Friday, January 18, 2008

Attn: Tim Dellor re: match tickets

On Friday's Sportsweek you said it was nearly impossible to get tickets for Reading games.

That isn't actually true. I'm not a season ticket holder and yet I've got in, with a good seat, for every home game this season barring Liverpool in the League (and that was because my sister wanted to watch the game on TV). I always buy tickets online (click Tickets, then Online Ticketing on the official website).

Quick review for season ticket holders: for Premier League games, the away supporters have the east half of the South Stand, blocks R27, R28 and R29. That's around 2,500 seats. The other half, next to the West Stand, blocks R30, R31 and R32 are available to non-season-ticket-holders - again around 2,500 seats. There are no season tickets sold in this area.

Last season when tickets initially went on sale for a game, only these three blocks were available. This season, seats are also offered in the south corners of the East and Lower West stands (Y26 and G3). When most seats are sold or there are a few days left to the fixture, the remaining seats in the rest of the stadium are made available. I do prefer sitting in the East stand as the view of the north goal from the South Stand is poor - can be very hard to see what's happened - but I'm not prepared to wait for seats there to open up.

To ration demand for both home and away tickets, the club operate a points system - the more games you go to, the more points you earn, and the earlier you can buy tickets. The least attractive home games ('Silver') earn 15 points, the middle category ('Gold') 10 and the most attractive ('Platinum') 5. Away games bought through the club earn 5 points. The Silver games cost £28, Gold £32 and Platinum £35 for an adult (Upper West costs £2 more).

The only other block generally available is the south-west upper corner, which is reserved for the 106 Club, a hospitality package normally costing £125 - £200 plus VAT per head in £25 steps depending on the attractiveness of the opposition (there's an extra step, Diamond, compared to the general tickets).

Having over 250 points means I can buy a day or two after home tickets go on sale. However, my sister and my friend that I've been with before have fewer than 50 so I'd have to wait several days more to buy and potentially miss out or get worse seats. Bringing a friend is a real consideration for some semi-regular fans.

Today's fixture against Manchester United sold out in 17 days judging from the official website announcement that tickets would go on sale at 6pm on 3rd December, and a later announcement on 20 December that tickets were sold out. I'm not going, because I missed the initial announcement and it was sold out before I discovered they were on sale. However, tickets for the next home games against Bolton and Villa are still available several weeks after going on sale, and now only require the purchase of a member card (reduced to £2, normally £10). In my normal block R30 the online site is offering seat AA 151, which is near half-way back (South Stand rows are lettered from A to Z then AA to KK) and near the invisible boundary with R31, somewhere between the 6 and 18 yard lines. That's still a pretty good seat, though not as good as row W near the middle of the goal (sadly nearer the away support though!)

Why bother telling you all this? There are a few regular posters on HobNob arguing that the expansion would be a waste of money due to falling demand, and using slow sell-outs and low attendances (even where the low attendance is due to few away supporters attending) as 'evidence'. I think the latent demand's there but a lot of people who would come think that they can't possibly get a seat, which isn't true. I thought that in the promotion season and early last season, which is why my first game in several years was the match against Everton in December 2006 - I was a very occasional visitor if someone else arranged it before that.

For Tuesday's FA Cup replay I went straight on the website on the Monday after the first fixture, and got a seat in Y24 in the East stand, about 1/4 of the way down the pitch towards the south end. That was before the season ticket holders' seats were released on Wednesday evening.

For that game, we had to give the whole South stand to Spurs, as the FA requires that up to 15% of the capacity is given to the away supporters, more than the 10% required by the Premier League, and the segregation arrangements only allow us to offer half or the whole of the South Stand - it's not flexible like other clubs. Clubs with more than 30,000 capacity only have to offer 3,000 to away fans for Premier League fixtures, but we rarely take the full allocation. Occasionally a mixup occurs, such as against Birmingham where it's believed that when the original allocation was sold quite early and Reading asked for more tickets, Birmingham had already started selling the adjoining blocks to their own fans, so couldn't give us any more seats.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mind the rug

What’s the risk of Sky and Setanta pulling the rug from under the Premier League clubs, a la ITV Digital? Can £1.3bn for the UK TV rights be sustainable, even for the deep pockets of Sky? Can Setanta possibly get enough subscribers to afford £400m? Personally, I doubt it.

