Catch-22 of Fans Returning
As prophesied on the My Old Man Said Podcast over the past few weeks, with the increasing Covid-19 concerns as we approach the winter months, it was always likely they’d be a U-turn in the recent optimism of fans returning to stadiums. Despite the recent seven test EFL fixtures last weekend, that each hosted 1000 fans, the original date of October 1st for the scaled back return of fans has been scrapped by the government.
The decision at the moment is very much a double edge sword of safety vs the survival of lower league clubs. While Aston Villa maybe ok in terms of their access to Premier League TV rights income, several lower league clubs could be potentially lost if they continue to be stripped of their match day revenue.
The EFL today issued a statement declaring their frustration about not being able to continue their work to get supporters back and emphasising that:
‘Clubs lost £50m last season as a result of playing matches behind closed doors or curtailing the season and stand to lose a further £200m in 2020/21 should we be required to play the whole season without supporters in grounds’.
The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) has written to the government to stress the importance of allowing fans back, after their own positive feedback from fan groups from the EFL’s trial games.
It’s a nuanced debate that has been lost on some media figures, who have weighed up the debate as ‘fans in outdoor stadiums are saver than those watching the same game indoors in a small pub’. Such a thought process is failing to factor in the real issue of why supporters have been prevented from attending games – the issue of their travel footprint and packed public transport, difficulties of social distancing on concourses, around the ground and at turnstiles.
There’s many further issues such as the difficulties in implementing a mass scale track and trace system etc.
While the EFL test games of 1000 fans have been claimed a success, such a small number of fans isn’t a sustainable number for larger clubs to operate and open stadiums up to fans. Plus, all the social distancing and the safety logistics get harder and harder, as the number of fans increase.
While clubs are confident of managing it in their own stadiums, the main concern at government level stems from what happens in terms of traveling to and from the stadium.
There is also the situation that once you declare football stadiums open for business, then other restrictions in society-at-large would be hard to justify (“I can got to a football match, but I can’t visit my neighbour…” in terms of containing Covid-19.
The Prime Minister today, during Prime Minister’s Question Time, did state that there is “Active consolation with clubs to see what we can do” and that they are “looking activity at solutions”.
Some kind of financial bailout for lower league clubs would certainly appease the concern of such club’s futures in the short-term, although ultimately fans will have to return at some point to save them.
Meanwhile, below is an update from Aston Villa on various supporter concerns…
While the Villa Fan Consultation Group haven’t been contacted about supporters returning to Villa Park, the club did undertake a survey which 7,701 fans completed, that helped shape their plans in the foreseeable future. On the day the government announced the cancelation of the October 1st date to roll out the return of supporters, the club released an update that covered season tickets and memberships (see below for full statement).
One of things the survey helped crystalise was the distribution of eventual tickets via ballot.
Aston Villa Ticket Ballot
At this juncture it’s not possible to estimate what the return capacity would be, but the Villa CEO Christian Purslow stated recently on BBC Radio 4, that he is against the principle of 1000 capacity event trials, as it’s largely pointless and ultimately not cost effective in terms of opening up the stadium to fans. It’s a view echoed by most larger stadium clubs.
The idea of the ballot will be to share the allocation of tickets amongst season ticket holders. Fans successful in the ballot would then not be able to attend, until all season ticket holders have had a chance.
In terms of what happens in terms of family members (and other small groups) and if a child season ticket holder wins a ballot, the club has not confirmed how this will work just yet.
⚽ 2020/21 TICKETING INFO ⚽— AVFC Support (@AVFCSupport) September 23, 2020
Supporters who are successful in acquiring tickets through the ballot will not be able to enter another ballot until all season ticket holders have had the opportunity to attend#AVFC pic.twitter.com/I45lwjQOCg
Use code MOMS10 to get 10% off below (exclusions apply)
Aston Villa Season Ticket and Member Statement
With the 2020/21 season now under way, the club would like to update supporters regarding the status of ticketing and memberships for the new campaign and share with you the current status of our plans regarding the potential return of fans to Villa Park.
In recent months we have been working very hard on proposals to bring our supporters back to our home but as we all know, the recent increase in both Coronavirus infection rates and the COVID alert level has led to a tightening of regulations at both national and local level, including here in Birmingham.
We also are mindful of The Prime Minister’s statement today introducing further restrictions and confirmation that plans for fans to return to watch live sport next month have been cancelled.
The club can confirm that there are no plans for season tickets to go on sale for 2020/21.
When a return of supporters to Villa Park is possible this season, tickets for any games will be sold via ballots of 2019/20 season ticket holders due to the limited capacities expected in the stadium.
The club came to this decision after we consulted supporters via a survey with 7,701 fans responding. 81% of our supporters said that they preferred a ballot to decide entry if capacities were reduced.
The club will also make provision for supporters who require a place in the Accessible Seating and Wheelchair Bays to be able to access games via their own ballot, when fans are permitted to return.
Any proposals to return supporters require safety approvals from the regulatory authorities and as it is currently not possible to receive those permissions, we will continue to examine all options. Supporters can be assured that when conditions allow, we will submit the appropriate plans for authorisation which prioritise your safety.
The club cannot guarantee Season Ticket Holders that they would be able to sit in their regular seats in any games which have a limited return of supporters, but we can confirm that 2019/20 Season Ticket Holders will have their seats held for them to use again once there is a full return to the pre-COVID capacities.
Memberships are still on hold for the 2020/21 season. With ticket access, £10 ticket voucher and free junior tickets being some of the benefits to memberships, the club believe it is appropriate to delay any new memberships sales while it is still unclear if these benefits could be utilised.
Season 2019/20 members will continue to receive other benefits such as regular newsletters, access to Pride Rewards and points will continue to be rolled over.
19/20 members will also receive a discount towards renewal when 20/21 memberships do become available to compensate for any benefits missed at the end of the 19/20 season.
The club are in the process of planning and reviewing our membership offering with the view to release a new range of memberships containing a diverse set of benefits during the 20/21 season. This is likely to be in early 2021.
Hospitality members will also be selected via their own ballot in the event of supporters being allowed back into stadiums in reduced numbers. 2019/20 season members will be eligible to enter the ballot when invited.
The club cannot guarantee Hospitality Season Ticket Holders that they would be able to sit in their regular seats in any games which have a limited return of supporters, but we can confirm that 2019/20 Season Ticket Holders will also have their seats held for them to use again once there is a full return to the pre-COVID capacities.
We hope to be able to welcome supporters back to Villa Park as soon as possible but for obvious reasons, cannot give a timeframe. We remain in regular dialogue with all the regulatory authorities and The Premier League.
In the meantime, we would like to thank all supporters for their continuing patience and will update you on further developments as soon as possible.