Without getting into debates about Modern Football™, hashtag friendly slogans, or whether or not fans exist simply to line the pockets of unscrupulous owners, most people can probably agree that accessibility to cultural and social institutions should always be a consideration in any pricing scheme, whether it's a football ticket or a museum admission.
Ticket pricing is a hot button issue in the Premier League at the moment, with a fan movement aimed at reducing prices reaching critical mass in the last year via formal protests outside the league offices and other grassroots initiatives. Away ticket pricing isn't something many of us are in a position to even think about, but the topic came up during Liverpool's quarterly Supporters' Committee meeting last week and club representatives outlined some of the challenges they face in keeping those ticket prices reasonable for travelling fans.
Admittedly, reading meeting minutes (PDF) isn't necessarily the way most people choose to spend their time, but there are some interesting takeaways from the last meeting worth highlighting. Call this taking one for the team, friends.
In August it was announced that over three seasons, £12 million would be allocated to Premier League clubs to help ease the burden of away travel for fans; this worked out to £200,000 gifted per club for the 2012-13 season. While not a permanent solution, support from the league to ensure continued away fan support remained a viable option seemed like a step in the right direction. It turns out this is not the case; Phil Dutton, Head of Ticketing and Hospitality at Liverpool FC, clarified that the £200,000 fund was provided by each Premier League club and not by the league itself.
Of its self-funded £200,000, the club has spent £150,000 reducing its away ticket prices by £2-4 per ticket. It's not a huge amount of savings for an individual on match day, but given that away ticket allocations are generally 10% of a ground's seating, there are over 70,000 away tickets available to Liverpool fans each season. The club could spend upwards of £30,000 on away ticket reductions just for the match at Old Trafford in March, for example.
So what of the remaining £50,000? The club are still looking at how to spend the money, although a few suggestions have been tabled, including improving the experience of away supporters who sit in the wheelchair bays in front of home supporters at the Anfield Road end.
Manchester City players donated £1000 each on top of City's own £200,000 fund. Liverpool players haven't yet been asked to follow their example; however, Dutton confirmed that they would be asked, it was simply a matter of determining the best way to make the ask. When you're making tens of thousands of pounds a week, it's unlikely that the amount is an actual stumbling block; these things must be done delicately given the other types of charitable commitments and community work the players do.
The challenge with being one of the biggest clubs in the world is that you are, by default, one of the biggest draws in the league. Just as home fans are charged different prices based on tiered categories of matches (e.g. Manchester United are Category A, West Ham are Category B, Stoke City are Category C, etc.), away fans are charged an upper level tiered price for being a Category A draw at the clubs they visit on the road.
The proposed "£20 is plenty" plan that would see all away fans pay £20 for a ticket regardless of which stadium they're at works against big clubs; smaller clubs know they can sell out an allocation of tickets at a higher price because demand outstrips availability. For smaller clubs looking to earn revenue in any way they can in order to compete with larger clubs like Liverpool, there is no incentive to drop prices for visiting fans. Liverpool have banded together with arch rivals Manchester United to address the issue, but small clubs outnumber and out vote big clubs on the issue.
Liverpool have managed to negotiate on an individual basis with Cardiff City and recently announced that away fans finding their way to south Wales could do so for £10 less than normal. This is on top of the £2-4 reduction away ticket reduction.
There's a pervading sense that too many tickets go to corporate big wigs who are only interested in seafood buffets at halftime. The extent to which this is true at Anfield wasn't clarified, but on offer was a breakdown of how away tickets are allocated to non-fans:
- 0 — Liverpool staff
- 60 — Playing staff, as per Premier League rules; these tickets are not counted towards the club's away ticket allocation and with the players only using "a couple of dozen" tickets, the rest are sold to travelling fans in the late availability sale
- A couple of dozen — Sponsors and partners; most are "rarely" used and are sold to travelling fans in the late availability sale
- 0 — Thomas Cook Sport
- 10% — Hospitality fans; the club seem extra sensitive as to how these tickets are allocated and want to be clear that "the vast majority of our hospitality members are not running multi-national organisations, but local supporters who own small businesses. They are 100% Liverpool fans. This allocation is also always oversubscribed and we frequently turn people away. We have strict criteria for how they can apply and monitor sales closely." Okay then!
A variety of other topics were packed into the Supporters' Committee meeting, ranging from how the TV schedule affects away travel to issues surrounding ticket resellers and touts. The answers that emerged from the meeting may not make everyone happy, but at the very least provided some clarity on details that many make surface-level assumptions about, rightly or wrongly. It's a series of small steps towards a resolution for a problem that isn't going away, and with open dialogue between the club and its fans as well as between clubs and the league, it's more likely that a sustainable solution can be found.