THERE would be a real feelgood buzz if we were talking about a Riverside reshuffle and season ticket prices from the comfort of the play-off zone.
But we shouldn’t let recent results jaundice the bigger picture: Boro have listened on prices, on the crying need for affordable family packages and the lack of atmosphere.
And not just listened but also taken real concrete steps to address some of the most pressing problems with the most radical reconfiguration and pricing package since the Riverside was opened.
The new season ticket price details were released in the Evening Gazette today along with confirmation of some tweaking of the ground designed to galvanise a flagging matchday atmosphere. And Gibbo is getting the beers in!
The South Stand – currently given over to the sparse scattering of visiting fans tucked up cosily in one block – will be opened to Boro fans giving vocal and visible support in a prime spot for passion.
And a new East Stand ‘Generation Red’ family area will be created with a ridiculously affordable price structure that will enable adults to take two younger kids to the match than less than a quid all in. That’s just fan-tastic.
It is no secret that a string of articles offering constructive criticism and a menu of suggestions to help halt the long slide in gates on this blog and in the paper – and the informed and passionate debate that followed – led to the Gazette being invited to a series of summits with club chiefs.
That led to productive meetings with a variety of fans’ groups and Boro big-wigs Steve Gibson and Neil Bausor proved open to some quite creative ideas on pricing.
The first fruits of those meeting were a flurry of cut-price ticket deals to head off a collapse in gates. Those one off targeted deals led to some of the biggest crowds and biggest atmospheres of the season before fading in the face of some harsh winter results.
But the renewal forms that will flop on the doormats of season ticket stalwarts and recently lapsed loyalists from today include confirmation of two major initiatives that are a direct response to fans’ initiatives – plus a big liquid bonus as Steve Gibson gets the beers in.
The most visible sign of the changes will be the repopulation of the South Stand.
For years the designated away end has been deserted with the vast swathes of empty red seats damning Boro with every appearance on TV.
The sorry sight of a Boro goal flying in at that end with no backdrop of celebration must be a big turn-off for would-be fans watching at home and wondering why the hell they would want to go there. Feel that big game atmosphere!
The rejig, a suggestion from the Gazette eagerly agreed by the Red Faction group from noisy South East corner, will ensure fans behind that goal not only are part of Boro’s subliminal advertising to but they can also have a direct impact on the dynamics of the crowd on a matchday.
The plan is to move the Red Faction en masse from the current lofty location to immediately behind the goal and the price will be pitched to attract like minded loyalists from up in the more expensive corners to form a decent block of Boro to cheer the team on when kicking that way.
After detailed talks with the police and council safety officials, the away fans will be moved up to the East Stand where the internal architecture allows easy segregation with an overflow area in a strip of the South Stand to cope with big games and FA Cup matches where the visitors may need a bigger allocation. No season tickets will be sold in that overspill area.
The Red Faction have bought into the idea and know that while they are being encouraged to be noisy and passionate they will need to be on their best behaviour. After seeing exactly how much high profile ‘category A’ police and stewarding costs – “which player do you want me to sell? they were asked by Steve Gibson – have agreed to “police” themselves. They are aware that if the area becomes costly or problematic then the experiment could quickly end.
Boro now have two kops and, when the Riverside is rocking, the passion and noise will be in stereo with Twe12th Man in the established North Stand. And for big games a healthy away crowd will not occupy a psychological prime spot behind that goal .
But more importantly for the future, the new Family Area offers a fantastic incentive to blood the next generation.
It’ll be cheaper to take the kids to a game than the pictures for first time in decades.
Adults who take kids there will be offered the lowest prices in the ground – £16..86 per game – and will get their first Under-11 junior red free. They can take another Under-11 along for £20 a season, which clocks in at 86p per match and Under-18s are just £50 a season or £2.17 a game.
I could take my pair for a total of £18.93… it would cost £20.60 to take them to the cinema. And a lot more for 3D what with the extra for those daft glasses. And the coke and popcorn is far more pricey there as well. But the “flix index” was always used as a comparison by people pointing out that football was no longer affordable for families.
Seniors taking kids can get their ticket for £230 so Nana or Grandad taking two Under 11s would work out at a very reasonable £10.36 per game…. that’s cheaper than paying for a real babysitter!
The area will be redecorated with kids in mind and the concourses will be geared to the new audience – that may include matchday entertainment; some clubs bring in occasional exhibitions from the likes of Match Attax and have pre-match FIFA and ProEvo consoles and competitions, we’ll see – and the block will have light touch sympathetic stewarding but a strict Mind Your Language policy (although how they will block out colourful chanting aimed at the referee from other areas of the ground I don’t know.)
It is an unbelievable deal for families and can help educate – brainwash – future fans and steel them for the agony and ecstacy that awaits them in the gruelling years to come. Feel free to contact social services…
It can help re-establish the time honoured ‘dad and lad’ (feel free to coin your own non-gender specific phrase if you can get it to rhyme) working class rite of passage that died in the sell out years as the Riverside developed middle-age spread.
For the best part of a decade youngsters who wanted to go simply couldn’t. There were no seats available even they could persuade a parent or uncle or neighbour to take them. An entire generation was lost.
This is a vital move to replenish the ranks. The very affordable prices will encourage parents to take kids – who will then hopefully be infected and demand to renew next year. Pester power in action. And they will of course buy burgers and exit through the shop.
“But what about me?” The cry goes up from stalwart season ticket fans feeling overlooked.
Well, prices have been frozen for early renewals for an eighth season running. North Stand tickets work out at £16.86, which is not bad. To add a bit of context, there are eight League One and six League Two sides charging more than £20 for on the day tickets this season.
And, as discussed endlesly on here, club can’t realistically cut prices as it is their main source of income in this league, especially as Financial Fair Play kicks in next term which will restrict the cash Steve Gibson can pump into the club.
Boro’s only chance of increasing revenue is raising their take at the gate. That means getting more people in, not widespread price cuts. I think most people accept that.
But Boro know that season ticket holders want to feel loved, want a recognition of their love, want a gesture. So they are buying you a pint. Every game.
The free pint is a response to another fans’ suggestion. It was pointed out that all the previous offers had been geared to ‘part-timers’ and while everyone understood why, it just felt like they were being overlooked. That is worth £3.60. Every game, activated by the smart chip in your season-card. But the time frame for getting the beers in is restricted. So get in early or stay after the game and celebrate. Or drown your sorrows.
And yes, if you don’t drink because you are driving you can have a coffee or a coke or a bovril. No, there is no cash alternative. And no, you can’t save them up and go on a bender every couple of months. (Insert your own joke about needing to get bladdered to watch the football here).
It isn’t a panacea for Boro problem’s. The real issues will only be addressed by a sharp upturn in results and performances and a sustained improvement in the local economy. And no doubt someone will say “what about the concessions in other areas,” or point to walk-up match day pricing which are both issues that still need addressing.
But it is a start, and a solid and progressive one at that. Boro chiefs have taken stock of the situation, listened to the supporters and responded with a decent package that offers two potentially important changes, a price freeze – and a beer.
Things may feel bleak with the team on the slide right now. But there’s always next year. And who knows, a sudden spark and play-off surge in the last nine games … the new prices could just still be a hell of a bargain in the Premier League!