Broadly speaking, 2023 has been lovely so far. We have a new owner, the team’s playing like unstoppable maniacs, and we’re all now nervously awaiting a game on Monday that could see us reach the playoffs. I don’t know about you but I am as pumped now as I’ve ever been as a Cov supporter. Life is good.
But things have taken a mildly unfortunate turn in that last 24 hours as the club announced its season ticket pricing for the 2023/24 season – a season that at this point could take place in either the Championship or Premier League. That in itself causes the club a fiscal headache in terms of how they pitch things, but they’ve dealt with it and come up with a package that in a lot of areas feels acceptable and makes sense.
There are some clear losers in the package revamp however, and in some cases, it’s going to significantly impact their matchday experience. A sweep through Twitter this morning shows that most people expected a price increase and are OK to spend some more money on their ticket next year; most appreciate that prices have been beyond competitive for the Championship and we’re probably due an uptick.
But in the instances where people are seeing anything from an 80 to 600% rise in price and/or an enforced relocation, things have become less palatable, pretty swiftly. And understandably so.
I should also say at this point, I’m not impacted as heavily by this as others. My price has gone up a smidge and I get to sit in the same seat as I have done this season: I’m basically fine. But when you delve into the stories and personal circumstances of those who will be forced* to make big adjustments next season, logistically or financially, or both, then it does feel as though there could have been a less impactful approach to all of this.
*Of course nobody is actually being forced. But let’s not trivialise the metaphor and the choice that people are having to make – hands are being forced in multiple ways, which is often tricky to reconcile about things which are clearly a treat rather than a necessity.
So, what are the packages?
OK, let’s quickly outline what we’re now looking at and where the key changes are.
Firstly, we have a new thing called the Premier League Package. Capped to just 5000 tickets – it’s £500 for your season ticket, a price that is frozen for up to five seasons while we strive to make the big time, and you’ll get a free season ticket if we make it to the Premier League in that time. If we manage to do that in the coming weeks, your £500 will be reimbursed for next season and you essentially get yourself a free season ticket for your troubles. The deadline for grabbing this package is 2:59pm on Monday – so you can see what the club are doing here. “Put your money in us before you know what’s happening with the playoffs, and we won’t forget that and reward you for that faith.“
I kind of like it. It’s a simple premise to incentivise those who are willing to pay a bit more and invest in the future success of the club, irrespective of what happens on Monday. Sure, you pay a little more now, but much like a fixed rate mortgage, you’ll get some protection of pricing moving forwards all while helping the club get a cool £2.5 million in the bank in the next few days (if they sell the lot, that is). It’s slightly gimmicky but also a decent statement of intent.
Elsewhere, things are far more changeable, and this is where people are struggling to feel entirely peachy about the impact it’s going to have.
Firstly, Standard tickets are going up to £400 if you catch the early bird (or £480 in a the reinstated premium zone). That’s a hike, but if you’re paying £370ish this season, it won’t kill you.
Concessions have leapt up considerably more to a £360 base price, while under 18s are now looking at a £300, and most controversially, the JSB under-14s will now be £200 if they want to remain in a non Family Zone area.
This is where there is a real issue.
The Family Zone now has its own pricing structure and is the only place where JSBs and their accompanying adult can enjoy the discounted prices. I have to point out that these are still wonderfully fair when viewed in isolation – £250 for an adult and £50 per U14 is smashing value – but the biggest issue comes when assessing the terms of these this season and the changes that are to be imposed upon many fans’ current matchday experience.
“Pay way more for your kids, or move“
Ultimately, the same people who have been enjoying £25 season tickets for their kids all around the stadium until this point will now have a difficult decision to make: move over to the Family Zone and continue to enjoy those sweet, sweet savings, or keep the same seats and look forward to a far heftier bill of £200 per child in the coming weeks.
Frame it like that, and it feels a little uncomfortable but there’s also an argument – and Doug King has made this himself – that it’s a fair choice to ask of people. You can still get the tickets at a great price, they’re not removing that. They’re just designating these tickets to one area of the ground so they can sell the most popular spaces at full whack. Let’s bring in more of those Benjamins, baby.
But, and crucially, it ignores and oversimplifies the matchday experience for many, and it’s this where I’m having trouble supporting the rationale.
To enjoy this change to the JSB pricing with no hugely negative impact to yourself (or wallet), you will have to a) move over to the family zone and b) have no current affinity or connection to where you currently sit. There will be many “families” who can do that, no issues.
However, there are many mini-communities developing at the stadium and these are not family based. There are loyal friends who have grown up together at the club, and started integrating their children into the same group as they’ve built their own Coventry-supporting families.
Under the new scheme, those children will have to relocate away from the community, or face a significant and probably unaffordable hike in price in order to remain in their groups.
This is where I see the main oversight. While much of this appears to have been done to combat a growing number of adults trying it on with under 14 tickets, Doug insists that is not the case. His rationale is that the current season saw just over 25% of all season tickets sold at £25. That’s a pittance in revenue terms and we can appreciate that it needs addressing. But a season ticket needs to be a positive experience, and for many that want to keep coming, stumping up this amount of extra cash simply won’t make this the case. They will have to break up their mini-community in order to continue enjoying the club. This may feel small to some people, but it feels wrong to me.
It’s not a simple situation for the club but it’s also not an easy fix of telling people to “just pay the money”, either. Some will manage it, but many, or even most, won’t be able to justify the cost and will have to move.
That can be a positive thing for those who enjoy that notion of “family” as its prescribed by the club, but for many, family at the football ground means much more. That community, familiarity and comfort contributes heavily to the atmosphere that you see today, and may be the only time you get to see those people during the year. It’s not something you can replace or re-grow artificially. Especially if you’re at opposite ends of the stadium. Atmosphere and culture is organic and specifically in home stadiums where you have a larger mix of behaviours, we’ve fallen lucky since the return to the Ricoh/CBS to establish a dynamic that is really starting to work for us. We are regularly praised for the atmosphere by away fans. This wasn’t planned, but it’s building and you surely have to protect that. There is no guarantee that reconfiguring communities for next season will naturally regenerate elsewhere, especially when part of that will be breaking up friendship groups. It doesn’t work like that.
I’ve been incredibly impressed with Doug King since his arrival and in actual fact I do respect his refusal to blindly pander to the fans. Much like Mark – he’s talking to us straight and we have to embrace that directness. We all know the club needs to increase its revenue and were expecting a rise. But they’re in a situation at the moment where they can still increase their revenues while not disrupting the developing and natural communal engagement that we are seeing throughout the club. If they’re going to proceed with this plan, they have to accept there’s a clear risk to goodwill and some damage to the experience that has been building.
Listening to him on the radio this morning, he’s 100% rational and makes sound statements, but I do sense isn’t yet 100% tuned into the true crux of the human issue behind some of this discontent. I hope that will change and they come up with a solution to this specific issue with JSB placement. It doesn’t seem hugely complex – if they could retain the new JSB pricing but open it up to the whole stadium as it has been, they remove the really unpalatable notion of displacing many people from the groups and relationships that make the matchdays so worthwhile for them.
Of all the compromises he may have to make along the way to rebuilding this club, that has the potential to be a truly powerful and long-lasting one.
Oh, and while I’m at it – let’s keep the North Stand open for season ticket holders. It’s a really bad look for the stadium to not have a permanent presence there.