Stoke City have been widely applauded for taking the unprecedented step of offering their supporters free coach travel to every Premier League away game next season. Peter Coates, the Stoke chairman, said that the gesture was made on the back of "the very attractive new TV deal" and following discussions across the Premier League about how to arrest the decline in the number of away fans travelling to matches.
Invited by the Premier League to put forward ideas to address the issue, Stoke, who have kept ticket prices at the same level since their promotion to the top flight in 2008, submitted a paper suggesting that putting on free coach travel for away supporters was worth exploring. Coates told the Guardian that although Stoke "didn't get universal approval" from the rest of the Premier League clubs, they have decided to press ahead with the initiative, which will start with the trip to Anfield on the opening day of the season.
"We think that the cost of travel is very expensive these days. We are going to try this experiment for 12 months, and we think it will be appreciated by our supporters," Coates said.
"There is a bit of concern that there has been a decline in away support across the Premier League. The Premier League has been discussing it, they were looking for ideas to encourage away support and asked some executives to spend some time thinking about it. People had different ideas, and our idea was to subsidise coach travel to away games. Stoke City put forward a paper on it, but we didn't get universal approval. I thought it was a good idea and we are going to experiment. I am a great believer in not telling other clubs what to do."
One of the biggest obstacles for many supporters who travel to watch their team away from home in the Premier League is the cost of tickets, which are outrageously high for visiting fans at some grounds when compared with the price of home seats. "I think pricing is an issue, I don't think there is any doubt about that," Coates said. "I have always been of the view that everyone in the community should be able to go to football. It's traditionally a working-class sport and we want people on modest incomes to be able to come."