Comment: Liverpool outcome is victory for all fans - now ALL CLUBS must listen and start capping ticket prices
Many clubs are already willing to cap prices but are hampered by selfish few who insist on free-for-all. Those stubborn firms will surely now be frightened into complying
From own goal to open goal, Liverpool shifted from the PR disaster of the £77 ticket to a climb-down and apology that was the only possible answer to the Anfield exodus.
After this minor victory for supporters, the Premier League clubs need to stop acting like 20 individual traders and agree collective limits on admission prices.
Liverpool were unfortunate in one sense to be held up as a symbol of greed in football. Nobody at Anfield could have predicted that a quarter of the crowd would walk out after 77 minutes over the cost of 200 seats in the new stand.
Ian Ayre, the chief executive, certainly misread the mood when calling the planned protests at the Sunderland game “disappointing”, adding: “What’s affordable for one person isn’t for another person. I’ve no doubt that there will be 200 people happy to pay the £77 for that seat for that game.”
The clumsiness of those remarks came back to haunt him when anger was ignited not only across the Premier League but in Europe, where a German supporter group claimed English football was “killing itself” by relentlessly exploiting fans.
A back-pedal by Fenway Sports Group was bound to come. Earlier in the day, Nottingham Forest’s owner, Fawaz Al Hasawi, offered all Forest fans free coach travel to Burnley. All leave will be cancelled in football PR departments until everyone has come up with at least one good idea to show the supporters how much they are valued.
Those who already believe in fairness can congratulate themselves on not having to be pushed by fear of fan outrage.
Liverpool’s owners cannot afford a stand-off with the country’s most battle-ready audience, especially with the team struggling so badly, a connection made on many supporter blogs and websites.
The dabble with a £77 charge in one small section stirred the frustrations of fans who resent being asked to pay London prices to watch mid-division football. It also pointed to a business-class mentality in the pricing structure. Nice new stand with posh seat? That will be extra.
A protracted conflict and further walk-outs was not a viable future for FSG, for whom the back-track comes at a relatively low cost. The focus shifts now though to the Premier League’s perennial failure to regulate itself; to stop each club pushing and pushing fans for as much as they can extract.
This is a fault not of the Premier League secretariat in London, who would like a more responsible attitude, but individual owners who refuse to see that £8.3 billion in television revenues are a complete game-changer.
The 20 top-flight clubs should start by capping away prices. Many are already willing to do so but are hampered by the selfish few who insist on a free-for-all. Those stubborn firms will surely now be frightened into complying. Liverpool’s experience in the last few days could easily be replicated elsewhere now that fan power has raised its flag on Merseyside.
Anfield was no localised skirmish but an eruption of the disenchantment felt by the football-attending masses. Predictably, David Cameron’s political antennae sensed an easy score.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, in response to a point made by Labour’s Clive Efford, Cameron said: “I will look very carefully at the suggestion the honourable gentleman makes because I think there is a problem here when some clubs put up prices very rapidly every year, even though so much of the money for football actually comes from sponsorship, equipment and other sources so I’ll look very carefully at what he says.”
A PM “looking very carefully” at something is a coded warning. Elsewhere, there was a remarkable consensus across the game. Only the most willful contrarian would have tried to defend the hyper-inflation in ticket prices.
Jamie Carragher, an emblem of all things Liverpool, bravely joined the walk-out, explaining in his column: “Liverpool generate around £35 million from ticket income. Had FSG announced a freeze on prices when the new stand was completed, the income would have risen to £37m. The increase means they could generate £39m. All this for the sake of £2m for the ninth-richest club in the world.”
Alan Shearer was another to support the Anfield refuseniks.
He wrote: “They are always dipping into their pockets to pay more. So it was absolutely right what the Liverpool fans did, and more fans faced with the same situation should do that. If you are a parent with one or two kids, and you want to take them to a football match, the cost would be horrendous for a normal working person.
“The clubs are virtually pricing the average family with children out of coming to football.”
This unanimity leaves the Premier League clubs with nowhere to hide.
They must impose caps on away prices, maximum charges and percentage increases as well as using some of the new TV money to reduce admission costs. Otherwise, creeping alienation will lead to disengagement and football grounds will be soulless echo chambers for the kind of people Ayre described as “happy to pay £77”.