Q&A: Crystal Palace co-owner Stephen Browett

Stephen Browett is co-owner and co-chairman at Crystal Palace, a club which communicates with fans better than most. Stephen regularly answers questions on www.cpfc.org and Palace topped the FSF's 2012 Club Charter League Table.

The FSF: Hi Stephen, thanks for your time - tell us a little about your relationship with Palace.

Stephen: Crystal Palace is a fan-owned football club with the motto “South London and Proud”. The four owners [Stephen is co-owner with a 25% share] have all been lifelong supporters since being very young children. We bought the club out of administration in 2010 in order to preserve a great South London institution that has existed since 1905.

For us this bonding with our fan base is more important, even, than success on the pitch. Consequently, we take a great deal of care to ensure that ticket prices are fair and affordable.

As a season ticket holder myself for over 30 years I am well aware of the importance of the core supporters of a club and I am constantly on the message boards discussing ticket prices and selling strategy with other supporters. 

What is the process involved in deciding season ticket prices - who is involved and when do discussions begin? Is there any supporter consultation/market research?

I discuss pricing with Mandy Anderson-Myers (Box Office Manager) and Phil Alexander (Chief Executive). We look at last season’s prices and the prices of our competitors. I also sound out supporters on the independent fans’ message board site www.cpfc.org. There is a dedicated section where Palace fans can ask me questions about this and any other issues that arise. 

What are the deadlines and how much do season ticket price discussions inform the single matchday ticket prices?

We try to get a discounted “early bird” offer out to fans around Christmas which has to be taken up by early February. We make sure that season tickets offer a substantial discount compared to buying individual match tickets.

It is three years since we bought the club and in that time we have played in the Championship with adult ticket prices starting at £18 for members and £20 for non-members. We have always made sure that these were amongst the lowest price tickets available in the league.

We have been particularly keen to look after our most loyal fans so we have also endeavoured to offer exceptionally good deals on season tickets. This has resulted in a steady rise in attendances since we bought the club.

How big a role do promotions/relegations play in deciding prices?

Not massively because there are 23 home games in the Championship and 19 in the Premier League. Our supporters will be enjoying Premier League football in 2013/14, but the vast majority of them have purchased their seats at prices that were very competitive for the Championship.

Renewals and 'early bird' deadlines seem to start earlier every year. Many fans see this solely as a cashflow/money raising exercise. Is that fair on clubs?

Ours start later than they did before and the season ticket policy is to offer them in three price phases so that those who are totally committed to the club and prepared to buy (but not necessarily pay) early always get the best deals.

When we bought the club the early bird discount had to be taken up in December but we’ve moved it to February. We then have another discount period until the end of the season. The final price is valid from the end of the season until the start of the next one.

By the time our opening offer closed in February we had already sold 8,000 season tickets. Our second phase of prices saw modest increases (about 10%) and a continuation of the same policies for juniors and concessions. These prices were held right up until the kick-off of our Play-Off Final at Wembley and, by that time, we had sold 12,000 season tickets including 500 free of charge to U10s.

Once our place in the Premier League was secured, we naturally looked at increasing our season ticket prices, bearing in mind that fans who were going to come to Selhurst Park regardless of which league we were in, had already bought their seats. [The club was on the receiving end of criticism from The Daily Mail which claimed Palace had upped prices by 20%, based on these figures.]

Nevertheless, we price-checked all the other Premier League clubs and re-launched our season ticket offer with adult prices from £490-£660, which are the lowest prices of any Premier League club in London.

Even at this late stage, we also made sure that season tickets offered a good discount (around 15%) from the price of buying 19 individual match tickets. By mid-June we already had 14,000 season ticket holders and about 75% of seats for home fans will have been sold as season tickets by the time the season starts in mid-August.

How conscious are you of comparisons with other clubs' prices?

Very conscious - we make absolutely sure that our prices are extremely competitive. We offered free season tickets to U10s, junior tickets starting at £115 which are available to U18s (most clubs stop at U16s), concessions for 18-21 year olds, students (no age limit), and OAPs. Adult prices started from £360 and can be paid over 12 months. 

How do you balance the approaches of pricing to maximise attendance and pricing to maximise revenue?

At Palace we’d rather have high attendances than high yield per ticket. I’d like to think that at Palace our prices are fair and we discuss them with our fans and they appreciate this. The overall aim of the owners is that Palace supporters can enjoy watching football today and for generations to come.

We would rather have a full stadium with a great atmosphere, with loyal fans paying fair prices, than sell our tickets at the maximum possible price to people who might not come back if our present league status was not maintained.

What do you think of the trend towards ‘dynamic’ pricing which some clubs are beginning to employ (based on models pioneered by budget airlines)?

I personally don’t like it. We are not selling a luxury product and those who can’t afford to buy in advance should not be excessively penalised.

How important to Palace are away fans? The FSF's Twenty's Plenty highlights the contribution they make and aims to ensure away football is affordable. Do away fans enter Palace pricing discussions and would the club be open to "reciprocal pricing" (i.e. Palace fans get cheaper tickets at an away game and that club's fans are offered reciprocal deals in the reverse fixture at Selhurst Park)?

Away fans are crucial to football in helping to create an atmosphere in the stadium. Without away fans football matches would be far less exciting. We value enormously the support that Palace’s travelling supporters give the team and appreciate that those who visit us should be able to get in at a fair price.

At Selhurst the away fans share the Arthur Wait stand with home fans and have a side view of the pitch. They pay, of course, the same price as home fans and we would expect that the price they will pay this season will be amongst the lowest in the Premier League. We would certainly be open to looking at reciprocal pricing with other clubs.

Thanks for your time Stephen and good luck for the season ahead.