Considering the Fine Detail of Early Bird Discounts

You may have rushed to the phone (or onto the internet) to take advantage of the widely advertised “UP TO 10% OFF TICKETS PURCHASED BEFORE 31.12.O7” special offer for the 2008 Cardiff Grand Prix. This opportunity drew itself to my attention through an insert in this week’s Speedway Star that reinforced the screechy back page advert for the Cardiff GP that nowadays seems to run in colour for nearly ten months of every year at the rear of the country’s speedway bible, aka the Speedway Star. As a previous purchaser of GP tickets I also got send this insert in the post yesterday.

The mere sight of this advert immediately brings to mind a couple of pet peeves of mine. Firstly, I’m sure that the Star of my youth had action pictures in colour on the back page almost every week or, at least, it did in my recollection of it. I’m sure I found this thrillingly compelling (I knew I should have got out more and gone more often to the bright lights of Basingstoke instead). The weekly mystery of who would gain the honour to feature in this picture verged on the exciting and was another reason to eagerly rip open the subscription envelope. Sadly, the youngsters of today will have to have their imaginations fired by something other than these boringly repetitious Cardiff GP adverts. Secondly, and worse still, who are the buffoons in charge of the advertising campaign spend? Not content to scale the stupidity of advertising on telly during the Elite League speedway commercial breaks, they’re compounding the profligacy and poor use of their spend by consistently choosing to preach to the already converted. If you’re a British speedway fan and don’t know about Cardiff (fair enough you might not know the exact date but you’ll know it’s in June) you’re not really cooking with gas or possibly have enough distractions in your life already as you live in Basingstoke.

Anyone who has worked in television advertising for a nanosecond will tell you to NEVER – except to ironically subvert the medium, of course – advertise products similar to that already covered by the programme that said commercials are sandwiched between. Ideally, the theory goes, you should advertise products/services that will appeal to the needs, aspirations and budgets of the target audience(s) you’ve (hopefully) identified as likely to watch the programme in question. Ask yourself, do they advertise cricket bats or the latest in protective boxes during the Test Match on Sky? Or karaoke machines during Pop Idol? Of course they don’t. Consequently, the commercials for late night laddish programmes with titillating gratuitous nakedness don’t try to sell you Nuts or Zoo but lager, deodorant, credit cards with great introductory rates and underpowered cars with alloy wheels. Only a foolish organisation – or one awash with more money than marketing sense – tries to sell other speedway events in the commercial breaks during a live televised speedway meeting. Particularly since they might be away to the loo or putting the kettle on during the adverts. Though, thinking about it, perhaps BSI or whatever they’re called nowadays does really know their target audience after all? The apparently always-growing armchair audience for live speedway on Sky we’re often reverentially told about notoriously never (or anecdotally extremely rarely) feels the need to actually visit their local track. So perhaps, rather cunningly, these adverts hard sell the thrilling magnificence of the Cardiff GP because this is the one and only chance to milk this particular cash cow of the stay away armchair speedway fan!

Falling attendances at the Cardiff GP since the high water mark of 2002 indicates that the marketing activities and spend that BSI (or whatever acronym they now are) have indulged themselves with for the past five years has failed and that their money hasn’t been effectively spent. Well, if judged by the official FIM figures. Though, to be fair, the 2006 television adverts did rather subversively attempt to appeal to a hitherto untapped new audience in charge of the pink pound. For subverting the medium and breaking free of the dominant hetero speedway paradigm with shots of Matej Zagar, Scott Nicholls and Antonio Lindback camping it up as skateboarding, hip hop artists under the M40 expressway, BSI should be praised. It was a brave but failed experiment to broaden the fan base of the sport.

Back to the offer itself, while the promised early-bird 10% is not exactly fantastic – a discount is a discount – and, if you can spare the money during this most overspent of months, definitely worth thinking about. On closer investigation of the exact mechanics of this offer, not all discounts are born equal and a more accurate strap line could be “variable discounts apply to orders placed before 31.12.07”. The price matrix for the range of tickets available for Cardiff purchased before 2008 appears to be roughly as follows:

£80 costs £76 (5% discount)
£70 costs £63 (10% discount)
£65 costs £61.75 (5% discount)
£58 costs £52.20 (10% discount)
£50 costs £47.50 (5% discount)
£39 costs £37.05 (5% discount and a really sexy price experiment soon to be adopted by every major UK retailer in preference to the now brilliantly superseded .99 price point)
£34 costs £32.30 (5% discount)

