Bristol City ticket price rises: where’s the engagement now?

**Update at 15:00 on 03/03/2018** Bristol City has reversed its decision, issuing this statement: https://www.bcfc.co.uk/news/update-on-201819-season-cards 

It would be churlish to suggest that this isn’t good, but the problem I have with this statement is that there’s no reference to the fact that they got it wrong, and no apology for failing to consult properly. I don’t think that goes any way to solve the problem that I outline below:

I’m always looking out for ways where structured dialogue and better communications can work in practical ways.

One of those is the often controversial area of ticketing. Personally speaking, I don’t oppose ticket price rises, and I don’t have a de-facto position on the cost of away tickets, for example. I think what The FSF do in campaigning to lower them is a good thing, inasmuch as football can’t simply keep forcing prices up. But the economics of football in England are such that you can’t simply pay full-time players wages, particularly at League One and Two level, with a mirage of money from broadcasters and sponsors that simply doesn’t exist in the quantity it does in the Premier League. That’s not fair on those who actually own and run clubs, and I can see has the potential to create pressure on them to make cuts in ticket prices they can’t afford if they want to compete on the pitch. And there isn’t the money for the kind of away fans fund that the PL provide either. I wrote about this in a post a while back, ‘Twenty Isn’t Plenty in the EFL

Nonetheless, ticket price rises are a sensitive area and you might expect clubs – particularly high-profile ones in the Championship – to realise this, and to operate accordingly. So it’s with a little surprise that Bristol City have announced their ticket prices for next season, which see a near seven-fold increase of the cost of tickets for children, from £50 to £335 in some areas. Quite incredible.

The Bristol City Supporters Club and Trust say in a fairly hard-hitting statement (which in my experience, groups like theirs tend to eschew unless it’s completely necessary), that ‘Whilst we were not consulted in this instance, FAN (the Fan Advisory Network, set up as a kind of ‘fans parliament’) was asked for opinions in January but not given the opportunity to offer any feedback on the proposed pricing structure before it was announced yesterday.’

I’m not going to use words like ‘astonishing’ to describe the straightforward failure of whoever’s responsibility it was to talk through an issue like this, because I’m not astonished: clubs do this far too often. Perhaps it was a board of directors decision that had to be implemented: I can’t offer up an explanation because I don’t know the circumstances of the decision. What I would say is that for a club that, outwardly at least have appeared to be well run and thoughtful in a number of areas (their backing of Head Coach Lee Johnson during difficult times was impressive, and should be a lesson to others), this is a completely avoidable dropped ball.

As I said at the start, I’m fairly agnostic on price rises: it depends on the circumstances entirely. There’s no need for a race to the bottom to replace the race to the top. But to introduce the kind of pricing structure that got Hull City and the Allams in hot water is surely the very definition of avoidable.

My advice, for what it’s worth?

  1. Consult. If you need to change the pricing structure, talk about it with your ‘FAN’, your ‘parliament’, or whatever group you use for the purpose. Fans aren’t as a group incapable of dealing with an issue like this, and you’ll make life a lot easier if you do. If you don’t have one, and you don’t know where to start, I’d be happy to help advise you. But don’t make it look like you’re forcing something through (the new tickets go on sale on Monday!) that you know will cause a backlash. And if you don’t know if it will, that’s the point about consultation!
  2. Secondly, make sure you’ve got someone in the top-tiers of management or advising the board, who can counsel and advise on areas like this. Plenty of companies do it all the time, and football clubs having that kind of voice helps. It’s what Public Relations is positions itself to provide.

These kinds of incidents are the very thing that leads to fans getting suspicious, angry, and the worst thing? It starts to unpick the hard work done to build relations up in the first place, and makes your ‘dialogue’ or ‘fan engagement’ look a bit tatty. And by the way, it’s not just football: Companies the world over struggle with how to deal with their ‘stakeholders’, ‘customers’ or whatever they might be termed. This report on ‘institutional listening’ by Jim Macnamara from the University of Technology Sydney is a great reassurance to everyone grappling with the issue, and should be read by everyone in football).

If you want to know more, including how I can help in communicating effectively with your fanbase, or setting up and running effective structured dialogue, why not drop me a line?

Image thanks to Joe Maggs, and reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license
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