Bristol Bears and Bristol Sport have apologised to fans for the way in which the movement of the Family Area during rugby matches was handled. In an 'open letter' to many season ticket holders who found they had to move from the seats they had sat in for many years, Bristol Sport Group CEO Gavin Marshall said they could have 'communicated this move better'.

Just days before season ticket renewals and sales were set to take place for Bristol Bears' fans, many season ticket holders received a message to say that they would no longer be able to sit in their current seats in certain areas of the South Stand as they were moving the Family Area to this part of the ground at Ashton Gate. A huge number of fans were quick to take to social media to complain about the lack of warning and communication around the decision.

Many of the fans affected had been sitting in the same seats for almost 10 years. At the time Bristol Bears said the move was so young fans could be "closer to the action in a great atmosphere with a superb view, as well as helping them to enjoy our usual pre-match concourse activities and making it easier to grab players’ autographs after the match".

Read more: Bristol Bears fans 'fuming' as Ashton Gate forces season ticket holders to move seats

Read more: Ashton Gate game breaks record as stadium named as host for Women's Rugby World Cup

In the latest email, which comes after season ticket sales and renewals have started, Mr Marshall said: "I want to start by thanking you for your incredible support this season as we approach the end of another campaign. With two Bears Men home games to go, we remain on course for our record average attendance at Ashton Gate of more than 18,500, which is a huge credit to you all, our very loyal supporters.

"Building on last season, we have continued to work hard to theme our matchdays, supporting a whole range of community events and charities, and hopefully improve the matchday experience for people of all ages in attendance. From an electric, sold-out derby day victory over Bath, to a historic clash with the Crusaders, we've enjoyed some really exciting occasions this season.

"Engaging with our community remains absolutely key, and we particularly enjoyed the College Green open training session, as well as Bears Giving Back Week and the Balloon Fiesta annual visit."

The email, which was sent on April 18 went on to say: "One of the achievements we are most proud of is the huge growth of our U12 fan base, with an average of more than 3,000 junior supporters per match at Ashton Gate in 2023/24, representing 16% of our crowds!" A spokesperson for the club previously told BristolLive that "the percentage of young Bears fans is increasing and they now make up 19% of the club's total Season Ticket supporter base".

Bristol Live WhatsApp Breaking News and Top Stories

Join Bristol Live’s WhatsApp community for top stories and breaking news sent directory to your phone

Join Bristol Live’s WhatsApp community for top stories and breaking news sent directly to your phone

Bristol Live is now on WhatsApp and we want you to join our community.

Through the app, we’ll send the latest breaking news, top stories, exclusives and much more straight to your phone.

To join our community you need to already have WhatsApp. All you need to do is click this link and select ‘Join Community’.

No one will be able to see who is signed up and no one can send messages except the Bristol Live team.

We also treat community members to special offers, promotions and adverts from us and our partners. If you don’t like our community, you can check out at any time you like.

To leave our community, click on the name at the top of your screen and choose ‘Exit group’.

If you’re curious, you can read our Privacy Notice.

Click here to join our WhatsApp community.

'Bringing our young supporters down from the Upper Lansdown Stand into the lower bowl will enhance the atmosphere'

The April 18 email continued: "With this continued growth, it was important for us to find a permanent home for our Family Area in the stadium - somewhere that can grow with our growing young fan base. While we explored all areas of the stadium for this move, we felt that the Atyeo Stand didn't suit our family audience and the Dolman Stand doesn't have the capacity to cater to growing demand in the Family Area.

"Additionally, bringing our young supporters down from the Upper Lansdown Stand into the lower bowl will enhance the atmosphere as we aim to build the best matchday experience in the country. We understand the inconvenience caused to some of the supporters affected by this move.

"We tried to mitigate this by providing the early priority window, which allowed those affected to move their seats ahead of the main renewals window. However, we could have communicated this move better, and for that we apologise."

During the initial shake-up, many fans queried whether the Atyeo Stand had been considered in the move, and also asked if the Bears Supporter Advisory Committee had been aware of the plans, or informed the club of supporters' concerns. The email stated: "Our supporter base has grown by 37% since promotion in 2017/18 and we are under no illusions about the important role that you play for the Bears.

Want our best stories with fewer ads and alerts when the biggest news stories drop? Download our app on iPhone or Android

"That's why we have launched the Bears Supporter Advisory Committee to guide, check and challenge us on decisions around the club and our strategy. We've already received some really useful feedback from them and encourage supporters to liaise with them to provide feedback to the Club."

Bristol Bears and Bristol Sport will be holding a Fans Forum on Thursday, April 25 at the Bears High Performance Centre, to give fans a chance to ask questions about the club. Director of Rugby Pat Lam, CEO Gavin Marshall and club captain Fitz Harding will be there on the evening, with all allocated tickets having already been secured.

Mr Marshall confirmed that more than 3,000 Bears supporters have so far 'secured seats' for next season, adding: "We remain incredibly grateful to every one of you."