This is a story from the FSF archive – the FSF and SD merged to become the FSA in 2019.
Virgin Money’s latest Football Fans’ Inflation Index, released today, shows that one in four season ticket holders is considering not renewing for next season in a bid to cut costs. Four percent plan on jacking their season ticket in altogether while 21 per cent say they will pick and choose whichever games suit. Virgin Money carries out these surveys every quarter and the latest was completed by almost 4,000 fans representing all 92 league clubs. (See the FSF’s poll left and tell us whether or not you’ll be renewing.)
There are some amazing differences between Premier League clubs, the most striking examples being those of Manchester United and Wolves, whose fans appear far more disillusioned than any others. (Before anyone accuses us of being Premier League-centric we would have posted up the Football League results too but these weren’t included in the press release.)
An astonishing six out of every 10 United fans is considering packing in their season ticket while at Wolves 54 per cent are also thinking about not renewing. This is almost double the figure of any other top-flight club and shows that there isn’t a neat correlation between league position and fans’ contentment, something the mainstream media is only beginning to understand.
The reasons at United are intimately linked in with anger at the Glazers and the £700m debt they created in their leveraged purchase of a previously profitable club. MUST’s cleverly managed Green and Gold campaign, which aims to force the Glazers out and secure some fan ownership at Old Trafford, has also played its part in raising awareness of this. You’d have to have had your head in the sand, or been a rugby fan, not to have noticed.
Even United’s most conservative, plastic fan will have noticed that the club jacked up season ticket prices at the start of the current season – shamefully they were the only Premier League club to do so, everyone else froze or reduced them. Combine this with the sale of Ronaldo and the way that money was used to pay off debt that wouldn’t even have existed if the Glazers weren’t at Old Trafford, and it’s little wonder their fans are in open revolt.
Of course, United’s fans have already shown their admirable militant tendencies a few years back when forming breakaway club FC United of Manchester so it’s little surprise to see them leading the table of discontent.
Newly promoted Wolves on the other hand might be considered, by some, to be more of a surprise as the general media consensus is that they’re having a solid season. Embroiled in a relegation dogfight, yes, but they’re working to a tighter budget than others and still play some decent football.
Their fans are far from happy though with a whopping 54 per cent considering packing in their season ticket, but why? There seems some frustration with the consistent ‘play well, still manage to lose’ feel that their season has developed but is there more to it than that?
Mick McCarthy’s decision to play Wolves’ reserve team at Old Trafford back in December certainly can’t have helped. The reasoning behind the move was that Wolves would have lost whatever team they sent out, so they’d give some players an opportunity to rest their legs and ensure they were fresh for the next league game.
Many fans however were furious after forking out £40 plus for a ticket only for their club’s manager to rest every first choice outfield player. But that can’t be the sole reason can it? After all, the club’s message boards at the time suggested that while the majority were foaming with McCarthy’s decision, plenty more thought it sensible and realistic.
At the opposite end of the spectrum less than one in every ten at Stoke or Liverpool is considering giving up their season ticket. It doesn’t take a massive leap of logic to speculate that, contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t solely the quality of football on show that attracts supporters but a much more complex set of reasons.
Even the most ardent Potter or Red would have to admit that neither is playing the most fluent football at present but there is almost something of a no one likes us, we don’t care spirit at both clubs currently.
There seems to be a real affinity at Stoke between fans and the club itself that few others have – the Brittania has created a bit of a name for itself in terms of atmosphere over the past few years too. Supporters buy into the team and players are raising their game as a result, the sum of the team definitely seems to be more than its parts. We’d call this a terrific synergy between fans and players, if synergy wasn’t a word solely used by annoying marketing plebs.
Over at Anfield there’s also an us-against-the-world feel at present although its roots are (currently) founded in underachievement as opposed to Stoke’s relative success. Liverpool fans pride themselves on sticking with a manager through thick and thin and Benitez should thank them for that, this season at least. Liverpool fans’ group Spirit of Shankly is also upping its campaign against Hicks and Gillett so it’ll be interesting to see if their message has an impact on the number of discontented season ticket holders at Anfield in the future.
Stepping back from the individual cases though you have to say the fact that one in four are even considering non-renewal is pretty significant. We hear from so many fans with such a wide array of reasons for their disenfranchisement with the game – club ownership, player wages, TV moving games with no care for the fan, lack of safe standing areas, aggressive policing and stewarding – that it’s easy to let the issue of ticket pricing slip off the agenda. But we can’t take our eye off the ball.
While this season’s Football Fans’ Inflation Index does show a seven per cent drop in the price of what they call the ‘match basket’ (a simplified version of what a fan might be expected to buy at a game – petrol, lager, match ticket, programme etc.) we shouldn’t forget that this is from an astronomically high starting point.
Season tickets are still priced extortionately compared with leagues like Spain, Italy, and Germany. At many clubs there’s little or no recognition of loyalty in the prices charged for an upfront year-long investment such as a season ticket, compared with purchasing a ticket match by match. Where’s the incentive? It only takes one match, maybe rescheduled for TV, to be missed and you might as well have bought game by game.
Clubs need to make sure that season tickets are not only affordable to all ages but offer a real saving and benefits to fans. Otherwise a society used to the ‘choice agenda’ could well choose not to bother buying the expensive and inflexible beast that is a season ticket.
Virgin Money’s latest Football Fans’ Inflation Index:
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