O'Neill Hopes Fans Will Want to Be Part of League One Journey
Wednesday, 17th Apr 2019 16:13
General manager of football operations Lee O’Neill says Town supporters can be the 12th man next season and will want to be part of what he hopes will be a successful journey in League One.
Earlier today, the Blues announced that they are cutting season ticket prices by an initial 12.5 per cent for most fans but with greater reductions coming if sales hit a number of targets.
“We basically went out to existing season ticket holders and asked for their comments and feedback on what they thought,” O’Neill said when asked how their season ticket plan came together.
“We’ve had some groups that we’ve invited into the training ground and have spoken to them and in general when I’ve been to a lot of the meetings, the FanZone meetings or the forums and stuff like that, we’ve had a conversation with them and they’ve made some points about season tickets.
“So it’s a cumulation of a number of things where we’ve taken that information on board. It’s not always possible to do everything that they want and obviously the percentages that people want, but it’s trying to get that balance of identifying some areas and being able to operate from the club’s point of view.”
Outlining the plans, he added: “It’s 12.5 per cent across the board and 15 per cent in the Family Enclosure. We’ll work on those figures, obviously the idea is with [new season ticket holders] is that we’ve lost some season ticket holders over the last four or five years and the message is to those fans is that they hopefully would come back and support the Town.
“They would hopefully have seen, if they’ve been involved in any of the promotional games that we’ve had over the last few months, that the atmosphere with the existing fans and season ticket holders and people who have come up on the day have made it a really enjoyable atmosphere.
“And that with hopefully some performances on the pitch bring some wins, it’ll be a cumulation of things that people want to be involved in next season.”
O’Neill says manager Paul Lambert was included in the discussions: “Paul’s been involved in the process, he’s aware of what we’re trying to do and obviously we had consultation with Paul about the whole process. Everyone’s been involved in it right up to Marcus Evans, all of us have been involved in that.”
Fans have generally welcomed the pricing but what’s his message to those who wanted more? “I understand that, what they might want. There are two things that people don’t have a lot of and that’s time and money, and I do understand that.
“But I think when we put it into relative terms, when you talk about £14 per game for them to come and watch, there isn’t a lot you can do nowadays for £14 and that does represent value for money for a game of football.
“I personally have been involved in seeing a number of games, whether that’s in the National League or lower leagues and have had to pay more than £14 to go and watch those games.
“I do understand their frustrations if they want more, but we’re trying to encourage the fanbase to get behind us, to get those higher numbers that will allow them to get the higher discounts.”
Did they consider just setting prices at £300 across the board? “It’s a model that we looked at but we just felt that at this moment in time to get the revenue right going forward [to look at the plan announced this morning].
“And I think one of the important things to point out is fixing that price in for next year as well to make sure if we do manage to meet those targets and we do manage to give those discounts, that we follow that through for [what will ideally be the following] year’s campaign in the Championship.”
Regarding the Town Targets initiative which will see fans pay less for the seats the more of their fellow fans commit to season tickets, O’Neill added: “We’re operating around 10 and a half thousand season ticket holders this season [10,200].
“The first target is 12,000, that will trigger another 10 per cent discount and then at 13,000 there’s another discount and at 14,000 there’s obviously a significant discount.
“I think with the culmination of all of them when you add them together it makes it even more appealing to the season ticket holders.”
Regarding matchday tickets, which have come down £2, he said: “We have reduced them down to £23 in the lower tier. It is difficult, we did quite a few promotions last year on those areas to try and reduce the price and it gave an indication of where we were going with this year’s season ticket campaign.
“People might choose to do that as an option and where possible we’ve obviously taken that down.”
O’Neill says there are likely to be fewer promotions of the type seen regularly in the second half of 2018/19 in the new season.
“I wouldn’t say never, that we would never do things like that but it’s not necessarily as high up on our plans as we did for this season when we did it from January forwards,” he said.
“The idea being that our focus is around the season tickets and trying to generate those ticket counts where possible for existing and new season ticket holders.”
The former youth player, who remains academy manager despite taking on his new role at the end of last year, says selling season tickets is vital to the club.
“It’s massive,” he said. “It’s gone out there and it’s public, we’re losing nearly £9 million from the revenue side of things and to get that revenue balanced, what we can actually spend on the players and that kind of thing and making sure the club operates is really important.
“It’s a chance for the fans to be involved, their investment into the club. They’ve been absolutely brilliant, they’ve been with us every step of the way up to now.
“It’s unfortunate we’re not in a good position if you look at the league table but hopefully we’re in a position where we bounce back and they can be a major part of that going forward.”
Will season ticket sales have an impact on Lambert’s budget? “We’ll always look at that. Obviously, the more season tickets are sold, the more we able to look at our budget for the playing side of things. So, yes it does have an impact on what we can do on the footballing side of things.”
O’Neill reiterated that manager Lambert is viewed as a long-term appointment: “Paul’s a big part of our plans going forward when we talk about the next three to five years and what we’re trying to deliver.
“We talked recently about the younger players and how important they’re going be going forward. Well, it’s also important you have an experienced manager that knows how to get the best out of those younger players and Paul’s proven over the last few weeks and months that he’s able to do that.
“We have to be patient with the younger players as they’re up and down and it’s important that the experienced players and the new players that we’ve got in the building can all help that process. So Paul and his staff are very much an important process going forward.”
O’Neill says that’s not just his view but that of owner Marcus Evans: “We’ve all had conversations and I can reiterate from Marcus’s point of view that he’s 100 per cent behind Paul and his plan, and the club’s plan.
“Importantly they run alongside each other. We’re all on the same page and we’re all pulling in the same direction. You’ll have seen it, there’s a feel-good factor around the club, despite the situation we’re in and I very much hope that with that we can bring better times to the club, and Paul is a big part of that.”
What does he see as a realistic target for season ticket sales? “I think the targets that have been set. They are high targets, I understand that. Like I said, we’re at around 10 and a half thousand at the moment.
“From the people that I speak to, they’re generally in a place where they either want to come back or they want to continue supporting the club.
“They have a massive part to play and I can’t emphasises that enough really, that they are and have been the 12th man for a number of weeks and to have that next year would be absolutely fantastic.
“Yes, it’s going to be a hard task, and we know that by going into League One they’re not going to see the same football, but again to be part of it, going on a successful journey would hopefully be something that they’d want to see.”
He says closing areas of the ground was talked about before being ruled out: “There was a conversation around that but we all felt that at this moment in time that that wasn’t something we wanted to consider at this moment in time.
“Having been around some of those grounds you can see that when we’re talking about trying to create a really good atmosphere and a really strong atmosphere, I’ve seen it at some stadiums where that hasn’t really managed to achieve that for whatever reason. It wasn’t something we necessarily wanted to do in the near future.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill says he can see why some fans might be unhappy at having to move from their season ticket seats in the Cobbold Stand for the Leeds match on the final day with the Whites having been given a further 2,000 tickets.
“I understand their frustration,” he said. “If the situation was different, if we were still trying to stay in the Championship or other situations, we might have looked at that slightly differently, so we put it off for as long as possible.
“You will have seen last year when we did offer the stadium out it created a really good atmosphere for the game.
“We’ve had advice from the Safety Advisory Group because of the situation Leeds are in at that weekend, so it was a cumulation of things that we needed to take into consideration.
“Obviously I understand that there will be existing season ticket holders who might be a little bit annoyed at having to move from their seats but where possible we’ve looked into that as best we can to make sure we can get the best outcome.”
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