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We are not the problem
By Tim Pseudonym
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.

(Date: 1/2/00)