BCFC: A Balancing Act

The Daily Mail reported on Monday afternoon that Blues had asked the EFL for permission to play their home League One fixture against Wrexham in America rather than in Birmingham. The report confirmed that the EFL very quickly shot the idea down but that hasn’t stopped a wider discussion of the idea.

St Andrew's vs Blackburn

For those who have not seen the article, it can be found at this link.

As I would have expected, the majority of Blues fans I have seen who have reacted to the idea have done so negatively.

We’ve seen before with the idea of “Game 39” in the Premier League that there is a large amount of antipathy towards the idea of any English competitive game being played outside the country.

Yet for me this kind of idea forms part of a larger issue that the club is facing following the takeover by Knighthead; one of balance.


From the very beginning of the Knighthead era, it’s been obvious that money brought in from hospitality and commercial ticketing was going to be important.

In some ways the new owners were fortunate to find flooding in the upper floor of the Kop at the time of taking over.

It gave the new management the opportunity to immediately start with making hospitality changes, which saw the creation of the Alliance lounge.

The success of that suite has helped to ensure that Tom Wagner and co would look to continue developing this offering.

In April, the club announced at the second Open House meeting plans to double the capacity of hospitality ticketing at St Andrew’s, which would take it to 10% of the total capacity of the stadium.

To achieve this there are new hospitality areas being built in the Gil Merrick stand and under the Kop stand, while there are also improvements being made to the Kop side hospitality areas and boxes.

Unfortunately for some fans in the Club Class area, this has meant that some fans have been told that they have to either move from their current seat or pay the new hospitality fees, which are massively higher than their previous season ticket prices.

With season ticket prices being released in June, it’s not hard to understand why many fans were unhappy with what they were offered. There was very little time to make a decision on what to do, and for many there was little chance to consult with others to make plans for moving.

It wasn’t just those fans who were in for a shock.

Rob Plaister unhappy at price rises

When hospitality prices were released, there were some fans who suddenly found themselves looking at hefty price hikes.

For small business owners in the area, difficult decisions had to be made.

Having supported the club through thin and thinner under the previous administration, their loyalty has now been seemingly rewarded with the club looking to price them out in favour of potentially bigger commercial partners.

Neil Moxley of the Mirror went into battle for them, reporting the price hike and noting that while hospitality areas have been improved, the product on offer was now of a lower-grade due to Blues being relegated to League One.

Yet within nine days of that report, the club announced that all matchday boxes, along with the Wiseman Lounge and the Captains Club had sold out for the upcoming season.

At the same time, premium hospitality packages were released for the season ahead and I have no doubt that the club will be hoping for an uptick of sales there.

From a macro perspective, the sale of all this commercial ticketing is nothing but good news for the club.

While the financial fair play rules are different in League One, I have no doubt that Knighthead are eager to improve revenues at the club, which in turn should allow it to spend even more.

Yet from a micro perspective, behind every seat number and invoice is a fan who has put money into the club.

Every fan has their own story; their own tales of loyalty through dark years and when things were tough.

And while loyalty as a fan should be a given, I don’t think it’s something that can be taken for granted.

This is a theme that continues with the idea of a League game in America.

The America Idea

I’m honestly surprised it’s taken this long for something to come out about the club looking to explore an option about playing a game in America.

After all, Wagner and Brady are used to a completely different kind of sporting experience, where teams are franchises in a league and have been moved from city to city at the whim of owners and administrators.

In recent years, the NFL, NBA and MLB have all had regular season games scheduled for stadiums outside of North America.

The NFL and MLB are both regular visitors to these shores and it’s even been floated that the new stadium being built for Blues will have the idea of hosting these games in mind.

Yet while other football associations in other countries such as Spain have experimented with the idea of domestic games being played abroad, the idea of it happening with English domestic games has never gone down well.

From a financial perspective, the idea of playing abroad has some sound reasoning behind it.

The argument has always been that by introducing English domestic fixtures to somewhere like America, it will open up new markets for the teams involved, bringing in a whole range of new fans and potential revenue streams.

Football these days is as much about branding as anything else, and the big clubs have all made a push to build their brand on a global scale.

While Blues are in a much different position due to their position in League One, they will have certainly noted that Wrexham have had some success in branding in the American markets due to their ownership and that it may be possible to replicate that.

Despite all that sound financial and marketing reasoning, I have to admit I find the idea abhorrent.

From a personal perspective, while I could potentially fund going to a fixture in America this season, I’m very aware that many Blues fans can’t or won’t do so.

As someone who grew up in a lower income working class family from Chelmsley Wood, I can’t help but think that the idea of Blues playing a League One game in some American stadium is anathema to everything that football should be about.

I’m not going to write the ol’ cliches about how football died with the Premier League but there is definitely a feeling that the soul of the game is slowly being drained away from it.

My instinct is that a domestic game abroad is only going to feed into that – and that as it disappears, it will be increasingly difficult to get back.

I’m also concerned that while it might be possible to sell tickets and merchandise based on a trip to America, I’m not convinced that any loyalty to the team will be built up.

I’ve frequently noticed in these modern times where it’s possible to buy replica shirts from many leagues across the world, there is now a grouping of fans who follow players rather than teams.

Indeed, I was surprised that even in Chelmsley Wood I saw someone wearing an Al-Nassr shirt with Cristiano Ronaldo’s name on the back.

Part of me hopes that Tom Wagner and the Blues board have seen some of the backlash online and are taking time to understand just why people might be so against the ideal.

I’m also hopeful that there as much as Knighthead know that they have to chase a return for the money invested, that there is a realisation that fans are as much a part of the product as the game itself.

While I think that the pandemic and lockdowns proved that football can exist without fans in the stadium, it also proved that without fans football is incredibly sterile.

As much as progression needs to happen, it cannot be made without regard to the cost to the fans.