[I must point out that OAP & under 16 ticket prices of £16.15*/£17 is very attractive, though experience indicates hidden costs probably also apply here]

On a straight-line calculation basis (and since I’m unable to learn how many tickets there are in each price category), the average discount is 6.43% so the advert should read, “mostly single figure discounts apply” or, perhaps, even more accurately, “median discount of 5% applies”. Oh and I’m forgetting the £4.80 “transaction fee” that each order (rather than ticket) attracts. Factoring this hidden cost into our equation, the pricing matrix should now read for a single ticket* (*this transaction fee reduces as a percentage of your total order value the more tickets you order):

£80 costs £76 (5% discount) plus 6.32% surcharge** = £80.80
£70 costs £63 (10% discount) plus 7.62% surcharge** = £67.80
£65 costs £61.75 (5% discount) plus 7.77% surcharge** = £66.55
£58 costs £52.20 (10% discount) plus 9.19% surcharge** = £57.10
£50 costs £47.50 (5% discount) plus 10.1% surcharge** = £52.30
£39 costs £37.05 (5% discount) plus 12.96% surcharge** = £41.85
£34 costs £32.30 (5% discount) plus 14.86% surcharge** = £37.10
** On the pre-31.12.07 discounted price

Leaving aside the mind boggling fact that some people will pay the stratospheric price of over £80 a ticket before they’ve spent a single penny more on the basics of food, transport or accommodation. You’d expect a seat in the pits or a ride on the bike for being taken for a ride like this. [When you step back a minute and think for a moment, some people are paying out nearly a £1 per lap (!) to watch the GP from the premium seats] This pricing structure is designed to ensure the organisers suck huge revenues out of British speedway fans pockets and, most likely, reduce the spend at tracks around the country for some time immediately afterwards. I’m no statistician and stand to be corrected, but all this doesn’t look like a great act of corporate generosity towards the early bird fans and that’s before we arrive at the stadium to be presented with another ropey indoor track where overtaking and exciting racing is at a minimum. Let alone the aural torture that the organisers bill as “live music & fantastic entertainment” still awaits us and is kindly ‘included’ in the ticket price. Perhaps, if the organisers dumped the musical has-beens allegedly plucked from the obscurity of the Postlethwaite record collection, there could be an across the board £10-£15 reduction in ticket prices?

By now the adverts should more accurately read “prices range from £34 to £80!! After all applicable discounts for orders received before 31.12.07, we guarantee you will always be charged higher than the face value of your ticket (except in the £70 & £58 seats)” This doesn’t sound quite so snappy or good value (and to think that some people in speedway talk about what good value speedway is compared to football) but does have the virtue of greater transparency. All this expenditure – and remember that even at Elite League prices you could still go five meetings and still have change to spare for the price of one deluxe seat at Cardiff – is before you even think about buying a programme. An item that in 2007 cost £8! You might well recall a time when if you booked early you’d get a free one for doing so…. In a nutshell, this campaign masquerades as offering significant discount benefits for early birds but really hides the fact that no Cardiff GP tickets are sold at face value (and appear to have gone up) and while discounts appear to have fallen from historic levels (when free programmes were the reward for early orders).

Interestingly if you ring up the advertised 0870 contact number, you’ll be put through at National Call telephone rates (akin to premium rates that often the company you’re calling gets a further cut from) to staff at See Tickets that, in my experience, haven’t been trained properly about the event, don’t have a map of the stadium seating layout on their computer (I had to google this myself during the call at the suggestion of the operator) and, consequently, struggle to explain/understand the pricing system or advise on the best seats still available within each price band. [Consequently, my call took over 20 minutes!] My advice would be to book online to be able to view all the various seating options sensibly or, if you don’t have access to a computer and/or prefer to speak with a human, save costs by ringing the cheaper national telephone number (01159 159000) they advertise for overseas callers on the website.

Obviously, like so many other fans, I’ll still be there on June 28th 2008 for the atmosphere and the camaraderie – despite the iniquities of the ticket pricing or the structural impact that the traditional variability of the indoor track has upon the quality of the racing

Do please remember that there’s still time to order my books at a discount rate – without having to pay postage and packing charges – during December. No hidden small print or surcharges guaranteed!

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