Following on from last week’s announcement of the club’s new home and away membership schemes, we as supporter groups have been considering our position and talking to other fans about the impact this will have on them. Following receipt of this feedback we felt it would be useful to those interested to understand our position.
It is clear from elements of the new membership scheme that the club have recognised the previous scheme had issues, particularly in how members were treated in the allocation of away tickets.
The parity this model brings between season ticket holders and members for away allocations is welcomed, as is the decision to have a single category of pricing for home matches and the capping of general admission tickets at £30.
However, we feel it is unfortunate that the club have implemented this and, seemingly passed a large part of the cost onto those loyal away fans, via this new membership scheme.
We recognise of course that a self-funded club like ours needs to maximise revenue, but membership schemes, especially those which are linked to access to tickets, need to be based on fairness and affordable tickets for all, rather than a one-off entry fee, whilst striking a sensible balance between loyalty of existing fans and allowing new supporters to also acquire tickets. Membership schemes need to be the link between the club and the fans bringing us all together, not dividing us into factions.
Comparatively, the new membership scheme is expensive, particularly for members wishing to attend both home and away games and especially if they wish to do so with their families. From research carried out by the fan groups, we’ve found it to be far more expensive in comparison to other Premier League teams, none of whom operate a separate away membership scheme.
That research has also identified, that there is no perfect system. There are of course grumbles among other fanbases about their respective schemes, but there are also pockets of good practice which reward loyalty and help new fans see games, such as ballots for elements of away ticket allocations and points across a number of seasons (or for life) based on the amount of games attended.
For away tickets, the £30 cap was achieved after a lengthy and at times bitter battle between fans and clubs to secure more affordable football. The access to live football is at the heart of fan culture and it’s looked upon very cynically when affordable football is then turned into a commercial exercise to recoup those costs by selling access to those very tickets.
It also fails to protect the loyalty of those who have attended away games in the past, in the way future away match tickets will be allocated. When the fans who’ve attended the most away games previously are the ones who feel they’re the biggest losers of the new scheme, it’s clear the club have perhaps not got this right.
Many have approached us to say that they see this as a tax on their loyalty, a ransom to be paid to keep their rightful place at the top of the allocation scheme and we agree that this scheme has been unfair in wiping people’s loyally attained points overnight.
The feeling is, that this scheme has damaged the bond between the club and the fanbase. As supporter groups, we have seen and felt the effort in the last few years to build bridges between club and fans, to the point we arrived at a position where for many of us we’d never felt so united. It takes time to build up such a relationship, but it can be undone very quickly when the fanbase feels their support is being taken advantage of.
Any new membership scheme needs to be inclusive and affordable, both for individual fans and families, who are likely suffer greatly from the scheme as it stands with the likely consequence that parents may not be prepared to pay £50 membership fees for their children, so discouraging the fans of the future. It must work in the interests of the fanbase by meeting the requirements of a wide range of fans, from those who wish to attend matches either at home or away, or both, and also those who simply wish to feel part of a self-funded community club.
It must protect the loyalty of those who have followed the club both home and away on a regular basis and build upon the unity which has been the focal point of so much of our recent success, while not creating a closed shop.
To achieve that the starting point must be proper fan consultation, with a scheme that has been built alongside and in accordance with the fans. The consultation undertaken for the new scheme should never have been allowed to be the final phase of the implementation, whereby a meeting was organised with around 24 hours’ notice and appears to have been an exercise in gauging last-minute opinion rather than inviting assistance in shaping a new scheme that would work for, and be fair to, everybody
Our fanbase are rightly proud of our club. They are proud that it’s so intrinsically linked to the community and proud of what we’ve achieved together to this point. What is now required is a membership scheme which allows current and new fans to be a part of that, while meeting the standards and values that sit at the heart of who we are and what we do.
We call on the club to urgently rethink the new membership scheme and re-engage across the fanbase to find a way forward which is beneficial to all.