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SBD Global/July 22, 2013/Franchises

EPL Stoke City Will Offer Fans Free Travel To All Away Fixtures Next Season

Stoke City will bus fans to away fixtures for free in '13-14.
EPL Stoke City will offer its supporters free coach travel to all of its EPL games in the '13-14 season. It is believed to be the first time any side in England's top four divisions has undertaken such an initiative for an entire campaign. Coach buses will leave from Britannia Stadium for all 19 EPL top-flight matches, starting with the Aug. 17 match at Liverpool. The club is introducing the initiative on the back of the increase in its income delivered by new TV deals, in a bid to try and ease the financial burden on fans who follow the club (Stoke City). In London, Stuart James reported Stoke City has been "widely applauded" for taking this "unprecedented step." Stoke City Chair Peter Coates said the gesture was made following discussions across the Premier League about "how to arrest the decline in the number of away fans travelling to matches." Stoke City was "invited by the Premier League to put forward ideas to address the issue." The club "submitted a paper suggesting that putting on free coach travel for away supporters was worth exploring." Coates said although Stoke "didn't get universal approval" from the rest of the Premier League clubs, it has "decided to press ahead with the initiative, which will start with the trip to Anfield on the opening day of the season." Coates: "We think that the cost of travel is very expensive these days. We are going to try this experiment for 12 months, and we think it will be appreciated by our supporters" (GUARDIAN, 7/19). The BBC reported Stoke City "previously subsidised ticket prices" for those traveling to an FA Cup quarterfinal tie at Anfield, waiving its right to 45% of the away ticket sales so it could offer tickets to fans at £20 ($30) instead of £35 ($53) (BBC, 7/19).

'GROUND BREAKING': In London, Glenn Moore opined in an industry where the first instinct of most execs "is to plot more ways of 'monetising the customer base,' Stoke City’s decision to offer free coach travel to fans for away matches is genuinely ground-breaking." As Stoke City indicated, "with the sharp rise in television income enjoyed by Premier League clubs they can afford it." But few rivals "would consider spending this windfall on supporters in such a direct fashion." At some clubs, "it might be regarded as a gimmick, but Stoke are one of the last to be locally owned and Peter Coates has always been prepared to look beyond the bottom line." Home ticket prices "have not risen since promotion five years ago despite significant expenditure on transfer fees" (INDEPENDENT, 7/20).
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