National League general manager Mark Ives understands play-off ticket frustration

London Stadium
Grimsby became the first team since the new National League play-off system was introduced to get promoted after finishing as low as sixth in the table

National League general manager Mark Ives “understands the frustration” around ticket pricing for the play-off final and will reflect on how to improve the situation for next season.

Ives and league chairman Jack Pearce were booed by the 22,897 crowd before and after Grimsby’s extra-time win over Solihull Moors at the London Stadium.

There was controversy over the £40 minimum adult prices for the game.

League sponsors Vanarama gave £20,000 to each club to help fans with costs.

More than 13,000 Grimsby fans were able to watch their side return to League Two at the first attempt, helped by the intervention of the Mariners Trust supporters group which raised money for tickets.

“I understand the frustration,” Ives told BBC Sport. “Will I take some things back and reflect on them? Of course I will.

“What people see is the price, not the challenges we had to get to that position, what we had to do to find a venue and negotiate the best possible deal given the unknowns at that time, including not knowing who was in the final. The crowd could have been anything from 15,000 to 45,000.

“I have seen people say ‘why is it in the south?’. We approached lots of clubs in the north and in Wales. It was not easy. We need to think about how we better communicate that before the event.

“The London Stadium is an iconic ground and what an atmosphere there was. I hope people went away happier than when they walked in.”

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Three-up, three-down?

Grimsby’s victory meant they became the first side since Cheltenham in 2015-16 to get promoted back to the Football League in the season after they were relegated.

Prior to this season, of the previous 20 clubs to get promoted from the National League, only four – Grimsby, Macclesfield, Barnet and York – have been relegated again.

It strengthens the National League argument for an additional promotion place, something Ives has been pushing for and does not believe the Football League is flatly against.

“We have made it clear three-up, three-down is something we would like to pursue,” said Ives. “Absolutely we are having open dialogue about it. It would be fairer and more fitting for our competition.

“It is a matter for the EFL and it has to have discussions with its clubs but is it something it is willing to have dialogue over? I think so.”

Salary cap changes unlikely for 2022-23

It had been thought some kind of salary cap changes might be implemented in the National League by the start of next season.

Although discussions are continuing, Ives believes alterations to the regulations are unlikely in the short term, which will be good news for big-spending Wrexham, given they missed out on promotion again and will remain in the National League for a 15th consecutive season.

“A salary cap might mean a hard cap, where everyone can spend the same amount of money irrespective of whether they have got more in the bank,” Ives said.

“Or it could be a soft one, where you can spend a percentage of your accepted income towards player and team salaries. Or is it a discussion to have secure financial regulations to ensure clubs don’t spend beyond their means?

“The league does have that already. Look at the number of clubs who have got themselves into real financial difficulty over the last 10 years, none of them have come from the National League. Why? Because they have a financial regulatory framework that allows us to deal with matters as they arise.

“What we don’t do is deal with it in the public arena. I don’t think that is right. Powers open to us are quite severe, including player embargoes. We have and would use them when people are in the early stages of financial difficulty. That has been in place for a number of years and it is paying dividends.”

World Cup calendar issues

As with League One and Two, the National League will continue to play matches during the World Cup in Qatar.

On Saturday, 26 November there will be four group games, one of which starts at 13:00 GMT and another at 16:00, while on 3 and 10 December there will be knockout games with a 15:00 kick-off and on 17 December the third and fourth-place match also starts at 15:00.

The National League says it will look sympathetically at any clubs who want to switch either the time or day of a specific game in order to avoid a clash.

“We are open to look at it,” said Ives. “We are more likely to move something that clashes with England and Wales games but my position with fixtures is always to listen to both teams and see what their views are.

“If I can get into a situation where both teams are happy and it wouldn’t damage the integrity of the competition, why wouldn’t you think about it?”

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