Doug King's Coventry City rethink, ticket exchange 'clarity', safe standing & kit assurances

Doug King says he’s ‘pivoted’ on Coventry City’s controversial new get tough policy for Family Zone season tickets after listening to the concerns from fans. The club owner – who this weekend announced that he has frozen season ticket prices for the new Sky Blues season – is trying to ensure that the cheapest family seats at the CBS Arena are being used to avoid a third of that section of the ground being empty, as was the case last season due to adults abusing the system by not taking a child.

A new ticket exchange system is being set up for those families who can’t make the 23 home games next season. The required attendance for the 2024/25 season in the Family Zone will now be set at a minimum of eight games (rather than ten, as initially stated) out of 23 – if fans attend any less than that, then they will not be able to renew in this area in the 2025/26 season.

King has also addressed the planned introduction of safe standing for next season and beyond, and explained why the popular Blocks 15 and 16 of Singers’ Corner have not been included, while also giving assurances about the availability of the new kits, which will be unveiled this summer, ahead of the season campaign.

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Here is a round-up of what the executive chairman said during an interview on BBC CWR’s morning show.

On season ticket freeze

Addressing the season ticket freeze, King said: “We made the decision that we really want to increase and make sure everyone has access to Coventry City and getting to the games. We are obviously faced with a lot of inflation pressures but I felt it was the right moment for us to make a strategic intent. We want to get the stadium filled and reduce the away fans. We want to get the atmosphere building so we can take our team where we want to go.

“So I don’t want to block anything in that respect, so this time we go frozen and we will suck up our cost pressures but we hope to encourage more fans to come to the games.”

Family Zone rethink and ticket exchange clarity

Explaining the proposed ticket exchange scheme and new rules surrounding the Family Zone, he said: “The ticket exchange is not for the whole stadium. The exchange we have suggested is for the Family Zone only. That’s where people seem to need some clarity.

“The Family Zone is an area for families, young people with their parents to come and get their first look at the Sky Blues. We did our analysis on it and for the season just gone (2023/24) a third of the tickets weren’t being used. So we have 3,000 in the Family Zone but only 2,000 are there on average, so 1,000 seats are going unused.

“These are cheap tickets – Under-14s are a couple of quid a game, Under-18s £4 and adults around a tenner a game – so we can’t have it where we are giving really competitive pricing and we don’t have people there, so we have re-thought that.

“Firstly, there have been some occurrences where people have been in there without children, which is obviously not allowed. So we will crack down hard on that. So you cannot go in that Zone unless you are with a child; that’s why it’s called the Family Zone.

“If you want to go to a game and your child isn’t going with you then you are going to have to handle that some other way, and we will be very robust on that because we want that atmosphere to be absolutely perfect for young people with their parents or whoever is taking them, to enjoy a section of the ground where they are surrounded by young people themselves.”

Some parents have expressed concern about the number of games that get switched for TV purposes, with some moved from the traditional Saturday slot to a Monday (school) night, for example.

King said: “Obviously the situation of not getting to games is an issue. The new deal with Sky can be seen online and all the TV games will be posted up until January before the start of the season, so you will know when they will be. Obviously last season was distorted by the great FA Cup run.

“So effectively, what we will be doing, and it’s slightly different to what we originally posted because we had big chats over the weekend, we are going to say to our Family Zone members that you need to make eight games. If you can’t make eight games out of the 23 played, which is a third, then probably this ticket isn’t for you.

“So we will be monitoring that and if you don’t make eight games then you won’t be able to renew for the following season. We want people to fill the stadium, not buy a ticket and then not go and other people not be able to get into that zone. That defeats a cheap ticket, so that needs to change.

“And that’s why this cheap ticket exchange comes in because if you are not going to be able to go you have to put it on the ticket exchange so that we can encourage young, maybe local families to come to midweek games to fill the Family Zone. And we have made the decision that if you do not attend and do not put it on the exchange for more than three occasions then it tells us you are not really allowing that to happen.

“It takes ten seconds to put it on the exchange if you are not going to the game, and therefore you’re not taking it as seriously as we are.”

