Harrogate Town fans’ concerns over recent decision-making and off-pitch issues addressed by CEO Sarah Barry – part two


Sarah Barry, Chief Executive of Harrogate Town. Photo: Harrogate Town AFC

The cost of matches at EnviroVent Stadium is expected to rise across the board after the price freeze for the just-ended season, the club’s first as a Football League side which fans were allowed to attend.

The Sulphurites, who announced in May that they would invest £3.5million in pitch development and other off-pitch improvements, said the additional revenue they hope to generate from ticket sales will help to “provide us with the foundations to remain competitive in the top four tiers of English football.

Existing season ticket holders will again get a discounted rate, although adult renewals will cost £50 (standing) or £71 (seated) more, while under-18s face the biggest hike important with costs that have more than tripled.

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Harrogate Town supporters at EnviroVent Stadium. Photo: Matt Kirkham

Prices for new subscriptions are even higher, while the cost of purchasing individual matchday tickets has also increased.

With many City supporters expressing their dissatisfaction with the new ticket prices and the club’s decision to move some spectators from padded seats, Harrogate Advertiser Sportswriter Rhys Howell solicited feedback from members of the fan base before presenting Barry with 22 questions.

The Town CEO responded to all the points posed to her in an interview that lasted over 50 minutes.

His first 15 responses were printed in last week’s edition of the Harrogate Advertiser and online, with the rest of his responses detailed below.

16. Will all those padded seats that have been reallocated in the main stand be filled for all home games by companies and sponsors? So does this mean the club is extending its corporate/sponsorship opportunities on matchdays if more padded seats are needed? Isn’t there a possibility that these padded seats sit empty rather than being occupied by loyal fans who attend week after week?

SB: “We have a limited number of padded seats in the main stand and it’s the same here as on all the grounds I’ve visited, they are always used for hospitality or officials.

“Again, this is not meant to be a criticism of anything that was done here before I joined the club, but I am not sure what calculations have been made regarding these seats.

“That was one of our biggest problems in every home game last season, trying to get everyone seated. Quite simply, we didn’t have enough seats to accommodate everyone. It was like try to put a pint in a half pint glass sometimes.

“As well as needing to seat our own managers, we are contractually obliged to seat all outside managers (16), EFL sponsors like SkyBet, scouts and referee spotters and that’s before we even start. to our own sponsors, stadium sponsors and our corporate guests.

“We must also take into account last-minute arrivals that we contractually undertake to seat as anti-doping teams. It’s the same at all Football League clubs and we only have a limited number of seats.

“Also, all these groups of people need to be able to sit together. We cannot have 16 outside directors scattered in different parts of the gallery.

“We just don’t have enough of these cushioned seats to give away and also sell to everyone who wants one.

“We tried to communicate our decision by phoning people and explaining the reasons for what we did rather than just sending a cold email.

“We are on a different level now. I think all of our stakeholders are still getting used to League Two. There is a different level of compliance, different obligations and we try to get it right.

17. Have the needs of individual supporters who are relocated been taken into account? For example, two older supporters were offered seats too high in the stand for them to reach easily or seats too close to the front which they fear will expose them to rain on rainy days. …

SB: “Now that we have reallocated some of the padded seats the fans sat in last season, we have around 10 spare seats left.

“What do we do? Make a draw for a lucky few and then risk upsetting everyone else who misses out? It’s tough.

“I have to stress that I’m really sorry for those who had to move. We didn’t want to disturb. We didn’t want to do this, but we had no choice. These are EFL rules and we just it has to be done.

“Looking back, we shouldn’t have sold those seats to supporters last season. I realized that last year, but I didn’t want to move people during the season.

“In hindsight, maybe I should have, but I can’t override the original decision.”

18. Has the hospitality and football on offer been good enough for long enough that people have had a chance to catch the Harrogate Town bug?

SB: “If we talk about our hospitality offering, the feedback we get is incredibly good. It’s consistently high. If someone hasn’t been and experienced it for themselves , he would not necessarily know.

“As far as the football on offer is concerned, it’s very subjective, isn’t it. If I made decisions based on whether we win, lose or draw on a Saturday, I would literally move the goal posts every week.

“It’s my job to make decisions, which are fair and balanced, but which will allow the club to progress.”

19. Does the club think the time has finally come to have a fan forum open to all fans?

SB: “We have organized a fan forum and we are planning another at the moment. It’s something we’re working on and we just need to confirm a date.

20. Will fans get an SLO willing to be part of supporter groups and truly engage with all fans?

SB: “We have one SLO and three SLAs, but to be honest, it’s a real challenge for them to do their job due to the amount of personal abuse they receive and comments that are made at the same time. on social media and in person.

“It comes from a very small minority and goes back to things that happened before, before I was at the club, but it looks like they [the SLO and SLAs] can’t win.

“It is important to remember that they are human beings, they are volunteers and it is in no way acceptable for them to suffer personal abuse for trying to do a job for the club.

“So in answer to the question, I have to say it’s a two-way street. It’s about how fans want to engage as well as what we do.

“We are working on how to resolve this issue as it is important and we want to liaise with the supporters.”

21. I am personally of the opinion that the club have identified a demographic group that they want to attend matches. They also seem to be constantly focused on business, overwhelmingly prioritizing that over real fans and the working class. Is that the case ?

SB: “Absolutely not. We want everyone to be able to attend. We couldn’t exist without all of our stakeholders, but supporters are always the priority because we wouldn’t be here without them.

“There is no constant focus on the business. It’s a small percentage, I think it’s five percent of the crowd, if that, but we couldn’t live without them.

“As I said before, I don’t know of a single sports team that can exist without sponsorship or revenue on the corporate side. We are very lucky to have such good and supportive sponsors and partners.

“But we’re not trying to charge anyone. Our prices are aligned with comparable experiences.”

22. Is there a real desire to gather the crowds? Because they wouldn’t charge fans if they did. Asking for a 20% price hike after narrowly avoiding relegation, right after a global pandemic, hitting in the middle of a cost of living crisis that is about to get worse is simply arrogant, disrespectful and proves how close to touching with the working class and the true football fan they really are.

SB: “Yes, of course there are, you have to grow the audience.

“We probably did ourselves a disservice by deciding to backtrack on trying to raise ticket prices before and then freezing prices.

“We are now in a situation where we have to look at ways to increase revenue, but we are also looking at other areas, not just ticket prices and we are also working to improve the matchday experience so that even if fans pay more, they also get more.

“And what I can promise is that every penny that comes back from the supporters goes away, and more.”

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