During a week when Reading Football Club announced, to the delight of all, that season ticket prices had been frozen and even reduced for some, there was also a little bit of a sucker punch for those who like to drive to games. In renewal letters sent to fans with current parking permits for the Madejski Stadium, the club announced a planned increase from £180 to £230, a leap of around 30%.
Understandably, some fans are far from happy with the news, leading the Supporters’ Trust At Reading (STAR) to post the following statement on their website.
We’ve received some negative feedback from members about the 2017-18 stadium car park fee. The first STAR knew of the increase in charges from £180 to £230 per season was when the club made the public announcement. In percentage terms STAR agrees it’s a very substantial increase and from a PR point of view would have been better staggered over two years, given there was no increase last season.
In effect the new price offers no discount over current on the day pricing around the stadium which has risen to £9 in some places (eg Holiday Inn) or may rise to that level next season, given that the loss of Worton Grange and tighter enforcement of restrictions (Green Park, Costco) will increase demand. If we assume 23 home league games and two cup games then £230 divided by 25 matches is £9.20 per game.
It is fair to say far more people will benefit from the season ticket price reductions than will suffer from this increase in parking charges. Nevertheless STAR strongly believes that convenient and economic access to the stadium has been a crucial component in the success of the Madejski Stadium attracting higher attendances – and that making access to the stadium more difficult and expensive, especially at times when the club isn’t doing well, is a real danger. We have a significant proportion of supporters who come from places where public transport to the stadium isn’t a realistic option. We also have a significant number of supporters who would choose not to use public transport, especially for midweek matches, because they come with young children, or they find walking and standing for long periods difficult or don’t wish to travel alone.
Over the past year, and in the light of the proposed Royal Elm Park development (which eventually will be built on the Red Car Park anyway), STAR has repeatedly raised concerns about this issue and offered a couple of constructive suggestions, one of which the club is actively pursuing. STAR has also formally objected to the Royal Elm Park planning proposal on the grounds of lack of car parking provision. Twenty years ago the plans for the stadium suggested up to 2000 car park spaces and the possibility Green Park rail station might be with us!
All STAR can do is continue to implore the club to take notice of this issue and not put all its eggs in the public transport basket, to do what we can to unlock the potential / wasted spaces around the stadium on match days and to suggest that the Mereoak P&R option can actually be a good, cheaper alternative for some people. The club has been informed of our views this week.
This is undeniably a tricky issue for both the club and the fans, and a situation you can see both sides of.
Regardless of how much money our owners have, the club needs as much revenue as possible to keep in line with FFP rules. If we win promotion to the Premier League, this is easily the sort of decision the club could and probably should reverse, but if we don’t go up, the owners have to find some way of keeping ticket prices down, while plugging a £10m hole in the books from the loss of parachute payments. That revenue/affordability balance was an issue we covered with the club’s Commercial Director Adam Benson during our interview last year.
An extra £50 from 2,000 permits would earn the club an additional £100,000 and while that’s small fry compared to players wages, that extra money might be the difference between keeping an extra person on the coaching staff, employing people to work for the community trust, or any number of smaller roles at the club that sadly are often the first to go when money gets tight.
Yet STAR’s points about affordability and access at a time when attendances are dropping are also very pertinent and fair. Introducing such a high increase out of nowhere isn’t the sort of thing that will encourage more people to turn up to games.
So what do you think folks? Are the club right to try and earn some extra revenue or should they have a rethink?