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What Newcastle United season ticket prices are really about and why price freeze fans may have big shock ahead

2 years ago

In a few years time, thousands of Newcastle supporters will be reaching the end of their ten year price freeze deals on season tickets, so the announcement of 18/19 Newcastle United season ticket prices has been greeted with keen interest, not only among those outside of the price freeze who suffer from the increases immediately, but also from those on a fixed deal that have been largely insulated from the fluctuation in prices while Mike Ashley has owned the club.

It’s worth looking at how prices have progressed over the last decade to understand where a 20% increase comes from for people this year, how it compares over the course of Ashley’s ownership, what it might mean for the future and how prices compare with other clubs.

How did we get to a 20% increase?

None of what follows is to say that those facing are 20% increase in their annual cost compared to last season are not completely justified in their anger.

Whatever the explanation for such a rise, it has not been shared by the club and little care has been taken to help supporters transition from a “low cost” ticket to high.  This is worrying as a precedent for those on long term deals facing a greater transition in 2021.  However, the increase this season has been on the horizon for a while.  People would have to have been paying very close attention to work this out for themselves though, the club have not publicised it at all.  This is how prices have progressed recently.

Following relegation into the championship the club dropped all season tickets by 10%.

After promotion they increased prices by 15%  and 10% of that reinstated the prices from 15/16.  The net increase from the last premier league season (15/16) to the next (17/18) was 5%.The crux here is that nobody experienced any increase whatsoever at this time, all existing season ticket holders prices were frozen, not just those on the 10 year deal. Only people that bought a new season ticket last year paid the new full price, and it was just the cost of a new ticket to them.

This year there is another 5% increase for everyone not on a ten year deal. Those that had championship season tickets without being on a ten year deal experience this renewal as a 20% increase for 18/19 following their 17/18 price freeze – £108 in the Gallowgate, £133 in the east stand, £68 in the family enclosure..

The approach to a season spent in the championship has been very similar to the previous relegation when prices were dropped 9% for the 09/10 season and then increased 10% following promotion for the 10/11 season. A more manageable 1% net increase overall back then.

How have prices changed over the last Decade?

The 10% drop in season ticket prices for the Championship ensured the cost to new season ticket holders was LESS in 16/17 than the prices people on 10 year fixes took up initially five years earlier in 11/12.  This shouldn’t be a surprise, a club going backwards and dropping down the league will be required to alter prices to encourage new supporters to commit.

Our Premier League prices increased minimally from 2010 (the frozen price)  to 2015, 6.4% (in the Gallowgate & Leazes) over 5 years, 1.3% per year. The benefits of being locked in were more to Mike Ashley (assuring him of income despite his constant mistakes) than supporters who saved less than £10 a year in the first half of their deal.

As the price lock deal nears an end though, with Benitez at the helm, the increases seem to have accelerated, because they can.  From 2015 to 2018 the increase has been 8.6%  (Gallowgate and Leazes) in 3 years, 2.9% a year. More than doubling the rate of increase. This acceleration of price increases was temporarily halted by relegation. Taking that out of the equation, the increases from one Premier League season to the next, as outlined above, have been 5% a year, almost 4 times the previous 5 year average increase.

So far, with the accelerated rate of increase, those on a ten year deal have avoided increases totalling 20% over 7 years.

Since 2007, 11 years from the day Ashley arrived to the current date, standard price season ticket increases exceed 30%.

This is below inflation which stands at 33.3% since July 2010. Only Platinum Club season ticket holders have exceeded this rate of growth.

How much might prices have changed by the time your ten year deal ends?

If they continue, annual 5% increases will culminate in a big hit in the pocket for those coming out of ten year deals. Derek Llambias stated in 2011 that “supporters who sign up can rest assured that the price of their season ticket in 2020/21 will be exactly the same as it is now.”

Everyone on those deals would always have been expecting a big increase after 2021. This wouldn’t have necessarily materialised to any significant degree if the trend continued as it was prior to 2015. The ramping up in recent seasons seems (to a cynic like me) to be geared towards ensuring people accept as big an increase as possible that summer, when they’re prepared for it.

It’s impossible to know what increases the club will implement, if any, over the 2 seasons subsequent to 18/19.  We can’t know if they’ll still have Rafa drawing the crowds or Premier League status. That obvious caveat aside, extrapolating the 5% increases we’ve seen over the last two seasons over the next two seasons, we can calculate the standard cost of a ticket by 2020/2021 in each stand.

Lots of supporters have taken out different deals at different times with people forced into moves paying less than others in the same areas and nine or eight year deals offered subsequent to the ten year offer, so individual increases will differ, but I’ve used the standard cost of a season ticket in 10/11, which I believe was what most entered into in 11/12, to estimate the size of price increases those on long term deals might have to prepare for.

How do Prices at Newcastle compare with other clubs?

30% increases will be a lot for people to absorb in one season if they materialise, but would it bring those supporters in line with those of other clubs?  Newcastle United fans were paying a premium for tickets before Ashley arrived, as a club we looked to compete and without owners willing to fund that with their own investment, supporters absorbed much of the cost of European pursuits. Supporters were happy to do so when European qualification was achieved and the club broke it’s transfer record consistently to continue to be competitive. Mike Ashley has been very clear, he does not perceive Newcastle to be that sort of club anymore. He perceives us as a mid-table also ran club (if we’re lucky), one that has to live within our means.

If expectations are to be kept low, then you would expect ticket prices to reflect that, but according to the BBC price of football survey for 2017 if you take the top six out of the equation, Newcastle already had the costliest “cheap” season tickets north of Southampton last season. Newcastle also sold the costliest “expensive” tickets north of West Ham.

Also note, that the cheapest ticket at Newcastle reported by the BBC is limited to a few dozen seats in the North West corner.  The cheapest standard season ticket sold in large numbers for 18/19 will be the £628 tickets in the Gallowgate and Leazes. That price is more than six clubs charged for their most expensive tickets in 2017.

The geographical element of this is important too.  There’s a far greater cost of living and average wage the further south you go. Adding 5% to these prices in 2018 and potentially beyond, will only exacerbate the discrepancy for us as the northernmost club.

Ultimately though, the club offers seats at a range of prices that while high in my opinion, don’t necessarily make us massive outliers in the league, it places us towards the high end, but if the stadium can be filled, then the rules of supply and demand dictate the price is right.

That said, we know from the Ashley model at his shops that his modus operandi is to confuse and mislead his customers into what they see as a bargain, being as opaque as possible on what the “savings” are.

Supporters are confused as to why they get the price they do, how it differs from the standard price and when it will change. If the club are freezing prices, leading to 20% and 30%  jumps, it’s crucial to communicate as quickly and clearly as possible, via all communication channels available, what they should expect to pay and when. Online user accounts should detail both the standard price and the reduced price of a season ticket holders seat, as well as the date when their deal will expire, so they’re fully aware of what to expect.

Springing a 20% cost increase on fans the day renewals open, weeks before the new season starts, only serves to generate resentment at odds with the good will the manager and players are doing great work to develop.

You can follow the author on Twitter @bigchrisholt


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