Cheap entry at Charlton, but at what cost?

Posted by on Feb 21, 2011 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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.

William Abbs
is a Manchester United fan but don't blame him, blame Rupert Murdoch and Mark Hughes. No sooner could he kick a ball than he was trying to dribble like Andrei Kanchelskis. Born and raised in Norwich, however, he still takes an interest in events at Carrow Road as well as the rest of the league pyramid. In 2010 he moved to London with the words of Alan Partridge ringing in his ears, asserting that he would either be mugged or not appreciated. He resides on Twitter as @WilliamAbbs.


  1. Michael
    February 21, 2011

    Like Mansfield's pay-what-you-want offer last season, it's a nice idea but probably no more than a one off boost to the crowd. As £17.50 would get you into a top-flight match in most other European countries, what's needed is more long term pricing structures such as, to name just two, discounts for students aged over 21 and cheap tickets for adults accompanying children.

  2. unitedite
    February 22, 2011

    It always seemed to be the case that whenever Sheffield United used to offer a cut price deal the match was awful and the result was a defeat, even if the form prior suggested it might be otherwise.

    The thing is they used to be one off games, or maybe twice a season. Now they seem to be cramming in as many as possible, but just enough so the match by match entry costs don't quite reach the price paid by an ever dwindling season ticket contingent. To be honest, I am pretty sure that with a couple of invites I have had, free/cheap tickets with Super Draw membership and the reduced match prices I might have come out chepaer than my season ticket going match by match.

    United set such a differential between matchday prices and season ticket match cost that the walk up crowd dwindled and panic set in. In desperately trying to win back the floating/disaffected fan, they are just as likely to annoy the season ticket holders, many of whom are not likely to renew, or if they were borderline – aren't borderline any more.

  3. Paul
    February 22, 2011

    Proper football ground, friendly fans, good atmosphere. For us away fans an unbelievable afternoon and all for just a fiver. Meaning that quite a few more travelled than would have if it had been the full £22.

    We can't do this at St James' Park, as we can't afford that hit on our budget. Attendances anyway are holding up, having increased significantly after being promoted from the Conference and L2.

  4. The Exile
    February 22, 2011

    We've always had a habit of shooting ourselves in the foot on occasions such as these. Over the years the Club has organised many different promotions and I can only ever remember winning one of the games (Port Vale).

    The fact is however that even if some fans come back, then it's all more money in the coffers. We didn't play as badly as the scoreline suggests and maybe there will be some who return next week. Clearly though a win would have helped the case much more.

  5. gerschenkron
    February 22, 2011

    It would be interesting if someone could statistically analyze the performance of teams in matches with a significant price offer on tickets – though you'd need to take account of the fact the those clubs partaking of the practice are unlikely to be representative of the average side. Also, my guess is that one-off visits will only help tie in younger fans if they are already enthusiastic about the club but previously couldn't afford to get in.

    Clubs might be better advised to think more creatively than cheaper prices and include more in the standard price that would result in future loyalty.

  6. Stanley
    February 22, 2011

    I think this was more an attempt by the new owners to win back some of those who attended matches at the Valley during the Premier League years than to attract new fans. It was certainly advertised to everyone on the club's database. Obviously, a crowd of 24,000 suggest that the plan worked, but such heavy discounts can't be repeated too often without draining the lifeblood of many FL clubs, namely season ticket revenue.

    While one-off discounts might have their place (see also Dagenham and Redbridge vs MK Dons earlier in the season), I'd agree with the previous commenters that clubs need to start looking at standard matchday pricing if they are to maintain or increase crowds in the long term. £20-£30 essentially to rent a seat at the stadium for 90 minutes is an extravagant expense for many, particularly when disposable income is being squeezed. Reduced prices for purchasing multiple tickets, or even the type of rolling `loyalty' discounts for consecutive attendance offered by the supermarkets could be made to work.

  7. martin
    February 22, 2011

    I think the timing and pricing of this offer was led by the announcement on Friday of the new pricing structure for next year's tickets. With a reduction, in most cases, of 50 quid on the current season ticket prices this will allow adults to attend for the princely sum of between 10.43 and 16.34 quid. Just a shame that the two shots hit the bar and two cleared off the line won't actually help convert the extra bodies at the game to regular attendees.

  8. William Abbs
    February 22, 2011

    It was certainly excellent to see the stadium full, especially one as impressive as the Valley. It's so easy to forget Charlton's ground-sharing past when you see how good the Valley now looks.

    I read something today about how only 9% of the average football crowd is made up of those aged under 24. That's part of a general trend, with the average age of attendees getting older. I'm a little older than 24 now myself but, even so, as a student I think it would be beneficial to clubs if they recognised that there are people at university who are over 21 and who would love to go to more games if they could afford to. Not all clubs differentiate between students and those under 21.

    It's also quite likely that students – if they have moved from elsewhere in the country/world – would adopt their new local club as their second side for the duration of their time at university (as with Hornby, who follows Cambridge United alongside Arsenal in Fever Pitch).

  9. Yasser
    February 23, 2011

    Fan groups have been lobbying for long at Chelsea to get reduced prices for Students. The club might be persuaded to do it but they will shift the cost to probably adult season tickets. Charlton's cheapest 17 pound tickets in the corner aren't too bad as many conference clubs charge the same price.

    The lower you go down the pyramid, you will get lesser income from broadcast deals. So, you can argue it's difficult for football league clubs to reduce admission below a certain threshold as matchday receipts are their main source of income. And, you can also argue that price reduction isn't a one way street. If fans want reduced prices, then they should be prepared to lower their expectations because other teams mightn't be following suit.

    Unless this pricing problem is addressed collectively, I'm afraid ticket prices will continue to remain at current levels and these 5 pound bargains will remain one off sops.

  10. Lanterne Rouge
    February 23, 2011

    Hats off to Charlton for extending the deal to away fans – if only all clubs were as generous – Norwich charged £31 as Andy D. Townsend from twitter would opine, “what's that all about?” Plus 25,000 is amazing even with the discount.

    And whatever it was Daggers charged to see MK Dons, it was too much money by the cost of entry.

  11. Stanley
    February 23, 2011

    Yasser, the point about collective bargaining over admission prices is a valid one. Not many clubs would wilfully reduce their revenues if XFC down the road are not doing the same. If they have a shiny new stadium to maintain too, that break-even point will be even higher.

    I still think, though, that many clubs have been guilty of lazy thinking. The percentage of diehards in a matchday crowd is lower than is generally assumed, so it cannot be taken for granted that people will shuffle through the turnstiles every other week no matter what the price. As William points out, there is a large section of society, young with disposable income, which has lost the habit of attending live matches. Financial incentives are the key to encouraging that habit.

    LR, I think it was 99p (excluding soul and moral principles) the Daggers charged to watch McDons.

  12. harry
    February 24, 2011

    funny club charlton all those years in the premier without even a cup run,they even made a video when they beat arsenal how small minded

  13. Connor brooks
    August 12, 2015

    When and where is the next £5 pound ticket?


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