YET AGAIN, a non-league club has benefitted from experimenting with liberalisation at the turnstiles. Hitchin Town threw the gates open and saw a four-figure crowd arrive for a league game – that hasn’t happened much in the past four decades.
Admittedly, the game was important, although not as critical as it might have been if Hitchin had not already secured a play-off place, but there were many unfamiliar faces at Top Field for the game meeting with St. Neots.
The attendance, closing in on 12 hundred, was more than they might have expected. It was certainly bigger than past meetings with St. Neots – the last three gates for this fixture were 291, 309 and 265. Thanks to a front-page plea in the Hitchin Mercury to get behind the team, and the prospect of cut-price football, the attendance was outstanding.
It is doubtful that the 1,200 gate yielded as much as a 1,200 attendance at usual prices, but at almost three times the normal gathering, Hitchin would surely have profited. And by the looks of the crowd, they seemed to be enjoying the experience, which does make you wonder if the normal admission price of £10 deters people from being regular fans.
Game of the People has long advocated a reduction of non-league admission prices. In comparison to most Football League games, step three is relatively expensive at £10. Clubs hide behind the levels fixed by leagues, often reluctant to fix a price – even £1 – lower – than most of their league stable mates.
If non-league football wants to attract families and the next generation of fans, it has to make it more accessible for the casual supporter. Most clubs that have tried the “pay what you want” concept have benefitted, sometimes luring people back after their initial foray into non-league football. Surely this tells you something?
Of course, admission prices in British football are too high across the board. We don’t need to go into details about the cost of a trip to Arsenal or Chelsea, which even their own fans find unpalatable, but at the lower level, it needs to be easier on the wallet – after all, many people turn to non-league for economic reasons.
Sutton United made the brave decision to really connect with the public with their season ticket scheme. A year ago, they offered £99 season tickets and supporters responded accordingly. Sutton enjoyed increased gates, installed a new artificial pitch and they’ve won promotion to the National League. Good for them. Their foresight deserved to be repaid. And take a look at these prices for 2016-17: Adults £125, Concessions £95, Teenagers £20, Children (12 and under) £10. Step 1 for £125 – less than £6 a game – fantastic value.
Innovation should always be applauded and need not be confined to clubs on a standalone basis. By introducing universal season tickets across the league, supporters can switch clubs at will or watch another local rival when their favourites are away. The cash from the scheme could be pooled and distributed among the league’s members. Radical yes, but there are potential big positives. This could be a real public relations coup for the league that takes on an idea that could benefit the whole constitution rather than an individual club. For non-league football to thrive, the entire eco-system needs to be healthy. Does it not make sense for clubs to look after each other’s interests? Clubs should take a leaf out of Sutton United’s book and think outside the box!