Newcastle United have responded to plummeting attendances at St James’ Park by offering existing season ticket holders a free half season ticket to try and fill the stadium.
The offer was prompted by manager Steve Bruce who, apart from the games against Manchester United and City, has been greeted by thousands of empty seats after a large number of fans decided to boycott home games following the departure of his predecessor Rafa Benitez.
The crowd of 42,303 for the 2-1 win over Southampton last weekend was the lowest Premier League crowd for nine years and the actual number of fans inside the stadium was much lower as season ticket holders – regardless of whether they attend games or not – are included in the figure.
Results under Bruce have been good and the Magpies have not lost in front of their own fans since the opening day of the season, but that has not encouraged disillusioned fans to come back with many insisting they will not return until owner Mike Ashley has sold the club.
There does not appear to be much hope of that happening in the short term and Newcastle have got into the Christmas spirit early with 10,000 half season tickets available on a first come, first served basis.
It remains to be seen how many take up the offer as the mood on Tyneside remains largely apathetic after 12 years of disappointments under Ashley, but at least the club are trying to be proactive as the team are doing far better under Bruce than many fans expected.
"The supporters have been nothing short of magnificent since I arrived in the summer and I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you to each and every one of them,” Bruce said in a statement.
"To have the crowds we have is wonderful, and we can’t ever take that for granted, but the question to all of us at the club is can we pack the stadium to the rafters?
"It starts with results on the pitch, but I hope a gesture like this will help us to fill the place because St. James’ Park in full voice is a force to be reckoned with…the atmosphere is like nowhere else.”
Bruce is understood to have pushed for something to be done about the falling attendances and managing director Lee Charnley agreed.
"While of course we want to encourage fans to come back and also to attract new fans,” Charnley added. “At this time, we wanted to do something specifically for our existing season ticket holders to reward them for their loyalty and support of Steve and the players.”