybe miss a third of the season. They could all be “diehards” rather than these mythical part-timers but circumsatnces militate against them buying a ST. It is not cost-effective for them.
    But we still need them. They are the difference between a half-empty stadium and a struggling club on the one hand and an almost full ground and a few bob in the coffers. They need to be encouraged. Currently they get penalised for not having a season ticket by being asked to pay walk up prices that are not working.
    That is the key. The current structure IS NOT working. Something needs to be done and the key to that is reducing matchday prices to make them viable.
    Why not have a “one month ticket” with the ST discount and benefits? Or a pay as you go ticket, bought at the start of the season at the ST discount for, say, any ten games? Who not have buy two, get one free? Or a membership scheme that allows people to pay a nominal fee to register as a regular part-timer (I’m thinking ex-pats) so they can dip in and out of games at ST rates, maybe at two weeks notice? Or a scheme where you buy an adult ticket and can take two kids for a fiver each? There must be dozens of viable schemes.
    If this issue of collapsing crowds is not tackled very quickly and if Boro remain wedded exclusively to the ST model then a crisis is looming.

  28. After THAT they will have to pay people to go!
    That abject surrender shaved another 2,000 of next year’s ST figures and guarentees that the Cardiff game will be THE LOWEST EVER league gate at the Riverside.

  29. AV
    “A season ticket brought with it images of tartan rugs, flasks and gentile applause”
    Didn’t the non-Christians applaud then?
    **AV writes: Good spot of my Biblical blunder. I think I’ll leave it in.

  30. I’m not saying i don’t agree that there has to be a change in the business model but the club have to come up with something that can cope with the paradox of the season ticket holder without decreasing their potential income for this group.
    As you say the obessively loyal season ticket holders are a captive audience and the club relies on them for it’s income. But if you end up making it cheaper per match not to have a season ticket then there is little incentive to buy one – especially if you miss a couple of games per season and the ground is not even two-thirds full.
    That’s why I think the way forward is some form of loyalty/membership scheme with reward points.
    Perhaps seats for each game can be priced the same for everyone and if ‘season ticket’ holder paid around £200 up front (that equates to about £10 per game) to entitle them to a particular seat for the season plus priority booking for family or friends – they then could either pay the difference of the matchday price by direct debit or when there balance had run out. You could even have Pay-as-Go memberships (it works for mobile phones)
    The reward points accumulated by anyone attending could then be used in the future for discounts or free tickets.
    This wouldn’t stop the club making different offers throughout the season as the same prices would apply to one-offs and ST holders alike. Also reward points could be used (and gained) by purchasing club merchandise.

  31. Whatever is suggested to replace STs will be unworkable for the same reason.
    All-seater stadia.
    Every ticket whether part of an ST or bought on the day just before kickoff has the specific seat to be occupied on it. That means you sell that specific seat to the same person for the entire season or remaining part of the season if you can. And you do so at whatever price you can get for it at the time of sale. If that means someone else got a worse price earlier tough.
    To actually try and sell all those on the day would be impossible. Just look what happens when there is a minor cup game with an attendance of 10K or less and they all turn up 5 minutes before kickoff and have to buy a ticket that has to have a specific seat number on it.
    Smaller clubs in lower divisions with all seater stadia can sell tickets that let you into one turnstile then sit where you like within that area but the bigger the club the less feasible that is.
    To offer a ST holder a bring a mate (or a child) along for a much reduced price is fine providing the seat next to him isnt another ST holder. Otherwise the ST has to move for that game or split his party up. Make the offer so attractive that lots go for it and the logistics become impossible.
    Oh for the days you just got a ticket for one end of the ground then found somewhere to fit you and all you had with you together. Not possible anymore.
    Thats not the fault of season tickets. That’s all-seater stadia.
    **AV writes: It is not about a week to week free for all. It is about finding a way of making the unsold seats available in a range of flexible packages that are competitive and attractive but do not alienate or threaten the ST base.

  32. Jiffy, I take your point but every problem has a solution – you could sell Season Tickets as one seat in a row of 20 for example (of which 10 remain for non-ST holders) and give you the option to book another in that block before a particular date – you could also confirm online which seat(s)in that block you want.

  33. Nigel at 5:22 writes…..Nigel my name also happens to be Nigel….please don’t question my not having the guts to use my real name….thank you.

