While The Scratching Shed has been at an almost complete standstill over the last few weeks, Leeds United carried on regardless, and despite a few dropped points here and there, things have been mostly positive.
The 2012/13 Championship continues to be a thoroughly underwhelming affair, with few teams capable of throwing a run of results together. Such widespread inconsistency isn’t a bad thing for Leeds United however, who are still in with a play-off chance despite dropping key points all over the country. The less said about our away form the better, but with a few winnable home games still to come, you just never know.
Whatever division we’re playing in next season, Leeds United fans will be able to enjoy our ‘ups and downs’ for less after GFH Capital revealed some surprisingly reasonable 2013/14 season ticket prices.
Every seat in Elland Road will be at least 12.9% cheaper next season, with junior tickets being slashed by over 30%. The always skint and forever maligned students have been taken into consideration too, they’ll benefit from a new ‘young adult’ category which starts from as little as £346.
The pricing looks to be on a par with similarly sized Championship rivals and has been influenced heavily by fan feedback. The new Young Adult prices are an example of supporters being listened to, while prices in the Kop are around the £450 mark most fans said would be reasonable when I posed the question on Twitter a week or so back.
What’s most interesting about the new prices is the gamble GFH have willingly taken to get Elland Road bouncing again. A deal Ken Bates struck with TicketUs to finance one of his pointless vanity projects means Leeds United must pay the first £3.3m of season ticket sales to them next season, thus leaving Leeds United in a weakened position from the start.
In 2011, Leeds United’s turnover was £32.6m, of which almost 39% (£12.7m) came from gate receipts. This is why the importance of getting fans through the gates can’t be overstated, for clubs outside the Premier League, gate receipts are the largest revenue stream they have to work with.
Put simply, GFH will have to sell £16m worth of reduced priced tickets next season, just to match the figures of 2011 – accounts which only showed profitable due to the sale of key players.
Considering the perilous state Ken Bates left our finances in, anyone who thinks GFH aren’t already investing funds to keep LUFC afloat hasn’t examined the figures closely enough. We’re a club losing money, there’s no getting away from that fact.
But unlike Ken Bates, GFH understand the frustration of fans and have taken a considerable risk to try and ease tensions. Whether they have the funds for new players depends as much on our fanbase as it does our owners. It may be the case that GFH have to invest funds irrespective of how many season ticket holders we have next season, but they’re going to be more inclined to do so if fans are doing their part to ease the financial burden. If reduced ticket prices leave GFH an even bigger financial black hole to plug, Leeds United starts to lose it’s potential as an investment, and quickly becomes a football money vacuum nobody wants to go near.
The relationship between fans and their football club has to be one of give and take. For far too long we endured a nightmarish existence under Ken Bates, where a huge disparity occurred that left us all incredibly cynical of our ownership. It was the reverse of Peter Ridsdale in many ways; Ken was happy to take, take, take with little regard for what supporters wanted to see, whereas Ridsdale was too eager to please. When fans demanded a new striker because the six we had hadn’t scored in 40 minutes, Ridsdale went out and signed one with no consideration given to the financial implications.
What GFH offers looks to be somewhere between the two. They want to work with fans and keep everyone happy, but they’re an investment bank who’ll always be keeping a close eye on the bottom line. There’ll be some scope for short-term loss because they’ll recoup the money they’re investing now when it comes time to sell Leeds United on. But the more they have to sink in, the smaller their potential return on investment becomes.
But more important than GFH’s ROI is Leeds United’s sustainability as a football club. A one club city the size of Leeds shouldn’t need hand outs from anyone, we have the fanbase and infrastructure to be a competitive football club, we just failed to capitalise on it under Ken Bates.
Leeds United didn’t get promoted in 1990 and win the title in 1992 by demanding the owners finance our route back to the Premier League. The fans I grew up with expected hand-outs from nobody, instead there was an unspoken understanding that a club was only as big as the community which surrounded it. The people whose support financed it. Not billionaire oil tycoons and Arab Princes, but the guy next door who barely missed a match for decades until he passed away two days before the sale of Eric Cantona – a transfer which would have probably finished him off otherwise.
Why should we care that a handful of clubs have an unfair advantage nowadays? That’s always been the case. It never stopped Leeds United succeeding as the hard-working underdog, and we can do so again. But it’ll only happen when fans stop expecting hand-outs in the form of outside investment, and start accepting that the most important investment comes from us.
Somewhere in the chaos of WACCOE’s TOMA thread, we lost sight of why we needed a takeover in the first place. It was never money we needed from the new owners, Leeds United’s financial potential is on us. All Leeds United ever needed was owners willing to do the right things. Owners who wouldn’t waste the millions we provide on court cases, a loss-making radio station and pointlessly refurbishing Elland Road’s newest stand, but would instead work with us to make the club successful again.
While new owners can’t undo the mistakes of the past, they can work with us to secure a more prosperous future. We wanted more reasonably priced tickets. We got them. Now we have to make attendances rise, help finances improve and once again carry Leeds United forward.
Those of you who would be happy with the plastic success of Manchester City and Chelsea, there’s little I can write that’ll change your mind. But when Leeds United finally return to the Premier League, I want to feel that my support made a difference. I want to look around Elland Road at the 40,000-strong community of celebrating fans and savour that moment of shared achievement, knowing that we all played our part in making it happen.