By Wayne Veysey | Chief Correspondent
Premier League clubs are weighing up a radical £16 million proposal to offer free travel to away matches for all supporters, Goal.com can reveal.
The initiative, estimated to cost between £500,000-£800,000 per club, has been proposed as a widespread solution to increase away attendance.
It was advanced by Stoke City at the most recent full meeting of the Premier League shareholders, details of which have been made available to Goal.com.
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The issue of away occupancy has been on the agenda for the Premier League in recent years and an Attendance Working Group was established in May 2012 due to growing alarm at ticket prices and travel costs.
It emerged this week that Manchester City have returned close to a third of their 3,000 allocation for Sunday’s marquee Premier League clash at Arsenal after supporters balked at the £62 ticket price.
Although general attendances are strong, with current occupancy at the 95 per cent mark and at 90-plus per cent for 15 seasons in a row, the Premier League is aware of the importance of away fan attendance. “It’s at a healthy level and we want to keep it that way,” said one source.
Goal.com can reveal that Stoke chief executive Tony Scholes proposed two initiatives at the November 15 meeting to address away attendances.
The first was for clubs to agree that tickets for away fans should never cost more than the cheapest home match ticket. The second, more revolutionary, proposal was that clubs should agree to provide free coach travel to away fixtures for all supporters.
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Scholes told the Premier League shareholders, who included representatives of the 20 clubs and Football Association chairman David Bernstein, that the cost of laying on free coaches would be a maximum of £800,000 per year per club, although he said that the actual cost was more likely to be £500,000 each.
Scholes argued that the cumulative cost of between £10m-£16m would be off-set by the “positive PR” it generated, particularly in light of the money-spinning new TV deal, worth a minimum £61.9m per club from next season, and discussions on whether to introduce a Premier League wage cap.
Although Premier League sources say Stoke's proposal is at the early stage, it is one of the ideas being considered by the working group, which includes club and league staff, to help keep away attendances strong.
The consensus among the clubs at the Premier League meeting was that the issue of subsidised travel was specific to individual clubs, although there was an agreement that the issue would be given “further consideration” and a report brought to the shareholders “in due course”.