The phrase ‘Earn your stripes’ is unlikely to resonate too much with the average Premier League fan, but it ought to be viewed in foreboding fashion after Hull City’s Championship play-off success.
City beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 at Wembley on Saturday to book a third spell in the top flight and an immediate return after 2015’s relegation, which was largely overshadowed by owners – the Allam family – attempting to change the club name to ‘Hull Tigers’, a move which caused ructions within the fanbase.
They will return with controversial off-field matters once again dominating the discussion.
Season tickets at the KCOM Stadium have been abolished for 2016-17 and replaced with a membership scheme – titled ‘Earn Your Stripes’ – but a pricing structure which does not include concessions for children and old age pensioners is the sticking point.
The prospect of this idea being replicated in English football – already a product that prices out a huge number of fans – is a concern for many.
Hull’s adult prices, to the club’s credit, have been dropped in many parts the stadium, but even the scheme’s title is provocative. A pensioner has earned their stripes and deserves better from the club. A child who relies on their parents to attend cannot earn their stripes.
The structure has been met with fierce opposition from the Tigers faithful – whose opinions were split on the name change, but are almost entirely united in the face of this latest controversy – and Omnisport understands that only around a third of season ticket holders have taken up the option of a membership.
Hull City Supporters Trust chairman Geoff Bielby is one of many who would personally benefit from the scheme, but is against its “abhorrent” make-up.
“There’s certainly a large number, I wouldn’t want to put a figure on it, who have just had enough of being fed daft crackpot schemes,” Bielby told Omnisport.
“The name change, now the membership scheme, consistently being ripped off with ticket price hikes, despite the vast wealth of TV money that’s come in through the door from the Premier League.
“I think the scheme’s abhorrent, but 170-180 million pounds of TV money is going to justify it, the club will claim it’s a success if people join it and that’s the real dilemma that fans are in at the moment.
“The failure will be severely masked because people will crawl out of the woodwork to watch the Premier League.
“They’ll certainly claim it’s revolutionary and all wonderful, but it’ll be interesting to see if they can fill the stadium with Premier League fans because there will be some died-in-the-wool Hull City fans who will not be there next season, me possibly included.”
The club’s hierarchy have blamed fans for the need to withdraw concessions. The KCOM Stadium does not have ticket office or turnstile staff and, as such, has been open to exploitation this season.
While an adult entering the stadium with a child’s ticket is unacceptable, the draconian measures to prevent such actions are shocking.
Anger was channelled into protest at several games towards the end of the season, with City supporters holding up red cards to show their disapproval.
— BBC Humberside Sport (@HumbersideSport) April 26, 2016
More could be to follow as the Supporters’ Trust look to capitalise on the increased focus and publicity that a place in the Premier league brings.
“There’s a big opportunity because the one thing that Sky and the league don’t like is negative publicity on their patch and we will go for that big style,” Bielby explained.
“Without a doubt we will be really turning the screws to say ‘do you realise what is happening?'”
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