Harrogate Town fans' concerns over recent decision-making and off-field issues addressed by CEO Sarah Barry - part two

Part two of Harrogate Town Chief Executive Officer Sarah Barry addressing supporters’ concerns regarding the recent rise in match and season tickets and the reallocation of seats in the Main Stand at Wetherby Road.

By Rhys Howell
Thursday, 30th June 2022, 10:46 am
Updated Thursday, 30th June 2022, 11:19 am
Sarah Barry, Harrogate Town's Chief Executive Officer. Picture: Harrogate Town AFC
Sarah Barry, Harrogate Town's Chief Executive Officer. Picture: Harrogate Town AFC

The cost of attending matches at the EnviroVent Stadium is set to go up across the board after prices were frozen for the season just gone, the club’s first as a Football League outfit that fans were permitted to attend.

The Sulphurites, who announced in May that they will invest £3.5million in ground development and other off-field improvements, have stated that the extra revenue they hope will be generated by ticket sales will help ‘provide the foundations for us to remain competitive in the top four tiers of English football.’

Existing season ticket holders will once again benefit from a reduced rate, though adult renewals will cost either £50 (standing) or £71 (seated) more, while under-18s face the most significant rise with fees more than tripling.

Harrogate Town supporters at the EnviroVent Stadium. Picture: Matt Kirkham

Prices for new season tickets are higher still, while the cost of buying individual match-day tickets has also increased.

With plenty of Town supporters expressing their displeasure regarding the new ticket prices and the club’s decision to relocate certain spectators from padded seats, Harrogate Advertiser sports editor Rhys Howell sought feedback from members of the fan-base before presenting 22 questions to Barry.

Town’s CEO answered every single point put to her during an interview which lasted for more than 50 minutes.

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

16. Will all those padded seats that have been reallocated in the Main Stand be filled for all home matches by corporate & sponsors? Does this therefore mean that the club is extending its corporate/sponsorship opportunities on match days if more padded seats are needed? Isn’t there a possibility that those padded seats will remain empty rather than being filled by loyal fans who attend week in, week out?

SB: “We have a limited number of padded seats in the Main Stand and it's the same here as it is at every ground I've visited, these are always used for hospitality or officials.

"Again, this is not meant as a criticism of anything that was done here before I joined the club, but I'm not sure about the calculations that were made with regards to these seats.

"It was one of our biggest problems at every home game last season, trying to get everyone seated. Quite simply, we did not have enough seats to accommodate everyone. It was like trying to fit a pint into a half-pint glass at times

"As well as needing to seat our own directors, we are contractually obliged to seat all of the away directors (16), EFL sponsors like SkyBet, scouts, and referee observers and that is before we even get to our own sponsors, the stadium sponsors and our corporate guests.

“You also have to consider the last-minute show-ups that we are contractually committed to seat like anti-doping teams. It is the same at every single Football League club and we only have so many seats.

“Also, all these groups of people need to be able to sit together. We can’t have 16 away directors dotted around different parts of the stand.

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

“We have tried to communicate our decision by phoning people up and explaining the reasons behind what we’ve done rather than just sending a cold email.

“We’re at a different level now. I think all of our stakeholders are still getting used to League Two. There’s a different level of compliance, different obligations and we’re trying to get it right.”

17. Have the needs of individual supporters who are being relocated been considered? Case in point being two older supporters who have been offered seats that are too high in the stand for them to access easily or seats too close to the front that they fear will leave them exposed to the rain on wet days...

SB: “Now that we have reallocated some of the padded seats that supporters sat in last season we're left with about 10 spare.

"What do we do? Do a prize draw for a lucky few and then risk upsetting everyone else who misses out? It's difficult.

"I need to stress that I'm really sorry for those who have had to move. We didn’t want to cause upset. We didn't want to do this, but we had no option. These are EFL rules and we just have to make it happen.

"In hindsight, we shouldn't have sold these seats to supporters last season. I realised that last year, but I didn't want to be moving people part-way through the season.

"In hindsight, maybe I should have, but I can't undo the initial decision."

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

SB: "If we are talking about our hospitality offering, the feedback we get is unbelievably good. It is consistently high. If someone hasn't been and experienced it for themselves then they wouldn't necessarily know that.

"In terms of the football on offer, it's very subjective isn't it. If I made decisions based on whether we won, lost or drew on a Saturday then I would be moving the goalposts literally every week.

"It is my job to make decisions, that are fair and balanced, but will enable the club to progress."

19. Do the club believe the time is finally coming to have a fans' forum that is open to all fans?

SB: “We have had a fans’ forum and are planning another one at the moment. It’s something we are working on and just need to confirm a date.”

20. Will the fans get an SLO that is willing to be a part of the supporters groups' and actually engage with all fans?

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

“This comes from a very small minority and stems back to stuff that’s happened previously, prior to me being at the club, but it seems like they [the SLO and SLAs] can’t win.

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

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

“We are working out how to solve this issue because it is an important one and we want to deliver on supporter liaison."

21. It is my personal opinion that the club has identified a demographic they want to attend games. They also appear to have a constant focus on corporate, massively prioritising this over real fans and the working class. Is this the case?

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

“There’s no constant focus on corporate. It makes up a small percentage, I think it amounts to five per cent of the crowd, if that, but we couldn't manage without them.

"As I have already said, I don't know one sports team that can exist without sponsorship or income from the corporate side. We are very lucky to have such good and supportive sponsors and partners.

"But, we’re not trying to price anybody out. Our prices are aligned with comparable experiences."

22. Is there a genuine desire to build the crowds? Because they wouldn't be pricing fans out if that were the case. To ask for a 20% price rise after narrowly staving off relegation, straight after a global pandemic, slap bang in the middle of a cost of living crisis that is about to get FAR worse is nothing short of arrogant, disrespectful & proves how out of touch with the working class & real football fan they really are.

SB: "Yes, of course there is, we need to grow the crowd.

"We probably made a rod for our own back with the decision to back-track on the attempt to increase ticket prices previously and then freezing the 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 although fans are paying more, they are also getting more.

"And what I can promise is that every penny that comes in from the supporters goes back out again, and then some."