With the English Premier League having struck up a new £5billion deal that will see matches continue to be broadcast on Sky and BT Sports, it’s now more imperative than ever that Scottish football ensures its fans are put first or it may run the risk of losing them altogether. Improving the overall experience for football fans when they go to matches in Scotland is vital, and making attending more affordable to the average fan is one method of doing so.

Football Turnstile

The notion of pay what you can isn’t all that new. As is so often the case with football, it has been slow to adopt different or new techniques and ways of marketing the game to fans.

The price paid for a particular good or service is very often the single most important factor in a consumers decision-making process. There is often a limit as to what consumers will tolerate in regards to the price they are willing to pay, and I believe it is this that has led to the emergence of pay what you can initiatives in football. Particularly so in Scottish football.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle became the first top flight club in the country to offer a pay what you can initiative for their January home match on a Tuesday night against St. Johnstone. Inverness fans also benefited from Hamilton charging just 10p to get in to their match against the highland side just days later plus Dundee United making it £5 to attend their rescheduled match played in February.

Fans are asking the question, ‘is this devaluing the product?’ However, on the flip side of that, it could be argued that the Scottish football product is over-valued as it is. Prices from the top to bottom of the Scottish Premiership currently range between around £20-£30 for a standard adult admission. I spoke with Inverness fan, Dave MacRae, who thinks that ‘you’d be hard pushed to find anyone that honestly thinks a single game of Scottish football is actually worth £20+’.

Some argued that not charging fans the full price to get into matches is a negative thing, rather than a positive. An act of desperation has been mentioned. The sustainability of the initiative has been questioned, and quite rightly. Offering fans to pay what they can will put a dent into the clubs finances, which in Scottish clubs cases, are already tight as it is. Dave MacRae thinks that chairmen could up their attendances tomorrow ‘but ultimately they’re not prepared to risk making an overall loss in revenue’. Are the decision makers in our game risk-takers? ‘Do they want to solely focus on short term revenue to ‘compete’ or do they want to fill stadiums and work on enticing new fans to games?’ asks ICT fan, Dave.

Giving fans the option to ‘pay what you can’ could also alienate the fans that have already paid for their season tickets. However, my argument to that would be the fans that purchase season tickets are regarded as the ‘hardcore’ fans. These are the fans that are most passionate about the club in the first place, and I would imagine that even though their ticket for the match is already secured through their season ticket, they’ll most probably pay into the match again. They will want to come across as helping the cause, doing their bit for the club. Pay what you can initiatives appeal to the charitable side of fans.

Another Scottish club, Albion Rovers, have experimented with pay what you can initiatives over the last couple of seasons, and this season they offered the initiative for their season tickets, with a minimum cost of £10. In a ‘normal’ season the club sells approximately 100 season tickets. After the pay what you can offer had ended, the club had sold 620 season tickets. In the true spirit of charity, 40% of the season tickets sold were said to be ‘donations’ with some being sold to fans as far and wide as Australia and Singapore.

Both initiatives from the SPFL clubs seemed to have a degree of success. Just over 3,100 fans watched the home side win 2-0 at the Caledonian Stadium, not bad at all for a freezing Tuesday night up in Inverness. Compare that January weather to the warmth of a cinema, or even your own living room. Not for the faint-hearted. Hamilton’s average attendance so far this season has been just over 3,000, however their 10p initiative drew a crowd of over 5,000. Both initiatives were very timely. The month of January is a tough one for fans, Christmas has taken its toll on bank accounts. The opportunity to not pay over the odds to watch my club is one that I certainly wouldn’t pass up.

We’ve seen that such initiatives can have a positive impact on match attendance, does it have a real impact on the fans though? It’s the grudge match between short and long term. In the short term, alongside the increased attendance the clubs also gain more coverage in the media. Free advertising is the trade-off for the expected loss of income. While some fans will choose to be charitable, others will pay the minimum entry fee. Long term, the clubs hope that the casual fans attracted by the low price will enjoy their experience and attend more regularly. The ultimate aim is that they might eventually purchase a season ticket.

Albion Rovers specified from the start that their initiative wasn’t to generate a small spike in income, it was to grow their core support, particularly focusing on attracting new and younger fans. This resonates with Inverness also, with the club only being formed in 1994, targeting the next generation of fans is key to ensure the Caledonian Stadium is as full as possible. Inverness manager, John Hughes, underlined this before the pay what you can match:
“I’m a great believer that once a kid comes to a game and gets the bug, they will want to come all the time.
That’s what we are trying to do with this incentive – to make sure these young ones’ first game of football is a great experience.
And then who knows, they still might be here when they are 65.”
Pay what you can initiatives can be very successful, if the success criteria has been outlined beforehand. It gets people through the gates and their bums on seats. Thereafter, it’s all down to the club and the players on the pitch to ensure they do as much as possible to ensure these people keep on coming back and turn into fans.