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No favour to supporters, this is Mike Ashley being able to control tens of thousands of Newcastle fans

10 months ago

No other Premier League stadium can be quite so divided as St James Park.

Not in terms of thoughts on the team, manager/head coach and owner, they will be pretty universal inside the ground.

Instead, we are talking about the price you pay.

When it comes to cost of your season ticket, how long you have had one might be even more decisive in terms of how much you might pay, rather than where your seat is actually situated.

After a year in the Championship in 2009/10 was then followed by some worryingly low crowds in 2010/11 in the Premier League, Mike Ashley was desperate for a strategy to try and protect against losing fans in the future.

The answer he came up with was ingenious…best of all it was put forward as a case of him doing the fans a favour.

A 10 year loyalty plan.

The idea being that if you signed up and so long as you renewed year after year, you would pay the same price for the next 10 years, yours wouldn’t rise even if season ticket prices in general did.

The only ‘small’ catch was that you had to commit for next season, in the middle of the previous one.

This was no favour to season ticket holders, this was Mike Ashley being able to control tens of thousands of Newcastle fans.

Yes season tickets stayed the same price for you but fans in most cases had lost any kind of power or freedom to choose whether to renew.

Having to decide by the end of January on next season’s season ticket was an evil masterstroke by Mike Ashley.

People having to decide in the middle of a season when you don’t even know what the division will be next season. Being a season ticket holder already, when the scheme came around it looked a bit of a no-brainer. However, for the overwhelming majority of fans, even if they were unhappy, in an ideal world they do want to come to matches and of course who knows what could be just around the corner? If you give up your discounted price in January you know fine well there is every chance you will be changing your mind. Then having to pay full whack instead of discounted.

You were hooked and the longer it went on, the more that hook sank in further, as the disparity in prices grew, as Mike Ashley continued to raise season ticket prices for those not on the long-term deal.

On the other hand, with Ashley having this policy of continually raising season ticket prices to make the long-term deals look ever more enticing, it also of course made it tougher to find new season ticket holders. So as and when season ticket holders did pack in, it becomes ever more difficult to replace them.

Another Mike Ashley masterstroke to keep/get backsides on seats was the family enclosure. Basically an eight thousand seat area in the worst seats in the ground (Level 7 – Milburn) labelled the family enclosure but in essence, just filling up a significant section of the stadium on relatively very cheap prices.

Now of course this week we have seen the ultimate Mike Ashley price/control move, giving away 10,000 free season tickets to ensure fans instead of empty seats next to his Sports Direct (soon to be rebranded as ‘Fraser Group’ on Monday) adverts.

Quite incredible the variation on what people are now paying.

Ironically people showing no commitment (free season tickets) paying absolutely nothing, whilst any new season ticket holders who came along in good faith to buy one this summer, are paying the very highest prices.

If this all sounds a little strange, that is because it is.

It is no way to run long-term an ambitious business and there is no way that this is an ambitious business…

Trying to be too clever (devious) and set one fan against another, the outcome is always going to be disaster for the club owner.

Giving away 10,000 free season tickets is surely a last desperate act in trying to control the fanbase and fill St James Park beyond this season. The game is up, where is there to go after you have scraped the very bottom of the barrel, giving 25% or so of your season tickets away?

The ticket pricing is as chaotic and disastrous as Ashley’s overall running of the club, none of it makes any (football) sense and the sooner it (Ashley’s ownership) ends, the sooner the job of rebuilding this great football club can begin.


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