Friday, May 22, 2009

Let 'Em In For Nothing (once anyway)

Here's an idea and I don't think it is anything like as daft as it seems. I think we should try a game where admission is free and totally without charge and there should be no hidden booking fees or anything like that.

"Madness!! How could we afford that?" I hear you cry. Well I think it could actually make us some money but it would need a little careful planning and some follow-up. Let me explain...

Attendances in football grounds up and down the country are down. Last season Argyle averaged only 11533 which is about 1500 down on the previous season. We need to get more fans into the ground and we need to build up some goodwill amongst Plymouth's wider population and I think we could use a free game to do this.

Let's do some fag packet maths here and try to assess the financial impact. Firstly we choose a game where the attendance is likely to be low anyway. This would mean that any game which is the second in a week would be a target or maybe a midweek game when there is Champions' League football on the TV, a game in the depths of the winter when the weather is likely to be bad or the last home game before Christmas. It is difficult to choose right now when the fixtures aren't yet known but you get the idea: choose the game with the least attractive opposition, the fewest in terms of travelling support and at a time that maximises the general inconvenience of attending. Personally I would go for the pre-Christmas game as long as it isn't against glamourous opposition and sell the event as a Christmas present to the City Of Plymouth from Argyle. It would be a huge PR coup and set up the games over the festive period nicely. The pre-Christmas game last season was against QPR and attracted 10,747 by way of comparison. It's difficult to assess gate revenue but assuming that 7000 were ST holders who had long since paid leaves 3747 paying on average £20 each at a guess. That makes a potential "cost" of nearly £75k for letting in people FOC.

Except it would not cost that much at all. There would be all sorts of subsidiary benefits to the idea. If 20000 people could be enticed along then they would but lots of programmes, eat lots of pasties or crisps or mars bars, buy lots of merchandise (Christmas is just around the corner remember) and drink lots of pints of beer or cups of bovril. All of that would start to pay back the £75k.

How about the rest? Well you do not just open the gates and let everybody in. They would have to apply for a ticket. This could be done via post, email or in person providing that a real and verifiable name and address (or email address) and some basic personal details were provided. This could be secured by filling out a simple application form. The club can then cross-reference that against existing known customers in the club's fan database which has been built up over the years consisting of people who have bought away tickets, season tickets, ordered merchandise by post etc and any of them ignored or assigned to a sub-category. The names that remain would be those who are interested enough to be turn up and actually go to a game but are not true fans who bust a gut to get to any match they can anyway.

These people should then be targeted via either post or email and given a free ticket for their birthday, maybe 2 for a wedding anniversary, if they have kids then issue free tickets for any reason you can think of to little Johnny because then an adult or two will have to go to take him too (especially if they are out-of-towners).

If we look at £25 for a matchday ticket then we only need to get 3000 of those fans back in the ground over the course of a season to get that £75k back. I think any marketing department worth its salt should be able to get an extra 3000 fans in over the course of a season and when they do that initial £75k hit will be paid back (and more given the other trade that would be boosted) after all we have, on average, nearly 10k empty seats to fill in each game so what harm would a few free tickets do?

Of course I may be wrong. It may be a complete disaster and the ground might not fill at all. Well you'll know whether it will or not in advance due to ticket applications. If it does not then let people pay cash on the day and that'll recoup some of the expense too. Alternatively they might only go once and that is it in which case the £75k is lost. Well that is a risk that is worth taking to get the details of those casuals who just might be converted into fans. Argyle is a company with turnover of nearly £10m it ought to be able to withstand a one-off £75k hit if the idea was a complete failure as long as it was planned as part of an overall strategy especially when you consider that more was given to Emile Mpenza in only 8 weeks.

"What about ST holders?" will be the other objection. Well give them a £20 voucher for the club shop in recompense. That'll keep them sweet and cost the club relatively little and if they spend more then a bit more of that £75k is recovered and the club is quids in yet again.

An interesting secondary benefit would be that we would find out once and for all whether or not ticket pricing had a direct effect on attendances as some maintain ~ maybe it does (I don't think so but I don't know for sure any more than anybody else). One thing is certain and that's if we can't get the fans in when it is free short of paying them to go we have done all, possibly more, than might reasonably be expected to find out if we really do have any of that famed potential.

It's a radical idea. It might be a disaster but think of the free publicity, the commercial positives, the goodwill generated and if that big crowd generated a good result just how valuable the 3 points gained might be.


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