Often Partisan

To build, or not to build.

News today broke that the Birmingham City board were looking into increasing crowd capacity at St Andrews by redeveloping the Garrison Lane stand to take St Andrews up to 46,000 seats from the current 30,009. There has been a bit of reaction to this on the messageboards, and I thought I’d put my twopennorth forwards.

Usually, I’m the optimistic type; coupled with the fact I sit in the Garrison Lane stand you’d think I’d be all for redevelopment. The sad truth is though, I’m not. Whilst I can agree the current GL stand is a bit (well, a lot) ugly in comparison to the Tilton, the Kop and the Gil Merrick stands, the fact of the matter is that we do not have the fanbase to justify increasing the stadium to forty six thousand seats.

Having been to the fans forums, I know our season ticket base is around the 13,000 to 14,000 mark. I know that Birmingham as an area has been hit harder by the recession than the rest of the country, and the traditional heartlands of Birmingham City support (the south of the city) have lost an awful lot of blue-collar manufacturing jobs over the past few years. This has meant that people just don’t have the disposable income to pay for a season ticket at the club, especially coupled with the ease of watching games online or on Sky. It’s hard to justify spending £400 on a season ticket, when you know that the majority of games will be available to watch somewhere on a television screen.

I think we also have to face the fact that as a fanbase, we’re pretty fickle. I think if we were riding in the top four of the Premiership, then people would flock to the games and would swear blind that they had been to every game “when we were shit”. Despite the highest placed finish in the league table in living memory for me last season, and a whole year undefeated at St Andrews, people are still moaning that we’re not winning every week. It’s like people are now starting to expect us to suddenly become world beaters, and we’re not – we’re Birmingham City for chrissake.

I feel for the board; at the fans forum there was almost a plaintive plea from Alexa Stockham (who chaired the meeting), who wanted to know what else they could do to entice the fans back. The club are wary of discounting prices for fear of alienating season ticket holders; they feel that people will only come if the prices are ridiculously low and won’t exhibit enough brand-loyalty to come for the higher priced games; I think there is a feeling that they think fans won’t give the games any value if the prices are continuously dropped low enough because they’ll just wait for the next cheap game.

It kinda annoys me, because if people want us to pay through the nose for top quality players, that money has to come from somewhere. Yes, the SKY money is the major proportion of our income each year, but ticketing income has to play a part too. It’s a mini-max problem – the club have to be careful that they don’t lose too much money by reducing prices too far – for instance, 14000 season tickets at an average price of £400 comes to £5.6mil. If the prices were to be reduced to an average of £300, then you’d need a take-up of an extra 5000 season tickets or so; £200 season tickets would require a season ticket base of 28,000 … which is a massive problem, because we’re limited to being able to sell around 21,000 season tickets.

Of course, there is the Kevin Costner argument – build it and they will come. I’m afraid I don’t believe that – I think that there have been enough games this season that have been reasonably priced, and people still won’t turn up. Season tickets are now available on installment plans (which is the only way I’d ever have been able to afford it), and it’s cheap as chips to bring your younger kids these days. I know that the argument is that people have fallen out of love with the beautiful game, and have gotten out of the habit of going – and to be fair, that’s the big problem that we, club and fanbase, need to overcome. We as fans need to make good reasons for people to come along – a good atmosphere, a proper feeling of being a club again – and the club need to help foster that by keeping up with a good pricing structure, and making it easy for people to buy tickets and to enjoy themselves in the ground. I actually think the club are doing their best, and it’s now down to us fans to make the place come alive again.

If I’m to be completely honest, I’d be happy with the club knocking down the main stand, and redeveloping it in a fashion that keeps capacity down to around 35,000; but with the possibility of extending it further should demand require it. I’m sure that’s a workable idea. I also would prefer the club to continually invest in the team and the infrastructure behind that before getting into a massive building project that may bring us into a lot of debt. It’s a thorny issue, and one I suspect that will continue to cause debate.

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