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Our Approach To Ticketing And The Financial Implications

We wanted to provide you with an update on how we are approaching ticketing for the start of the season, given the restrictions in place which limit crowd sizes to 300. The purpose of this note is not simply to tell you what we’ve decided but to provide you with a breakdown of the financial, technological and practical barriers we’ve been faced with, including those which we believe we can overcome and those which we will just have to live with for the time being.

Please remember we have a surplus of funds which builds up outside the football club revenue through Shakers Community membership fees and donations. This increases as our membership numbers grow, and should provide us with in excess of £60,000 per annum which the football club can draw on should this be required. However, we want to avoid dipping into those cash reserves where possible.

We know we will not be able to provide a perfect solution for everyone, but we do want to strike a balance between fairness, inclusivity and the commercial reality of running a football club with a quarter of the fans we expected to attend.

Matchday revenue, and in particular ticket sales, is the most significant part of our income. In a ‘normal’ year, and our first year in some regards will be exceptional as the attention our inaugural season will drive additional funds through sponsorship and shirt sales, we forecast this year’s revenue at £192,000. Our financial year ends on 30th June. We are already well ahead of budget on non-matchday income) such as sponsorship and merchandise sales. We also know we will lose some smaller sources of revenue from matchday catering and hospitality.

We assumed, in a non Covid-19 world, we would have an average gate of 1,200. We had originally built our financial model around 1,000 but shirt sales and interest generally have been so high we increased this by 200. We broke this down as roughly 800 season ticket holders (a combination of adults, children and family season tickets) and 400 tickets on the gate. The adult prices were £125 for season tickets and £10 on the gate, total revenue of around £140,000 net of VAT for the season. When Covid-19 capacity limits became likely, but with little being known, we re-modelled the entire finances of the club based on a 600 capacity.

600 Capacity Limit

600 tickets meant we quickly revised our assumptions to 600 single tickets sold online, in advance, at £10 for adults and £5 for children. We wanted to offer under 5s for free but felt the financial burden was too much until capacity limits increased, so left this at £5. With 500 adults and 100 children this would be £4,583 net of VAT per matchday, so £87,000 for 19 home league games. We have excluded Cup games from these figures.

We reduced our costs for match days in a number of areas, primarily on external support for stewarding given the reduced crowd numbers. We felt external support was advisable for this given our limited experience and the risk of much greater costs should the police wish to get involved if crowds were not successfully managed. We can break even for the season at 600 tickets without needing to draw on membership subscriptions paid into the Shakers Community.

300 Capacity Limit

The rationale provided by DCMS for a 300 capacity was a surprise to us, and we believe goes against logic given Radcliffe FC’s capacity of 600. However, as it suits all but 17 clubs in Steps 1-6, our individual circumstances were overlooked in the interests of administrative simplicity. The limit is due for review in October so there is an opportunity for this to increase, at least to the 600 we had budgeted for, but as infection rates and local lockdowns increase throughout the North West, we believe it is unwise to plan for anything other than a 300 capacity. There is, of course, the possibility that no fans will be able to attend. It was confirmed this week that the season will start with crowd attendances of 300, but we know how fast these things can change.

So how do we make £87,000 from 300 tickets? There are few further areas we can now cut costs, so we need to focus on revenue.

One simple answer is to double ticket prices. We have to accept that in the current environment we are unable to drive ticket prices down and at the same time run a sustainable club. We know £10 is above the average gate price for Step 6 already and £20 would be regarded as excessive. Whilst we probably have 300 fans who would pay £20 to attend, we don’t want to charge that price per ticket.

Season tickets are a great way to generate revenue ahead of the season, although we aren’t in desperate need of capital right now and issuing 300 season tickets means that we would be locking everyone without a season ticket out of the ground for an indefinite period. We are keen to give as many people a chance to attend a game as possible.

Streaming

Online streaming is a key part of our solution. It allows us to generate revenue and at the same time expand our audience to include fans who can’t normally attend due to location or personal circumstances.  We’ve been streaming to various countries during our tests and Roch Valley Radio now has an international audience for live matches.

We will invest around £7,000 in total over the next 12 months, in a combination of one-off and monthly expenditure, to make sure that the connectivity, equipment and software we need are in place to make this work at a level we can justifiably charge for the stream. We do believe we can deliver a workable, if not as reliable, solution for some away games, not just home games.

There is one regulatory complication with live streaming in that UEFA article 48 prohibits live streaming at 3pm on a Saturday. This rule was suspended when Covid-19 stopped football crowds attending throughout Europe and remains suspended. We cannot guarantee it will stay that way indefinitely, but it is unlikely that the rule will return until crowds revert to close to capacity. We do have video on demand which we could use to post a full game at 5.15pm each Saturday. Whilst we could try to re-arrange kick off times away from 3pm on a Saturday, we understand this is likely to be met with resistance by away teams who are unable to accommodate changes given the other work commitment their players will have. This is understandable and the away team has to agree to any change.

