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Graphic shows why Mike Ashley was forced to give away 10,000 season tickets to protect Sports Direct advertising

11 months ago

Mike Ashley finally made his move on Monday.

The build up to Sunday’s match had made clear to him that the Newcastle fans weren’t returning.

A run of four wins and two draws in eight games had not convinced any/many of the supporters sick of his running of Newcastle United, to return.

Indeed, he was shocked to learn that over 10,000 empty seats would be the backdrop to his Sports Direct advertising for the Southampton match.

The stats told Mike Ashley that this was going to actually be the very lowest crowd (ended up at 42,303) of the season and indeed the lowest in over nine years, lower than any attendance NUFC had in the Championship(!) in 2016/17.

The Mike Ashley chickens had most definitely come home to roost.

The big reason why Ashley bought Newcastle United was to promote his Sports Direct business and related brands to a UK and Worldwide audience, Sir John Hall said that Ashley’s people told him this when buying his shares, a full St James Park a key part of the equation to be a backdrop to his advertising. Empty seats a massive negative for your advertising, projecting totally the wrong image.

This graphic (thanks to Chris Holt for the table using soccerstats figures) showing why Mike Ashley had to act, the table showing the average for each club per game this 2019/20 season:

Undoubtedly planned at the very latest by last week, Ashley was forced into the dramatic decision to give away 10,000 free season tickets.

Amusingly, as of last (Tuesday) night there were still free season tickets that Mike Ashley hadn’t yet been able to give away…with availability still in Level 7 of St James Park.

To find out last week that the number of unsold tickets is actually growing and not falling, was particularly timely.

In five days time (Monday 16 December) Mike Ashley is getting rid of the Sports Direct branding which has become so toxic, with immediate effect SD will be renamed the ‘Fraser Group’ (Ashley has proposed the move and arranged a shareholder vote in which he owns two thirds of the votes).

From that point, it will be interesting to see just how quickly Mike Ashley will get everything done, how quickly all the SD branding will be changed to Fraser Group at St James Park. The Everton home game (28 December) is when the 10,000  free season tickets kick in and the first live TV game at SJP is Leicester (BT Sport) on 1 January.

So do the 10,000 free season tickets guarantee a full St James Park?

Not necessarily…

We have already seen thousands of season ticket holders boycott certain games this season despite having paid for their seat, meaning the official crowd doesn’t reflect the actual numbers in the Fraser Group Arena…sorry, St James Park.

With 10,000 people now having  free season tickets it is inevitable that the average freebie won’t be as committed as your average fan paying £600+. Cold day/night, not attractive fixture, live on TV, not losing any cash as haven’t paid anything anyway, so far easier just to decide not to go.

Plus, loads of the free season tickets taken up will undoubtedly just have been snapped up as extra floating  tickets to be used by random friend/family.

For many of you with season tickets this season, you will know for yourself just how difficult it has been even trying to give your ticket away for games if you haven’t been able to make it, so with all these extra 10,000 freebies dished out, giving away your ticket is bound to have got so much more difficult.

The official (number of paying AND free fans who have bought/accepted tickets) attendance may not even show full either at times.

Premier League rules say that as well as offering up to 3,200 tickets to away fans, Newcastle also have to make available at least 5% as match by match tickets. That equates to around 2,500 that need to be sold each match plus any sections the away fans don’t take, so for some games you could still have between 4,000 and 5,000 tickets needing to be sold.

One thing for sure, this is a slippery slope, as Sunderland found out in the past with their free/cheap ticket schemes.

Once you give 10,000 free season tickets away you make it far far more difficult to sell tickets as you devalue the product and undoubtedly annoy many other fans who you are charging top whack to, season tickets going up in price each of the past two summers, with some fans now paying over 25% more than two seasons ago (2017/18).

How many free season tickets will Mike Ashley need to give away next season if he wants to retain the ‘credibility’ of his Fraser Group advertising?


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