It has been another sterling week for the Premier League’s men in suits. On Monday, Manchester City revealed their ticket pricing for the Champions League quarter-final home leg against Paris St Germain. Having charged between £20 and £40 for the group stage matches, City have opted for £60. Don’t fear, over 65s! You will only pay £50.
“Oh well played, Ferran. Nice work. I mean I thought you were just going to go for the increased season ticket prices and the subsequent banning of dissenting banners in the ground, but this really is neat stuff. You should do a deep laugh and stroke a cat for effect.”
‘Together we are stronger, Together we sing louder, but above all, Together we are City!’ reads the last line on one page of City’s website, the ‘T’ of ‘Together capitalised to show they really do mean it, the paragraph emboldened for greater emphasis. The page in question is urging supporters across the world to like the club’s Facebook page. Could there be any greater show of love?
The message from the top is clear. ‘Together we are City’, but only if you can afford it. This is a fanbase sourced from one of Britain’s most deprived areas. Unlike at Old Trafford, the Emirates, Stamford Bridge or Anfield, there is no queue of people ready to jump into your seat if you cannot afford to buy your ticket. It will simply sit empty.
There is a tendency among banter-driven supporters to mock the empty seats at the Etihad (or should that be Emptihad, lol?), without stopping to consider why that might be. Rather than tease the supporters for the gaps in the crowd, why not ask the clubs why they have isolated a section of their support? It really is depressing that a corporate entity can price out fans, and yet the widespread response is to question the loyalty of those who would rather put food on the table for their families.
Even by football’s own very special brand of greed, where owners seem perfectly prepared to sell their own grandmother as long as they can add an over-inflated booking and postage fee, City’s decision has been made in ignorance of the potential PR disaster.
‘As this match is the quarter-final of Europe’s biggest cup competition and the first time the club has progressed to this stage, we believe the ticket prices are a fair reflection of the profile of the game,’ a club statement read. Rough translation: We’re not really arsed if the same fans come as came before, we’re pretty convinced enough will to come to make more profit out of the move.
The kicker is that City don’t need this money. Their 2014/15 accounts show matchday revenue of £43.3m, compared to broadcasting revenues of £135.4m. That fails to account for the vast increase in revenue created by the latest broadcasting rights deal. This is not a club needing to make ends meet, but are instead making them overlap before tying them in a pretty bow. Moreover, this is a bonus game on City’s calendar. Running costs will be no higher than for the last-16 tie against Dynamo Kiev, yet tickets have risen in price by 50%. This avarice isn’t driven by necessity.
City are, of course, not the only guilty ones. A month ago, amid claims of the Premier League’s biggest clubs meeting to discuss a European Super League, Leicester were given sympathy regarding the big boys trying to steal their lunch money. They were the ones being kicked into a corner by Charlie ‘boo, hiss’ Stillitano and his men.
“Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester?’ Stillitano questioned, and the footballing world sighed. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful story – but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too.”
Rather than fight for their right, Leicester simply climbed into the same bed. Invited to take part in Stillitano’s ICC tournament this summer, did the plucky title challenges tell The Man where to shove his promises of brand globalisation? Did they f*ck.
“The ICC is a great opportunity to compete with some of Europe’s leading clubs and to further promote the Club, and the city of Leicester, around the world,” Leicester City Chief Executive Susan Whelan said. ‘Oooh we’re invited to the party? No, no, my regular friends will be fine. They’ll wait for me in the front garden…oh, you don’t want them within a mile of your property? Fine. Sorry, Norwich. See you around.’
The response is clear, and regularly repeated. These are companies, not mere sporting clubs, in the business of making money rather than friends. Or, as Manchester City supporters’ group CityWatch said in their own letter, ‘Premier League corporations driven solely by their bottom line’.
There’s nothing wrong with that per se – at least if you ignore any moral connotations – but at least rip us off honestly. Stop the ‘Together we are City’ and stop the 12th man bullshit, because if you treated any of the other 11 men like you treat the fans they wouldn’t stay longer than a month. It’s one thing taking the p*ss, but another entirely picking our pockets with your left hand while you present a bunch of roses in your right.
As a fan, all you ever wanted was glory, but now even that is diluted and dirtied. Ask those City supporters who travelled to York City in December 1998 if they wanted to watch their side in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and they’d have hugged you until Christmas. Tell them that their club would move ever further from its working-class roots as it pursued that dream, and the reaction may have been different. Success doesn’t just provide joy, it breeds greed.
A club doesn’t have to forget where it has come from. It isn’t hard for it to remember its role in the local community and the responsibility it holds. Therefore we can only assume that it wilfully chooses to forgot both.