Pay for play: Value to be found in League of Ireland season tickets
Shamrock Rovers among the clubs pushing initiatives to raise their weekly attendances
Shelbourne manager Ian Morris celebrates his side’s promotion to the Premier Division. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Whether it’s the affordability of Germany or the eye-watering numbers in England, season ticket prices are always a hot topic for fans when one season ends and a new season rolls around.
With the 2020 Airtricity League season beginning in February, clubs have been rolling out their prices for the new campaign over the last few weeks as they look to make the most of the Christmas shopping period and bring in some early funds to ease the seemingly endless battle against the balance sheet.
Most clubs are sticking with the same prices as last year with the average price across the league for a regular adult season ticket coming in at just under €220 or around €12 per match for the 18 home league games it entitles a supporter to.
Some clubs, such as Dundalk, Sligo Rovers and Waterford offer more expensive tickets for a reserved seat while all 10 have student, senior citizen and child prices and some, such as Shelbourne and Bohemians, have family prices for up to one adult and three children or two adults and two children.
While Derry City have the most expensive regular season ticket at £230 (€270) or €15 per match, Shamrock Rovers are offering the best value with full adult season tickets for just €180 and child season tickets for €20 meaning an adult and a child can go to all 18 home league matches for just €200.
In comparison to attending all 18 home matches and paying for a ticket each time, Rovers fans can essentially watch six games for free with an adult season ticket, 14 with a child ticket and eight apiece at student and senior citizen prices of €100 for the season.
Those regular season ticket prices for Tallaght Stadium represent a €30 drop in price from last season and are part of an initiative the club has committed to in order to try to increase attendances and attract new fans who will stay for the long-term.
“The drop is part of the strategic plan to increase attendances,” says board director Mark Lynch. “Two years ago we introduced kids go free so on buying an adult season ticket you got up to three kids to go free. The idea was to get children into going to live games as early as possible and that was very successful. Not only did we sell more tickets than before, obviously you’re giving away up to three kids tickets with an adult, but we also increased the value in revenue from them. It wasn’t just that we sold more physical tickets, we sold more money’s worth of tickets.
“That initiative was to incentivise and encourage young families to come to Tallaght Stadium. We’ve obviously got a fantastic stadium which is very family friendly. We’ve got all the facilities of a modern stadium as well as parking, the Luas on our doorstep, bus routes as well so no blocks for a family to enjoy a night out. So for an adult and three kids at that price of €210 you’re in effect paying roughly €15 for four people to go to a live game, per match. That showed us that there is a marketplace if the price is right.”
Last season Rovers had around 2,000 season tickets in circulation and although a portion of those are given out for free to players, academy players and partner clubs, the figures are still significant. With the introduction of the south stand, Tallaght Stadium now has a capacity of 8,000 and Rovers came close to filling it last season for the Dublin derby when 7,021 turned out to watch Stephen Bradley’s side end their losing run against rivals Bohemians.
However, the fact remains that most clubs in the league aren’t operating with those sorts of figures and therefore feel they can’t quite drop their prices as low.
For the 2020 season Shelbourne will be the only new team in the top flight after they won they First Division title in September to secure their return to the top flight after a six-year absence since relegation in 2013. Those six years since relegation saw some dark days for a club that has been crowned League of Ireland champions on 13 occasions. Indeed, in 2017 average attendances for the season hit a low of 484 although there is the caveat that some fans were boycotting home games that season due to a dispute with the board. But now debt-free and with a new owner in Andrew Doyle and new CEO in David O’Connor, they’re looking to kick on and build on the average attendances of 1,079 achieved last season.
Shels will charge €240 for an adult season ticket for 2020 which happens to be the second highest price in the league while fans who held season tickets in either the 2018 or 2019 seasons can renew for €220.
A student season ticket for Tolka Park will cost €150 while a family ticket for one adult and one child comes in at €270 or €15 per match. That’s €10 less than nearest rivals Bohemians charge for the same ticket but €70 more than Rovers. However, as O’Connor explains, it’s far more difficult for clubs with lower attendances and less financial clout to take the risk of lowering prices. Last season Shels sold 350 season tickets with a further 350 or so given out for free to academy players. In comparison to the 2,000 Rovers had in circulation it’s a stark contrast.
“I think Rovers have the luxury of being able to drop the prices that low because they’ve had a sustained run in Europe and because their crowds have grown substantially over the last couple of years,” O’Connor says.
“But ultimately the aim for ourselves, and we saw it in the second half of last year as attendances began to grow steadily, is to increase attendances so they’re significantly up on what they were last year in the First Division. We’d love to get to a stage and ultimately it’s our aim to get to a stage where we can maybe match what Rovers are doing but I think it’d be an unfair expectation for a club coming from the First Division to be able to get prices that low. But look, what Rovers are doing is admirable, I can see the rationale behind it and the logic. but ultimately they can afford to do it whereas for ourselves we just can’t quite get to that stage yet. They are a primary source of revenue for ourselves and we have to be conscious of that as well.
“We’re very hopeful (of an increase in sales). It remains to be seen but our season tickets went on sale about 10 days ago and so far there’s been a very steady flow. I think people are excited to be back in the Premier Division again and playing the likes of Rovers and Bohs so look, we projected for more than we sold last year but we’ve been reasonably conservative about what we hope to get this season. We’ve budgeted for over 400 tickets but that would include our premium tickets too (which are more expensive but include various extras).”
But despite the differences between Rovers, who have been in Europe for the last five consecutive seasons, and Shels, who were in the First Division at the same time, Lynch says that dropping prices still presents quite a risk for the Tallaght club. Indeed Rovers made losses of just under €100,000 in the year to the end of last November, as reported in The Irish Times last month.
“We kind of broke even last year, the season 2019, but the previous year The Irish Times reported on losses so it’s not like we’re sitting on a gold mine in the bank and sell things cheaper than we would otherwise,” Lynch says.
“We’re just trying to build on it and building on it is building more people, not putting the price up. More people at a lower price is better than the same people at a higher price if you get it right. If you drop it, as we have by €30, and you get enough extra people, which is doable considering the season we had, we’ll have beaten where we’ve started. We’ve gone with a strategy that is a risk because we’ve dropped the price. So if we get the same people buying season tickets this year as last year then we’ve lost a lot of money but we’re taking the risk that we’re going to get more people and that many more that it will still make more money than if we kept the price the same or increased it a little bit.”
And while it might indeed be a risk for Rovers, those sorts of risks are second nature to League of Ireland clubs as the battle against the balance sheets continues.
League of Ireland season ticket prices (some clubs offer a range of prices and promotions depending on the ticket):
Student/senior citizen: €160-€220
Student/senior citizen: €100
Under 14: €20
Student/senior citizen: €145
Adult: £230 (€270)
Student/senior citizen: £190 (€222)
Child: £60 (€70)
St Patrick’s Athletic (prices for last year as 2020 hasn’t been announced)
Third level student/senior citizen: €140
Second level student: €100
Senior citizen: €135-€205
Third level student/senior citizen: €140-€210
Second level student: €100
Third level student: €159-€176
13-years-old to 18-years-old: €119-€140
Senior citizen: €70-€80
Finn Harps (prices for last year as 2020 hasn’t been announced)
Senior citizen: €160-€208
Senior citizen: €115-€255
– This article is part of a series of consumer-based sports stories. If you have any queries, stories or issues regarding travel, tickets, sport on television or anything else you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Ruaidhri_Croke.