Cheap entry at Charlton, but at what cost?
The Valley boasted the Football League’s third-highest attendance on Saturday as a crowd of 24,767 was tempted to SE7 by the offer of £5 tickets for Charlton’s League One game against Exeter. Cut-price entry is obviously an easy way for a club seeking strong support for a particular fixture to get more people than usual through the turnstiles and, with promotional deals likely to be a feature of West Ham’s business model for filling the Olympic Stadium post-London 2012, Saturday wasn’t the first and certainly won’t be the last occasion the tactic is exercised.
However, with Exeter bringing with them to south London a large travelling support thanks to the extension of the £5 offer to away fans, and the Grecians subsequently going on to win 3-1 against a team nine places above them going into the game, Charlton’s ticket incentive seemed to backfire terribly. The club’s thinking behind the deal might have seemed straightforward but, aside from the likelihood of a positive result supposedly being increased by the noise generated from a larger than normal crowd, what do clubs such as the Addicks have to gain by attracting an artificially inflated attendance to their stadium?
The obvious answer might be that cheap tickets encourage families to attend together. Mothers and fathers, who might not otherwise have attended themselves, will return to the stadium and bring their children too. Those children are the club’s future fanbase. In Charlton’s case, though, as prices for under-eighteens already stand at £5, Saturday’s uniform entrance price was a direct invitation to the thousands of adult fans who have inevitably drifted away from the club since its not-so-distant Premier League years to come back – and, while they’re at it, to take their young relatives. No doubt it worked to a degree, based on the conversation in the row behind mine in the North Stand, where a pair of grandparents appeared to be taking their grandson to his first game.
It would have been difficult, though, for the club to have made Saturday a financial success. Full-price tickets for home games at the Valley usually start at £17.50 (not extortionate by any means, but understandably still prohibitive to fans who can’t afford season tickets or spare the time to attend regularly). The over-sixties and those aged 18-21 can get in for £13 as standard. Given that the £5 promotion on Saturday only benefitted those groups, then, the scale of the loss incurred on each ticket by the club becomes clear. It is possible, taking into consideration the various prices on offer to different adult age groups on normal match days, that Charlton might have had to have sold around three times as many tickets as usual to those casual fans aged over 18 on Saturday for it to have benefitted the club’s books.
My brother and I, however, certainly did benefit from the ticket arrangement. For less than the price of seeing a film – if one is to view Charlton’s actions as having been in part motivated by entertainment market forces, which they surely were – two fairly cash-strapped football fans got to watch a live game and, as it turned out, an excellent one at that from a neutral’s perspective.
A goalless first half was made fairly engrossing thanks to the contrast between the triangular passing that Exeter were attempting to work around Charlton’s box, and the home side’s slightly more direct approach. The Addicks improved considerably after the break but, pretty cruelly, went behind only a minute or so after Pawel Abbott had hit the bar. Liam Sercombe’s low shot went under Rob Elliot to put Exeter in front, and the Charlton goalkeeper would be at the centre of the two goals that followed as well. It was his poor clearance that resulted in Gary Doherty’s admittedly worse attempt at a header back to his keeper, letting in John O’Flynn to score. Elliot then brought down O’Flynn and Ryan Harley scored the resultant penalty. Bradley Wright-Phillips turned in an acrobatic Doherty shot after 85 minutes but Charlton, despite their best efforts going forward, had undone themselves at the back three times already.
Despite the game getting away from Charlton’s players in the second half, though, there had been a great deal of enthusiasm on show from the supporters at the Valley – and humour. The ground’s new big screen, situated between the Jimmy Seed and East Stands, showed an advert during the first half featuring a goldfish being chased by a net. “Feesh!” exclaimed the crowd each time it swam by. It was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard at a game. There was also an interesting match-up for those, like me, familiar with Norwich City. Doherty, who caused some amusement during the warm-up with his ironic interpretation of the sprint drill, was marking his former Canaries teammate Jamie Cureton, who has moved back to his West Country roots and started scoring again since linking up with Exeter in the summer.
Despite his tender age, it was easy to tell what the fan behind me took from the game too. Charlton were probably hoping that an afternoon at the Valley might leave a positive mark on the impressionable minds of the day’s young supporters but – to the embarrassment of his grandparents – the boy loudly asserted that “Charlton are rubbish!” with five minutes left. (Or was it four? A constant feature of the game was the bored little man’s wish to know how long he had to sit still for.) He might have saved himself years of disappointment (not to mention expense) by coming to such a conclusion so early on in his life about his local club, but that didn’t make it any less sad to hear – not least for the Addicks’ board, should word of this article ever reach them.
William Abbs appears on loan from Saha From The Madding Crowd.