Leeds United announced late last week that almost 11,000 season tickets have been sold ahead of next season, we started to wonder what constitutes a ‘good crowd’ at Elland Road these days. We also took some time to think about why crowd levels have dropped and why it might take a while for them to rise to the levels we all long to see again.
This season, it’s fair to say, has been a disappointment on many levels. Crowd levels have reflected that, with a season high in the league of 25,532 for the ‘Leeds for Less’ midweek game against Blackpool. Couple this with a season low of 16,788 for another midweek game, against Burnley, it’s clear to see that the club need to work hard to bring the supporters back.
Should we expect crowds of 30,000 at Elland Road every week whilst we are an average Championship side? Probably not. The reasons for the drop in attendances are many; a long running dislike of Ken Bates, his broken promise of ‘Premier League football if you pay Premier League prices’ still sticking in the craw for many. Add this to the Club’s previous insistence on season tickets being renewed the January BEFORE the season you’re actually buying a ticket for, unless you want to be hit by a hefty premium, it’s not hard to see why people drifted away. Those that did stay, who deserve our eternal gratitude, have had their patience further tested by a season of hoofball. So now Bates has (almost) gone, the hoofball has been sent on a one way journey to Devon, season ticket prices have been reduced, should be expect crowd levels to rocket? Maybe not immediately.
What people need to remember when they look at our falling crowd levels is that it’s not all football related. People are battling against a backdrop of an economic downturn, and a scarcity of jobs. Paying £500 for a season ticket might be something that tens of thousands of Leeds fans WANT to do, but simply cannot afford to do. And that’s where the Club, our fellow supporters, need to help.
The ‘Leeds for Less’ campaign was an unqualified success. Looking at the contrast between the two games I referred to earlier, it’s a fair assumption that it probably added 7,000 to the attendance of the Blackpool game. That’s 7,000 people who (a) might not have been able to afford to go to a Leeds game without the price reduction or (b) might have chosen to spend their 15 quid on going to the cinema, or (perish the thought) the rugby. Taking that as an example, two things need to happen. Firstly, the fans that go to every game need to accept these “extra” fans as being just as much of a Leeds fan as they are. There’s no qualification requirement to calling yourself a Leeds fan. You don’t have to attend x amount of games a season. You don’t have to live within spitting distance of Gelderd Road. If you’re a Leeds fan you should be welcomed as that even if you only get to one game a season. Because you know what? If they come to one game and have a fantastic time and feel welcome, they might just come again next week! Secondly, the Club need to repeat the “Leeds for Less” games. Taking the North Stand as an example, the current price of £487 for a season ticket sees you paying roughly £21 a game. Assuming an average of around £27 for a match day ticket, the Club could look at running 3 of these initiatives next season, without penalizing season ticket holders. And run a couple of them in the first few games of the season; if the team can get off to a good start, the football and the atmosphere will get these people coming back again and again.
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The Club should also be applauded for two other initiatives, that definitely wouldn’t have happened under the previous regime. Half season tickets – regularly championed by this very site – were reintroduced this season. Let’s make sure they stay as a permanent fixture. Launch them in December, covering all games from 1st January onwards and get them on people’s Christmas lists! Another plus is the reduction in both size, and price, of the matchday magazine. What a fantastic idea. Not only does it give fans almost 25 quid a season back, they don’t lose anything either. The same amount of content, just in a smaller form factor. Let’s see what the Club decide to do with membership for the coming season; we’ve already made our suggestions here
Maybe they will follow our suggestion, or come up with a similar scheme. As long as it’s something that encourages fans to buy tickets for matches, we won’t be complaining.
So we’ve shown how the foundations can be laid to get the crowds back to Elland Road. Will It happen? It’s dependent on several factors, not least the kind of football Leeds United are producing on the pitch. If Brian McDermott can get that right, and GFH can interact with the fans without calling them names and keep introducing the initiatives that they’ve started so promisingly with, then there’s really no reason why not. It might not be a sudden spike; we might see the average start to creep up towards 23,000, then 24,000, and slowly go from there. It might even taken a season or two for the numbers to start getting back to where we think they should be. We’ve made a good start, but there’s still work to be done, by all of us. By the Club, to encourage as many as possible of us to attend games. By fans, to encourage people who do turn up for the cheap games to come again. Most importantly, by Leeds United, to play the kind of football that we ALL want to pay money to see.
Reporter – Ian Wylie