  34. Working in the marketing department of a pro sports club it is widely accepted that the PR of MFC is utterly remarkable!
    The first consideration of any offer is the current consumer and rightly or wrongly the club should have known that the offer in question would cause problems. To think they got this far with a promotion is unthinkable.
    The problem lies with the lack of communiction between the fans and club and the longer this continues the worse it will get! You will never please 100% that’s nature of the beast but a commitee of fans would be a move in the right direction.
    As far as a membership scheme I felt the Boro Pride card was possibly the best bit of marketing the club produced in a while and was very impressed, however it has not been pushed in the right way. But it could be the answer.
    N Bausor is right in saying ST holders are the priority – they are but they need to know that. But hey his experience is in industry a far cry from the emotionally fuelled world of sport – good appointment! Rant over……

  35. My comment about staying in the championship for a number of years was tongue in cheek.
    However, I will guarantee sell outs if we get promotion after several seasons outside the premiership.

  36. AV – Your comment to Werdermouth at 7.34am:
    “If this issue of collapsing crowds is not tackled very quickly and if Boro remain wedded exclusively to the ST model, then a crisis is looming.”
    I would suggest that it is the football, the thing we pay for and see (or do not) on the pitch, that is the problem. Or put another way, “if the football put on display for the supporters who buy tickets does not improve markedly, then a crisis is looming”.
    It has got little to do with ST holders. They are not being paid thousands a week and then (mostly) failing to turn up.

  37. I am a season ticket (North stand) holder have been for over twenty years. I didnt agree with the stupid offer the club made to the fans.
    Why do i pay £16.08 per game this season and the turn up and pay on the day fan pays £23.00? isn’t this where the real problem lies, our pricing structure? Why don’t the club start and charge us all the same price?

  38. Totally agree with AV and others.
    My situation is:
    ST holder for 15 years until I had to go and work in London. The 19 home games on a saturday became less because of TV comittments. Monday evening kick offs and sundays at 4pm left me available to watch roughly 8 to 10 games max per season. This was wrong when tou have pre paid to see games on a saturday.
    So i ended up reluctantly handing in my season ticket and paying for games as and when i could get there! Why should i be penalised for this by paying more? I agree to a little to cover overheads such as more admin and ticketing staff etc but it wasent just a small sum!!! they penalised the supporters who Couldent get to every game which was completely wrong!
    To me, when you pay for something you should know what you are getting for what price! ST holders should be gauaranteed to be able to see 20 games per season on a saturday at 3pm, but we pay for the ST and then are told before the season starts that games have been moved for sky etc! If you cant get to a game that has been re arranged you should be able to see another game?
    I DO OBJECT to been called a part time supporter and your article covers this well. I goto roughly 10 games per season at home, occasional away trip and as many as i can pick up in london whilst im there. I read the gazette on line everyday, and purchase goods from MFC such as shirts and xmas gifts, but alas im only a part time supporter!!!
    The recent offer is such a joke its unreal.

  39. AV wrote:
    “People ceased to be fans and had become customers”.
    I would argue that promises of “special treatment and allocation of Cup Tickets” were broken to the season ticket holders.
    AV wrote:
    “part-timers in for a tenner”
    I say all right if a refund is given to the existing customers.
    AV wrote:
    “season tickets should be a symbol that people buy into a shared vision and should be democratic and inclusive thing”
    I ask what’s democratic about selling the seat next to mine for less than what I paid for it? That just says to me I’m a mug. It should be the reverse. I should pay the lesser price because I paid up front before the season began and indeed before the previous one ended! Those buying 3-year tickets should be entitled to a lower price than mine. They have demonstrated a greater commitment.
    Incidentally why are there price differences in the seats at the Riverside? Surely the vast majority of seats offer a good view of the pitch? I would argue that all seats should be the same price with only a small reduction for those seats which do offer either a less comfortable experience or a poorer view. That way seats could be offered at a reduction to prices now but would possibly hold a greater attraction.
    A decent database of fans including the length of time a particular seat has been held would offer the chance to market “offers” from the shop or big reductions on the price of Cup Tickets for the longer-serving fans. That would encourage the take-up of tickets because there is a perceived benefit.
    The perception of the ST holders at the moment is one of being taken totally for granted.
    Given that football is marketed as an “entertainment industry and players get huge wages on that basis” I feel the paying public here are being woefully short-changed. If I attend a theatre I would expect to see the same level of craft, endeavour and commitment from the cast from opening night to closing night. This definitely hasn’t been so at the Riverside where over this past five years I have only seen at most four “good” games at home per season.
    Please understand I do not expect that Boro will win all home games, but I do expect to see them at least trying!
    To GS2 I feel the only way forward is to rebuild and can well understand why he is asking to be judged after three and a half years. Whether he gets that time or whether SG pulls the plug on him too remains to be seen.
    If Mr Gibson had been really concerned about Corus then the Riverside would have been built with UK Steel and not the German stuff it is. He will no doubt point out that the market determines the price for the product and I will say EXACTLY!
    I hope the Boro players can play well enough away from the Riverside to maintain the Championship status but fear it wiill be a close run thing.

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