Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Friday February 1 2013
Ticket prices have been a topic of some contention amongst football supporters for some time. In January they were catapulted into the wider conscience when it emerged that around 1,000 Manchester City fans had boycotted a trip to Arsenal in protest against the £62 Category A price they were being charged. Liverpool followed this up on Wednesday night at Arsenal and plan to do the same when they travel to Manchester City on Sunday.
The Football Supporters' Federation have sensed a tipping point and are looking to capitalise on the mood of supporters and the publicity they are creating. The 'Twenty's Plenty' campaign is pushing Premier League clubs to drop prices for away fans to £20. In light of next year's overseas television deal, clubs stand to make around £32 million each extra in revenue. Players will doubtless ask for bigger wages as a result, clubs are already charging supporters big prices. The FSF think it's about time the supporters were represented as part of the equation.
I attended the FSF's 'Twenty's Plenty' meeting in London on Thursday night and thought I'd dispassionately bullet point some of the more thought provoking points raised. I ask that you don't shoot the messenger here, I'm simply passing on information and some of the opinions raised from the floor. Fans of Arsenal, Chelsea, Reading, Manchester City, York City, Motherwell, Yeovil Town, QPR, Sunderland, Leyton Orient, Spurs and Nottingham Forest were among those that spoke.
There was a talk from an erudite German gentleman named Mark who had helped to arrange various boycotts staged by Borussia Dortmund supporters in the Bundesliga. Mark headed a campaign in protest when Schalke raised the prices of standing tickets to 21 Euros for Dortmund fans. Dortmund fans organised a staged boycott that not only saw them refuse to buy tickets, but that Dortmund fans travelled to the Veltins Arena and stood outside of its walls, wilfully listening to the game on the radio together. Dortmund fans currently pay an average of 183 Euros for season tickets, which includes all Bundesliga games, three Champions League home games and their travel to and from the ground on a matchday. In Germany, your match ticket doubles up as a travelcard on matchdays anywhere inside the state that the game you have a ticket for is being played.
Below are some of the points raised at the meeting, which I present without personal comment or necessarily endorsement.
- FSF have decided to start with an away ticket pricing campaign because they have to be realistic with their aims. Given the resources and manpower they possess, they have to pick battles that they stand a chance of winning. Away ticket prices have been in the media ad infinitum recently. The FSF also say that the Premier League have suggested, in their dialogue with the FSF, a concern over the drop in away ticket sales over the last 18 months.
Many clubs are moving away supporters to different areas of the stadium now so that they are out of the sight of cameras. Richard Scudamore was fairly public last week in saying away ticketing was something that needed addressing. FSF wants to start with away tickets because the appetite and public attention is there and, in their opinion, the Premier League is ready to listen.
A successful campaign on away tickets could then beget a campaign on home ticket prices, using that momentum.
- FSF aspires to be an umbrella for all individual supporters' clubs. They stress that the pressure needs to come on clubs locally, from their own fans. But the FSF has the resources and media presence to back up supporter initiatives. But they can't carry the fight alone. They want supporters' clubs from across football to work together under their umbrella.
- The FSF estimates that less than 2% of Premier League club's revenues come from away ticket sales. They stress that dropping prices to £20 for away fans would make a barely significant dent in their accounts, especially in light of the new TV deals.
- A Yeovil fan raised a point from the floor that there could be a potential knock on effect for lower league clubs. He reasoned that Yeovil, for instance, might lose fans to Southampton matches if cheap tickets are available for Premier League football. This was countered by the point that those seats would only be available to away fans and would not necessarily be available in a general sale to neutrals, the same way home tickets might.
- A Queens Park Rangers supporter and representative of their supporters club suggested that protests needed to be more unified. He suggested the Manchester City protest would have been even more effective if they had contacted an Arsenal supporters' group and arranged a joint demonstration.
The debate around the City fans protest was blighted by tribalism which obscured the wider issue. He felt that if supporters' clubs stood side by side and protested together, the effect would be more unifying and more profound.
- There was a question as to the fairness of an away fan being charged £20 for a game that a home fan over the fence might have paid triple that amount for and whether this might even lead to away fans touting their tickets. The FSF suggested that it would need to be understood that this would be a reciprocal arrangement. In the reverse fixture, supporters of your club would be privy to the same pricing.
In effect, this pricing practice already happens in a different way. For instance, Arsenal fans were charged £50 to watch Arsenal play Norwich at Carrow Road this year. Norwich fans will pay around £25 to watch the same fixture at the Emirates Stadium. Wigan fans paid around half of what Arsenal fans did to see their team play at Carrow Road.
- There were suggestions as to the sort of protest supporters could undertake. Boycotts were suggested, but the FSF doesn't realistically think that'd be effective enough. One suggestion from the floor was for supporters of all clubs to pick a weekend, and pick a particular minute of their game and for all fans to leave their seats and walk out into the concourse together.
It was felt the visual impact of any protest would need to be prioritised to attract media attention. Staged walkouts were thought to be a particularly effective idea for televised games, to raise the profile of the issue.
There were other points raised and questions asked from the floor. Frankly, there was some petty squabbling for a time until the chairs from the FSF invited people to stop moaning about esoteric incidences and to actually suggest what sort of action can be taken.
You can find out more about FSF's Twenty's Plenty event here. By all means make up your own mind about the campaign.
Date:Friday February 1 2013
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