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Time for Sponsorship of Match Tickets and Travel in Scottish Football?

Date: 20th August 2016

A few weeks ago our Networking Officer Damon Main looked at the possibility of subsidized train travel for supporters and the return of train specials. In another article Damon takes a look an another initiative that may well get people buying more match tickets and poses the question whether this is something Scottish clubs may also want to explore.


Despite Scottish football charging match day prices far ahead of what fans pay in Germany and France (not to mention putting up with extreme weather conditions come winter, spring and sometimes summer) it is highly unlikely that the costs of match tickets across the landscape of Scottish football will be capped anytime soon. Certain eyebrows were raised at the cost of entry for Betfred League Cup Group stage ties during the summer. Some group games during a peak holiday period were costing fans £12. Moreover, with the SPFL season kick starting in early August some equally eye watering pricing strategies can be seen across clubs.

Everyone knows that football watching can be an incredibly expensive business. But for many people of all ages the regular game on a Saturday can be one of the highlights of a working week. Amazingly despite huge distances and juggling jobs and family many fans manage to gather the cash to travel, buy a ticket and watch a team even when times are economically tough. As eleven men in colors run out of a tunnel at 3pm on a Saturday many of those watching on in matching replica shirts will have ventured from near, far and wide by bus, car or train just to see 90 minutes of football.

Clubs and sponsors alike do have a regular loyal customer base at football clubs that they can tap into and use for advertising purposes.

Given the expense if not the ‘ever rising’ cost of football watching in Scotland, supporters up and down the country from Dingwall to Berwick Upon Tweed could do with that little bit of help with the cost of match tickets. And with Scottish clubs and their corporate partner brands in this new age of social media ever again to find some sort of engagement with supporters perhaps the time has come for some companies to embark upon a sponsored tickets approach like that happening at Southampton FC.

On the English coast Virgin Media has shaken up leaders BT Sport and Sky with a so called fan focused sponsorship model designed to benefit travelling football supporters home and away. The media brand better known as the brainchild of magnate Richard Branson has chosen to subsidize the ticket price for every away fan that travels to the St Mary’s Stadium the current home of Southampton FC. This initiative comes as part of the company’s shirt sponsorship of Southampton Football Club for the 2016/17 Premier League season and sees travelling fans tickets capped at only £20.

The initiative essentially stems from a partnership Virgin Media has with the FSF (Football Supporters Federation) and follows on from the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign of last season which pushed for a £20 league wide cap on ticket costs. But the initiative is also part of a wider ‘putting fans at the heart of the game’ strategy by Virgin Media, a strategy which follows on from a similar Barclays #Youarefootball ‘thank you’ advertising approach the bank embarked upon during the previous league season.

Essentially Virgin Media hope the approach will help the company force its brand into the minds of football fans and make inroads into newer prominent sponsors of the English game (EA Sports) and challenge the ever increasingly football market domination of rivals Sky and BT Sport.

With Virgin Media now the main shirt sponsor of Southampton FC the initiative naturally also targets fans of the south coast club as well. The company announced plans to provide free coaches for fans to a Friday game against Manchester United at Old Trafford and further joint fan/sponsor initiatives have also been announced as the season progresses.

Certainly the landscape of Scottish football is not immune to sponsorship and recent years have seen a variety of new partnerships come to the fore. Sport Scotland and Tesco Bank are partners with respect to school and youth football while the Bank of Scotland have partnered the Midnight League concept.  The Parks Motor Group meanwhile are a notable partner for the Scottish FA providing transport for the national football teams.

Fingers were pointed at the ethics of Scottish football’s two largest clubs utilizing online betting companies as the main shirt sponsors just as equally angry fingers were pointed when alcoholic brands were used. Both Dafabet at Celtic and 32Red at Rangers have signed lucrative deals with the respective Glasgow clubs and with these moves have laid down a challenge to market leaders William Hill and Ladbrokes. It’s very likely it is these gambling brands and logos that fans will see when either a shirt or match ticket is purchased and the benefits of such sponsorship deals cannot be underestimated.

According to research conducted by a leading sporting intelligence organization some of the figures pumped into clubs in England from sponsors are staggering with all the top flight clubs earning over £200m in sponsorship and it’s the top brands (like Rangers and Celtic) who earn the most due to the amount of shirts sold. But there is a huge divide in the share of sponsorship with the larger sides able to command up to £40m a season and smaller clubs like Bournemouth lucky if they can attract £1m.

Likewise, the same exists in Scotland and many of the current shirt sponsors have a far lower profile than Virgin Media, Dafabet or 32Red. Many clubs (Hearts) have embarked upon deals with a more ethical focus such as with Save the Children.

At the top of the game in Scotland SPFL chief-executive Neil Doncaster has said that the findings of a BBC Price of Football study show evidence that Scottish clubs “continue to invest significant time, money and effort in making the game as affordable and attractive as possible to fans”.

That statement came off the back of findings which showed that the cheapest adult match-day tickets in the Scottish Premiership stand at an average cost of £20.37. Far less than at any club in the top three English leagues.

Looking across the whole of the United Kingdom Scottish football seems to be leading the way in the in terms of good value tickets at least when compared to other notable leagues. Even in League One in England it’s possible to pay £22 for the average adult ticket.  But weekly we see seats unoccupied at Scottish stadiums and the clubs themselves know that there is no profit whatsoever in empty seats.

Each SPFL club holds its shirt sponsor up as an example of its ability to ‘partner’. Each sponsor has rivals and competitors that is seeks to better.

Isn’t time that many of the replica shirt brands we see in Scotland followed on from the example of Virgin Media and put some time and effort into a new set of match ticket initiatives? If clubs like Inverness Caley Thistle, St Johnstone, Kilmarnock are serious about attracting new fans and increasing dwindling match day attendances such partnerships need to be explored.

While those that run the game in Scotland continue to wax lyrical at the number of people per head of population that follow football in Scotland and about the theatre of the Old Firm game there are a great many top flight clubs who struggle to mobilize sizeable home and away followings.

Naturally, both Celtic and Rangers do not have much trouble attracting supporters to home or away matches and it’s often the SPFL and SFA who recommend entry prices at the turnstile. Eyebrows have also been raised at the rising costs of match tickets for old firm games with £50 tickets on the radar.

Perhaps some of those organizations acting as the shirt sponsors of SPFL clubs could mirror the Virgin Media model in terms of match ticket sponsorship as the current season gets into gear – fans cannot be taken for granted even at the Scottish games biggest clubs.


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