How can Town stop the fan exodus?!
Ever since Town returned to the Championship and the initial excitement waned after a promising start back to this level, Town have struggled to get fans through the gates. Year on year season ticket holders aren't renewing and attendances dropping.
Only 6800 fans (according to a reliable source) decided to step through the turnstiles last Tuesday for Town's 3-0 victory over Reading. That attendance is nearly as bad as the Andy Ritchie era when Town barely got over 6000 fans in home midweek games against Brighton and Millwall.
It seems the hope of the Dean Hoyle era and the excitement of being in England's second tier has faded and only the most die hard of supporters, plus those who have blind faith in the current set up, will continue to filter down Stadium Way on a Saturday.
There are many reasons for the decline. Some the club can control and others, such as the economy, that they can do nothing about.
Honeymoon period is over
Winning, or the promise of winning, is what brings many floating fans back to watch their football club. You only have to flick back through the previous decade or so to see increased attendances when Town are on a good run, playing good football or when there is something at stake, be it local pride, promotion or a relegation dogfight.
Take Town's first season back at this level, the side got off to a flyer, were playing pleasing football and also drew in good crowds. An excitement of playing bigger and better clubs got fans back to the club they shirked for years or didn't watch on a regular basis. The match gate (not official attendance) against Wolverhampton Wanderers in mid October 2012 was just over 18,000. That figure has only been beaten five times in two and a half years of being back in this division and four of those were local derbies, three against Leeds.
In contrast, this season has seen an extreme inconsistency and at times, due to the style, the football has been painful to watch. If you compare the attendance to the same tie against Wolves in 2014/15, the drop off in the match gate is staggering. There was only a gate of 11,843 which is just over 6000 less than the fixture two years ago, which begs the question - Where are those fans?!
Of course this season's game was a Tuesday night which notably sees less fans come to games due to travel, work etc and judging by the Wolves following they would've brought at least a thousand more. Yet even had there been a gate of 14,000 there on a Saturday, it still is a considerable drop off, especially given that not all of the supposed 11,000 Town fans were there on a cold Tuesday night.
Take Town's 3-0 victory over Reading last week. The match gate was 10,282, yet as I mentioned earlier the actually attendance was around 6800. That's potentially a few thousand season ticket holders not coming to watch their side and potentially considering not renewing at all. It's a frightening trend that is beginning to ingrain itself among fans and ultimately the club will suffer as a result.
tempering fan expectations
Town fans will often compare the club to other sides who have been recently promoted and are doing well in this division. This season Brentford are the prime example to compare to, especially following last nights soul destroying 4-1 defeat against the London club. For many going on past history and comparing the two statures of both clubs then Town should more than compete with the Brentford's of this division.
Of course there are many similarities in that both clubs were promoted a season after they should've been, yet the key difference is in how they made it to the Championship. Town limped over the line thanks to that penalty shoot-out, whilst Brentford secured automatic promotion and are now riding the crest of the wave known as momentum.
Town's momentum died in November of their first season as then manager Simon Grayson seemed to lose the plot. Brentford on the other hand have a manager playing good football and a side working hard for each other. They're still yet to face the much harder second season where many teams come unstuck.
Fans, including myself, will rightfully question why we can't compete in this division like Brentford did this season and Burnley did the season before. However, it is also our responsibility as fans to realise our limitations in this division due to finances and due the limitations of our current squad.
The issue of being a realist whilst paying out hundreds of pounds a season to watch a side struggling for any form of consistency is patience and that patience is now starting to wear thin. For the past two season's Town have gone into this time where season ticket sales begin reasonably safe of relegation and with plenty to shout about. Yet the football on offer has been disappointing and if a team isn't getting results or playing a style of football which is pleasing on the eye then fans will start to question their dedication.
This is where the Chairman and club can come in to try and reassure fans about the direction the club is going in, what the aim's are and what style of football will be on offer. Sadly the communication barrier between the club and the fans seem to be at an all time low, with the club constantly appearing defensive.
Perfect examples of the defensiveness is Dean Hoyle's interview with Radio Leeds following Mark Robins' departure and the lack of presence on social media that board members once had.
Finally, it's hard for many fans to get behind a side that just wants to 'overachieve' as was set out at the start of the season. Realistically more influential targets should be set to appease fans such as finishing in the top half, which is still very achievable despite the current unrest following a run of dire performances. Be open, honest and positive and it will rub off on others.
play good football
There will always be that quote from former Town incumbent Stan Ternent 'You can't play champagne football on beer money'. To an extent he had a point as proven by last season's inconsistency at playing passing and possession football, Town simply didn't have the players to do so.
However, whilst the locals of a certain generation called it tippy tappy nonsense, shouting 'gerrit forrard' and saying possession doesn't count (I can assure you the stats say it does), fans like myself enjoyed some free flowing football at times even though sometimes the results didn't do the performances justice. QPR away and Reading at home being two prime examples.
Town fans were entertained more last season, in patches, with a brand of football that was a joy to watch. Yet with another change in manager, a change in playing style has come in once again.
