Brentford tell fans 'Pay What You Can'

The Bees are inviting you into their home for £1

While football clubs do an endless amount of good for their communities, negative stories often hide the more life-affirming nature of the game.

These days Chelsea are never too far from the media spotlight. First, they captured our attention with their treatment of Mark Clattenburg – the referee they mistakenly accused of racism – then the drama continued with the brutal dismissal of Champions League winning coach Roberto Di Matteo. 

However, as one West London club captures negative headlines, another one just around the corner is working hard to create a positive vibe, and a bit of festive cheer.

League One side Brentford are doing something no other team in the Football League has done before by asking their fans to ‘Pay What You Can’ for one match.

"With all the financial and family pressures on people before Christmas we thought that for the Stevenage game on 22nd  December we would need to work harder to get people to the ground," Brentford’s Chief Executive Mark Devlin told me.

"We heard of this being done in the United States but it hasn’t been done in the Football League, as far as we know. We are asking fans to pay what they can, with £1 being the minimum."

Surrounded by three Premier League sides – Chelsea, Fulham and QPR - Brentford have no option but to work hard. With TV companies throwing millions at the top teams in the country, it is easy to forget that bums on seats keep smaller clubs alive.

It is not just fans who will benefit from this promotion. The club’s owner Matthew Benham took the initiative one step further deciding that when more than £5 is paid for a ticket 50% would go to charity Sport Relief. 

While Devlin says many supporters have already snapped up a ticket, usually priced at £21, for £1, there is a great deal of business sense behind Brentford’s decision.

"It will help us fill the stadium, raise money for charity, increase secondary sales inside the ground and also generate goodwill and publicity around the club," says Devlin.

With so much competition in this area of London, Devlin knows his club have to do something different and innovative to raise their profile.

"The feedback has been fantastic, especially from our fans and the Football League. A story like this when a club goes out on a limb to try to engage its community is seen very positively," says Devlin.

Although the promotion is built on a well-thought out business model, it is not foolproof. 

"We are not using a sponsor to cover our shortfall, although there is nothing wrong with doing that. We felt fairly bullish that if we got the message out properly that we would get the numbers in... but there is an element of risk in this," Devlin says.

However, if the initiative helps to raise the club’s profile the risk is likely to pay off.  With plans to move into a new 15,000 seat stadium (perhaps larger) in 2016, the club needs to expand its fan base, and somewhat quickly.

"This initiative will hopefully encourage fans who support other teams to watch Brentford. While I don’t expect them to change their allegiance they can see our club has something different to offer," Devlin says. 

"In the future they might look to come to more games as they realise we value their involvement and can provide a fun, safe and enjoyable environment."

While the future looks bright for Brentford – who are currently flying high in League One –one wonders why these sorts of initiatives aren’t more commonplace in football. Is it a case of football boards not being creative enough? 

"We came up with an idea that Premier League clubs choose not to do. Or do not need to do," says Devlin.

"You need an owner and board who are prepared to take a risk. I am not sure if it is about creativity... maybe it is about not being brave enough to make these decisions."

This article featured in the Positive Newspaper.

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