The TV money makes up the lion’s share of the clubs’ revenue. Borrowing money from millionaire billionaire owners is unsustainable in the long run – unless they’re really fans of the club (and few are) they eventually want a return on their investment. Of course appreciation of the asset is one way to get a return, but it’s risky – I’d say investing in a football club is far more risky than penny shares!

With all the money floating around, why have Reading not spent enormous amounts like their counterparts? After all, if the TV companies pay up, there should be a minimum of £50m available.

This club’s management has been here before. In May 2002, when ITV Digital went belly-up, Reading were in Division 2 (now called ‘League 1’).

Of the 20 current Premier League clubs, 15 were in the Premier League in 2001/2. The five that weren’t are Birmingham City, Manchester City, Portsmouth, ourselves, and Wigan Athletic. Of those Birmingham and Man City went up that year (and City were already receiving parachute payments). Only Portsmouth, ourselves and Wigan experienced the sudden unexpected hardship of not receiving expected TV rights payments. Of those three clubs, ourselves and Wigan are the only ones with the same club management.

I think Reading’s relative lack of spending can be attributed to several causes: an unwillingness to spend unearned income (prize money is only awarded at the end of the season), an unwillingness to spend money earmarked for the stadium development (the stadium already has two loans secured on it, one from HSBC and one from Scottish & Newcastle, i.e. Courage brewery) and simply that the current club management don’t think they’re getting value for money.

We’ll have the last laugh if someone tugs on the rug.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

A football autobiography

Hi. I'm a Reading FC fan.

I've lived in Reading virtually my whole life - my parents moved here when I was two - apart from my five years at University. My family haven't traditionally been sports fans at all - well, apart from the University Boat Race since my Dad went to Cambridge and my Mum was born there. I recall having a Mexico '86 sticker album, and watching England's semi-final against Germany in Italia '90, but wasn't really aware of club football at the time. I didn't even really follow the national team until the Euro '96 tournament, which was pretty hard to avoid! Still, it didn't really inspire me to follow football as a sport.

Some of my old school friends were keener, though. By this time I was attending Aston University in Birmingham, but in one trip home I recall attending, with them, one of the last (I don't think it was the last) home games at Elm Park, in 1998. Honestly, I couldn't tell you who the opponents were that day, nor the result (though I have a feeling that Reading lost). I think we also watched one of the first games at the Mad Stad.

Over the next few years, I started to get more interested in both football in general, and in Reading's performances in general, watching the occasional game with my friend Dave. On one of these occasions I bought an away shirt - I don't recall which year, but it's one of the 'Kit@' designs, with Westcoast sponsorship, in a lovely deep salmon pink with a collar. I've worn it from time to time when playing (very) casual football.

I really started to follow the performance of the team week-to-week a few years ago - reading match reports in the papers. Then last year I listened to most of the live commentary on BBC Radio Berkshire, watching some games on TV with Dave. I thought about going to games but didn't really get around to it - and besides, the stadium was starting to sell out! Still, I was ecstatic when we got promoted, and then the championship, and right up to the end of the season.

This season I've barely missed any radio commentary, and whenever possible I've watched matches in the Prince of Wales pub (just round the corner from me). Finally, a few weeks ago, my sister was over for Christmas and we decided to catch a few games in person. The first, against Everton, was a disappointing 0-2 loss, although from our prime viewing position in Row D behind the South end goal, we were certain Seol was fouled and should have had a free kick right on the edge of the box. The second was the incredible 6-0 win over West Ham on New Year's Day. Since then I've not missed a home game, being there for the visit of Burnley in the FA Cup (both the called-off mud bath on the Saturday and the rescheduled match on the Tuesday), Sheffield United, and Tuesday's win over Wigan.

As for the blog name, it's an allusion to the club's badge, which features the Maiwand Lion in the town's Forbury Gardens, and a crown, which symbolises the team's nickname "The Royals".

Next up: Villa at home on Saturday, which has a slight resonance with my University days! I'll be there - in R30 again. See you there?