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Liverpool Planned to Auction Tickets to the Highest Bidder

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As part of their efforts to raise gate revenue by £2M, Liverpool Football Club proposed auctioning a small number of tickets to the highest bidder only for supporters’ groups to force a change of plans.

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Liverpool’s goals heading into the 2016-17 season were to raise gate revenue by £2M, a drop in the bucket compared to their commercial sponsorships and the windfall of a new television deal but something deemed necessary to keep up with league rivals who either have higher matchday revenues already or who are expected to increase them in the coming seasons.

After the sticker shock of a £77 top-tier ticket led to protests, walkouts, and more than a few chants about greedy owners—owners who since purchasing Liverpool Football Club in 2010 have yet to take any profit out, instead re-investing all revenue back into the club—they backed off. Instead, matchday revenue will be neutral heading into next season, this despite the addition of nearly 5,000 main stand seats.

The club thought it had found a compromise supporters could live with. The rationale had always been, as claimed by the owners following the decision to reverse course, "concentrating price increases on those tickets typically purchased by fans least sensitive to affordability." Perhaps the reaction of supporters’ groups to another proposal, one that made didn’t make it to the final draft, should have given a hint.

According to The Independent, an early idea the club put in front of supporters’ groups as part of their plans to increase overall matchday revenue to £39M was to set aside a couple of dozen tickets and auction them off to the highest bidder. Apparently, Spirit of Shankly and other fan representatives present at discussions reacted with such shock and dismay at the idea that it was instantly abandoned.

If true, one has to question whether Spirit of Shankly and other supporters’ groups ever entered into talks with the club over ticket prices from a position of good faith, because there seems nothing inherently unreasonable to the idea of setting aside 20 or 30 or 40 tickets for every match and auctioning them off to the highest bidder. This is something, after all, that already happens regularly in the secondary market.

Touts and ticket resellers can make many multiples of face value reselling tickets to individuals with the means and motivation to pay well beyond the average fan for a chance to visit Anfield. If that money were to go directly to the club instead of to some shady, grey-market middle man, it would seem to be nothing but a net positive. Somebody is making that money right now. The club wanted that somebody to be them.

It’s the kind of proposal that could have further softened the blow of price increases elsewhere, or led to deeper discounts for some seats, or provided more significant subsidies for local youth. It could have been an inherently socialist approach to ticketing, with the richest—and most often foreign—fans subsidizing local youth and helping to keep that Scouse heart supporters’ groups always say they are fighting for.

Unless supporters’ groups only motivation heading into discussions with the club over ticket prices were that the club not find a way to increase revenue by one pound under any circumstance, it’s hard to understand how gut-level revulsion could be seen as a reasonable reaction to a proposal that would seek to have the club capture an revenue stream that already exists—only one that others are currently profiting from.

Liverpool’s owners haven’t made all the right moves. One only has to look at where the club are in the table six years in for proof of that. It’s clear, though, that they’ve tried to chart a winning course. Former manager Brendan Rodgers was backed to pay over the odds for favoured targets like Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, and Christian Benteke. Liverpool had the fourth-highest net spend over his tenure, besting Arsenal.

They have backed the £150M expansion of Anfield and increased sponsorship revenue massively, putting all of those earnings back into the club. They haven’t done everything right, but they’ve spent all they can on transfers and wages while staying the right side of Financial Fair Play regulations. If they had increased gate revenue by £2M next season, every sign points to that being reinvested in the playing staff.

In light of that, the idea that the club take back the grey-market of ticket sales from touts and resellers and put that profit back into the club—back into transfers and player wages—while using the increased revenues from a newly created stream to keep other prices down seems fair. It seems downright socialist, even. At least as far as anything the world’s ninth-richest football club does could be deemed socialist.

It’s disappointing to learn those supporters’ groups invited to liaise with the club over ticketing plans reacted so badly. It also casts into doubt subsequent claims by those’ groups that they had tried working with the club in good faith but that the club hadn’t listened, because in this case at least, it seems the club were listening and it was the supporters’ groups who weren’t willing to work with them in good faith.