Mark Lillis took the baton from Robins after his departure and still played a fairly entertaining brand of football with a high tempo and lots of pressing. It was still good to watch and having a favoured Town old boy in charge always brings that fans together. Yet Chris Powell couldn't develop upon this and has brought a negative, direct and rigid brand of football that is in no way entertaining.
I wrote six months ago how Powell was the right man at the right time for this football club and I still firmly believe that. He turned around or fortunes and bit by bit started improving aspects of our game. However, in hindsight, Powell just brought the skills to the managerial table that Robins lacked - largely his man managerial skills, defensive mindedness and likability.
The football is quite simply turgid. It's fine if you're getting results and we've had brief patches when it has worked, yet there are so many disappointing results (and I need two hands to count them), that there are now doubts about the manager and about dedicating my time and money to watching my football club in my mind.
Chris Powell's biggest challenge will be to win back the fans who are already not turning up and those considering giving back their season ticket. The football has to improve and sharpish.
As I've always said; All I want from Huddersfield Town in the Championship is for them to try and compete in every game, play a good brand of football and attack the opposition. I can accept defeats if we follow that philosophy and I can also accept the times where we will struggle, even to get a point or snatch a victory. Sadly what I can't accept are the tactical blunders Powell keeps making, his reluctance to change tact when the side is struggling and settling for a point when teams are there for the taking.
I know I'm not alone on the above point and this is the major issue that will see attendances at the John Smith's decline.
The club could do more
Who has cancelled a contract with a mobile phone company, or decided to use another energy company as it's cheaper. Well if you have you often get a call asking why you have left or are leaving. I know people who've got a freebie from Sky TV when they say they are thinking of cancelling their contract.
No, I'm not suggesting that Town pander to season ticket holders who no longer renew. What I do suggest is they ask why.
It's quite astonishing that a club that has it's own motto (Honesty, integrity, blah blah blah, The Yorkshire Club) which uses key words such as value and commitment, yet it doesn't follow up on why fans chose not to renew.
There will be normal reasons such as work, university, moving away and simply not being able to afford. But there may be more pressing issues that the club are failing to see such as atmosphere, value for money or lack of entertainment. By failing to contact season ticket holders that don't renew they are failing to learn from their mistakes and try and rectify issues at the club.
They are making strides in the right direction through projects like 'All together Town' which has gone some way into improving the match atmosphere. The introduction of the take 10 ticket is also one way to rectify the issue of value for money for fans.
Yet for the strides they have taken there are still massive flaws. Whilst reviewing the clubs accounts I was staggered to see that walk up attendances in 2013/14 were down 15%. Perhaps not a coincidence when it was the first full season that student tickets had not been on offer to pay on the gate. Furthermore, Chief Executive Nigel Clibbens alienation of student fans where he said 'Why should students get a discount at all' has done little to paint him or the club in a good light.
Prices in general are a sensitive issue, yet just like very other football club - pay on the date tickets are going up and up. Despite the 'earlybird' discounts you could be paying around £30 to watch Town play Rotherham if you decide to go on the day. One avenue could be a flexi-ticket, another trying to promote the take10 ticket to more people than it currently is doing.
It's hard to criticise the club who actually are doing some good things. It's just painfully obvious they could do a hell of a lot more.
So after reading this for a few minutes of your life, I apologise if I am boring you, this is what I think needs to happen to ensure that season tickets sales don't continue to decline season on season
- Let the fans know what the target is for the season. In League One it was obvious to us all but now we are at a level where promotion is only but a dream, we all want something to aim for. Top half, top 10 etc. Not just 'overachieve'.
- A cup run like Bradford's would do wonders for fan morale. Too often Town are out before the big clubs and TV money comes calling.
- Build up momentum to get the fans excited. Whether it be the promise of an exciting signing or a much needed squad overhaul. Fans want to see positive progress, currently there's not much on the field, despite what has happened off it.
- Good and positive communication from the club. Dean Hoyle's interview on Radio Leeds felt more like an ultimatum to fans, added to the defensive nature of the club and board members on social media. Fans need to be respected with the truth rather than Powell denying we weren't in for Adam Le Fondre when the truth is we were. A positive attitude will lead to more mutual respect.
- Play an attractive brand of football. No that doesn't mean let's try and be Barcelona, which seem to be the argument of fans who can't seem the grasp that many people want to be entertained. Let's play a brand of football that isn't trying to sit on a 0-0 draw at home. Being positive and entertaining the audience is what is really required more than anything.
- Build a brand of football that fans can be proud of. Mark Robins tried to play football the right way be there were significant deficiencies. Let's look at the likes of what Peterborough, Southampton etc achieved and build something similar that will last for years. Thriving football, brilliant use of the transfer market and something the fans can get behind.
- Find out why fans aren't renewing. These are the people the club need to be winning back, not focusing on giving free tickets to some partner school. They will tell you what they think is wrong and why they have chosen not to fork out their hard earned cash.
Football is now a business and fans are now customers. When customers no longer put their money into a brand or a company then that company struggles. Town have got to find a way to ensure that their customers (the fans) keep going through the turnstiles week in week out, otherwise the club will struggle. It's potentially a vicious circle and one the club must try to prevent.