Sheffield Wednesday’s ticketing policy since Mr. Chansiri’s takeover is clear. The aim been to convert pay-on-the-gate supporters into season ticket holders. Instrumental in this ticketing policy has been to make matchday tickets at Hillsborough significantly less attractive by making them very expensive. The average cheapest matchday ticket in the 2019/20 season was £33. The average highest matchday ticket in the 2019/20 season was £40. Although never publicly stated, the strategic objective of this policy is, presumably, either revenue maximsation (i.e. this is the policy thought the best to raise income through ticket sales) or budgetary planning (i.e. season tickets inject a reliable sum of capital into the club from which annual budgets can be planned, whereas matchday revenue can fluctuate and be unreliable). 

Recent research by the Trust, which can be found on our website and accessed via this link, examines an alternative ticketing strategy pursued by Nottingham Forest. It makes two points. First, there are other ticketing models in the Championship, involving much cheaper pricing, that produce revenue results just as effective as that produced by the ticketing strategy currently adopted by Sheffield Wednesday.  Second, the existing ticketing strategy at Hillsborough isn’t working on its own terms producing declining matchday and associated revenue even before Covid-19 decimated income.  Matchday and associated revenue has been plummeting for several seasons at Hillsborough projected to be less in 2019-20 than it would have been in 2015-16 if fans had continued to be allowed to attend games. 

There are three core aims the Trust believe SWFC need to put in place to ensure its ticketing policy at Hillsborough is successful, each of which the club is currently struggling: 

  1. The club continues to attract a stream of pay-on-the-gate supporters who can be converted into season ticket holders.

  2. The club needs to expand the scope of the fanbase through better marketing strategy, community engagement, and diversity initiatives, at the same time as attracting the next generation of supporter, to secure the season ticket holders of the future. 
  3. Season-ticket prices remain competitive encouraging season ticket holders to renew each year in good times and bad. 

The ticketing policy at Hillsborough is not achieving aim the first of these two aims. Attendances at Hillsborough have been dwindling in recent seasons. The average attendance at Hillsborough rose from 22,641 in 2015-16 to 27,129 in 2016-17 off the back of Sheffield Wednesday’s flirtation with the playoffs, but this increase has not proven resilient thereafter. Average attendance fell to 25,995 in 2017-18, 24,429 in 2018-19, and 23,732 in 2019-20. The average decline in attendance at Hillsborough since 2016-17 has been 1,132 fans per season with attendance in 2019-20 (23,732) near the level that Mr. Chansiri inherited in his first season as owner in 2015-16 (22,641). Far from attracting new fans and keeping them attending matches the club is losing supporters in their droves with attendances falling towards its hard-core group of supporters. This is not a foregone conclusion as results decline on the pitch. Many Championship clubs have managed in recent seasons to grow attendances even when performances remain poor (see Trust research on Nottingham Forest and (soon to be released) Birmingham City). 

The final aim now rests on the goodwill of season ticket holders. The situation regarding 2019/20 refunds, which is rapidly becoming a fiasco, does not help. If anywhere near the same number of season ticket holders (55%) request a refund for 2020/21, which the club are almost certainly to have to offer at some point, as they did 2019/20 then the club face a huge bill at a time when revenues are most precarious. Season tickets are also vastly expensive when in comparison with the rest of league. We have discussed this in a previous blog, which can be accessed via this link, but suffice to say that the cheapest season ticket at Hillsborough in the 2019/20 season was the most expensive in the Championship. 

Cumulatively existing matchday and season ticket prices might prevent those supporters from returning to Hillsborough having lost the habit during lockdown or be an expense those facing unemployment and job insecurity might choose to jettison. If those fans can’t be enticed to return then matchday and associated revenue will fall even further just at the time when the club needs the revenue most desperately to navigate the undoubtedly tricky economic situation we are currently in as a country. A new ticketing policy is desperately needed at Hillsborough. It is not an irresponsible request to ask for such action to be taken. There are workable alternatives elsewhere in the Championship that don’t rely on high prices and are just as successful at producing revenue. The Trust and its members stand ready to engage with the club on this issue. 

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