He added: “Before the season starts people will know exactly when the games will be played. We have to try to get as many people in that Family Zone as we can, so if you are going to take that cheap ticket you cannot just sit on that season ticket because we are seeing it is having massive gaps and blocking young people from engaging in the club again. So just put it on the exchange, and if you can’t make it, no problem.”

Revoked season ticket rule

Another aspect of the new rules is that if Family Zone season ticket holders fail to put their tickets on the exchange on three occasions or more it will result in the season ticket being revoked for the remainder of the season, with the seats being offered on a match-by-match basis to those who qualify.

Put to him that this doesn’t sit easy with some, and asked if the club are not better off going after people abusing the system than penalising the kids who may be hurt by this system, King responded: “I am not going after anyone apart from people who are not following the rules. If you are not taking a child to the Family Zone then that’s not acceptable and you will get your ticket revoked, because that’s the rules of the Family Zone.

“If you can’t turn up eight times out of 23 maybe you shouldn’t be buying a Family Zone ticket. Maybe go game by game and handle it in a different way because you are not attending in a season ticket way. We’re saying that eight out of 23 doesn’t sound too onerous, and that’s a change from what we originally published, so we have pivoted on that one. If you’re not going, put it on the exchange. It takes ten seconds, no problem.”

One fan, who says he can’t drive for four hours to midweek games with three kids under five, believes he’s being punished for being a long-distance supporter.

“We want everyone to come from everywhere but if we can’t get eight games in that route then maybe we are blocking other families, maybe more locally, from the Family Zone,” said King.

“And actually, what they can do is make use of the ticket exchange when they can go. So it will be more flexible.”

Disabled ticket changes

Asked about the changes to disabled Under 14s no longer being able to receive a free ticket for their personal assistant/carer, the owner explained: “I have huge sympathy with that. We did extensive work to put ourselves in the same position of other clubs and areas providing entertainment, and we felt we had to be consistent to those situations. So we have upped the level of disability that gets the free carer situation. Maybe that should have been done some time ago but we need to get in line with our competitors is how we have to work. I think it’s really unfortunate and we’d love all the kids coming in but we just have to put it in line with other venues.”

Stadium access

Asked if there are plans to have more turnstiles entrances to avoid queues of between 20-30 minutes to get in on a matchday for some, as cited by one fan, King said: “We encourage people to get to the stadium as quickly as they can and enjoy the fan zone and get into your seats a bit earlier. Over time I would hope turnstiles and access will be more modernised. Bottlenecks is not something we want but we would encourage people to get there earlier, soak it all up and hit the fan park and not just try to get in five or ten minutes before kick-off.”

Safe standing and Singers’ Corner

Moving on to safe standing which will see 2,732 seats being converted into safe standing areas, with two blocks in the away end behind the goal in the South Stand, and moving round into blocks 11, 12, 13 and 14, but not including blocks 15 and 16 where the hardcore of Singers Corner have previously stood, King was asked why the club chose the blocks they did.

“It was in consultation with the SAG (Safety Advisory Group) and the police,” he explained. “Obviously it can get dangerous around that area (where home and away fans are situated) and they were very keen that that was the area where we should put the safe standing in, from Singers Corner all the way round to the away fans.”

Asked if it can be extended to blocks 15 and 16 where fans have traditionally stood up anyway, he added: “We are unsure whether some of those in Singers Corner will want to move closer to the away fans, which they will have the chance to do. This is our first go at safe standing and have done some trialling. The club is covering this expenditure and we think it will add to the experience, and then we’ll see if it will get extended thereafter. It’s an area that’s always evolving.”

Moving to the new shirts and kits for next season, King was asked if fans will get them in time for the first game this season and whether lessons have been learned following long delays last summer for supporters who had pre-ordered their shirts?

“Yeah, it wasn’t great last year,” he conceded. “We want to go seamless this time. We did the pre-sale of shirts last year but we won’t be doing that. We have got to learn and we will learn. That was disappointing and we don’t want anything negative this time. We want to be on it, get the stadium filled.

“Hopefully we won’t go through that again, otherwise I won’t be happy.”

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