“Why the club should scrap Newcastle United season tickets”
I will make an argument that the right thing to do for the NUFC in the future, from a moral and business perspective, would be to limit, discourage or even abolish the sale of season tickets to Newcastle United.
I’m sure a huge number of people will read this and think – “stupid idea”. Many of these people will have or are looking to get their hands on a subscription for SJP.
Everyone’s opinions of what is right and wrong are influenced by their own circumstances – there is nothing wrong with that. This set of people is likely to be disproportionately represented on a forum like this – it’s inevitable. So, facing the brick-bats, allow me to state the case against Newcastle United’s season tickets.
1. Treat the world as it is rather than as we would like it to be.
It would be nice if we could magically transport Leazes Terrace a little further, create a big new East stand and have an 80,000 capacity SJP.
However, there is no easy or quick option to increase capacity – so in the short to medium term we will have room for around 50,000 household fans.
2. Going forward, it is highly likely that demand for home tickets at SJP will exceed supply.
The extent of this excess demand will depend on how things go.
If we do it moderately, it will be moderate. If the team succeeds, it will be huge.
3. How big is this potential excess demand?
It is impossible to judge.
I guess next season Newcastle could definitely expect to fill a pitch of 60,000 every week. Put the team in the top six and I have no doubt they would complete 80,000 every week – but that’s just a guess.
4. What are the arguments in favor of selling subscriptions?
From a business perspective, there is the certainty of income, with a large sum of money for the season paid upfront. At the time it was a big thing – but how big of a concern is it really for Newcastle now?
Entry receipts as a share of income are much lower than they used to be, so it’s not as big an issue as it used to be. If you are sure to sell all the matches anyway, the only financial advantage of a season ticket sale, as opposed to 19 individual match tickets, is that the club receives a lot more money up front.
It’s just a cash flow problem – and I don’t suppose the Saudi PIF cares too much about cash flow.
5. But the financial pros and cons aren’t really what it’s all about.
The real problem is moral.
It’s about what is the right thing to do. We are going to face a persistent problem of excess demand in the future – what is the fairest way to solve this problem? What about season tickets for Newcastle United?
In a context of continual excess demand, I can think of two types of arguments in favor of it – let’s call them the “tradition” argument and the “irreducible” argument.
6. The “tradition” argument looks like this.
The match experience is an integral part of the life of a football fan. For an existing season ticket holder, the thought of them not being able to attend a home game would be upsetting – “I’ve been to every home game since 1955 and now I can’t get in because of all those Johnny-come-latelys” – that sort of thing.
It’s a well-known psychological phenomenon that people tend to react more strongly when things are taken away from them than they do when things aren’t given to them.
7. The ‘hard-core’ argument is based on the idea that not all supporters are equal.
For some supporters, their club is a central part of their identity.
For others, it’s something insignificant and peripheral – “I used to support Arsenal, but then I decided I preferred the black and white stripes – and this Fabian Schar – he has beautiful hair “. That sort of thing.
The sale of subscriptions will tend to give priority to the hardcore supporter rather than the nighttime flibbertigibbet.
8. The key thing to keep in mind when considering these arguments is that there is excess demand.
Every time you park your butt in a seat on game day, you should think to yourself, “there’s someone else who would love to be in that seat instead of me.”
Can a subscriber justify that he gets 100% of the tickets for this seat and that the others who would like to be there get 0%?
9. To oppose these arguments in favor of subscriptions, there are (I think) much more powerful and coherent arguments against.
Those of us who remember SJP from the mid-90s will recall a situation where, effectively, all the land was sold to subscriptions.
I happened to have one – so I have to go to every game. Others, who for whatever reason didn’t have one, were never/rarely able to attend a home league game. It was a deeply unsatisfying situation.
No one dared give up a subscription – they knew they would never get another one if they did. As a result, the SJP crowd slowly fossilized.
People who had lost their enthusiasm kept coming because they didn’t want to be locked in forever. And outside, there were thousands of people – and in particular a whole generation of young people, who have never seen the inside. Even before Ashley arrived, the mood had suffered. It was deeply unfair – there were people who had a subscription at the right time, who got to see it all – Keegan, Ferdinand, Beardsley, Shearer, Robson, etc., etc. If you worked or lost your job, or whatever, at the wrong time, you were locked out – for years.
10. Denying someone a subscription does not prevent them from going to the game.
It just means that they may not be able to attend all games.
Selling too many season tickets to Newcastle United, on the other hand, shuts people out.
11. The idea of subscriptions prioritizing the true hardcore supporter makes a little more sense.
There’s no denying the grain of truth in that – but it’s only a grain of truth.
There is a particular problem, specific to Newcastle which complicates the argument. A significant number of fans – including many of the most committed – chose to boycott the club during the Ashley years. For others, there are countless reasons why a “true” fan might not have a subscription.
I’ll compare my time at the NUFC coalface with most – I’ve attended more matches, spent more time and money, clocked way more miles than most – but I haven’t of subscription. Not really practical when you live in Cornwall and have a four hour drive just to get to Bristol airport! Once or twice a season, I will travel hundreds of kilometers and spend hundreds of euros to come on pilgrimage. Does that make me less indomitable than someone who comes to Jesmond every two weeks?
12. There is growing optimism around the club.
How many people will give up their subscription this summer? Next to nothing. How many would like to get their hands on? Charges and charges.
The danger is that the club is trying to be nice to people asking for a membership – and in doing so is making life increasingly difficult for the large number of other people who want to join the SJP.
13. In a situation of excess demand, what is the right thing for the club to do in the future?
If you are looking for what is ethically right, the best place to start is fairness – which approach would treat all interested parties most fairly?
In my opinion, the fairest way to handle the situation would be to move towards the abolition of season tickets at Newcastle United altogether.
14. Imagine the club uses a simple match-by-match system where anyone who wishes can request a match ticket.
Or, if you’re worried about ticket sales, let’s say there’s a simple membership program and any member can request a ticket. No subscriptions at all. No loyalty points.
After the application deadline for a particular game pass, the computer randomly assigns the tickets. Suppose this coming season there are an average of 60,000 applicants per game. The person who applies for each match can expect to get tickets to all one or two bars. The person who wants to go to the odd game will have a fair chance. No one is locked out.
If we do well and in a few years 100,000 people are looking to apply for each game, the tickets are distributed more thinly – but everyone has a chance.
15. I have used both extremes to illustrate my point above.
One where all the land is sold to subscriptions, and at the other extreme, the total abolition of subscriptions.
However, the arguments apply at all points between these two extremes – the more season tickets the club issues, the harder it becomes for those outside to find a way in.
One consequence of the takeover (assuming things don’t all go horribly wrong in classic NUFC fashion) is that there will be more and more Newcastle “fans” in the future. Many of them will never want to come to SJP – but many of them will.
It is important from a business point of view, and more importantly from an ethical point of view, not to take a large portion of these people and, in effect, exclude them. The people you lock out can be, in part, fair weather supporters, but it could be you, your kids, or your partner. The best way to avoid this is for the club to limit and possibly get rid of Newcastle United season tickets.