Just occasionally I take my eye off Arsenal, the EPL, internationals, and all that stuff and glance at matters elsewhere – partly because of my background (my parents moved from north London to Dorset when I was 11, and Dorset has always been a little lacking in division 1 clubs), and partly because I seem to find all football fascinating.
My “second team” is Torquay United, whom I don’t get to see much, but they were the last team my dad and I went to see together (after my parents retired to the south west), so my interest in division four (League 2) has increased following our staggering triumph in getting back into the league.
And therein lies the tale. Not Torquay, but Bradford City. I’ve watched their progress for a couple of years, and was reminded of it yesterday as the Observer (a paper which I don’t like but my partner bought it because it had a free “learn Italian” CD in it) took up the theme.
Quick history – Bradford City, one time big club, then little club, unbelievably got into first division again about ten years back, and then slipped back to the 4th.
When we all went there for a Bradford v Arsenal game it was quite a shock. Lots of empty areas in the city centre used for car parks (just open land – not multi story), the municipal buildings in their Victorian splendor, and the worst top level football ground I have been in since Luton Town were hob-nobbing with the big fellas.
Anyway, three years ago Bradford decided to cut their season ticket prices in half – providing that they sold 10,000 of them. Which they did. Ever since they have been doing different deals but the essence is the same. If we can sell enough the price goes down in half.
The result is simple – twice as many supporters in the ground.
There’s no financial advantage here – the income of the club is much the same – but the ground is much fuller, much livelier, and people who otherwise would not participate with their local club on a regular basis, do exactly that. The club has a real part to play in the city’s life once again.
Indeed if, in the coming season, you take a look at the gates in the 4th division you’ll see 2,000, 4,000, 5,000 and the like – with some bleak mid-week games dipping below the 2,000 in places like Accrington. But at Bradford its 10,000, or 12,000.
Although, as I say, there’s no financial advantage, and the club has not shot up to the top of the league as a result of the extra support, it strikes me as utterly obvious that this is a good idea. Just for the noise in the ground, if not the extra interest that the local media and people all around show in the club.
And that leads me (at long last) to my point. Why are all the other clubs not doing this? But as far as I know, not a single one has gone down this route. It is not as if they will lose out on cup matches (they can easily be excluded so if Bradford play Arsenal in a cup match they can charge extra). It is not as if they can’t edge up prices a little if they get promotion – the deal is only season by season.
So why doesn’t everyone in the division do this, and bring an extra 50,000 people or so into watching football every week of the season?
When I first went to Arsenal we had to pay to get into Arsenal reserve games (6d I think – don’t worry about the “d” it’s an old man’s thing). I don’t know when it went free, but I applauded the idea. Go to a reserve game and you see lots of parents with youngsters who are desperate to go to a game, but who lack the knowledge and staying power – and so a cheap or free reserve game is a perfect intro.
But the next step up needs to be there – which is obviously cheap matches at your local third and fourth division club.
I don’t have any emotional link with Bradford – my trip there a few years ago was my only visit. But I do think the rest of football should follow their lead. But maybe there is a good reason as to why other clubs have not run the experiment. Is it something to do with ground size? A worry that even at half price the support isn’t there?
If you know, do tell. Meanwhile although obviously no one from the club will be reading this, congrats to Bradford are still in order for a clever idea that seems to benefit everyone.
If commenting for the first time on Untold Arsenal please write Ref Bradford at the top of your comment, so I can see it isn’t a cut and paste job. If you have been, thanks for reading.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009