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Cost & effect WEDNESDAY TICKET PRICING

Sheffield Wednesday fans dig deep to pay on the turnstiles

“For some of us it’s a matter of principle,” read a statement from the Bristol City Supporters Club announcing that they would not be attending their first Championship match of the season, away to Sheffield Wednesday, because of the £39 tickets. City were the first victims of Wednesday’s matchday pricing structure, brought in by new owner Dejphon Chansiri, and won’t be the only away supporters moaning about the cost of visiting Hillsborough this term. While it is relatively easy for travelling fans to make a stand against an opposition club for one match, Wednesdayites face a more complex issue which has divided the fanbase when the club should be riding a rare wave of optimism. Chansiri, a Thai businessman, officially took over at Hillsborough in March and set out his goal of returning Wednesday to the Premier League by 2017, having funded several transfers in January before the sale was complete. This was followed by overdue investment in Hillsborough, including a £1 million stateof-the-art pitch and the largest screen in the Football League, earning the owner breathing space with the fans in the short term.

Concerns began with a large jump in cost between “early bird” and “phase two” season tickets – adult prices on the Kop went up £105, to £500 – and there were steep increases in the prices of executive boxes which angered previously loyal businesses. But that was nothing compared to the release of matchday prices.

In mid-July, without any accompanying explanation, Wednesday published details of eight different categories (A* to G) and the top price was instant headline fodder: Sheffield Wednesday, a club in one of the most deprived areas of the country, were charging up to £52 for second-tier football.

This price is misleading. It is for the most expensive stand in A* fixtures and it’s difficult to pick out any games suitable for that band. Indeed, it’s hard to understand why Wednesday bothered with this category at all unless they want to use it for potential play-off games, a morally dubious move in itself. Instead £52 became the focal point of a PR disaster.

Defenders point to category G, in which every adult ticket is £20, but so far prices have been in the middle, with E used against Reading (£30 on the Kop) and D for Middlesbrough and Fulham (£33). The attendance at that Middlesbrough game was 20,976, around 3,000 fewer than the same fixture last season and an early sign that the high prices have put off many walk-up fans.

Part of the motivation for the hike is to change the culture of Wednesdayites to one of season tickets and memberships. Having the largest stadium outside the Premier League means that, other than a handful of sell-outs in the past decade, fans are used to purchasing tickets on the turnstiles. This results in unpredictable attendances, so the move is logical –

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the new membership scheme, at £30, includes £5 off tickets – but its implementation is wrong.

After initial criticism Chansiri announced that he would personally purchase tickets for fans who genuinely could not afford to attend. While the sentiments were admirable it does not tackle the crux of the issue: the “unprecedented flexibility” of the categories fails to reflect the financial pressures of its target market. The low end is too steep, there is not enough demand for the top prices and the complex structure puts off casual fans. Meanwhile season tickets are too expensive to prompt a shift in the mentality of the fanbase – the latest initiative, “half-season tickets”, work out at £27 per match for the Kop, hardly enticing. At these prices attending Hillsborough will become a “treat” rather than a tradition for many fans.

This may be a large bump in the road as Chansiri learns about English football and the local area. Wednesday are not the only Championship club to charge high prices and

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are regularly stung for the top categories at away games (see WSC 340), which has chipped away at any sympathy the wider fanbase has for supporters of other clubs, however misguided and counter-productive that attitude may be.

This season Owls fans have paid £37 (£41 on the day) at Elland Road while Ipswich charged up to £37.50. The Football Supporters’ Federation’s pricing protest takes place in October but it is unlikely Wednesday fans will be involved in significant numbers – the appetite is not there, though that may change.

The club must be run as a sustainable business but also have community responsibility and the pricing this season is short-sighted and alienating, while the same seems to have been done to businesses with the executive boxes. The hardcore will find a way to pay but if Chansiri does achieve promotion, there may not be many people there to see it – not out of principle, but because it is unaffordable.

Tom Hocking

Scenes from Football History

No 290

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