Canary bosses set their sights on recapturing the hearts and minds of “a lost generation” as they unveiled a 2.8% increase in season ticket prices for the forthcoming, 2008-2009 season.
That will see the price of a standard, adult season ticket in the Barclay Stand increase by ?10 – from ?356 this season to ?366 next year. Provided that season ticket is renewed before the first deadline of March 1.
With a 20% rebate promised to the same season ticket holder this summer should the club fall through the Championship trap-door and have only League One football on the table next August and a price rise pegged below the current 4.3% rate of inflation (RPI; Nov '07), the club are desperately hoping that they can cling on to the extraordinary level of support they have enjoyed since falling back into the second tier of English football three years ago. And, likewise, not lose Norfolk's cash-strapped 17-year-olds in their current numbers.
This year, the club finished with 19,714 season ticket holders – more than any other club in the Football League. In that last, ill-fated season in the Premier League, the Canaries only had 19,250 season ticket holders.
Everyone, however, admits that this spring is going to be a hard sell; the club were, after all, bottom of the Championship by five clear points when the prices were discussed in November.
And while new Canary boss Glenn Roeder may have done much to lift the gloom, there is no doubt that the supporters' legendary patience has been tested to the limit of late – tested more than at any time since the fall of Robert Chase's reviled regime in the summer of 1996.
“I think it is fair to say that that the relationship (between the club and its supporters) has been tested by events of the last 12 months,” admitted the club's sales and marketing director Andrew Cullen, as he unveiled the new price and seating plans to the Press yesterday.
For in a bid to claw back support from a disappearing teenage and youth market, the club are going to turn the whole of the Norwich & Peterborough Stand into a family area – 6,972 seats including the Norwich Union Community Stand, an increase of 4,600 on the current family enclosure set-up. Existing older season ticket holders will either be offered discount seats among the junior ranks in the N&P or else will be given first refusal on a new tranche of 250 season ticket places in Block J of the Jarrold Stand.
Price-wise and a new Under-21 category has been created with a standard season ticket pegged back to ?150 – a not inconsiderbale saving of ?90 on the ?240 equivalent for the club's 17-21-year-old supporters this season. Under-12s in the Family Area will see their season ticket prices drop from ?38 to ?25; Under-16s will see a smaller of saving of ?3 (?53 '07-08 to ?50 '08-09).
For all sections, the interest-free repayment option has been extended from the current nine months to 12; the new season tickets go on sale immediately.
“It is going to be a hard sell,” admitted Rob Emery, a long-time member of the club's Supporters' Consultative Group and one of the four City fans on the Carrow Road working party that set the 2008-2009 season ticket prices. As a veteran of the Chase era, Emery knows the amount of bridge-building left to do by the bitter end of the Nigel Worthington era and the ill-starred reign of his successor, Peter Grant.
“That's why we had to be very, very imaginative and forward-thinking again in what we're trying to do. It is almost like turning the clock back 12 years to the end of the previous regime and saying: 'What was wrong? How was the relationship broken? What do we need to mend that relationship again?
“It worked spectacularly at that point in terms of bringing young supporters back in again and this is one way of replicating that – along with being fair to everyone that's left in terms of a sensible price rise.”
Acknowledging the fact that City could be playing Cheltenham rather than Charlton at home was another 'must' for this autumn's deliberations.
“We had to – clearly,” he said. “When we started the process we were five, six points adrift at the bottom and it looked more than a real possibility. And the previous manager was on board as well so it would have been madness not to consider something. And I think that will bring the price in line – if the unthinkable happens.
“But I think what is important here is what Glenn Roeder has brought which is a great deal of hope to the football club. And most supporters rely on hope more than anything else. If they can see a decent way forward, they tend to stick with things that much longer. I happen to think that at the moment we have that decent route forward.”
Interestingly, Emery revealed that this autumn's discussions between the club and the four-strong band of supporter representatives were as robust as they had been for many a year. He also flatly refuted any suggestion that they were there simply as window-dressing; a cosmetic presence to merely make the club look like one that listened.
“There was a very diverse range of opinions around the table this year, I have to say,” said Emery. “And for the first time in two or three years, this was a real, real hard discussion.
“Last time it's been relatively easy to come to a consensus; this time it was much more hard work – it took another few hours to do it.
“And anyone that knows me and thinks that I keep my mouth shut and sit there and kowtow, doesn't know me too well. It is a partnership to get the right result and I think everyone around that table wants the right result for the football club – and does everything in their power to make sure that happens. And if we can get to 20,000 season ticket holders again, that is a fantastic achievement.”
If they get anywhere near, it may – in part – have much to do with the fact that the Norfolk club do, more than most, put something back into the community. It is one of the bedrocks of the Wynn Jones-Smith philosophy that the Canaries sit at ease with the surrounding community; that they are a force for social good within both the city of Norwich and the county of Norfolk.
“All the work that we do in the community is one of those intangible factors,” said Cullen, widely admired on the wider football 'circuit' for the way that he has kept season ticket sales so buoyant on such an unpromising background as 24th place in the Championship.
“And I think people quite like that fact in Norfolk – all that work we do in the community,” he added. “And they've responded to that by supporting the club in difficult times.”
In the accompanying mail-shot, both Roeder and club chairman Roger Munby added their thoughts. “I think all 92 professional clubs will tell you their are special to some extent, but the fans of a few clubs really are just that little bit more special,” said the City chief. “And I think Norwich is one of those clubs, most definitely.
“What we have is very special, without a doubt. It's one of our greatest strengths as a football club.”
Munby suggested that the level of City's support had “flabbergasted the English football industry”. He added: “It is a performance by our fans beyond what our performance on the pitch would merit at times…”