I have an Ipswich supporting friend who has grown pretty tired of hearing my tales of Wembley and has suggested it’s time for me “to move on”. To be fair to him, I have recounted every single detail of that day… several times.
He’s heard all about the seventeen passes that led to Redmond’s goal and Tettey’s celebratory jig after the final whistle. I’ve even tried to recreate the moment in the 88th minute when the yellow half of Wembley belted out that chorus of On The Ball City. I like to think I did it justice.
But putting aside the irony of an Ipswich fan telling me to stop referring to past glories, it probably is time to look to the future and in doing so, to consider two significant numbers: 40,000 and 120 million.
Two numbers which to my mind prompt a familiar point of debate – namely whether to increase the capacity at Carrow Road?
40,000 City fans at Wembley suggests there is the demand. £120million of guaranteed income suggests that the finances are available if needed.
3 years ago the club commissioned a study from the UEA looking at the feasibility of stadium expansion. The details were not made public but three key messages emerged:
– An increase of 7,000 above the current capacity was seen as ‘viable’
– Expansion to that level would cost between £20-30million
– There is a desire to expand, but only when or if the club establishes itself in the top flight.
Referring to the report, David McNally wrote “This independent research project is really important as it deals with facts, such as population growth, and real numbers, such as socio-economic data, and not instinct or intuition”.
Without access to the findings of the report, instinct and intuition is all I have – although those who know me would probably suggest that I’m not blessed in either department.
But for what it’s worth, intuitively I don’t believe there will be a time when it’s appropriate to expand much above our 27,000. My instinct tells me that despite socio-economic data (whatever that is) and the fact that we sold our allocation at Wembley, our current capacity is and will remain just about right for us.
Before I explain my reasoning, I’ll admit that it doesn’t contain any of Mr McNally’s ‘real numbers’ and the only fact is that the figures I’ve used are easier to pull apart than Millwall’s defence of last season.
However let’s imagine that we take the stadium up to 34,000 at a cost of £25million. I’m no architect so feel free to mentally knock down which ever stand or hotel you choose in order to accommodate it (apart from my beloved Barclay).
If we assume that each of those 7,000 additional seats generates an average income each season of £500 from ticket sales then that’s an additional £3.5million a year. Throw in the revenue from assorted merchandise, Delia’s half-time pies and an over-priced bottle of Carling here and there and let’s call it a nice round £5million.
(I did warn you that the numbers were flaky).
Broadly speaking it pays back in five years (notwithstanding any income lost during construction) and at face value it represents a sound and ‘viable’ investment – at least provided we sell-out each and every week.
Much has been made of our consistently high attendance regardless of league position or division and rightly so. We have an incredibly loyal fan base but I’d suggest it’s also down to a high percentage of season ticket holders (roughly 80 per cent) and overall demand just exceeding our current capacity.
I may grumble at the occasional price increase and I often moan about the quality of football but I’ve never seriously contemplated cancelling my season ticket. If I did, there’s a waiting list of people ready to take my place. Increase the capacity and that waiting list disappears and therein lies my concern.
To continue to sell-out we’d need a further 5,000 or so casual supporters through the turnstiles at each game. Assume those supporters are able or prepared to attend one in every three matches, then you actually need a pool of around 15,000 people.
No problem for a showpiece event at Wembley, but what about a match against Stoke or Leicester on a cold Monday evening in December when it’s on Sky anyway? What about if we slip back to the Championship?
As soon as capacity exceeds demand I’d suggest it’s potentially a very slippery slope. Fans no longer need the security or guarantee of a season ticket. They can pick and choose depending on the fixtures, the performances and quite simply whether they fancy it on the day.
This originally occurred to me during the away match at Middlesbrough last November while standing in a half-empty and soulless Riverside Stadium but there are numerous examples of clubs who expanded their capacity to what turned out to be an unsustainable level. Clubs where I’ve found myself gleefully chanting “your ground’s too big for you” to a bank of empty plastic seats.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get to hear 40,000 City fans singing On The Ball City again. However I do know that 25,000 home supporters in full voice at Carrow Road will do me just fine.