City's sales and marketing director Andrew Cullen today hailed the Glenn Roeder effect as “absolutely critical” in the surge in season ticket renewals the club are currently enjoying.
Four, short months ago when Cullen and his team were putting together the season ticket package for 2008-2009 – a process that included a strong supporter contingent on that Carrow Road working party – and the Canaries were friendless and adrift at the very bottom of the Championship table.
And for the first time in his commercial life, Cullen was having to seriously work on the basis of offering League One football to the club's core support next season.
Roll the clock forward to the early spring and as Saturday's first, discount renewal deadline looms, so Cullen was able to report season ticket renewals actually running ahead of where they were this time last year – in part, evidence of the extraordinary level of loyalty and commitment that the Norfolk public demonstrate towards their football club; in part, however, also a reflection of the new-found belief and hope that Roeder has brought to proceedings.
Suddenly, one or two people might be renewing early as an 'insurance' policy against the very best happening over the course of the next 12 games, as opposed to umming and ahhing as they pondered the prospect of the very worst happening come the first week of May.
“The figures are really, really encouraging,” said Cullen, as the club's ticket office staff continued to plough through the piles of applications.
“Last year's first deadline was actually on March 2nd, the Saturday, at which point we had received and processed 15,776 season ticket applications,” said Cullen, in itself no mean feat given that minus Chris Martin's sudden emergence onto the first team scene there was not huge amounts of hope to be had as Peter Grant's regime stumbled on.
“As of this morning (Tuesday), we had processed 11,656 applications – which is ahead of where we were on the Tuesday morning of the corresponding week last season.”
Cullen points to several factors at work. One, in fairness, is the competitive pricing structure that the club have put in place – reflecting the fact that most expect the economic conditions to worsen this year. People are feeling the pinch in every aspect of their lives.
“As a working party, we recognised that people's budgets were being squeezed; that their disposal incomes were being hit – be it the effects of the 'credit crunch', the higher domestic fuel bills, food prices rising. They were all having an effect.
“And that's why we decided to extend the repayment scheme to a full 12 months as opposed to the three, six and nine-month terms that we've been running previously and that's certainly helped.”
As has the club's decision to “return to its roots” and in expanding the Family Area to encompass the whole of the Norwich & Peterborough Stand, so their long-standing commitment to affordable family football would appear to be reaping its rewards.
“What we'd noticed over the last three or four years was that whereas before we'd had 23-24% of our support being aged 21 or under, that was now slipping back to nearer 15%,” said Cullen, as he and his working party instituted a raft of new, discounted prices for the next generation of Canary sopporters. The 'lost generation', if the club were not too careful.
“That was the thinking: Let's be mindful that we've lost a lot of younger supporters and let's try and address that. Let's go on the front foot and go back to our roots and make sure that we offer good prices for families.”
Already that policy would appear to be bearing fruit with Cullen reporting that Under-21 take-up is currently running at near the 20% mark. “It looks as if we're going back in the direction that we wanted to go – away from an ageing fan base and towards keeping one eye on the future.”
There is, however, something else at work – factors not necessarily related to sensible pricing structures and easy repayment terms.
“Of the 702 new season tickets we've sold, 342 are outside the family areas,” said Cullen. “So it's not just about the cheaper seats – that's almost certainly down to the Roeder effect.”
It is all, he readily admits, a far cry from when his working party first met last autumn when everyone was braced for the very worst. Even now, City could still tail-spin back into the danger zone. But having last just once in their last 15 outings ahead of this weekend's home clash with Blackpool, that is probably the least likely scenario in what has been such a roller-coaster of a season.
“When we were putting this year's campaign together given where we then were in the league, then for the first time we had to contemplate what might happen in the event of relegation and that's something that we worked very, very hard on – to put a pledge in place that if we were to be relegated then we would refund money to them. And that was something new – we'd never had to do that before.”
Four months on and Cullen is now in the happy position of noting that there will be no surcharge if “the unthinkable” happens and the Canaries end their season with promotion to the Premiership.
“When we put this set of proposals together in October-November, we were rock bottom,” said Cullen. “Between then and launch we'd managed to get ourselves out of the bottom three. Where we are now in the week before the first deadline is just a reflection of the impact that Glenn and his coaching staff have had – particularly in terms of the confidence among supporters. And, of course, in terms of the results that the players have got on the pitch.
“As I say, the number of renewals that we've had is fantastic – very encouraging. And the 'Roeder effect' has been absolutely critical for us.”
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