Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Season Ticket Scandal

I'm not sure how long the club keep information of season ticket holders. I know it was mentioned on Charlton Life some time ago that the club doesn't know how long current season ticket holders have had their ticket - not seat as some have had them since we played at Selhurst Park, Upton Park and during various building schemes at The Valley. Thus, those of us that were season ticket holders at Selhurst Park were not differentiated against by those that bought s ST in the Premier League to turn up half a dozen times a season to watch the glamour games.

Admittedly there are probably none of those type left now, but if the historical information is discarded we are all treated the same.

Having said that most businesses are infinitely more interested in how much money than can extract from their customers in the future, opposed to how much they have gave in the past, so we can hardly be surprised or disappointed. Also, for obvious reasons, the more likely one is to renew the less effort should be expended to convince him to do so. In fact, the majority of the budget should be allocated to those that might not renew. Loyalty is a great thing, and shouldn’t really be taken for granted, but equally if you are ever going to take someone for granted it should be one of those that are most loyal, as you can trust them to be there what ever happens.

I seriously doubt that these discussions have not gone on. It would be irresponsible of the Target 40,000 committee and their associates if they did not target those that the club are most likely to lose. I appreciate that it must be difficult to identify the specific groups, and it might be more expensive to market them in different ways, however, the price that will be charged in the summer, along with the ‘threat’ of fans losing their seats is likely to be more pivotal for renewals for those that don’t do so in April.

This leaves the club with a dilemma. Do you need to be seen to be treating the loyal (will renew at any price and when ever the club demand it) fans by them getting a better deal for renewing early, or do you want to offer better terms to those that refuse to renew with the current prices in April but could be tempted in June, July or August.

I know it is different, but there are similarities between this and the football for a fiver scheme, which looks to reward exactly the least loyal customers. The cheap football was, in effect, a financial reward for those that declined the option to buy a season ticket in March 2010, again in June (before swap week) again in August just before the season started, and again in September when a deal was made after a few games and again at Christmas when, I believe, the last PR campaign was run for part season tickets.

It would be business suicide for the club to reduce the prices in the summer to incentivise those that didn’t renew in April, but it would also be a little naive to think that those who didn’t commit for next season in April would be willing to pay more and/or switch their seat in June, July or August.

I believe there is a real possibility of those fans choosing to pay as they go. I’m not suggesting that any of them will stop supporting Charlton, but all the time we have seen no visible signs of actual squad rebuilding, and quality being added at that, there is the temptation to believe that some of the midweek games (especially in the winter) and the run in if it is going to anything like this one present very missable games. If there are enough of these missable games, combined with the odd football for a fiver deal and one or two family occasions it might even work out cheaper – this is before you factor in the cost of paying for a whole year upfront.

The club have a very difficult decision to make about future sales of season tickets. Promotion is virtually impossible now, as is relegation (thankfully), so the marketing people will have to weigh up the cost of losing some season ticket holders against the risk of upsetting those that will always renew irrespective as to how they are treated.

They also need to ensure that their credibility is intact. This is the second year in a row that the club made it perfectly clear that no seats will be guaranteed if you don’t renew early (and I think March and April is very, very early) yet I don’t know of any seats being made available before the swap week last year and current season ticket holders were given plenty of time to renew, at the same prices, before swap week commenced.

I have no real reason to assume that the club will not follow through on all the promises that have been made, all be it that they are vague enough to make it impossible to prove otherwise, even after the event, but I do know that if they intended to build a squad on the cheap they would have said exactly what they have done. Significant investment could be £10m on transfer fees; it could just as easily be describing bridging the gap between income and expenditure for another year – which was estimated to be £4m this season. The difference in playing staff of those two is massive.

I believe that last year many fans renewed in March as they believed that there was a very real possibility that they would lose their seat if they didn’t. The way that the club ensured that no one lost their seat as long as they renewed in June last year makes that threat seem a little toothless this time around. With promotion off the agenda now, a Championship priced ticket looks very unlikely now too.

So why would anyone renew in April for something that they will not benefit from until August, and can almost certainly buy in June, probably late June at that?

Many of Charlton Life have stated that they have renewed already, and I’m sure there are many others that will also commit to next season before the end of this week, despite the worst run of results (and I’m guessing based on the division we are in) in the clubs history.

