Fans fear for future of the game

Posted by Mark Payne

David Price/Getty ImagesFans like the ones at Old Trafford hope their concerns about the rising cost of tickets will be heard next week at the meeting of the Premier League's governing shareholders.

It is an all-Manchester affair in this week's fixture list with Monday's Manchester derby dominating thinking as we head into the weekend. However, more pressing events in English football will take place in London next week, and the results there will have a bearing on much more than the title race.

The Premier League holds a meeting for its governing shareholders on April 11th and fans of Premier League clubs are hoping to get their voices heard by chief executive Richard Scudamore. Supporters Direct, a conglomerate of affiliated supporters groups such as MUST (the Manchester United Supporters' Trust) has written a letter outlining some fans' concerns, most prominent of which is ticket pricing for away fans.

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Manchester City returned 1,000 tickets allocated for travelling fans when visiting Arsenal earlier in the season when seats were priced at £62 each for away fans. That move was seen as a watershed moment and gave national media coverage to an issue which has dogged match-going supporters for years. The ever rising cost of following your team.

Although United have enjoyed tremendous success on the field since the Glazer family took over, they have reportedly paid out over £500m in interest fees and one-off payments during the period. Despite the club announcing record sponsorship and merchandising revenue in their last accounts, the vast majority of that dead money came from ticket sales. And the ticket prices are high in comparison to the average wage in England.

Supporters would obviously prefer to see that money invested in other areas, such as the playing squad. Alternatively, the stadium could be expanded to 100,000 capacity with the right investment and more money could be invested in community projects and youth development. Ideally though, making the match going experience available to younger people safeguards the future of the club and those supporters are being priced out.

The counter argument is that most Premier League games sell their tickets. In a world of supply and demand, 95% ticket sales in the division last season was impressive. In addition, many clubs, including United, froze their tickets prices last season in a rare show of solidarity with supporters. They were, however, too high in the first place.

The recently agreed TV deal will increase the income of all Premier League clubs once again and the product is more marketable than ever. One of the reasons English football incites such passion and fervour is the atmospheric stadiums and baying crowds. By raising prices we gentrify that audience and passion will seep out of the sport.

This is, of course, a more long-term view than the people who make the decisions are willing to take. It is, after all, a shareholders meeting and the focus will be on how to ensure those stakeholders are kept happy. However, unless they listen to fans now, they may be giving their golden goose a slow death.

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