We believe that the best and most flexible solution is to create a monthly subscription service, Bury AFC TV, which incorporates:

  • All home games live
  • All away games live, where possible, and via video on demand to watch after the game if connectivity is not good enough to broadcast live
  • Covers Cup as well as League games
  • Interviews with manager and players
  • Online events, interviews and discussions about Bury AFC and football and community events in Bury generally

Summary

The board do not currently believe that it is advisable:

  1. To charge £20 per ticket as this is too much for some fans
  2. To sell season tickets only as this will exclude too many fans from attending

Our preferred approach is to:

  1. Offer 300 individual tickets for each home game whilst the capacity is limited to 300 and increase numbers if allowed. This will give us £2,292 (assuming 250 adults and 50 children) against our target of £4,583 per match or £43,500 for the season.
  2. Give members priority, but try to give all members an opportunity to purchase tickets by issuing an email with a link to buy up to 2 adult and 2 child tickets for 2 different games, then offering more games on a rotation basis. This is to encourage as many different fans to attend games as possible, if they want to. Some fans may still be able to buy tickets for all games if they don’t sell out too quickly. Games are subject to change in October in particular so, again, we will have to be flexible.
  3. Release part season tickets once we know capacity limits are increased. We will review this at 600, and almost certainly release part season tickets at 800.
  4. Offer a Bury AFC TV subscription at £12.99 plus VAT per month or £100 plus VAT for the season to end May, which will go some way to closing the shortfall in revenue until crowd sizes increase. We would need 435 people buying a subscription to end May to completely cover that shortfall.
  5. Utilise the membership revenue from the Shakers Community to provide the necessary funds to close any revenue gap as required during this time.

We are inviting Shaker Community members to feedback on this proposal by using the voting button on the website. This is an advisory vote only, as due to the constantly changing guidelines, we will need to adapt quickly to new situations, so are unable to stick to one fixed decision. For this reason, we are asking members to vote on overall confidence in our approach.

In the same vote, we are also asking for members to apply to be entered into a ballot for tickets for our FA Vase fixture on 19th September away to West Didsbury and Chorlton. Only members may apply but each ballot winner will be allowed to purchase two tickets (two adults or one adult and one child). We are awaiting ticket numbers and prices, but we do not expect many tickets to be allocated to us. Please do not enter unless you are certain you will purchase and attend.

Despite the challenges, there are some real positives we can take from the current situation:

  1. Our ultimate aim is to run a sustainable club. Many businesses run stress tests based on simulated scenarios to see if their business would survive a major economic downturn. We are working our way through a real-life situation, and we will come out of it the other end. Many won’t. We have been able to adapt the club to operate on a much leaner model. We will cope again if this happens in the future, as it might.
  2. Our volunteers have been able to grow in confidence as we’ve scaled up crowd numbers and gained experience by responding to issues at a manageable level. It has given us a number of practice runs at managing match day with very little risk involved. The learning experience has been invaluable.
  3. We are probably two or three years ahead of where we wanted to be in certain areas of the club: electronic voting, digital ticketing, live streaming and video on demand are up and running and whilst they were always part of the plan, we might not be so progressed with these had Covid-19 not forced our hand.

There are also other elements of the wider club which Covid-19 has unquestionably set back.

  1. Inclusion is much harder. We are severely limited in terms of what we can do for disabled supporters and a digital ticketing solution is a necessity but excludes those without the necessary technology. We had to turn away two older supporters who turned up to the match on spec recently as they didn’t realise they couldn’t pay on the door. It broke our hearts and we are working on ways to address this. However, we should acknowledge that we aren’t where we would like to be when catering for fans with specific needs and Covid-19 has set us back in this regard. Please don’t think we don’t acknowledge this or want to do better.
  2. Community events have been impossible to organise. We have a number of social events we would have rolled out over the spring and summer which we have not been able to deliver. Whilst we could do some online, we chose to put our energy into organising the football club for the start of the season and tackling live streaming and the like. What we can say is that the Bury AFC players are itching to get out to meet you. Many have come to play for less money, in a lower division, because they want to see you cheer them on. They want to get closer to the fans outside matchday and if you have specific ideas or events where you feel they could help by attending, just let us know.

We know this is a long and detailed note but wanted to share as much as possible with you. This is your club, and your money is funding it through these times.

Please use the button below to leave your advisory vote and enter the ballot for West Didsbury tickets.

Voting and ballot entry has now closed. Vote results below. 360 votes were cast.

Do you agree with the board's overall approach to ticketing during Covid-19 restrictions?