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Empty seats getting the silent treatment

A friend of mine, who’s a massive City fan (seem like conflicting statements, don’t they?) told me an interesting story last night. He has a client at work who is a football neutral, but who has a son who has very much been bitten by the football bug.

Living in Manchester, the choice for the lad is logically United or City. So what factors would you say would affect the boy’s allegiance? The history and past success of the team in question? Future potential? Contemporary favourite players? Who his mates support? No, what has swayed the boy heart towards Man City is ticket prices!

For any Manchester United fan who was at the Wolves game on Tuesday, hearing that the attendance was approximately 46,000 was borderline embarrassing. Having checked the numbers, City actually had more fans in their home game to Liverpool in the league. Granted, that was a big league game, but City having more fans at a match than United? Unheard of in recent times. Okay, a positive to take from it is that it shows that the anti-Glazer movement is progressing (as heard by the “Love United, Hate Glazer” chants that followed the attendance announcement), but you have to worry about the future of the club with attendances like that.

Because my City mate also expressed amazement and bemusement at the Wolves attendance, proclaiming it to be a turning point in the history and fortunes of Manchester United and a shift in the balance of footballing power in Manchester. I’m inclined to agree. Because Man City, the “biggest” team in Manchester, have been very clever and sneaky in recent years. Taking advantage of their financial backing, they offer season tickets to children for as little as £200-£300, and individual tickets for certain matches for as little as £10. United, so I have heard, refused to make any such concessions for the Wolves game on Tuesday. A child sat in Old Trafford on Tuesday will have paid full whack (well, their parents will have done).

Airlines are known to often adopt the City approach. If you have a 250 capacity plane about to fly off to Spain, and only 240 tickets have been sold, you might as well sell off the last 10 for close to nothing. Either you get some money or you get none, it’s a no-brainer. Not for United it seems, who are determined to squeeze out every penny they can and take advantage of a football fans loyalty, and with £80m in interest payments to adhere to each year, I guess they have to. They even state as an objective of the company on the year end accounts to treat fans as customers, and boy are they.

As an economics graduate and accountant in training I can understand the Glazer’s policy in way, because for years United tickets were undervalued. £20 to see one of the biggest teams in the world? That certainly isn’t a revenue maximising pricing strategy. But not budging on your position, despite there being 30,000 empty seats? As my flatmate pointed out, that’s just plain arrogance.

But the more important issue to note with regards to this situation is the fact that football clubs aren’t like airlines. You don’t swear allegiance and loyalty to BA or Ryanair. But football clubs? They’re for life. Because of the fact that they cut prices for games that aren’t going to sell out, City are attracting thousands of potential future season ticket holders, United’s potential future season ticket holders.

Because I’m sure there are thousands of kids out there in this country, dressed in their Man United kits and carrying around their United annuals, who have probably never been to a United match. It’s not that because they’re fickle, or lazy, or “plastic”, it’s because their parents can’t afford the tickets. I pay £700 for my season ticket and roughly £35 for each home cup game. I’d be happy to pay £800 and £40 respectively, probably even more, in order to subsidize tickets for the less well off, because unfettered globalisation and capitalism, of which football is becoming more involved in and associated with, has a tendency to leave the poor behind.

The Glazer’s, and owners of football clubs all around the country, need to do more to realise that football clubs are more than ordinary businesses. Yes, the owners and the clubs have every right to maximise their revenues and profits, and in some cases it’s in the fans interests, because your team aren’t going to buy the best players in the world if the fans are only paying a fiver a ticket. But football clubs have a responsibility to the community, and whilst I have nothing against and will not deny the right of the so-called “day trippers” to go to games, they need to realise how lucky they really are. For some of the less fortunate out there, football is a way of life, and they’re increasingly being denied that right because of the circumstances and environment they were born into. A child can’t choose whether they’re born into a rich family, but they should be able to choose which football team they want to support!

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No Responses to “Empty seats getting the silent treatment”

  1. Uzair says:

    And you got this from a friend’s client? You actually made the whole argument from a single guy who u don’t even know. Seriously man, don’t make me regret following you on twitter. You know a long time Man Utd season ticket holder said it right. “Man Utd fans are like a girlfriend who’s having periods every day.” You always complain and are never satisfied. Red Knights were looking for 15 min of fame. They never made a bid because they never actually had anything and were committing a bigger fraud by fooling the fans. I think this new generation of Utd fans are high maintenance drama queens. You know, United not doing well will be good in a way. They’ll bring us fans back to reality and then I’ll see how many United fans would wana join MUST. Because i believe they are a bunch of plastics who’ve jumped on the band wagon and don’t know what the movement is about. And Duncan Drasdo and Co. are happy that way because they just care about the numbers.

