Milne: We Must Bring Back Younger Fans
Friday, 17th Mar 2017 06:30
Town managing director Ian Milne says the club and football in general have work to do to encourage younger fans to watch live games with the Blues focusing on youth with their 2017/18 season ticket strategy.
“Currently the average age of football supporters attending games is 41,” Milne told TWTD.
“The industry is facing a demographic time bomb, so we need to reverse that trend and make provision for younger supporters or risk empty stadiums.
“There is also statistical evidence to back up the belief that football used to be something that young people did on their own.
“Back in the 1970s, the average age of those in home stands was 17. We certainly recognise that the rise in age profile has a lot to do with cost and the high cost of tickets for the young is not the surest way to reclaim the youth market.
“So, we need more young fans to join us at Portman Road and thus we’ve put in place an under-23 ticketing strategy for next season at affordable prices.
“For those under 19 in education, they get tickets priced at just under £5 per game with a season ticket, that would catch all those at secondary school and at college starting a traineeship or apprenticeship.
“Under-23s, who are just out of education or an apprenticeship, are able to attend for just £10 a game with a season ticket.
“We’ve also introduced an under-12s season ticket at £50 but with reward points, which means the cost could come down to just £4 per season.
“It is very much focused on getting young people back to watch professional football matches, hopefully as a group.”
The Blues have seen a drop-off of fans in the under-23 group of 17 per cent over the last two years, as well as a reduction in numbers once fans hit 16.
“I’ve a graph which shows it went back over seven years,” added Milne, who held a review of ticketing in December, particularly the reduction in younger fans. “It is a steep reduction. And it’s not just an Ipswich Town issue, it’s a wider issue.”
Milne says the club will also be working with schools and the university as they look to increase the number of young supporters, who he also hopes will persuade older members of their families to join them at matches.
“I think we’ve got a good cost strategy to go to the university and the schools to say, let’s try and get dad along as well," he continued.
“I also make a point that at the ground we’ve got good stewards, they’re all trained for the kids and how to deal with them, the safe-guarding aspects of it.
“It’s a relatively safe atmosphere for young kids to come and watch football matches with a few mates.”
Milne says he can empathise with fans, frustrated after a disappointing season, who might feel that the club doesn’t deserve the 1.5 per cent increase on the adult season ticket price.
“It’s in line with the strategy set out at New Year by the owner [Marcus Evans],” he added.
“That is to have careful management of the club’s annual budget, where that budget is spent and how the club is to raise revenue to meet its investment priorities of focusing on the academy, having a competitive wage structure and a careful use of our transfer budget on developing players.
“There was a lot of discussion internally with regard to adult ticket prices, with the owner. He felt we needed to fall in line with his strategy and that’s where we are.
“Hopefully our discussions have managed to keep the increase, which is just under RPI, at a reasonable level.
“But on top of that there’s a sales target of 12,750 season tickets. If that is hit, then there will be a five per cent refund, and that applies to everybody, concessionary, adult, under-23s. However they’ve bought their season ticket they’ll get a five per cent refund. And I think we’ve set it at a reasonable level given where we are with sales.”
With this year’s season ticket total just under 12,200, is he confident that the target will be reached?
“I hope so,” he said. “I can’t bet on football but I hope so. I think we’ve set a realistic target, it’s lower than the total was in 2014/15 and 2015/16, so it’s not unachievable.”
While there is a widespread expectation that season ticket renewals are likely to fall, Milne hopes the cheaper tickets for younger fans will more than make up for that drop.
“I think it’s quite reasonable given the competitive pricing we’ve put in place,” he said.
“We’re the first ones to understand that the reality is that if you don’t play entertaining football you’re going to lose fans and that will have an effect on the season tickets, and maybe this small increase will also have an effect.
“But we hope people will understand that we’re trying to put on entertaining football. And also, with the investment in the FanZone and other things we’re trying to do, we’re trying very hard to provide an entertaining product.”
Fans have expressed their dissatisfaction with manager Mick McCarthy throughout the campaign with some having said they won’t renew their season tickets while he’s still at the club. What’s Milne's message to them?
“You’ve reported what Mick has said, he’s going to review his position along with the budget and the players with Marcus at the end of the season.
“That’s the right way of going about things and we look forward to hearing those discussions as well because it’s got to be between the owner and the manager to discuss and agree what the way forward is.
“At the end of the day, we want entertaining football, I want what the fan wants, we all want what the fan wants, we all want to come and see entertaining, winning football. One, because we like seeing it, but also it makes our jobs easier as well.
“Off the field, we’re working on things like the FanZone and what else we can add to that entertainment value for the fans to keep them coming along.
“I keep harking back to the under-23 strategy, we want to get those young ones back to enjoy the football here.”
While the official attendance takes in all tickets sold for a game, many Portman Road crowds have been significantly lower than those figures this season and in some cases around 4,000 season ticket holders have stayed away from midweek matches, TWTD understands.
“You and I don’t know personally why they didn’t come but we do understand the reality of entertaining football and it is winning games which will get the fans back,” Milne said.
In addition to performances on the field and the Blues’ probable finish in lower mid-table, fans have also expressed their frustrations regarding the budget owner Evans has made available to McCarthy.
How would Milne respond to supporters who might ask why they should put their money in if they don’t feel Evans is contributing as much as he might?
“We drew up some figures on the playing squad year on year,” he added. “Three seasons ago the playing squad spend went up by 17 per cent, then two years ago it went up by a further seven per cent and is currently up a further eight per cent.
“All the other costs and spends have been static at around nought per cent. That bill’s got to be filled from somewhere.”
However, some other Championship clubs - several without parachute payments - are spending very significantly more than that.
“I appreciate that, some owners are prepared to spend more and some aren’t prepared to spend what we’re spending.
“Our playing squad wage bill is now up to £13.3 million, three years ago it was £11.5 million, so it has been going up.”
Town’s overall wage bill was £16.5 million last year and will climb to £17.5 million this season.
Last summer Huddersfield dropped their adult season ticket price to £179 and sold 15,000 seats. Did Town look at adopting a similar approach?
“We did, it’s also to do with where we are the table and what have you. Dean Hoyle up there, the owner, took quite a big risk in doing it. We understood why he did it.
“The owner here wasn’t prepared to go to that extreme and also I think different clubs, different regions have different types of fans as well.
“It’s very important that we try and keep our fans in the way we think is appropriate to Suffolk and to this part of the country.
“I think he was coming from a different perspective. I don’t know how much their spend is at Huddersfield but I think it’s quite a considerable amount of money he’s putting into it.”
In his notes in the season ticket pack which will be posted from Thursday 23rd March, McCarthy concedes that he has work to do to repair his relationship with supporters during the remaining nine games of the season.
“I’m the first to admit that his season has not gone as well as any of us would have hoped and I’ll sit down with TC and the staff at the end of the season and analyse why that has been the case," he wrote.
“The challenge for us is always to finish the season as high as we possibly can. The January transfer window has helped us, with the players we brought in freshening the place up and giving everyone a boost.
“Results and performances have certainly improved since then, although we have not picked up as many wins as we deserved to in that time.
“Good performances will help build bridges with you, the supporters, and we know we’ve got to do that. Our relationship with you is vital. We have got to work at it so you feel good about the team and the club.
“That’s what we will continue to do because we all want the same thing - a successful Ipswich Town Football Club."
Milne will be talking more about season tickets on the Mark Murphy show on BBC Radio Suffolk at 7.40am this morning.
You can see full details of Town’s season ticket pricing for 2017/18 on the club site here.
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