7 December ~ It is not just a discouraging seven-point gap from the play-offs that has League Two’s pre-season promotion favourites, Bradford City, already contemplating next season. For the fourth December in a row, the club has put next year’s season tickets on sale as a tantalising self-gift for any Bantams fan. And for as little as £110 an adult or £55 a child, you can sign up early for another ten months of dashed expectations. Since 2007, Bradford have gone against the trend of inflation-busting ticket prices by offering season tickets cheaper than even many of the region’s non-League clubs.
In the 2007-08 season, you could have watched City fail to immediately bounce back from relegation for only £138. It rose slightly to £150 for 2008-09, then £176 last season. This year, City fans are watching their side struggle to make it fourth time lucky in getting promoted for just £184.
For those fans who can afford an extra indulgence on top of the cost of Christmas – or for whom Santa is feeling extra generous – each December Bradford put next year’s season tickets on sale early at further discounted prices (hence the £110 offer for next season). The minimum number of sales needed to make the initiative viable each year is 10,000 – so the more people who buy in the December window (bringing City closer to that 10,000), the cheaper the offer can be when season tickets go back on sale in March.
At a time when even lower-league football is becoming an expensive luxury for many, such efforts in making professional football affordable deserve to be loudly applauded. But Bradford’s continuing failings on the field make this far from the happy story it should be – and cast doubts over how long this economical season ticket philosophy can be upheld for.
The first cheap season ticket season, 2007-08, saw crowds rise from the average 8,739 who watched the Bantams relegated from League One to 13,756; but the subsequent mid-table finish saw the number of renewals decrease. With each year of dashed promotion hopes and League Two mediocrity, the sales have gradually reduced. The average attendance in 2008-09 was 12,704 and it was 11,422 last season. This year crowds are averaging 10,777 – worryingly close to that 10,000 mark. Even with such discounted season tickets, loyalty cannot be bought.
But while a hard core of fans remains to endure familiar frustrations of failed promotion efforts, a difficult dilemma builds for the club. The gradual rises in the cheap season tickets since 2007 have been painless for fans, who continue to pay less to watch their team than any of the other 91 League clubs. Yet if the numbers continue to dwindle and those prices have to be pushed steeper, the mantra of “City till Die” may be sorely tested among those supporters. Patience is already slim following a decade of unprecedented failure.
All of which leaves Bradford desperate for a bit of magic. If success could belatedly occur on the field, the decline in season ticket uptake could be dramatically increased as the UK’s sixth-largest City has a more successful football club to support. Bradford’s season is far from over, and it is very possible that, come next August, fans could be watching the Bantams play League One football having only paid £110.
Promotion could cause a snowball effect in the popularity of Bradford’s season ticket ethos. A few more years of failure could leave the club relying on its hardcore support once more joining the rest of English football fans in grumbling about expensive ticket prices. Jason McKeown