A Celtic State of Mind – The Celtic Trust join The Bhoys in supporting the Twenty’s Plenty campaign.

Colin Watt with A Celtic State of Mind

Earlier this month, I wrote an article highlighting the issues that Celtic fans have faced in the month of January in relation to ticket costs.

On Saturday, the fans group ‘Bhoys’ displayed another fantastic banner, highlighting the fact that, as Celtic fans, it will cost around £199 to support the team throughout the month of January… and that’s only ticket costs.

The response to my article was mostly positive with a few highlighting that home fans would be charged more, whilst others believed that the idea, whilst good in concept, wouldn’t be something that the club would buy into. And that’s okay, people are more than entitled to their opinions, whether we agree with them or not. However, what is worth calling out is when people cast their opinions to convince people that the idea is impractical or indeed take a pop shot at the group pushing the idea.

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It has been suggested in some quarters that £20 tickets would result in a lower standard of football. This theory was backed up by UEFA’s recent Benchmarking Report, which showed that “Scottish Premiership clubs earn a greater percentage of their income from ticket sales than any other top league in Europe” with the figure sitting at 43%.
 
If we look at the financial impact on clubs, we then need to look at attendance figures across the league…

On Wednesday night, Livingston hosted St Johnstone – a game between two teams with some of the lowest attendances in the league. Livingston, who when not playing one of the bigger-supported teams, are pulling in on average 1,300 fans per-game with their lowest attendance sitting at 1,076. A large away support, for the likes of Celtic and Rangers, pushes their average attendance up to a more respectable 3,400. St Johnstone, coming from a city with a population of around 50,000 and who’s nearest rivals are over 20 miles away in Dundee, still only draw an average attendance of 3,300 and that’s taking into account the visits of Celtic and Rangers. The attendance for this game in question? 1,140 fans, leaving 8,000 empty seats, with ticket prices set at £24 for adults and £16 for concessions.
 
Going back through the years, it would take you back to around the turn of the millennium to see the last time that St Johnstone were drawing an average crowd of over 4,500, with some games against the Dundee and Edinburgh sides drawing close to 9,000.

Over the course of the last 20 years, we have lost a generation of fans that have been priced out of Scottish football. For many it’s cheaper to simply follow their team from the comfort of their own home than to actually support their side. That is the fan’s freedom of their choice, but what are clubs actually doing to try and entice these people to come back to the stadiums?

The new television deal struck with Sky will cover 48 games a season (primarily Celtic and Rangers) at a cost of £30m a season, around £10m more than the current deal between Sky and BT. This finally brings Scottish football back to the levels of the failed Setanta deal almost a decade ago. We all know that Scottish football is massively undervalued by the TV channels, so there is a reliance on getting money from the fans but what impact is that having on attendances?

In the last article, I attached a table which showed the cost for Celtic and Rangers fans at each away game in Scotland, with the average ticket price sitting at £30. The acceptance is that the rest of the teams cash-in when Celtic and Rangers come to town and St Johnstone opening three stands ahead of Wednesday’s visit from the champions is a perfect example of this. This is the basis of a lot of people’s arguments against the Twenty’s Plenty campaign – supply and demand – and for the last few seasons that has been the case. Ever since the appointment of Brendan Rodgers at Celtic, the demand for away tickets has never been higher. A spare ticket for most away grounds is almost as sought after as one of Hoidy’s badges. In fact, I recently saw a post where a fan was offering a ticket for Partick Thistle in a swap deal for some of Hoidy’s collection that he didn’t have.
 
Prior to this recent period, though, attendances at away games were at nowhere near the level they are now. Celtic used to struggle to fill the Chadwick Stand at Kilmarnock whilst the Moffat lay 80% empty. Fans who went through thick and thin throughout the Mowbray and Deila eras will tell you that the criteria for away tickets is far less than it is today and you could quite easily go to every single game if you really wanted to.

Kilmarnock recently did away with giving the Moffat Stand to away fans for the visits of Celtic and Rangers in an effort to try and boost the home attendances. The result of this still leaves Rugby Park half-empty for these visits and Kilmarnock missing out on around £100k from missed ticket sales.

So, if teams like Kilmarnock are happy to lose out on around £400k a year by cutting the allocations for Celtic and Rangers, is it a financial issue to cut the ticket prices? The impact of cutting away ticket prices to £20 for that game on Wednesday night equates roughly to around £28k, which is a lot less than Kilmarnock are losing by not offering the Moffat stand or any other section of the stadium to away fans.
 
