FEATURE: City risk alienating the fans through high ticket prices

It’s probably fair to say that the decision by Manchester City to charge £60 for tickets to their second leg with Paris Saint Germain hasn’t gone down all that well with many supporters. For thousands, it appears to have been the straw that has broken the camel’s back; there was dissent at the increase in season ticket prices for the 2015-16 campaign and a number expressed their discontent at the time, with many more choosing to relocate to another, cheaper area of the Etihad.

As was pointed out by Gaz on a recent Blue Moon Podcast, there is likely to be somebody employed by the club whose job is to maximise ticket revenue. That’s to say, bring in as much money for tickets as possible and keep them selling at the same – to saturate both the number of customers purchasing the seats for the maximum amount they can do. Put simply, charge too much and too few turn up; charge too little and there’s an opportunity missed.

Yet, here we are, at a time where there is the suggestion mooted that fans could walk out of the Etihad stadium on 60 minutes for the coming home match with West Bromwich Albion. It seems that the £60 is too much for some to take.

There are a number of factors at play that has led to this situation, many of which are far too complex to dive into deeply here. Nevertheless, City’s support is traditionally working class and in a time where there are people making decisions about what they spend their money on in order to feed their family, heat their home, and enjoy themselves in their leisure time as well, continually increasing ticket prices is something that is becoming much harder to justify.

Throw in a monumental TV deal from next season and justification for rises is nigh on impossible.

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The tie with PSG is the second leg of a Champions League quarterfinal. Even with prices roughly £20 cheaper for previous matches in the competition, City have struggled to sell out the stands – perhaps down to a combination of the cost and a feeling of apathy towards the competition, the latter of which is admittedly largely (but not totally) beyond the club’s control.

Why would someone choose to pay a large chunk of cash for a second leg ticket, where there’s no guarantee the tie won’t already be over? What if City have lost the first leg 3-0, which isn’t beyond the realms of possibility given how they’ve been playing recently? £60 for the risk of a dead rubber is a hell of a commitment and the club’s justification of it being for the “profile of the game” doesn’t really cut the mustard.

Yet, on top of all this and given that it is the supporters who are having to pay through the nose, I find it increasingly more baffling to see that there are supporters who are worried about the image of the club should fans decide to leave en masse. Others are worried about the jibes from rivals and the trending #Emptihad hashtag, as if that’s the biggest issue here when the number of people who can’t afford to watch the football at the weekend is only heading upwards.

The overriding feeling seems to be that anybody who chooses to support any walkout isn’t giving their backing to the club. In a sense, that’s correct – they aren’t in their seat to cheer on the players in the first instance. However, it comes down to one crucial point, which is that the club isn’t always correct in when it does things. Supporting doesn’t mean being positive about everything and eagerly lapping up whatever is spoon-fed in your direction; supporting is being interested in both the club and how it operates.

Why should people support being fleeced out of their cash? After all, these are people who are willing to give the club money anyway – and the club is doing them a disservice by effectively telling them they’re not giving enough. Paying more money doesn’t make anyone a better fan – and that’s the biggest issue behind the difference between Gold and Platinum seasoncard memberships and the double points on offer.

It plays on a fear of missing out. By being able to pay more to earn double the points for the same action opens the door to those not on the higher bracket not getting the tickets they want to, say, a cup final or an away match.

The argument that the team needs the fans right now in order to qualify for next season’s Champions League or perhaps to get through further in this year’s competition misses the point spectacularly, too. This isn’t about the here and now; this is about the bigger picture. If fans tacitly support high ticket prices by turning up any doing nothing but tutting under their breath or booing a bit or tweeting that they can’t believe prices are so high simply because they want to cheer the team on and ‘see the boys do well’, then nothing will be achieved.

When it all comes down to it, you’re still there watching the match. You’re saying, ‘I might not be happy about it, but I don’t care enough to make a proper point’.

Manchester City v Swansea City - Premier League

This is why the public never supports strikes, yet why strikes can be so effective. It inconveniences you. When the teachers walk out because they’re being treated like rubbish, you have to find childcare and that is an inconvenience. When the tube drivers strike, you have to find another way of getting to work. When City hike prices up, you don’t want to walk out because you miss the match, and that’s the part you enjoy about spending £40, £50, £60 – whatever – on the ticket.

But it’s that you’ve gone to such an inconvenience that shows you mean what you say. What’s the point in doing something half-heartedly? What’s the point in jeering or booing for a minute, while sitting there throughout the game – that sort of reaction is one that can be ignored.

Swathes of fans standing up and leaving can’t be swept under the carpet.

