There have understandably been mixed reactions from fans to the prices that the club has announced for our forthcoming FA Cup match with Swindon Town.
The club had to come to quite a quick decision on its pricing strategy for this match to enable tickets to be printed and given to Swindon; and of course we had to get agreement from our opponents too. It was not an easy decision but there were a number of factors that we had to consider.
Over the past four seasons we have operated a two tier pricing strategy and I will go into more detail regarding this below. However, as a general policy leaving aside the Johnstone's Paint Trophy if we play a team from the same or a higher division then matches are priced at either Category A or B.
Given the attractive opposition and status of the match the Swindon fixture has been designated as Category A. We do not agree with the trend that began
with Premier League clubs fielding weakened sides and charging lower prices in the FA Cup. This will be one of our biggest and hopefully most exciting games of the season and we will be going all out to win it.
Furthermore, we will be faced with significantly higher policing and stewarding costs for this fixture, similar we expect to the costs we would incur for matches with Portsmouth and Oxford United, so it is important for any business to recognise additional costs and to do its best to alleviate those costs.
This is a big match, Swindon Town are our nearest rivals, we have not played them for a few seasons and we expect the fixture to generate a lot of interest. Swindon are enjoying a good start to their season, they are well supported, their normal ticket prices are somewhat higher than ours and we anticipate a good following from Wiltshire.
From our point of view the FA Cup is an important competition and we hope that fans, and especially season ticket holders, will want to come to support their team and to enjoy what will be a good atmosphere and an exciting game against League One opposition. Is an extra £2 really going to be the difference between coming to this mouth watering fixture and staying at home?
That remains to be seen but supporters should also remember two things. Firstly, ticket prices are subject to VAT so 20% of what you pay goes straight to the Inland Revenue and our average matchday earn per ticket this season is around £11. Secondly, we are not profiteering. We are trying to run a sustainable business, which is frankly very challenging to say the
least. So yes, this is an opportunity for the club to perhaps generate a little additional revenue which will help sustain the business and help our trading position at the end of the season.
The FA Cup is one of the few opportunities the club has of generating additional, non budgeted revenue and believe you me, we always have significant unbudgeted costs too!
There also appears to be confusion remaining about the two tier pricing strategy. This was originally introduced four years ago when we were looking at ways of to increase the funds available to the manager for players. We had not at that time increased ticket prices for some years but were reluctant to do so in a difficult economic climate. Nevertheless, ticket revenue is a significant proportion of our income and therefore a major consideration when it comes to increasing income.
We considered increasing all prices by £1 but felt this would be unpopular and unfairly hit our regular home fans who attend week in, week out. So instead we decided to introduce 'Premium' games, games which we felt would attract large away followings and which would likely appeal to home fans too. The strategy has worked in terms of revenue generation and helping to absorb some of the additional matchday costs associated with these fixtures.
Since then, of course, to further support the playing budget we increased the additional charge for what we now call 'Category A' matches from £1 to £2. The bottom line in all of this is that we are trying to run a sustainable business. You could also argue, quite rightly, that for home fans the vast majority of matches are cheaper than they would otherwise be if we did not have this differential pricing - and of course one of the benefits of being a season ticket holder is that these increased prices do not affect you - except in cup matches such as this one.
Finally, I would like to reiterate that we are a club that listens to its supporters and will take on board whatever people have to say about pricing. Last season we responded to feedback about the stadium catering and changed the supplier so if supporters are adamant that they do not want two tier pricing then we will have to re-consider the strategy. Unfortunately this is highly unlikely to result in prices being reduced. Sadly the dream of better football for cheaper prices is unlikely to ever come true.