Last season wasn’t just a source of pride for what Reading did on the pitch but personally I took a real sense of pride for the strides the club took off it. After years of what felt like the club was aimlessly drifting due to a string of ownership changes, those in charge at the Madejski got back to basics and started putting fans first. From organising more activities on match-days, to a more fun and open social media presence, engaging in more visible community projects and much more, it was easy to take pride in our club.
Yet one of the most pleasing developments in recent seasons has been a concerted effort to try and make tickets more affordable for Reading fans of all ages. From lowering costs in the Eamonn Dolan Stand, to freezing and reducing season ticket costs, giving those in the Upper West a more comfortable experience and expanding the student age range, Reading fans have certainly benefited from decisions made by the management team.
Yet it’s not just Reading supporters who’ve felt the positive effects of this new attitude. Last season saw the football club commit to the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign, an initiative spearheaded by the Football Supporters’ Federation to keep costs down for travelling fans by capping ticket costs at £20.
Not only has that scheme earned plenty of goodwill from visiting fans, but it also saw Reading’s travelling supporters rewarded with reciprocal pricing at certain stadia last season.
We all love a bargain, we all want football to be as affordable as possible and so, based on that criteria, it’s hard to find any justification for a club NOT to go along with the scheme.
The Cost Of Being Competitive
However, this drive to keep costs down for supporters has come at a time when the cost of running a competitive football team has never been higher. Only this week Jaap Stam has hit out at what he sees as ridiculous transfer demands of Championship clubs, yet we’re in the middle of a summer when players like Kyle Walker are being bought for £54m by a team who finished just 20 places above us in the footballing pyramid.
The latest TV deal has warped the British footballing economy beyond the imagination of fans and owners from even 15 years ago. Suddenly, Premier League clubs are happy to splash hundreds of millions of pounds in a single window and even Huddersfield are closing in on the £30m mark for signings. That type of spending only leads to inflation down the pyramid, at a time when the income for EFL teams is staying largely stagnant.
Reading’s turnover in 2005/06 was roughly £18m. A decade later and even WITH £9m worth of parachute payments, the 2015/16 season saw turnover settle at around £26m. Ultimately, Reading’s income levels at Championship level have barely gone up in a decade. Compare that to Everton, who in 2005/06 earned £44m in revenue. Their figure in 2015/16? £121.5m.
This partly explains why the parachute payments have only increased year on year, as the gap between the top two tiers only gets bigger and bigger. Clubs need a wider and wider safety net for them to even attempt at staying in the Premier League, which in turn gives them a more pronounced advantage if they do drop down. Not that I’m complaining, after all we’d almost certainly be bust without those very same parachute payments.
So Is Twenty Plenty?
How does this all relate to whether QPR should be charging Reading fans £33? Well quite simply it comes down to whether QPR as a business need to charge that to move forward and be competitive on the pitch.
The difference between charging 2,000 fans £33 or £20 is £26,000. If you apply that over a whole campaign, it would come to £600,000. That seems like small change in today’s football playground but that would pay one player £10k a week for a season, or perhaps fund a new signing. If that signing goes on to be the difference maker and gets QPR promoted, will their board or fans really care?
Going back to the Premier League, and you really do have a hard time justifying anything more than £20. The new TV deal saw revenues increase to the point where clubs could sacrifice almost all of their previous gate receipts and feel no decline in the bottom line. If you can spend £54m on a right back, you can damn well afford to let 2,000 fans in for £20 instead of £33. That £600k over a season is not going to make the slightest difference to the team you can put out on the pitch, or the experience you can offer fans.
In the Championship and that £600,000 really can make a massive difference to a club’s bottom line. In an era where we’re all hoping owners are financially responsible and not loading the club with massive debts, should we not encourage them to take financial steps to boost the club’s coffers?
Personally, I saw the £33 price tag for QPR and was immediately pi**ed off. If Reading can afford to offer £20 tickets for away fans, well why can’t a team 40 miles away who play in a far worse stadium who are still picking up bigger parachute payments? Yet that initial reaction failed to take into account all that I’ve discussed above. QPR are probably just doing what they can to keep their team competitive, something that in turn will attract supporters, even if that competitiveness leads to them sadly pricing other people out of the game.
Is that a good thing? No, you want football to be a sport we can all enjoy no matter what we take home from work. At the same time, would I be happy to see Reading slide down the league just so we can offer away fans cheaper tickets? Again it’s a tricky one.
I’m proud of my football club for taking the moral high ground and putting fans first but in this era where winning means so much to a large group of supporters, I’m not sure I can hold a lasting anger towards those that charge a little extra to try their best to keep clubs on a sound financial footing.
Oh dear, I’ve just used sound financial footing and QPR in the same article, maybe it’s time to go to bed?