Ahead of the 2011/2012 season, Newcastle United introduced a ten year season ticket price freeze for anybody who renews their season ticket every year.
Since then, the club seems to have been doing its utmost to challenge those that bought into the deal to walk away from it.
The small print in the deal requires anyone that would like to cancel their renewal to do so by the end of January in the preceding season. This means that the January transfer window becomes extremely important to those that are making the expensive decision as to whether the club is moving in a direction that they want to support with their hard earned cash over the next year.
The club are quite clear however, that January is not a time when they are interested in buying any players. In last week’s interview with the Chronicle, Lee Charnley reiterated:
‘January is a difficult market to operate in. There are very few options whereby a club can achieve the quality required and also get value. There is often a reason as to why a player might be available in January.
We were forced to bring players in a couple of years ago in January because of where we were in the league and some of those transactions we brought forward from the following summer at significant cost. As a general principle, January’s not an attractive window.’
This has always clearly been the case and came as news to nobody. The ‘value’ argument is not true of course, some of Ashley’s best value signings have come in January (Nolan, Williamson, Routledge, Simpson, Cisse, Sissoko & Debuchy).
Observing the transfers the club has made in the past confirms the approach though. Mike Ashley has spent just £41.9m in eight January windows so far (£5.2m average), but sold £77.9m of talent (£9.7m average), almost double.
In the summer The club are much more interested in adding quality to their numbers with the £111.2m spent (£13.9m average) shading the £80.6m recouped (£10.1m average).
So why would the club time the fixed price renewals at such a time when supporters will inevitably be at their most dissatisfied? They will tell you it’s an administrative issue, that the direct debits have to be started or some other nonsense.
That might be true, but I can’t shake the feeling that while the fixed price deal was excellent for fans (especially those that save the difference each year and use it to defray the massive increase they face when the deal runs out), for the club it was also an attention grabbing publicity stunt that inevitably stifles growth of matchday revenue. The renewal date seems to me therefore pointedly and purposely selected to be at a time when most people will be most inclined to tell the club where to stick their fixed price deal.
Unfortunately, football fans are junkies. It’s rare that they can just walk away. Particularly at Newcastle.
St James Park is like Royston Vasey – “you’ll never leave”. Mike Ashley and Lee Charnley know and rely on that. Those fans who do make a principled stand against the owner, manager, transfer policy, or whatever straw it was that broke the camel’s back for them, inevitably return. Maybe only for the derby where a standard Gallowgate or Leazes ticket is £45 and requires a £35 membership to secure, making it a £80 ticket.
Perhaps after a summer like 2014 where the club spend more than they had in the previous 5 summers combined, fans who packed it in are convinced to buy a full season ticket. If they aren’t then new fans will be, and Newcastle season ticket prices have been going up season on season, at an average of about 3% a year. A £543 Gallowgate/Leazes ticket in 10/11 was up to £602 in 13/14 (11%).
Far from explaining to fans the situation with the new manager, promising much needed investment or allaying any fears we have of relegation, Charnley’s interview seemed intended not to galvanize support but to alienate.
Rather than convincing supporters to stick with the club, it confirmed to all those considering cancelling, what they had feared, and likely emboldened them towards ringing the bank about that direct debit.