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Opinion

Projected 2020/21 season Newcastle United home attendances – 10k free season tickets knock on effect

6 months ago
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The subject of Newcastle United home attendances swung back onto the agenda in recent days.

Those fans on the long-term price deals getting a letter confirming next season’s (2020/21) season ticket, unless they had cancelled by the end of January.

Those who pay by direct debit will start to pay monthly for that 2020/21 season ticket at the start of March, meaning that by the time next season actually kicks off in August, they will have already paid for half their season ticket.

These long-term price deals were sold as though they were a favour to fans, whereas of course the driving point for Mike Ashley was that he would get as many thousands of Newcastle supporters as possible, committing to their next season ticket when the current one is just over halfway through. Not knowing which division Newcastle will be in come August, who the manager/head coach will be, what summer spending (if any) there will be, or even who the owner will be.

Very quickly it became obvious this season that thousands of regulars had stopped going to St James Park, including many season ticket holders. We then had the infamous free season ticket give away, with claims that at least 10,000 half season tickets had been handed out by Mike Ashley to fill empty seats.

Six weeks ago, the club confirmed (see below) that there had indeed been 10,000 season tickets given away for free.

Interestingly, a figure was also given on how many paying season ticket holders there now were, as well as how it confirmed to the previous (2018/19) season.

The club stating there had been 35,000 who had bought season tickets in 2018/19, with that dropping by 5,000 to 30,000 for the current (2019/20) season.

At the moment the club are announcing 52,000+ full houses since the 10k give away but in reality there have still been noticeable numbers of empty seats, probably around at least a couple of thousand spread around St James Park for the last one against Norwich City.

So what does this all tell us about projected Newcastle United home attendances for next (2020/21) season?

Well a couple of seasons ago, the club said that there were around 20,000 on the long-term deals (for those not aware how they work, you aren’t tied in for a number of years if on these deals, it simply means that to keep your season ticket at the same (long-term) price, you have to commit by the end of January for the following season).

If indeed there are 30,000 paying season ticket holders this season, my guesstimate would be that around 17,000 or 18,000 of them are on long-term deals.

I don’t see a dramatic rise in cancellations by those long-termers last month, more a continuing gradual fall, so probably 16,000 to 17,000 having once again committed for next season.

So Mike Ashley has probably around 17,000 max he is sure of for next season but what about beyond that?

This is where it gets tricky for him.

In order to further cement the ‘loyalty’ of those on long-term deals, the past two season have seen season ticket price rises (for those not on long-term deals), with some fans paying as much as 25% more for this (2019/20) season than they were paying two years (2017/18) ago. Mike Ashley wanting the long-termers to feel they are getting even more of a bargain compared to the rest, making them less likely to give up their long-term priced deal.

People thinking well I probably will go anyway so might as well keep paying this lower price, maybe we will get a new owner, maybe we will suddenly have a progressive transfer policy/strategy, maybe NUFC could even get good on the pitch…

However, the big problem is that in making long-termers feel like they have a better and better deal, it means everybody else, both season ticket holders and match by match ticket buyers are paying more and more, making it less attractive. That is even before we get to the standard/style  of football and the big elephant in the room, Mike Ashley himself.

For those who are due to renew normal price season tickets in the summer, how is Mike Ashley going to be attracting them, as well as completely new season ticket holders? He isn’t going to now drop season ticket prices and match by match ones this summer, as then the long-termers will feel less special…

Then we get to the 10,000 free season tickets.

This is for me where the law of unintended consequences hits Mike Ashley.

Giving out the free half season tickets solved (in a very desperate way) this season’s problem for the owner BUT it has created an even bigger one for next season.

If you are one of the 12,000/13,000 season ticket holders due to renew normal price season tickets in the summer, why on earth would you rush to do so, even if you intend to keep going?

If Mike Ashley is facing the prospect of even more empty seats for next season then he has to do something to tempt people and so you might as well hang on until he reveals exactly what, it isn’t like the stadium is going to sell out and you can’t get a seat if you wait until the last minute.

Why buy one when the next minute Ashley might be giving away 10,000 (or more) free season tickets? Most of those who are due to renew in the summer will no doubt know fans with long-term deal season tickets, so could well get a freebie by that route if Ashley once again hand the free ones out to people nominated by remaining season ticket holders. Or as some people did this time, share the saving of the free season ticket between the two people.

If there are 30,000 paying season ticket holders this season, I find it very difficult to see there being any more than 25,000 next season, that figure could fall even lower.

Official crowds had fallen as low as 42,000 paying customers before the free season tickets were handed out, I would think that figure would drop to as low as 35,000- 37,000, though of course more for the more attractive games.

However, the slide will continue without something major happening, with the only feasible major thing being Mike Ashley selling up.

It isn’t as though the football is going to convince anybody they should renew or get a season ticket for the first time.

Yes we have 31 points after 26 PL games but the football is terrible to watch, that is just fact.

All of this above is actually the BEST case scenario for Mike Ashley, assuming that NUFC crawl to Premier League safety this season.

Can you imagine what the crowds would be if Ashley got us relegated from the top tier for a third time in 11 attempts, then stayed on as owner, especially with Steve Bruce still as head coach?

You can only pull tricks like the 10,000 free season tickets once.

Mike Ashley really does need to sell up this time because otherwise things are only heading one way, on and off the pitch.

The Mag – 8 January 2020:

Representatives from NUST (Newcastle United Supporters Trust) were amongst the Newcastle fans who met the people from the club’s ticket office and have now reported what was discussed/discovered.

At the meeting it was confirmed by ticket office staff that it was indeed around 10,000 free season tickets that were handed out in December in Ashley’s desperate move.

Whilst in terms of how many paying Newcastle United season ticket holders there are, the ticket office staff confirmed that figure as around the 30,000 mark.

In terms of how this compares to the 2018/19 season, it was confirmed there was a drop of around 5,000 from 35,000 last season.

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