  2. true devil says:

    what nonsense this article is lol!

    also we didnt have big attendance cause it was the bloody carling cup! the day city has more fans then united in a league game then you can come back

  3. Frank Scicluna says:

    It’s impossible to argue against your concerns about the high cost of ticket prices Tom but it must now be accepted that clubs have become a part of the “unfettered globalisation and capitalism” world of football. We may not like it but it’s the new reality. Football clubs simply cannot survive and prosper if they only cater for their local communities, Manchester United now belongs to the world.

  4. Tom Addison says:

    @ Uzair: Of course I understand one example can’t prove such a general arguement, I was merely using a story/anecdote to highlight an important issue (i.e. high ticket prices). The stuff above could have been written regardless.

    And it isn’t just United fans that always complain, all fans complain. It’s an English thing more than a United thing. Now I’m not pro Red Knight, I don’t like the idea of lots of City bankers with massive ego’s running a club, but their proposal may not have been as simple as that. Just as the MUST are in favour of fan ownership, it doesn’t mean they want fans running the club.

    Afraid I don’t follow your point about less success damaging MUST membership, surely it would help it? Although a lot of members of MUST may not understand the finer financial intricacies of the movement, there’s no doubting their commitment and motives. You’re entitled to believe that they’re a bunch of bandwagon jumping plastics, but I don’t see how you can prove that.

    @true devil: You’re right, but if you go to matches you must have seen the number of empty seats around. We’ve got Wolves at home on Saturday, I sit in the Stretford End and I reckon there’ll be a few empty seats around me. Not sure I believe what the stadium announcer is proclaiming as the games attendance to be honest. Remember when you had to wait for someone to die before you had a chance of getting a season ticket, 10 year waiting lists etc. I phoned up about a month before the season started and got a season ticket within a few minutes. The myth around near unlimited demand for United games is being debunked.

    @Frank: You’re absolutely right. Because football clubs are ambitious and irrational the incentive is too strong to break away from the prudent status quo. But free markets can be tamed by intervention, intervention which may, for example, ensure that some tickets remain cheap enough for those in the bottom quartile of the income distribution to afford to go to matches. I guess all we can do is wait and see what Mr Platini has in store for us.

  5. Frank Scicluna says:

    Cannot disagree Tom, here’s a Truly Reds article from back in June arguing exactly that http://www.trulyreds.com/20100618/future-of-football-is-full-pubs-and-empty-stands/

    Don’t wait for Platini to do something about it because he simply can’t. Only governments can and neither the Conservatives nor ‘New’ Labour have the balls to interfere with the free market economy.

  6. Tom Addison says:

    Really good article that Frank, cheers for that mate. That MEN guy gets it across much better than I do (although what do you expect for a paid full-time journalist!) Problem is that it’s your 50-somethings who are running the show, they’re completely unaware of the financial constraints facing todays younger generations. As highlighted in “The Pinch” by David Willetts (a 50-something Tory MP, ironically), it’s that very baby-boomer generation that’s milking the younger generations dry.

    You’re definitely right about TV and the European Super League though. There are numerous studies out there showing how TV figures are adversely affecting attendances, it even affects the lower leagues. It’ll be a while before we see the full effects, but with youth unemployment as it is in this country, I don’t see how we can retain the young fans at this rate. They obviously want to be there, but only a fortunate few can afford it.

  7. Pete Swann says:

    I was in Manchester recentley visiting a friend who’s just started Uni and is living in halls. I was a bit surprised to find my mate (who is a Chelsea fan) and all his flat mates (including a couple of Yanks who had never seen a game of “soccer” till a month ago) had regularly been watching Man City. The reason is that City give away a large number of tickets to Man met Students Union who sell them on for £10-£20. As a result City has become the second team of almost everyone he’s met at uni. If empty seats and decreased demand for season tickets is the problem then you would think the Glazers, or whoever does marketing at your place, would think of something similar as it taps into a whole new potential fan base who wouldn’t normally have given City the time of day.

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