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Opinion

‘Why the club should abolish Newcastle United season tickets’

2 months ago
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I’m going to set out an argument that the right thing for NUFC to do going forward, from a moral and from a business point of view, would be to limit, discourage, or even abolish the sale of Newcastle United season tickets.

I’m sure an awful lot of people will read that and think – ‘stupid idea’. A lot of those people will either have or be looking to get their hands on a season ticket to SJP.

Everyone’s views about what’s right and wrong are influenced by their own circumstances – there’s nothing wrong with that. That set of people is likely to be disproportionately represented on a forum such as this – that’s inevitable. So, in face of the brick-bats, let me set out the case against Newcastle United season tickets.

1. Let’s deal with the world as it is rather than as we’d like it to be.

It would be lovely if we could magically transport Leazes Terrace a little way off, whack up a great big new East Stand, and have an 80,000 capacity SJP.

However, there isn’t any easy or quick option to expand capacity – so over the short and medium term we are going to have room for about 50,000 home fans.

2. Going forward, the strong likelihood is that demand for home tickets at SJP will exceed supply.

The extent of that excess demand will depend on how things pan out.

If we do moderately it will be moderate. If the team does well it will be massive.

St James Park No Sports Direct Signs 19 December 20213. How big is that potential excess demand?

It is impossible to judge.

My guess is that next season Newcastle could certainly expect to fill a 60,000 ground every week. Put the team in the top six and I’ve little doubt they would fill 80,000 every week – but it’s just a guess.

4. What are the arguments in favour of selling season tickets?

From a business point of view, there is the certainty of the income, with a big chunk of money for the season being paid up front. Back-in-the-day that used to be a big thing – but to what extent is that actually a significant concern for Newcastle now?

Gate receipts as a share of income are far smaller than they were, so it’s not as big an issue as it used to be. If you are confident that you’ll sell out every game anyway, the only financial upside to a season ticket sale as opposed to 19 individual match tickets, is that the club get a lot more money up front.

That’s just a cashflow issue – and I don’t suppose the Saudi PIF are too bothered about cashflow.

5. But the financial pluses-and-minuses aren’t really what it’s about.

The real issue is the moral one.

It’s about what’s the right thing to do. We’re going to be faced with a continuing problem of excess demand going forward – what’s the fairest way to deal with that problem? What is the case for Newcastle United season tickets?

Against a background of continual excess demand I can think of two types of argument in favour – let’s call them the ‘tradition’ argument, and the ‘die-hard’ argument

6. The ‘tradition’ argument goes something like this.

The match-going experience is a major part of a football fan’s life. For an existing season-ticket holder the idea that he or she might not be able to attend a home match would be upsetting – “I’ve been to every home match since 1955 and now I can’t get in because of all these Johnny-come-latelys” – that sort of thing.

It’s a well known psychological phenomenon that people tend to react more strongly to having things taken away from them than they do to not being given them in the first place.

7. The ‘die-hard’ argument rests on the idea that not all supporters are equal.

For some supporters their club is a central part of their identity.

For others it’s something trivial and peripheral – “I used to support Arsenal, but then I decided I preferred black-and-white stripes – and that Fabian Schar – he’s got lovely hair”. That sort of thing.

Selling season tickets will tend to prioritise the die-hard supporter over the fly-by-night flibbertigibbet.

8. The key thing to hold in mind when looking those arguments is that there is excess demand.

Every time you park your bottom on a seat on match day, you should think to yourself, “there’s somebody else out there who would love to be in this seat instead of me”.

Can a season-ticket holder justify that that they get 100% of the tickets for that seat and the others who would like to be there get 0%?

Newcastle United Football Club Banner Wor Flags9. To set against those arguments for season-tickets, there are (I think) far more powerful and coherent arguments against.

Those of us who remember SJP from the mid 90s onwards will remember a situation where, effectively, the whole ground was sold-out to season tickets.

I happened to have one – so I got to go to every game. Others, who for whatever reason didn’t have one, never / rarely got to go to a home league game at all. It was a deeply unsatisfactory situation.

Nobody dared give up a season ticket – they knew they’d never get another one if they did. As a result the SJP crowd slowly fossilised.

People who’d lost enthusiasm kept on coming because they didn’t want to be permanently locked out. And on the outside were thousands of people – and in particular a whole generation of youngsters, who never got a look in. Even before Ashley came along, the atmosphere had suffered. It was deeply unfair – you had people who happened to have a season ticket at the right time, who got to see the whole lot – Keegan, Ferdinand, Beardsley, Shearer, Robson, etc, etc. If you were working away, or lost your job, or whatever, at the wrong time, you were locked outside – for years.

10. Denying somebody a season ticket doesn’t prevent them going to the match.

It just means they might not be able to go to every match.

Selling too many Newcastle United season tickets, on the other hand, does shut people out.

11. The idea that season-tickets prioritise the real, die-hard supporter has a bit more going for it.

There’s no denying the grain of truth in there – but it is just a grain of truth.

There is a particular issue, specific to Newcastle which complicates the argument. A substantial number of fans – including many of the most committed – chose to boycott the club during the Ashley years. For others, there are numberless reasons why a ‘real’ fan may not have a season ticket.

I’ll compare my time at the NUFC coalface with most – I’ve been to more matches, I’ve spent more time and money, I’ve driven lots more miles than most – but I don’t have a season ticket. It’s not really practicable when you live in Cornwall and have a four hour drive just to get to Bristol Airport! Once or twice a season I’ll travel hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of pounds to come on pilgrimage – does that make me less of a die-hard than someone who saunters in from Jesmond every couple of weeks?

12. There is surging optimism around the club.

How many folks will give up their season tickets this summer? Next to none. How many would love to get their hands on one? Loads and loads.

The danger is that the club tries to be kind to the people clamouring for a season ticket – and in so doing makes life more and more difficult for the huge number of other people who want to get inside SJP.

13. In a situation of excess demand, what is the right thing for the club to do going forward?

If you’re looking for what’s ethically right, the best start point is fairness – what approach would deal with all the interested parties most fairly?

In my view, the fairest way to deal with the situation would be to move towards abolishing Newcastle United season tickets altogether.

14. Imagine the club used a simple match-by-match system where anyone who wants to can apply for a match ticket.

Or, if you’re worried about ticket-touting, let’s say that there’s a simple membership scheme, and any member can apply for a ticket. No season tickets at all. No loyalty points.

After the deadline for applications for a particular game passes, the computer allocates the tickets randomly. Suppose this coming season there are on average 60,000 applicants per game. The person who applies for every game could expect to get tickets for all bar one or two. The person who wants to get to the odd game will have a fair chance. Nobody is locked out.

If we do well, and in a couple of years time there are 100,000 looking to apply to each game, then the tickets get spread more thinly – but everyone gets a chance.

Wor Flags15. I’ve used the two extremes to illustrate my point above.

One where all the ground is sold-out to season tickets, and at the other extreme, the removal of season tickets altogether.

However, the arguments apply at all points in between those two extremes – the more season tickets the club issues, the more difficult it becomes for those on the outside to find a way in.

A consequence of the takeover (assuming things don’t all somehow go horrendously wrong in classic NUFC fashion) is that there are going to be more and more Newcastle ‘fans’ going forward. A lot of them won’t ever want to come to SJP – but a lot of them will.

It’s important, from a commercial point of view, and more importantly from an ethical point of view, that you don’t take a great chunk of those people and, effectively, lock them out. The people you lock out may be, in part, fair weather supporters, but they could be you, or your kids, or your partner. The best way to prevent that is for the club to limit, and eventually to get rid of Newcastle United season tickets.

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