Michael Bailey: The swings and roundabouts of Norwich City’s new membership scheme
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It’s a significant change to how supporters will follow Norwich City in the Premier League next season – Michael Bailey assesses the Canaries’ new membership plans.
Norwich City could do no wrong last season, both on and off the pitch. The haze is still hanging over the football club now during the close season, as the transfer talk rumbles through the sunny haze - or in reality, drizzle.
Thursday morning sees the Premier League fixtures flop through our digital letterboxes - along with the stark reality of the jump Norwich City are making and the deep waters they have re-entered.
That goes for the football but also everything around it. Demand for tickets. Manchester United fans rising in the Barclay to celebrate a goal scored against their hosts. And of course the general perception that football clubs, especially those among English's elite division, will never stop wanting more money.
So here we are. Norwich City have spent considerable time working out a revamped membership scheme to match what they see at other clubs - and of course now, Premier League comparisons are fully justified.
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The move to cap home casual tickets to £30 is a deserved headline-grabber. Only Huddersfield did it last season in the top flight - also the only side to scrap pricing games on the basis of who they were playing.
Meanwhile the rest of the Premier League just about managed to agree to an extension of the cap for away supporters, while five clubs' most expensive standard adult home seat fitted somewhere between £75-£97.
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The fact Norwich City have opted to follow Town's lead - £30 for a casual general admittance ticket whether it's Liverpool, Tottenham, Bournemouth or Burnley on the scoreboard - is a stark departure from how City were doing things the last time they were at the top table. It's fair too - providing the right people get access to the tickets.
Which is where City's new memberships come in.
There is no denying a higher initial outlay awaits if a parent and child want to become members - £35 per standard junior or adult membership, or £50 for the higher priority premier. Last season a junior cost £20.
City know that junior price is on the high side - but at a time when ticket demand will be considerable, the club clearly has the appetite to stop people taking advantage of junior memberships as a cheap way to access adult tickets, which happens more than you'd imagine.
Therefore supporters will no doubt sit down and work out if the benefits - and there are a fair few that come in addition to ticket access - make that outlay worth it.
"I think at Carrow Road and away from home we've seen phenomenal support but equally we've got that level of demands that sometimes outstrips the supply we have - and we know that if you're not part of that membership scheme, we think you will probably struggle (to get tickets)," said City's chief operating officer Ben Kensell - prompting the perennial question over Carrow Road's capacity.
"I think when you first get promoted you are always going to have that question placed over your head. Carrow Road is a great stadium and I think we need to review and assess any movements to increase the capacity.
"For the time being, I think the necessity is to bring players in and ensure our books are balanced - but it's not something we would never do in the future and we've always said it's got to be reviewed on an annual basis.
"There's certainly a master plan that we are going to start to work on - it wouldn't be right if we didn't - and it will certainly be part of that."
It may be away from Carrow Road that Norwich City's new membership scheme will be most keenly felt.
A new away membership means no more holding on to old ticket stubs or counting up points earned from buying away tickets. Incidentally, a season ticket holder earned 1,000 points automatically - it would take 20 away games for a travelling fan to match those points. It's a slight decrease in the ubiquitous benefits of having a guaranteed seat at Carrow Road.
City's fans consultation and feedback led to those who have committed to all manner of away games in the past, being given the chance to keep their place at the front of the queue - albeit only if they buy a premier membership.
"In the consultation there were a lot of interesting points that came up around fairness, of those that have been to a lot of the away games last year - and there is effectively a group that have been to practically all of them," said Kensell. "So we've created a priority window for them.
"We think we've got the scheme right - but equally it will be up to the fans to make that decision."
You can't please everyone all of the time of course, and there's no doubt such changes will bring about some keenly felt reaction - especially for those who will feel their support of Norwich City is about to cost them more of their hard-earned cash.
On the flip side, picking through the bones of it leaves a scheme that should ensure tickets for Norwich City supporters to watch their side play in the Premier League next season, end up in the hands of who they are meant for.
After the haze of last season and a euphoric return to English football's much-heralded promised land, City's own brave new world has made its first steps into the Premier League minefield - and as always, the proof will be in the fans' experience of the pudding.
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