Do we have to start a season ticket debate now?
Well, I suppose that depends on what school of thought you are currently
in. If you are one of those that will not accept that Watford may go
down until it is mathematically certain then you're right, it's
inconceivable to discuss the merits of Division One discounts or anything to
do with the unpleasantness of the Nationwide leagues.
From the club's point of view, however, now is exactly the right time to be
thinking about pricing strategies for next season. The one point I believe
is most relevant is who should the club be considering most when deciding on
discount structures and timings and what should they be trying to achieve?
Judging by the FA Cup tie with Birmingham in December, Watford still has a
core support of roughly 8,000. And judging by figures from last season, the
core of that 8,000 is made up of approximately 5-6,000 season ticket holders and
2-3,000 regular pay-on-the-day supporters. It is highly likely that these
8,000 will still be there next season, some with season tickets and some
without, almost irrespective of what the club does with pricing and what
division we are playing in. In reality, "we" are not the problem. The problem
the club faces if they do get relegated is how do they keep the 6,000
others that promotion to the Premier League has attracted.
What Watford have to do is to find some way of making at least some of the
6,000 others renew their season tickets to retain their support if, and again
I stress if, the club are relegated. Watford are currently in the position
of having to take a gamble. Like at the end of last season when they tempted
people with the £320 early purchase offer which, in hindsight, cost them money. They knew
that if they didn't go up, they would have secured a few extra season
tickets and improved their cash flow but if they did, the lower price would
be offset by additional Premier League revenues. They lost that gamble.
Whether "lost" is the right phrase to use for promotion to this division is
a debate for another time.
This time, the stakes are higher. Watford need to retain at least some of
these additional 6,000 because as sure as Trevor Senior couldn't hit a cow's
bum with a banjo, none of these will renew if we do go down. Therefore, they
need to take a hard look at the situation and decide how they could tempt
them to part with their cash.
My opinion is that after no more than the next two games, they need to offer
existing season ticket holders a deal that will get them to commit for next
season, irrespective of what league we are playing in. £420 again? No. £380?
Probably not. £340? Getting close. The actual figure is a very complex
equation, balancing what sort of reduction will make the significant others
part with their readies with how likely we are to go down. Time is of the
essence, though. With every game from now that we don't win, there will be
another few that will accept relegation as a certainty and not renew,
irrespective of any temptation thrown their way from the mahogany corridors
of Vicarage Road.
At least by offering a discount now, they may end up with advance sales of
possibly 10,000. If we go down, they'll be back to half that. A big gamble
for sure that, if we do maintain our Premier League status, could cost up to
£1m in lost revenue. Like the last gamble though, this is slightly offset by
increased revenue from preserving our top flight position. A gamble worth
taking in my opinion as it is clear from the Birmingham game that one season
of Premiership football for the 6,000 others is not sufficient to create the
type of bond that keeps the rest of us coming back year after year.
On the one hand, and with my rose-tinted specs on, I am confident that the
club will have taken the Birmingham game as a clear indication of what could
happen next season. On the other hand, when has any football club understood
what really goes on in the mind of the average football fan and acted in a
remotely sensible way?
What this will prove though is how much they really care about the long
term. We all know that Graham cares but questions still remain over the
holders of the purse strings. They must be rubbing their hands at having a
manager who gets into the Premier League and doesn't want to throw money
towards temperamental, overpaid strikers.
We all know that if we get relegated we have to come back fitter and
stronger. Not physically, but financially. Training facilities, a well
developed youth setup and a settled financial structure is what is needed.
Maintaining a larger core support is all part of the required infrastructure
which will help us emulate the Leicesters of this world and distance
ourselves from the Lutons.
This is the chance for the club to really prove that's what they want. Let's
hope they take it.