Ipswich Town vow to do all they can to boost attendances at Portman Road as Mick McCarthy’s side enter crucial run-in

Ipswich Town fans travel in their numbers for away games, but attendances ar Portman Road have been

Ipswich Town fans travel in their numbers for away games, but attendances ar Portman Road have been in decline for more than a decade. PHOTO: PAGEPIX LTD

Ipswich Town will do everything they can to get more supporters through the gates, as Mick McCarthy’s spirited underdogs attempt to secure a play-off place.

McCarthy’s low-budget Blues are just three points adrift of the top six with 16 games to go – an incredible achievement given the fact they were bottom when he took charge little more than 15 months ago.

However, the 30,311-capacity Portman Road has been little more than half full for the majority of the campaign.

Since relegation back to football’s second tier in 2002, the Suffolk club’s average league attendances have steadily declined from 25,351 (2002/03) to just 16,654 this season.

Between the 2005/06 season and 2010/11 the maximum attendance in a season never dropped below 28,274. This season the biggest crowd has been just 18,731.

It should be noted that a tough economic climate has seen similar drops in attendance figures all over the country, with Ipswich still ninth in the division’s average attendance table. Twelve successive seasons in the Championship with very little to shout about and a style of football which, in McCarthy’s words, is ‘stubborn not sexy’ have certainly not helped though.

“While protecting the value of a season ticket we are constantly looking at promotions for matchday tickets,” said club spokesperson Steve Pearce.

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“We had ‘kids for a quid’ against Leicester and discounted tickets for the Barnsley game, while plans are being put in place for a number of ticket promotions for the remainder of the season – starting with £5 off a ticket for the Wigan game (March 15) for anyone who buys a ticket for the Birmingham match (March 1).

“Mick and the players really appreciate the support they have had from the fans this season – at home and away – and obviously we hope the supporters continue to get right behind the team over the rest of the season.

“The fans certainly have a part to play in the club’s push for the play-offs.”

On Saturday, the Blues welcome a Blackpool side who have not won since November 30, losing 11 and drawing three of their last 14 matches.

Adults paying in advance for a ticket can get a seat in the lower priced, lower tiers for £21, this match categorised as ‘Grade C’ in the pricing structure.

A £2.50 premium is added for those who buy on the day.

Pearce added: “A season ticket is the best value for watching games at Portman Road and our prices stand up against other Championship clubs.

“Our £10 season ticket for Under-11s must be one of the best offers in the country and an Under-16 season ticket works out at just £4.70 per game.

“Our gates are not that much down on last season – around one per cent – and that is comparable with the rest of the Championship.”

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COMMENT

The figures sound more dramatic than they actually are.

Ipswich Town’s average league attendance may have dropped from 25,351 to 16,654 over the past decade, but that decline must be judged in a wider context.

The Blues are still ninth in the Championship in terms of average attendance. Five of the eight clubs outdoing them – Leicester, QPR, Derby, Nottingham Forest and Reading – are all above them in the actual league table (Brighton, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday the other three).

A tough economic climate has led to falling gates across the length and breadth of the country.

Twelve successive seasons in the Championship with very little to shout and a style of football which, in McCarthy’s words, is ‘stubborn not sexy’ have certainly not helped in the case of the Blues.

There will be some who say that ticket prices are too high at Portman Road, with a recent report which highlighted the fact that the club has the most expensive matchday ticket – at £42.50 – drawing criticism.

Much less has been made of the fact that an Under-11 season ticket costs just £10, or that numerous times a season the club allows season ticket holders to bring up to four friends for £10 each, or that it was ‘kids for a quid’ when Leicester visited recently.

For Saturday’s game against Blackpool a full paying adult can get a seat in the lower tiers for £21 if they pay in advance for the ‘Category C’ match. That compares pretty favourably to others in the division.

Halve the ticket prices and double the attendances is the throw away line you often hear. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. Halve the price, get a few thousand more and end up with less money in the bank is the reality.

New Financial Fair Play rules mean gate receipts are more important than ever. The club’s new managing directors – Ian Milne and Jonathan Symonds – have made it one of their top priorities to look at ways of improving the matchday experience, from catering to pre-match and half-time entertainment.

The balancing act is attracting the casual fans who could potentially be converted into the next generation of diehards while also making sure you don’t alienate the loyal season ticket holders.

Ultimately there is one thing that brings people through the gates more than anything else – and that’s success.

And with Town just three points off the Championship play-off places with 16 games to go, the club recognise there is a golden opportunity to boost attendances.

“While protecting the value of a season ticket we are constantly looking at promotions for matchday tickets,” said club spokesperson Steve Pearce. “Plans are being put in place for a number of ticket promotions for the remainder of the season – starting with £5 off a ticket for the Wigan game (March 15) for anyone who buys a ticket for the Birmingham match (March 1).”

Liz Edwards, chair of the Ipswich Town Supporters’ Club, said: “Attendances are understandably down as we’ve been a decade in the Championship and, until Mick McCarthy and TC (Terry Connor) joined, we seemed to be in a perpetual decline.

“Our crowds are reasonable compared with many other clubs, such as Birmingham, Middlesbrough and Bolton (who have all been in the Premier League more recently), but we must do more to attract fans.

“The club are giving thought to ticketing (we have had far fewer Category A priced games this season than last, for example). The initiative to offer season tickets on zero-interest direct debit was welcomed by many and I hope we see similar inspiration when next year’s details are revealed.

“As Supporters’ Club chair, I have been in continual contact with the club, passing on ideas about ticketing from fans throughout the season and informing ITFC of best practice elsewhere. Let’s hope next year we’ll continue our progress on the field and get fans back into the habit of going.”

– What do you think? E-mail: stuart.watson@archant.co.uk.