Anyone that’s read the sales pitch attached to the 2012/13 season ticket renewal form may have sensed the underlying tone of desperation.
It’s understandable too, times aren’t great for Leeds United. The club lost a lot of season ticket holders at the end of last season, attendances are down 3,500 fans per game and the club are hovering around the mid-table spot fans predicted a lack of investment would result in.
Overall, there’s little going on at Elland Road that suggests progress is being made as we approach seven years of Ken Bates.
A quick skim over any Leeds United messageboard or the social networks fans frequent shows a fanbase no longer willing to tolerate the excuses and continue coughing up huge sums of money for this perceived lack of investment. Whilst £7m is pumped into redeveloping an East Stand we can’t fill and don’t own, the manager is left to settle for free transfer and loanees that lack the necessary quality to seriously challenge for promotion.
Of course, Ken Bates couldn’t care less. Happy to dismiss any fans that dare to question his decisions as “dissidents” and “morons”, the Leeds United chairman is in the unusual position of being able to abuse his customers, knowing that an irrational sense of loyalty will keep them coming back regardless.
But the drop in renewals for the current season can’t be overlooked. For all the non-matchday income and corporate opportunities Ken Bates’ reign has heralded, the Leeds United owner can’t escape the fact that ticket sales will always account for the vast majority of the clubs income.
You can build all the hotels, bars and museums you want, but none of them can hold 20,000 people paying £30 each to stand/sit in a two foot squared gap for an hour and half, broken only by a fifteen minute gap where they mindlessly battle their way to the front of an overpriced refreshments stand to sink more money into your pockets.
Let’s say an hotel has 50 rooms, charged at £60 per night. Even if you fill that every single night of the week (which you won’t) that’s only £21,000 per week. Take all the staffing costs, the electricity bill, tax and all the other overheads away from that sum, and you’ll be lucky to post small profits. That’s why there are very few independent hotels remaining, because the only way people are making money in the hotel game is by owning huge chains of hotels where minor profits multiply into a viable business.
The pub game is just as bad. I came into some money a few years back and considered buying into a busy city centre bar with some people I knew and was amazed by how small the profit margins were. This is a bar that’s busy every night of the week, that doesn’t rely on fortnightly trade for the majority of it’s custom, yet the profit margins were pathetically low. It would have taken me decades to recoup my initial investment if profit margins held steady. Again, success here relies on large chains like Wetherspoon’s monopolising the market and multiplying the small profits of hundreds of bars into a healthy business.
The point I’m getting at is this just isn’t a realistic stream of income for a football club. The margins are too low and it will take so long to recoup the initial investment that I doubt if we’ll reap the benefits in my lifetime, never mind 79-year-old Ken Bates’.
While this is going on of course, the profits of the primary business are suffering. The millions upon millions of pounds of pure profit there for the taking from the stadium that’s already built and easily filled by giving the customers what they want has been forgotten. Or taken for granted.
Ken Bates’ plan relied on the blind loyalty of the supporters. A stubborn breed who refuse point blank to stop attending games because of Ken Bates. He’ll be gone soon enough we reasoned.
Seven years on, the pattern continues and we’ve stagnated (via League One). Only in the last year or so have the masses really started to vote with their feet. Enough is enough, thousands decided to stop attending and all of a sudden, there’s a problem. The walking cash machines have had enough, and attendances are suffering as a consequence.
The situation is so bad, attendances are now lower than they were in League One and that can’t be dismissed as a result of the recession, because that’s a pattern we’d see at every football ground across the country – and that’s simply not the case.
Ken Bates doesn’t care what the fans think, but at this moment in time he’s losing money. If the 3,500 drop is still there at the end of the season, that will represent a loss of over £2,000,000 (based on a conservative £25 per ticket). If this is about to get worse as more people refuse to renew, Leeds United could see millions more shaved off their turnover next season and no amount of bars and corporate seating will offset such a loss.
All this leads me to wonder whether the “leaked” Fabian Delph story was a ploy to lift spirits as season ticket renewal forms were sent out. Leeds United “don’t discuss transfer targets” we’re told repeatedly, yet the club’s Director Peter Lorimer thought it was OK to tell a supporters club at an On The Road event – was it accompanied by a wink? Did he think they’d keep it a secret?
Ken Bates is like the Derren Brown of football, a master of manipulation and misdirection and whilst I’m only speculating here, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if this deal fell through at the last second. The groundwork for failure has already been laid with Simon Grayson warning “there are many obstacles to overcome”.
Maybe I’m being overly cynical, supporting Leeds United is certainly conducive to such a personally flaw, but I suspect there’ll be a fair few fans out there waiting until the very last second before renewing and will base their decision on the January transfer market. Over to you Kenny.