Why a free kick can work for some

European football clubs lower down in the pecking order are experimenting with free stadium entry for fans to work their way up the league tables. Paris FC, perpetually under the shadow of the city’s star club Paris St-Germain, has been getting ‘good results’ since it started the move five months ago. This, after Germany’s 2nd div side Fortuna Dusseldorf introduced the practice. Money these clubs lose on ticket sales is made up by fuller stands that bring in greater merchandise and sponsorship revenue. The more intriguing marketing innovation is reimagining the spectator sports to include cheering followers. Since sport, football or cricket, is funded by a far-bigger TV audience, crowded stadiums are as much part of the show as the lead characters on the field. From the perspective of entertainment, fans provide the supporting cast, and need to be compensated for their effort.

The innovation is yet to work its way through spectator sports. In cricket, for instance, BCCI will be loath to cannibalise stadium receipts in IPL matches where demand is almost always big and guaranteed. But in international football, clubs yield to the pressure of TV advertising that adjusts match timings to viewership patterns, much of which is in Asia these days. Disruptors, with lower costs sunk into hosting matches, are trying to get ahead in the game by relying overtly on broadcasting revenue that outpaces all other income streams. They are, in effect, allowing couch potatoes to pay for those at the Colosseums watching the gladiatorial bouts from stands.

If they succeed, the innovation of free entry could cascade into a bigger bounty for stadium-goers. They might come to expect their act of cheering for their team needs to be paid for by, say, free drinks along with free tickets. This may work in football. But tennis, for instance, Wimbledon, is about pricing tickets to a point where being seen in the stands becomes a social statement. Niche marketing works better in the mass segment. So, upcoming clubs and leagues may have the best shot at pulling off ticketless stadium entry. India‘s top football league ISL should give this a try.


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