Season-ticket sales on slide

CHRIS WISE Norwich City are steeling themselves for a significant drop in season ticket sales as the deadline for the cheapest renewal prices approaches.


Norwich City are steeling themselves for a significant drop in season ticket sales as the deadline for the cheapest renewal prices approaches.

Supporters have until close of business on Saturday to get the best possible deal for the 2006-7 campaign - and so far 8804 of them have booked their seats, a drop of nearly 1000 on the same stage of last season.

With a good proportion of fans always choosing to leave it to the very last minute before committing their cash, the Canaries are expecting thousands of applications to come in over the next few days - but they are unlikely to make up the shortfall before deadline day.

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It's clear that City's disappointing form this season has had an adverse affect on sales, which went through the roof this time last year when an incredible 16,202 fans chose to book their seats early - a rise of nearly 6000 on the previous campaign.

But with over 1500 supporters now on the waiting list for tickets it's certainly not all doom and gloom at Carrow Road - and director of sales and marketing Andrew Cullen believes the club could still have a full complement of 20,096 season ticket holders when the new campaign kicks off in August.

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"We are down on last season at the moment, it's true, but the figures still represent our best-ever first deadline performance in the Championship by a huge margin," he said. "We are almost double where we were in 2002-3. And we are 3670 ahead of where we were in the season when we got promoted to the Premiership.

"When you are involved in sales you are never satisfied until you sell out. But in the circumstances we are reasonably happy with the early figures.

"We recognise it has been a disappointing season, where a lot of supporters' expectations have not been met - and the first season after relegation is always going to be a challenge when you are trying to sell season tickets.

"I wouldn't use the word satisfied, but I am extremely encouraged that people still have a desire to come and watch their football next season.

"I think it shows that a lot of supporters are looking at the broader picture. Yes, performance on the pitch and prospects of promotion are a key determinant - but there are a lot of other reasons why people decide to buy season tickets. We think our prices are very competitive and we have made a big effort to make football affordable for all the family.

"If you go back to another difficult time in recent years, between 1998 and 2001, several years after relegation with no promotion challenge, we actually grew sales from 7000 up to 13,000 - and that was not stimulated by strong performances on the pitch. There are a whole lot of different factors that persuade people to renew - although obviously having a team that is challenging for promotion clearly helps."

As it stands at present City are currently well over 7000 short on last season's first deadline total - but Cullen said people shouldn't read too much into that. He is expecting a mad late rush for the best possible prices, with the club doing their utmost to point fans in the right direction.

"We have worked very hard on focusing all our telemarketing resources on reminding people that the deadline is coming up," he said.

"People have busy lives and this may not be their top priority. It's just a case of reminding them that they can save money by renewing their season ticket early. In the case of someone in the Barclay you are talking about a £26 saving. There are plenty of incentives to renew early and we are hoping as many fans as possible will take advantage of them.

"We would certainly hope to be busy over the next three or four days. If you look at previous trends a lot of supporters tend to renew when deadline day is approaching. In previous seasons we have seen in the region of 4000 or 5000 renewals coming in the final week."

As always some fans will choose not to renew, with a lack of success on the pitch sure to force a significant number to think long and hard before making a decision.

Cullen naturally hopes they will keep the faith - but there are plenty of people waiting in the wings should they decide to spend their money elsewhere, with the season ticket waiting list having grown considerably since being re-opened at the end of last year.

"You will always get people who will not renew for one reason or another. Even when we went up we lost five per cent," he said.

"The most encouraging aspect of where we are at the moment is the fact that 425 new people have joined the list since November. At the latest count 1543 are in there now. I don't want to put a figure on it but a good proportion of those people will be satisfied come the summer."

As for whether existing fans and those on the waiting list will snap up all the season tickets available, Cullen is keeping an open mind - but he certainly hasn't ruled out the possibility of another sell-out.

"It would be marvellous if we got to the maximum figure again," he said. "If you look at the clubs who have come down in recent years the trend is very much a downward one, especially in the second season after relegation. Look at Leeds United. They lost 50 percent of their season ticket holders, while Leicester have also suffered a big downturn in sales. Wolves have been a little bit more successful, but even they have dropped from 21,000 to 18,000.

"I think our figures compare very favourably with those."

Whilst not taking anything for granted, Cullen is proud of the manner in which City's support is holding up in difficult times - and isn't reading too much into the early statistics for next season.

"Projections at the moment suggest we will be down on last season's first deadline day figure," he said. "But we always knew it was going to be a big challenge for us because last season's year's total was an extraordinary number. What I can say with a degree of confidence is that we will be up on the first deadline figure we achieved in 2004 when we went up to the Premiership (10,348).

"I still think the latest totals are morale-boosting for the people who work here. But we know we have still got a long way to go as far as this season ticket campaign is concerned. No one here will be resting on their laurels, you can rest assured of that."

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