I’m in a lucky position in that I have a voice. I can go onto the radio or onto a podcast and dish out my opinions, I can file copy for the websites that I write for and have it edited and published, and I can say what I think to an audience that receives it. But many fans don’t realise just how much of a voice they have, too, and without the fans there, the football club is nothing.

Walking out of the stands doesn’t make the club look bad. They’ve done that themselves by pricing out long-standing, regular supporters and those fans highlighting that are not bringing some huge shroud of negative publicity to the Etihad gates.

Choosing not to pay through the nose doesn’t make you a bad fan, yet there are some who have framed the debate to paint that as the truth. Some will tell you that you should go along with what the club wants if you love it, like you’re a victim in an abusive relationship – if that’s the case, then where does it stop? It’s worth noting that these are usually – though not exclusively – people who can afford to pay a little bit more and haven’t yet felt the pinch of having to pick and choose which games they go to.

Ultimately, if the team really did need the fans to support it right now to help it get to the latter stages of the Champions League or to qualify for next season’s competition, it’s probably a good idea for the club not to alienate a lot of those who are already forking out a ton of money to watch them.

The worst part of all this is that the club has practically asked the supporters what they can get away with. In the past, surveys have been sent out containing loaded questions to find out “the most that you would pay” for food or drinks or programmes or tickets. That isn’t engaging with the fanbase, that’s fishing for a top-end price that most people might grumble about but would still shell out anyway – it’s not asking what a fair price for each of those items is.

Even the statement that has been released seems to suggest the club is fishing again by sticking to their guns. If the fans do nothing, then they know that £60 is close to that top-end limit that might cause some discontent but still the vast majority will pay for.

I’m lucky enough to not yet have had to move with my season ticket or drop out of any of the cup schemes based on price, but this isn’t about me. It isn’t about you. It’s about everyone. If there is to be a walkout, then I will be leaving my seat and heading home early – because everyone deserves not to be ripped off.

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Written by David Mooney.

 

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6 comments on “FEATURE: City risk alienating the fans through high ticket prices
  1. I think this is a thoughtful and well written piece and probably captures pretty well how many City fans feel about this. Making a protest/feelings known whether individually or as a group isn’t letting the club down.

    One analogy – albeit perhaps not so good is that the big supermarkets have seen their footfall and sales drop through the floor, partly because they failed to provide at a competitive cost what their customers wanted.

    Now I’m not comparing watching football to the weekly shop – I have no emotional investment in Tesco, ASDA and the like and they haven’t provided me with images and memories seared into my brain – but that doesn’t mean that City can set a price point without any reaction from those who part with the cash.

    My own view is that I would take part in a walk out and I would do it with a heavy heart BUT at the same time I really wouldn’t feel like I was letting the club down – quite the opposite actually. The major football clubs are awash with money, the major players earn staggering amounts of cash and that’s fine – just as it is in any other industry/walk of life, but just because it’s a football club doesn’t mean that I cant articulate how I feel.

    For a good few years City have traded on the ‘together’ line – but this current price point doesn’t feel too together for me. I think they have made a mistake, the atmosphere at the Etihad is generally dismal these days, European nights in general tend to be pretty flat with swathes of empty seats, and I’m really struggling to grasp the thinking that led to hiking the prices for the PSG game, I mean its not like it’s hard to get tickets for any cup games is it?

    This isn’t me being priced out, my ticket is actually only £40 – my point is simply one of principle.

    Something feels broken to me, I’ve written to the club separately and I await their reply. As a point of principle I doubt that I will resign on the Cup Direct scheme next season even if it does mean foregoing the ‘loyalty’ points that I buy.

    • Completely agree with all of that, Tony. That’s the best comment we’ve received on this issue so far. “Something feels broken to me…” sums up exactly our thoughts on city at the moment. Something has changed and I’m not sure it will ever be like it was again without serious action on our part and the club making serious changes.

  2. This is could well be one of the most important matches in the Clubs history. This is not the time or place to protest about ticket prices. The team will very likely need massive vocal support during this game. Don’t let the Club down now fellow City fans !

    • It’s exactly the time to protest about ticket prices because it’s the moment where the tipping point appears to be reached. If the club wants people to give their vocal support, then they should think about that when they set the pricing structure for the match.

      You (or I, or any other fan) owe the club nothing – if anything, they need to be aware of the support the fans have given down the years. Nobody is letting them down by leaving early; the fans have been let down by a price structure.

      My understanding is that the proposed walkout WASN’T for the Champions League fixture itself, but the match with West Brom. If the club wants support, it needs to treat the fans fairly and not to take its supporters for granted.

    • This doesn’t address the nub of the matter. The point of a walk out is to say “this issue means more to me than watching the match”. Returning after a couple of minutes would suggest little courage in one’s convictions.

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