It’s Time To Take A Stand Against Ticket Prices
This week, Manchester City have been back in the news. Such news usually brings with it the assumption that Mario Balotelli has punched Roberto Mancini, Carlos Tevez has fled the country, or Lionel Messi has cruelly snubbed the club after the media-fabricated a £200m bid. But for once, it’s something a bit more honourable. City are in the news because of something their fans have done – or more to the point, something they haven’t done.
For City’s match this Sunday against Arsenal at the Emirates, City failed to sell out their 3,000 allocation, returning 900 tickets, priced at £62 each. This news soon spread, and before long, it ignited fierce debates online between fans and the media alike.
Naturally, the news of the returned tickets soon turned into a puerile “yeah but” war of tribalism between sets of football supporters, including an utterly crass and classless comment from Paul Matz, of the Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association, who said: “City have got where they are by importing a sugar daddy, rather than through their own efforts, mirroring what happened at Chelsea a few years ago, so it’s bound to take a while before the level of their fan base catches up.”
Even more pitiful perhaps was the argument that it’s all City’s fault anyway, as their oil money has inflated wages so much that Arsenal are forced to fleece their fans just to compete with City. Of course before City’s owners came along, you won’t win any prizes for guessing which team had one of the highest wage bills in the Premiership. Add to that was the argument that City have returned tickets before for this fixture, an argument rather weakened by the fact that City took 5,000 fans to see a weakened Arsenal side take on a weakened City side in the Carling Cup last season. And guess what? The tickets were cheap.
Let’s make a few things clear from the start. Manchester City football club have not commented on this matter. City’s fans hadn’t initially said that much on the matter either. The story ignited because the media picked up on the return of tickets, and ran with the story. Without them, it would have been nothing more than the usual squabbling on social media sites between tribal football fans. Thus, what City charge is irrelevant to this individual story, though relevant to the wider picture. The City fans that chose to boycott the fixture do not set ticket prices for City’s home matches. Also, they will not have to pay high prices themselves mostly, as you would presume that a majority of away-game regulars have season tickets as well, meaning they will probably pay under £30 a game. City charging high prices does not make Arsenal’s pricing policy any more acceptable. Also unacceptable is charging more for certain sets of fans compared to others. Should I pay more the better my team becomes? You could argue that is the price of success, but it is a weak argument.
It really is this simple. The cheaper you price tickets, the more tickets you will sell. It really does boil down to this. Manchester City sold out a game against a Championship side last week because they set ticket prices lower than normal (£15-20 for adults, kids for a quid etc). They didn’t expect to sell out, initially closing the top tiers, but will hopefully have taken heed that if you want to sell tickets for an event, you must make that event affordable.
And as a minority of Gooners hit out from their entrenched positions, the important point to be made about what has happened this week is that this is not about Arsenal. They are the most expensive club to watch, but it’s just another level of unacceptable, and you must factor in the London premium of course. No, this is about tickets in general. It was an Arsenal match that caused the outcry, but it could have been any one of a thousand other matches. There is no need for Arsenal fans to think this is an attack on their club. Manchester City often charge too much for a match ticket. Manchester United charge too much for a match ticket. Liverpool charge too much for a match ticket. Hey, even Bournemouth charge too much (£418 season ticket anyone?).
This could be a watershed moment in the game, because the media have decided to cover the story so extensively. The boycott is not unique. City fans are not the first (nor the last) to do this, and it is one of many instances no doubt of this happening, but because it is such a high-profile game, its impact has been heightened dramatically, adding to an already burgeoning fan movement this season protesting at the cost of modern football. And what’s more, despite the inter-club bickering that occurred between many fans, it was heartening to see many United and Arsenal fans (and others) speak out and support the boycott. This goes beyond individual club ties.
I’m not one for nostalgia, for reminiscing about how things were better in the old days. I have written recently for the new (and rather excellent) fanzine Stand Against Modern Football (check them out on twitter, @standamf), including an article on ticket prices, mentioning that prices have ballooned over the past 20 years, sometimes by over 1000% percent. By writing for the fanzine, this doesn’t mean I hate football, in fact I love it as much as ever. The thing is that the advances in technology and interaction mean that modern fans have more of a voice now, we have more of a chance to affect change, to make a difference, to speak out about things we find unacceptable. The football of my childhood was riddled with problems, it was often a depressing world to inhabit, but it at least allowed anyone to go and watch their team, rich or poor – no one was excluded. However professional, exciting, and well-catered modern football fans may be, it is all irrelevant if you can’t afford to go. And if prices continue to rise at current rates, a whole generation of fans won’t have that option. Schoolboy taunts from keyboard warriors about empty seats are to be ignored here – empty seats at football matches should be applauded, including by the fans who should be filling them. Only when the tipping point is reached and fans vote with their feet, will clubs take notice and reduce prices.
Some City fans have taken a stand over the past few weeks, as they have successfully done before. They may have been skint over Christmas, they may have had other priorities, but the fact is that the price of the match ticket proved too much for many individuals to attend the match. Rather than use this as an opportunity to attack an individual club or indulge in tit-for-tat arguments, let’s take this watershed moment and together push for change. After all, football was once the working-man’s game. Let’s make it that once more.
Follow me on Twitter (@howiehok34). You can buy my Kindle version of Manchester City: 2011/12 Season Review here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/This-How-Felt-City-ebook/dp/B0087FJQGE