Leeds United have been later with their season-ticket prices, but only just.
Insolvency saw to it that in 2007 the club delayed renewals until the last week of May, inviting supporters to commit to a season which United were not entirely certain of starting.
The club’s financial problems were so bad that the board at Elland Road were told to ringfence the money to ensure that it could be repaid if Leeds were forced into liquidation before a ball was kicked. It’s a reminder of how bad that summer became.
More often than not, United – not least during Ken Bates’ (right) eight years as owner – moved to pull in a precious source of income as quickly as possible, announcing renewal prices as early as January. The timing was equally dubious, asking for payment at a stage where Leeds had no idea about which division they’d be playing in. The club defended themselves with the flimsy guarantee that costs would not increase regardless of whether they were promoted.
In England, income from season-ticket sales is often the single biggest flow of revenue for a Championship side. United’s gate receipts for the 2012-13 financial year ran to almost £10m, around a third of their annual turnover. But in the past two years, much of the cash was spent as soon as it arrived, used to pay off a loan from Ticketus which funded the costly redevelopment of Elland Road’s East Stand in 2011.
According to director Salem Patel – still officially on the board at Elland Road after Massimo Cellino’s takeover – the final fee owed to Ticketus last spring was £3.3m – a huge chunk of the money raised from season tickets.
Gulf Finance House, which cut prices ahead of the 2013-14 season, wanted to launch renewals for the 2014-15 term more than two months ago but Cellino refused.
“It wasn’t right,” the Italian said. “It was like taking money from the fans without any promises.” At the time Cellino was in the middle of his buy-out of GFH. Besides the issue of short-changing United’s supporters, he might also have been wary of allowing GFH to pull millions of pounds into Leeds at a stage where the Bahraini bank was making no effort to fund operating costs itself.
Prices for the 2014-15 season will finally be announced this Wednesday and if Cellino sticks to his historical policy, the renewal date at Elland Road is likely to remain static as the years go by.
In contrast to the approach of English clubs, he has never favoured selling tickets midway through a season which is already paid for and still in the balance. On occasions at Cagliari, he refused to sell season tickets at all.
I asked him why in an interview earlier this month.
“Because I was p****d off with the fans or I wasn’t sure of my engagement with them,” he said. “So I say ‘no season tickets. You pay three times more.’”
He was unrepentant about the unrest it caused. “Sometimes if we don’t win, if the team play bad, I give them back their money,” he said. “I’m a player, a man who likes to play. We have fun.”
It won’t take him long to discover that ticket prices in Leeds are no laughing matter.