They are clearly very loyal fans. I have to say that I admire them. I used to think of myself as a loyal fan. During my three years at Kent University (in Canterbury) I didn’t miss one home game. I also attended every home game when I lived in Sheffield for a year – quite a financial commitment for a student. I have most of the replica shirts that have been available since the 1980s onwards and I have a program for just about every home game for well over 20 years. I have had a season ticket every year since 1989, and I have been obsessed with Charlton since before then and am still now.

However, I felt a little conned in 2008 when the club’s representatives pushed the free Premier League season ticket offer for the second year running only to sell several of the best players after the deadline had gone to balance the books. I felt mislead in the summer of 2009 when the ‘Takeover’ was going to be completed in a week for months while season tickets were being sold. The, then, Chief Executive promised that the club would sack the manager and get us a new one if we bought enough season tickets - something that is now claimed to be a joke but wasn’t thought of as being one at the time. All the while the board were refusing to allow Parkinson to bring in players to make the side much more balanced as it was suggested that after the takeover we would have so much more money that we would be signing better players.

Last summer the club did exactly what it said it was going to do. We sold everything that had a value and renewed none of the contracts of players on good money and allowed them to leave for free (something that we couldn’t have stopped, to be fair). However there was this ‘offer’ made of two divisions one price. The price for the next season would be held at the current price and you would be able to secure your seat (opposed to losing it) if you committed by the end of March.

Then in May, with automatic promotion sill a possibility and the playoffs guaranteed (from memory) we allowed Shelvey to leave and not be involved in the most important games of the season to raise money.

I understand the need to raise money, and I also know that my season ticket price is a drop in the ocean compared to what the board have invested (and in most cases lost) but I still feel as though I have been misled at best, lied to at worst.

This season, like last, I am not going to renew early. I have my season ticket application pack, not that I think I’ll need it as I will purchase online if it is going to save me £5, and I can’t see me being anywhere else than at The Valley on a Saturday afternoon when my Dad is not away. But, I feel as though my loyalty has been abused. I know some will claim that we have new owners and I should give them the benefit of the doubt, but I doubt that it is a coincidence that the club has many of the same employees and consultants strategising on Season Ticket sales, and the ‘threats’ of what happens if you don’t renew early look the same as last year.

For that reason I’m going to wait until the summer. If the price is increased slightly, and/or the board make what I believe to be impressive investments in the playing staff I’ll renew then. If, however, they put the price up a lot and/or sell my current seat to someone else then I’ll not renew at all. Then those selling tickets will have to keep impressing me with the football each week to tempt me to come to the next game, something the club has failed miserably to do in at least three of the last five years.

If this makes me disloyal then so be it.

Since I started my love affair with Charlton, thirty years ago, I have been all the way through senior school, ‘A’-Level college, University, twice, had major open heart surgery, started two business, got married and become a Dad. During all that time Charlton has been the one constant in my life (apart from my family), but I have a full life, and I now love other parts of it more than I love football. Can I take it or leave it? No, I can’t. Can I cope with being a little lower on the ‘Loyal Supporter’ ladder by not having a season ticket? Yes I can.

Time will tell.

Up the Addicks!


Dave said...

KHA - I have had a season ticket since 1977 and consider myself one of those who will follow my team through thick and thin (and thinner). I will put up with almost anything from my club, including watching the most recent dross because I know it will eventually improve even it it takes ages and wholesale personnel changes. What I won't tolerate is being taken for granted or being treated like an idiot. The 4th April renewal plan bordered on this and I wasn't falling for it. If we had managed promotion, I would have happily paid a bit more but the farce of threatening an increase unless I renewed early wasn't going to encourage me. Putting the price up at this point will be commercial suicide so expect to see some sort of mock incentive post 4th April. Like you, I will renew when I feel motivated to do so during the Summer. If anyone runs away with the idea that a season ticket is worth a penny more post 4th April, I will go match-to-match and they risk seeing far less of me if the football isn't a major improvement on this year. Dave.

newyorkaddick said...

Great post KHA.

Your last paragraph sums up exactly the way I'm feeling. Admittedly without wishing to trivialise your story, I've not had open heart surgery yet, but watching this Charlton side may well lead me to it before too long I fear.