AS well as fighting for Premiership survival, Newcastle Falcons are also battling for the hearts and minds of the North East sporting public. On both counts it seems they are increasingly winning.
Eight points clear of Worcester at the foot of the table with two games left to go, the Kingston Park club are well up on the same time last year when it comes to season ticket sales. Not only that, they have sold more now than at the corresponding point in any of the past five years, a target of 2,500 having been set for the start of next season.
With Newcastle’s average Premiership crowd having been 5,193 across their 10 home league games this term, commercial consultant Mick Hogan is the man tasked with upping that figure.
As a former chief executive with Premiership rivals Sale Sharks and Super League champions Wigan Warriors he has the pedigree to make it happen, not to mention his previous years on the Kingston Park staff when sell-out crowds of 10,200 were a once or twice a season occurrence.
“Season tickets have been going very well,” said Hogan, with a 6pm Monday deadline looming for the club’s ‘earlybirds’ to get their bookings in.
“They have been on sale for three weeks now and are significantly ahead of any figures for the past five years, both on numbers of tickets and income.”
In their first year back in the big-time following promotion from the Championship survival was always going to be the unofficial goal, even if the management did not admit as much at the time.
“It has been a tough year on the field and, hand on heart, I am not sure anybody expected different,” said Hogan.
“Our fans have responded magnificently and early sales have been strong, but it is early days yet and there is plenty more work to be done.
“The signs are positive in terms of increasing crowds, and to do that you need a good base of season ticket holders. This year we had 2,100, and next season we are aiming for 2,500. That means a 20% uplift, and with a lot of effort we hope to be there by the start of next season.”
Winning back many of their wavering followers with a creditable performance and a losing bonus point last weekend against league leaders Saracens, Hogan revealed: “In the 48 hours after Sunday’s final whistle we sold over 200 season tickets, which is an incredible number a week before the early bird deadline.
“Obviously people were disapponted we didn’t win the game, but I think the manner of the performance and the fact it was an exciting match just tipped the balance for quite a few who were maybe wobbling over whether or not to sign up.”
In searching for the next generation of supporters the Falcons have offered under-11s free season tickets, increasing that age to under-15s for junior players who are registered with their local rugby club. “The under-11s deal has proved popular,” explained Hogan. “We have not had hundreds in, so we are talking dozens for the time being, but we see that as a reason to buy and we have had good feedback on it.
“Interestingly, it has persuaded a lot of current season-ticket holders to upgrade from standing to seating. It has maybe kept a few with us who were going to go match-by-match next year, and that is so important for us.”
Adults booking before Monday’s 6pm cut-off can watch the Falcons from £149 standing and £249 sitting, the package covering all 11 home league games, two domestic cup games, three European home dates, pre-season friendly action and the Premiership Sevens.
Access to Rugby World Cup tickets is also a major draw, Hogan adding: “As well as that one-off, which is a massive incentive in itself, we have brought back the ticket exchange scheme. That means if you know you are going to miss a game you can swap that ticket for another one, and it is just little ways like that to try and keep or attract people who were debating whether or not to get a season ticket. We have the Premiership Sevens on August 2, for which every season ticket holder can have two free tickets, and what we are really aiming for is a system where our season ticket holders quite rightly get the biggest benefits rather than just a discount on match-by-match entry to the stadium.
“It is about saying you have stuck with us through thick and thin for quite a few seasons, and we appreciate that commitment.”
Making no bones about the desire to get money in early, he added: “The earlybird deadline is 6pm on Monday.
“That is partly because of the cut-off point for Rugby World Cup tickets, but it is no secret that it does help with cash-flow. It means we can plan ahead with more certainty. It gets the season off to a good start, and the bedrock of any attendance growth always comes through season tickets.
“The club used to have 3,000 season-ticket holders, and in a couple of years we want to be at and even past that figure. Potentially we are three years off being at around 4,000 season tickets, and that is where we need to be.”