5,000 season tickets sold surely means we will have 6,000 gates for every home game this season, as a minimum. We saw last season the sharp increase after the Oldham game, but at the time the club were still geared up for 3,000 fans. This season they know that there will be more pockets with money in milling around the ground, and it is vital that City capitalise on that.
Aside from the TP Suite there are very few areas where fans can congregate freely, and increased numbers towards the end of the season saw it almost impossible to get a drink at the heaving bar. I attended a couple of games with beer money in my pocket that I was unable to spend.
As numbers grow the match day experience has to become much more than one open bar and people stood around outside. Having visited Burnley and Arsenal we got a glimpse of a top-flight match day experience, food bars open all over, merchandise on offer from stands and a general ‘big event’ atmosphere all around the ground. I appreciate 6,000 at Sincil Bank isn’t 60,000 at the Emirates, but that is the template to move the experience forward, and give the paying customer reason to part with more of his cash at the ground.
The first issue that has to be address is the bar. I’m a big fan of a pre-match pint and I much prefer that to be at the ground, where my money is going directly into the club’s coffers. It pained me at the end of the season to turn up at the ground with a couple of cans of Carling in my bag, knowing we were already too late to get a pint at the bar. The outside bar worked well on a few occasions, a table had been set up outside and plastic bottles of Fosters were being sold. I think as a starting point that would be beneficial for every single match this season, apart from the EFL Trophy.
I’d like to see a food van or two around the ground as well, perhaps on the Sincil Bank side of the ground, and another one near the PlayZone entrance. The whole area around the ground has to feel like there is an event on, it has to feel like a weekly carnival at Sincil Bank. I’m not talking about two Double M’s vans either, perhaps have one doing chips and assorted stuff, and another serving burgers and the like. I often go into KFC prior to a game and it is packed with City fans, how many of those would prefer to spend their money on some southern friend chicken from a food stand, and have a pint around the ground with several thousand other Imps fans?
I know merchandising is a dodgy area at the moment, I believe our tie-in with Andreas Carter makes it very difficult for us to be fluid and inventive with the club merchandising. Again though, the club shop is often far too busy to even get in to, would it reasonable to perhaps have a small outlet elsewhere outside the ground? It might cut down on the Del Boy characters outside the ground with their half and half scarves and bag of swag ready to take away from the club.
There’s so much more that could be done. Perhaps prior to a Saturday match, when there are more young children around, there could be face painting, or Poacher could be outside the ground having photographs taken? Maybe each match day something happens on the artificial surface with different kids, a couple of squad players come out and meet them or something? Maybe there is even an adult five a side competition, matches played before the Imps fixtures on the artificial surface each week, lots of coverage in the programme too so that fan know who is playing. Anything that gets people down to the ground earlier and spending their shiny pound coins at the club would be a good thing.
I appreciate we are not Arsenal or Burnley, and I appreciate that we won’t have half of the Sincil Bank area closed off with international food stalls, because 6,000 fans wouldn’t fully warrant that experience. However, as soon as one steps through the gates of Sincil Bank or comes along the back of the Sincil Drain, I think they should know they’re in football match territory. There should be fanfare and things to do, maybe even one of those outdoor bars along the Sincil Drain side of the ground? Numbers are in the increase, and any businessman knows you have to cash in whilst the going is good. The better the experience, the more people will want to be a part of it. In years gone by it has been a case of the ‘chicken and egg’, we haven’t improved the atmosphere as the fan base didn’t warrant it, and the fan base didn’t come (amongst other reasons) because the experience wasn’t there.
Last season was a bonus for this football club, we reached a nadir in 2011/12, we scraped the bottom and nobody truly expected us to rise as suddenly or emphatically as we did. We’ve sold more season tickets for our first year back in the Football league than we did when we were chasing promotion to the second tier in the early 1980’s. Fans are coming back, they’re willing and ready to support with their voices, their bums on seats and, most crucially, all that spare change in their wallet. I implore the club to seize on the opportunity, and create a Sincil Bank that is open for business from twelve on a match day, attracting fans early to continue building the atmosphere, building relationships and building the experience for the fans for many years to come.
Cheers to @nezdanny for his input as well, proving that it isn’t just me looking to write articles, but there is a real and present demand for the type of experience I’ve discussed here.