Three of the key ingredients that play a big part in making a successful football club: good players, good support and good financial backing.
Without all three of these ingredients, a club will surely struggle to achieve its goals. Each is somewhat interdependent on the others; a club needs a solid financial setup and investment from fans to afford good players, whilst strong performances from a quality team will attract more fans and thereby boost the club’s funds. The problem for Ipswich Town in recent years has been that at least one of these ingredients – if not all of them – have been missing. And you can’t just trot round to the corner shop for them either.
Town have become entrenched in something of a vicious circle in the past few seasons. Ticket prices have risen beyond most of our Championship rivals, but with two successive mid-table finishes, performances on the pitch have not benefited from a corresponding improvement. That has clearly alienated many fans, with the Blues’ average attendance falling to less than 20,000 this season for the first time since relegation from the Premier League in 2002. The club then announced last week that season ticket sales were down 5% on last year to around 13,000 – not helped by a 6% rise in season ticket prices necessitated by mounting costs off the field.
If Ipswich are not careful, things will only get worse. The club need to win the fans back, but that is only likely to happen if they can make some eye-catching signings this summer, and that will require funds. If they are struggling to manage their outgoings and the supporters are reluctant to gamble their hard-earned salaries on a seat at the risk of seeing their team underachieve for another year, that will impact on Town’s ability to sign influential figures – not to mention that a club in decline is of little appeal to decent players. A classic ‘chicken and egg’ situation if ever there was one.
So what is the solution? Plenty of supporters would call for a cut in ticket prices, and that would probably be sage advice for the club to follow in the not-too-distant future. Whether they can take such a step at this point though is debatable – there is always a need to balance the books, and supporters may need to take a further hit if the club is to successfully build a vision for the future. What is perhaps more important here and now is to get things right on the pitch; whatever the prices are, fans will not feel inclined to attend if their team just carries on losing. Over 29,000 were prepared to pay the rates to see Town take on Norwich City in April, but a 5-1 defeat to our main rivals was not exactly the best way to persuade them to come back…
Perhaps this is where Paul Jewell can play a key role in inspiring the revolution. The new boss has gone some way to reassuring Blues fans that things will be better next year with a fresh approach and improved performances on the whole, but what he does this summer could go much further. Money will need to be spent, but where his predecessors made significant outlays on individuals that never matched their price tags, Jewell’s experience may serve him better in making sure that money is spent more wisely. What’s more, if he can maximise the free transfer market as he has suggested he will, he might be able to strengthen the playing staff without the need to dip into fans’ pockets.
Another good start will also be crucial for Town. With a new regime in place and hopefully a bright season ahead, the first home game of the 2010/11 Championship campaign is likely to enjoy a slightly inflated crowd compared to the recent average. Put on a good show that day and the supporters will be more encouraged to buy their seats for the next outing. If they keep turning up in numbers, the club may be able to reduce the ticket prices, offering something of a self-perpetuating effect.
From there you’d be amazed how things can fall into place – improved attendances would help the atmosphere for the players and boost the club’s kitty which would assist in any transfer activity, especially if it is combined with a lofty early position in the table to reinforce the club’s positive direction. Better players, better performances and results, happier fans, increased attendances, more income, repeat as necessary… a simplified ideal perhaps, but it does happen.
There is a long way to go and this vicious circle cannot be broken overnight, but with a new man at the helm, hopefully the forces of change are already at work at Ipswich. It will be a challenge, but with any luck, maybe Jewell can hatch a ploy to crack this chicken and egg conundrum.
By Darren Campbell
What do you think of the state of Ipswich Town Football Club these days? Are ticket prices a rip-off at Portman Road, or should fans be expected to make the outlay to fund their team’s plans? Do you think Paul Jewell can steer us towards success next season?
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