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Sporting administrators must do more for the paying spectator
Joel Lamy believes those at the top of the game need to start treating fans much better if they are not to lose them in the future...
We love a good moan in Britain and we love discussing the weather, but whilst we can do little about the constant rain and its effects on sporting schedules, there is still much to change with regards to how sporting administrators treat the punters who always brave the rain.
Followers of cricket such as myself get excited by the summer schedule which takes place in this country every year, but it appears we cannot get through the calendar without controversy rearing its head over the issue of bad light. Previously, we had the rule where the umpires would offer the light to the batsmen and depending on the match situation, they would decide whether to take it or not. Now the decision has been left in the hands of the umpires themselves, but this has had the negative effect of the men in white coats taking the players off when play is still possible. Anybody who follows the game on TV or radio will be inundated with complaints from former players who know (as do the spectators) that the players should still be out on the pitch. Farcically, players will go off for an extended period of time and then return with the light appearing to be in a similar state as before.
The Ashes are taking place here next year and for those in Durham who want to watch the first ever Test match against Australia at the County Ground, it will cost you £80. Under ECB policy, a full refund is entitled if only 10 overs are bowled. However, one more delivery means a refund will only be 50% of the ticket value. So if in 2013, day one at Durham, only 61 deliveries are bowled – which would take less than an hour - the paying spectators will be charged £40 for the privilege. That’s not including the £1 administration charge for processing your refund. Charming.
Cricket has been blighted by slow over-rates, going off for bad light when it is not dangerous, and playing on poor pitches which ruin the spectacle. A cursory glance at a Test match on TV not in England will show thousands of empty seats. Test cricket has a unique set of followers, a rare breed who unlike most others can appreciate the idiosyncratic nature of five-day matches which can end in a draw. Once they start to drop away then the future of the ultimate format of the game will start to come into doubt.
However, a recent example has shown that cricket’s problem with its supporters is not just related to international matches. Recently, I went with a friend to watch Warwickshire v. Somerset in a Twenty20 match at Edgbaston, a game we had been looking forward to for a while. To our annoyance, only six overs were bowled due to rain, which meant that the game had to be abandoned. Despite paying £15 for her ticket, we were told that no refund would be available. Instead, the ticket could be used for one of two forthcoming matches but as she will not be around for either, it feels like money wasted, not to mention the time put into organising the trip and then walking to and from the ground on the day. With county cricket mired in so much debt it is a sad state of affairs.
In fairness to Warwickshire, a cursory glance around many countywebsitesshow similar policies, with Yorkshire’s website stating: Please note that under no circumstances will a monetary refund be given. Considering they are £19 million in debt this is hardly the way to encourage people to come to the ground.
For all the problems which have encompassed cricket (and other sports) recently, there are still some examples of clubs trying to encourage new members: Leicestershire in 2004 offered six lucky fans the chance to win the ‘best seat in the house’ where they would be placed on the boundary rope and given pizza and beer to enjoy the entertainment.
Living in Nottingham has put me in close proximity to Trent Bridge where I have been a member since 2004. The cheap price of membership has persuaded me to continue renewing mine even when I know I will have few chances to visit over the summer. This year, too, under-21 tickets for all international matches were £20. Having been to watch the England v. West Indies Twenty20 there last Sunday I can confirm that it was a great bargain.
Also in Nottingham, I have been impressed by the Kids for a Quid initiative at Nottingham Forest, which sees under-16s admitted for £1. Mansfield Town in 2010 had a match against Gateshead where fans could pay what they want. The attendance that day was more than double their home average for that season at over 7,000.
Football is a sport where some supporters are fleeced much more readily than others. An adult season ticket at Arsenal begins at £985 which includes seven cup matches. British tennis player James Ward was on the verge of letting his go until his recent first-round win at Wimbledon meant that he could afford one for 2012-13. QPR’s past owners raised season ticket prices by 40% when promoted to the Premier League in 2011, with the cheapest adult ticket being £47, although Tony Fernandes reduced match-day prices when he took over and gave season ticket holders a £50 voucher for the club shop.
Sport is suffering under the recession as shown by the high number of football clubs which have sunk into administration. What would help is if administrators inside the clubs and higher up stop treating fans as cash cows and realise that their very futures depend on them continually returning game after game.