Okay, so you could say that Kilmarnock is an anomaly in that they have a big enough stadium to offer that option to Celtic and Rangers fans to fill 8,000 seats every game. There are also sides, like Hamilton, who already give away fans as many seats as they can. Losing £30k a game for Hamilton can be a big burden and that is one of the challenges of the Twenty’s Plenty initiative.

Hamilton attracted crowds of around 1,500 for their recent games against Livingston and St Johnstone, and the initiative is to drive up these attendances. In order to recover the £60k to £120k a year that it would cost Hamilton to reduce their ticket prices to £20, they would need to attract an additional 170-400 fans per game over their other 15-17 league matches, and that really isn’t a lot.

What clubs would be targeting is to win a new fan base; fans that won’t just buy tickets for a game, they’ll buy food, merchandise and anything else that the club may sell.

Those who know me personally will know that I am also a fan of another Glasgow team; not a football side but an ice hockey team, the Glasgow Clan. Based in Braehead Arena, the Clan are celebrating their 10th anniversary this year and play in a UK-wide division known as the Elite League. The Clan are one of three professional ice hockey teams in Scotland, alongside the Dundee Stars and the Fife Flyers. Over the last 10 years, The Clan have had year-on-year attendance growth, with the club averaging around 3,000 fans per game. A relative minority sport is gathering a crowd almost double the average attendance of Hamilton, Livingston and St Johnstone (for matches not featuring Celtic or Rangers) and that’s just in the Premiership.

Tickets for a Glasgow Clan game range from £18-£21 with regular special offers for students, as well as offering discounted tickets at £16 for the members of their official supporters’ club. This is a sport that relies almost 100% on the revenue gathered from the supporters backed by a very small television deal with free-to-air channel, FreeSports, which belongs to Premier Sports.
 
The thing that really strikes home about the difference between football and ice hockey is how close every supporter feels to the club. To elaborate on that, Glasgow Clan have fans who work on their merchandise stall, who sell their ‘half-time draw’ tickets, who host fundraising events, and who volunteer as goal judges and cheerleaders, the list goes on. Without the fans, the Clan’s day to day operations just wouldn’t be the same. This feeling of identity has helped the club grow its attendances over the years to the point where they have sold out their games days in advance.

Ice hockey isn’t the only other option out there. Within Glasgow there are multiple professional sports teams out there for families who want to enjoy a day out, from the Glasgow Warriors to the Glasgow Rocks.

At the end of the day, that is a lot of what football is really about – it’s about meeting up with friends, going to support your team, the build-up in the few days leading up to the game, how will you get there? Will you go for a few beers before hand? What are the plans for after the game? It is generally for most fans a day out, and teams like Livingston and Hamilton can capitalise on this and make the experience more encouraging for fans to come back week after week, just like these other sports who are drawing bigger crowds than the what has always been the most popular sport in Scotland.
 
Twenty’s Plenty isn’t just a drive to save some money for those fans who will follow their team through thick and thin, it’s a drive to bring back fans to Scottish football. With a bigger fanbase, clubs can make more money. Increased crowds in the stands can eventually lead on to better negotiations with TV companies for rights deals, knowing that we are not relying on the meagre 10% that the current deal constitutes towards the overall Premiership budget. Jock Stein once famously said:
 
“Football without fans is nothing. It could be the greatest game in the world but if there are no people there to watch it, it becomes nothing. The fans are the lifeblood of the game.”
 
Now it’s time to win the fans back and Twenty’s Plenty is a movement to change how Scottish football is run, to win back the fans and to improve the Scottish game. Players would much rather play in front of a busy stadium as opposed to one that is 90% empty.

As I previously said in the last article, as the premier club in Scotland, Celtic should become the front-runners for this movement. For the cost of around £60k a year we can show Scottish football that we are committed to change. It may take fans some time to come around to the idea of the scheme, but change takes time and no one expects this to kick in as of tomorrow. I’m personally delighted to see that The Celtic Trust have adopted this as one of their campaigns for 2020 and I hope that A Celtic State of Mind can work with the ‘Bhoys’ and the Celtic Trust, as well as fans of all other Scottish Premiership teams to help drive the future of Scottish football forward.

Colin Watt

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