Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blogathon: Stand up for cheap tickets

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Thanks to @sliderulepass and @mightjustget for combining to get this one started.

The SPL are apparently open to the idea of terracing returning to our stadiums.

Celtic, it's said, are in talks to reintroduce a standing section as early as next season at Celtic Park.

It all seems fair enough to me. If the required safety regulations are met and the club's have the ability to make required changes to largely redeveloped or new stadia then it seems sensible.

Especially if there's a demand for it.

We're told there is. So it seems a win-win situation. We know, we know horrifically, why the push to all-seater stadiums gathered pace and legislative backing.

But we also know that clubs must do everything to enhance atmospheres and give supporters the sort of experience that improves a day at the football.

Standing areas have even found favour with the designer of the new Wembley who has said he'd welcome a move towards limited terracing of a kind based on the Bundesliga model in English stadiums.

The idea is that there's a restricted standing area for those fans who choose to stand. It's designed to be manageable for stadium security and to avoid the safety problems that are all too vivid in our recent past.

It would also, in Scotland and perhaps elsewhere, concentrate minds on the increasingly crucial issue of ticket pricing.

I'll speak from the experience of a Hibs fan. £28 to watch this team, in a stadium we can't fill, against Celtic, Rangers or Hearts is an outrage.

£23 for the other SPL teams isn't much better.

We're told by those in power - at Hibs and elsewhere - that they're cutting their own throats with these prices, it's just about the minimum that the club can survive on.

The argument is that lowering prices wouldn't increase attendances enough to cover the shortfall.

And that might be true. Because too often the product is rank. So bad, at times, that you can't give tickets away.

That's a tricky one for the clubs.

The German model is often cited as something to aspire to. But there are obvious differences in the way German football is run and the way Scottish football is run and obvious differences in the size, demographics and culture of the two countries.

It's a neat argument but the model is not such a neat fit. And the structural changes needed to copy the German model exactly - even if it could be proved they would work - seems unlikely to find favour here.

Three problems: We have a massive talent shortfall. We have a massive financial shortfall. And we have a massive supporter shortfall.

To survive, we're told, the clubs must squeeze the reduced rumps of their support dry.

I've a certain sympathy with that because I don't think - no matter how otherwise useless, feckless and unlistening they might be - that most football administrators are in the business of watching their clubs fail.

But time and again it is the fan that loses out.

Pay more to watch something inferior. Year on year. The prices rocket, the product declines.

That wouldn't work in other businesses. Try running a restaurant like that.

Yet football does it because it has our blind loyalty.

There are no easy answers. We have club directors who are petrified as the Scottish football teeters on the financial precipice.

That scares them from making both the hard decisions needed to improve the game and from making the price cuts that would make life easier for fans.

I don't know what the answer is.

I don't think football can go on like this. More than just ticket prices has to change.

But they do have to change because people simply can't afford the prices they're being charged.

So standing areas could well be the start of something approaching a revolution.

The re-introduction of some terracing area would be a sign that football does occasionally take note of what the fans are saying.

It would also open up the debate on ticket prices. And that's a debate - despite the lack of easy answers - that we need to have.

Before even the rump disappears.

> I've a lot of time for St Mirren. But when the BBC ran their story on the cost of watching football I was forced to laugh at St Mirren's proud assertion that they now serve free beans with every pie.

Struck me as a good motto for the SPL: "High prices, crap football. Free beans."

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