The Sky Blues huffed and puffed their way to another dreary goalless draw at the Ricoh Arena earlier today, slipping to the foot of League One in the process and leaving many to ponder whether this worsening situation is salvageable, and perhaps if Tony Mowbray is the best man to lead that salvage mission.

We’ll park this thought for a minute, because if the bleak prospects on the pitch aren’t depressing enough, there are other worrying developments off it.

Attendances are in free fall.  Today, just 8813 (including more that 400 from Oldham) managed to convince themselves that an afternoon spent at the Ricoh was worth the effort.  This for a Saturday afternoon fixture early in the season, a full three weeks since the last home outing, and more than ten days before the next.

This is the second time this season that the attendance has fallen below the 10,000 mark; something that only happened once during the entire course of last term.  A league attendance of below 9000 is not something we’ve seen since the 2014/15 campaign, a season where all home games started from a low season ticket base given that the club had not moved back to Coventry until the season was underway. Given how that season panned out, it is perhaps not surprising that the club were unable to entice people through the gates in respectable numbers when so few were locked in for the long-haul.

This time last season it was all very different.  There was an air of optimism around the club.  The good start, coupled with a new and progressive pricing structure where adult tickets were available for just £18, and prices were capped at £20 under the ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ banner, saw crowds rise steadily.  They peaked around the end of 2015, before falling away at the end of the season, but still remaining respectable and at or above the club’s stated ‘break-even’ point of 11,000.

The diminishing numbers this season are not exactly shrouded in mystery.  The poor start to the season has naturally had a significant impact, but so too has the new pricing policy.  The writing was on the wall when the attendance for the opening home league fixture was only a shade over 10,000.  This was before the rot had really set in, and was a worrying sign.  Anything but a flying start and it was clear that all the good work last season was about to be undone.

The change in pricing structure is already beginning to appear short-sighted, and possibly a somewhat naive move from Chris Anderson.  Perhaps there was a belief that the increased numbers last season were entirely down to the product being served up on the pitch, and that a pricing increase would bring in enhanced revenues with perhaps only a marginally negative impact on the numbers.

Poor season ticket sales (despite the customary ‘season ticket sales are up’ spin) said otherwise.  Last season was the first time since SISU had taken charge that the average attendance was up on the previous season – finishing at a respectable 12,570.  So far this season, that figure is just 9,557 – a tally likely to fall further, perhaps even below the 9,348 recorded in 2014/15, the lowest in the club’s history (or since detailed records began and excluding Sixfields).

Some may maintain that a run of good results and this all changes.  Perhaps, and I very much hope we get to find out, but I fear the damage is done and the club seem incapable of reversing this trend.  Considering all the off-field woes you would think the last thing the club needs are declining attendances, which only serve to heap further pressure on the already strained finances.

The 500 free tickets they gave away to children today is a start, but it is also a one-off gesture unlikely to have any long-term impact.  There appears to be no strategy, no creativity and a general unwillingness to engage with the local community and build attendances.  It is odd as much as it is frustrating.  For an example of how community engagement and fair pricing can work, look no further than Bradford City, who today attracted over 17,000 supporters to Valley Parade.

Having seen a reversal of the downward trend last season, the move to increase pricing in some parts of the ground from £18 to £26 was ill-conceived and damaging.  Further alienating people who already feel pretty alienated is not going to win friends and influence people.

It appears as though this could be a long, hard and miserable season. It’s early, perhaps too early to write the season off just yet.  Either way, I think we can safely say that for those still committed to the cause, it’s going to be a pretty lonely one.

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