With a lucrative third Premier League season tantalisingly close, the City board have one massive headache on the horizon…Wed 20 Feb 13 by Gary Gowers
There’s little left to say in the debate around Chris Hughton’s strategy and future options that hasn’t already been said. A blank weekend – for reasons too obvious and painful to mention – gave bloggers (yep, me included), messageboard users, tweeters and ‘facebookers’ alike the chance to dissect the rights and wrongs of playing ‘two up top’, the diamond, five in midfield and ‘parking the bus’.
Other than to conclude we all see things differently, and we all know better than Hughton, we’re obviously no further forward – nothing surprising about that conclusion other than it proves football fans are indeed human..
About the only thing we all agree on is that, from somewhere, we need to find a winning formula. The consequences of not doing so are really not worth considering.
With the fortnight throwing up little news of note for the Club’s web team – Jacob Butterfield’s loan extension at Crystal Palace taking star billing on the official site – the ad banner reminding us that tickets are still available Saturday’s Everton game loomed rather larger than normal.
With a day or two remaining for those wishing to purchase said tickets there is still a chance that Carrow Road will again be ‘sold out’ – often dependent on the visitors filling their allocation – but given Everton’s unofficial status as ‘the best of the rest’ it’s more than a little telling that this should be the case.
While there remain a few rather large hurdles to negotiate before they reserve their place in next season’s Premier League, if successful City enter ‘year 3’ of their top flight adventure – the year Chairman Alan Bowkett originally stated would be the one in which the Carrow Road expansion begins.
Subsequent comments by Messrs Bowkett and McNally have suggested that this particular deadline has been slipped, but still with an underlying caveat that it will happen in the short to medium term – finances permitting.
But given the apparent trend toward a levelling off of Carrow Road demand will it be warranted? Do we need a stadium that holds circa 32,000?
As much as I’d love to frequent a stadium with four sides of a similar stature – the current lop-sided look reminds me of the old Filbert Street – and one that’s tad more aesthetically pleasing, if we had 32,000 seats it’s by no means certain we’d be able to fill them regularly.
Naturally, the visits of the Manchester Utd, Arsenal and co are virtually guaranteed to sell-out almost regardless of the ground’s capacity – but take, for example, Wigan on a cold Tuesday night.
Wouldn’t happen would it.
If having a few empty seats is the only price to pay for having a bigger stadium – assuming it’s not impacting on the Club’s ability to repay any financing – it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I wouldn’t expect there to be huge swathes of yellow seats on view akin to the 16,000 blue ones on view at the home of those Championship strugglers. In fact it’s hard to imagine any set of circumstances that would cause such an alarming sight in the fine city.
No, the main issue this old worrier has with a ground expansion is the potential it may have to reduce attendances. May sound odd, but imagine having 32,000 seats to fill, but with say, 16,000 season tickets holders (bear with me). To use poor old Wigan as the example again – would such a fixture be likely to attract 10,000 casual supporters? No, I don’t think so either – the result being a crowd of less than our existing capacity.
Some will argue this to be counter-balanced by the previously mentioned full-houses and perhaps they have a point, but given the Club’s break-even point will be substantially higher – with the servicing of debt back on the agenda – it will again come down to pure mathematics.
At previous AGMs, the City board have cited a study that had revealed sufficient latent demand in the city and its environs to justify the expansion, but the world – and the desire to follow City’s Premier League journey – is ever changing.
With the number of available season-tickets currently capped at around the 20,000 mark – another 1800 reportedly on the waiting list – much of the existing high demand is borne of the limited supply. A bigger stadium would virtually ensure any City fan who wanted a ticket for a home game could get one.
No longer would a City season-ticket be the ‘must-have’ – the golden ticket that guarantees its holder a first hand view of the English game’s finest. Instead, those in the fortuitous position of being able to afford it, could pick and choose their games, safe in the knowledge that giving the Stokes, Wigans and Readings a swerve would have no impact on their ability to acquire tickets when the big boys are in town. Hence my earlier ‘finger in the air’ estimate of 16,000 season-ticket holders with an expanded stadium.
Some point to the current waiting list; citing that they would automatically swell the number of season-ticket holders if the ceiling were lifted and the ground were bigger. Again, possibly true but one suspects many of the 1800 on the list frequent Carrow Road regularly courtesy of purchasing the horribly-named casual tickets, and are therefore already part of the equation.
Throw into the mix the logistical issues of rebuilding the City stand, particularly if the existing structure were deemed not fit for purpose and needed to be knocked down. With so few spare seats in the ground where would its existing incumbents sit when the building work was in progress? Where would Delia and Michael sit? Where would the players change? Would we need a return of the 1985 Portacabins?
All which of course means nothing if the class of 2012/13 are unable to retain their place at the Premier League table, but let’s for now imagine they do.
Assuming Michael, Delia and co are able to extricate themselves from the potentially heartbreaking loss of their favourite seats, they have one massive decision to make.
Would we all like a bigger stadium? Almost certainly
Can we justify the expansion? Possibly
Would it represent a gamble? You bet.
So,over to you ladies and gentlemen of the board… no pressure.
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