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Are they taking the p#*s?

By Mark Burke



Aston Villa's fans display a large banner in the stands during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Everton at Villa Park in Birmingham, West Midlands, England on August 25, 2012
Aston Villa's fans display a large banner in the stands during the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Everton at Villa Park in Birmingham, West Midlands, England on August 25, 2012

While the Premier League continues to believe that pricing is essentially a matter for individual clubs and that it will be hard to come up with proposals that would satisfy the two-thirds majority required to pass new rules, there is also a recognition that the atmosphere created by away fans is central to a product that will bring in more than £5.5bn in TV revenues

The Guardian 12.01.2013

Read that passage again because it contains something very important.

A recognition of the real power base in the game and a subtle change of attitude from the elite who oversee the game.

The TV battle is interesting, BT are doing their best to join in the fun but the fact is that SKY is Football in the same way Kleenex means tissues and vacuums are Hoovers.

Even the BBC has succumbed and only MOTD and its still unsurpassed, superb coverage of  major championships still guarantee it a place in the nations hearts.

This issue is interesting in itself but it leads on to a more important issue - that of ticket prices .

Simply put - the argument is; with so much money being poured into the game is it not time that ticket prices were reduced?   If we are talking pure finance then the clubs, at the top level, don't actually NEED the fans, cardboard cut-outs would suffice, speakers for atmosphere and cleverly arranged TV graphics could be the future of the game, it would sure save on cleaning costs and policing.   But the clubs DO need the fans, they absolutely DO need them

Manchester City fans have possibly set an interesting precedent by sending a third of their £62(!) tickets back for the game at the Emirates.

I'm lucky that being an ex-player and scouting for clubs that I don't pay for tickets but it pains me when I see the prices being charged.

As a young fan going to Villa or West Brom money was never the issue, it was a 'right' that every person had to go and watch their local team. Now it seems to be turning into a privilege for those who can afford it and this cannot be good.

Football has forgotten its roots as a social function, a social focal point to fulfil some of society's need to belong to something, a common purpose etc.

Profit over people has prevailed, the clubs seem to care less and less about the fans , they have become to the clubs, that dreaded word - 'consumers'.
In a world that is turning into one giant shop, where it seems that mans only function is to 'consume' 'products' , football supporters are a good example of this consumerism in extremis.

Sometimes it seems like fans are a necessary evil to the clubs.

I heard a story but not sure if its true where a football director was bemoaning the cleaning costs after a Saturday game and was heard to say it would be a lot easier and cheaper to clean up if there wasn't any fans at the games!!!

Even if its not true, it's an attitude that pervades the modern game where money is the new God and the chase is not for glory but for money.

The curbing of enthusiasms , 'don't celebrate too hard' the ridiculous over zealous stewards when players celebrate with their OWN fans ( Im convinced that this is just one of those moments to exercise a little bit of 'power ' over somebody out of their social sphere - namely a steward over a multimillionaire footballer ,' 'Come on son that's enough' , while enhancing their own chances of getting on the telly.

I had a conversation a few years ago with a chief executive at a Premier League club about ticket prices and I said its probably the number one topic of complaint when people talk about football today - the price of tickets (this along with the tut-tutting of how much players earn seems like a double slap in the face to the lifelong fan)

The chief exec told me 'our prices are competitive with other clubs . 'Competitive' - a favourite word of business owners used to justify a price.

'Competitive' doesn't make it right , I told him £35-40 is just too much for the average fan to think about taking his children to the game plus the additional costs. Even £25 stretches the pockets.

I've said many, many times that the moment, the second,  the fans turn their backs on the game prices will change.

For example if fans said 'we are not taking this anymore' and Arsenal ran out against Tottenham and, en masse , the fans decided not to enter the stadium, (in effect a boycott) leaving an empty shell. Then things would change.

The two teams would run out to nothing, literally nothing, footballl without a crowd in a large stadium is a cold empty experience.

Then and only then would ticket prices change overnight. As we see from the initial statement by the Premier League, dressed up in the PR speak that all large, unchallengeable organisations spin out these days - '

'there is also a recognition that the atmosphere created by away fans is central to a product that will bring in more than £5.5bn in TV revenues'.

In plain speak - 'We had better stop taking the p#*s or we won't have a 'product' to sell'.

The clubs, while treating the fans with semi-contempt (trying to wring every penny they can out of them) realise what the fans bring in terms of atmosphere and how vital they are to the 'product' but the fans themselves don't realise the power THEY hold over clubs.

SKY pumps billions into the game as we are seeing at the moment with the new deal.

This is all taken on the 'agreement' that things remain the same. SKY's production is fantastic and a lesson to any young marketeer/ exploiter.

They 'sell' the game to the fans through their superb, gripping trailers that are guaranteed to turn Fulham v Swansea on a Monday night, a better alternative than Eastenders (theyve got a point there) and a game you've just got to see.

The  public is entranced, they pay their home subscriptions, the fans are seduced, they turn up in their numbers, the ground looks full, (camera angles may be altered to suit) the 'product' looks good and the cycle continues.

An empty ground kills this model stone dead.

The Premier Leagues 'USP' is its all action, open, honest football,  2 teams playing to win (not always the case in some European leagues) AND the incredible atmosphere provided by possibly the most loyal club fans in the world.

The moment these fans decide they have had enough and turn their backs then things will change in one way or another.

Either ticket prices would fall or SKY pulls the plug and the game spirals into a financial black hole.

SKY's format brings games into homes and pubs across the world by selling you this 'product' through slick marketing , fantastic hypnotic advertising that gets the adrenaline running and the blood pumping and tempts you into giving up your Sunday afternoon for Super Sunday, Countdown Wednesday or the soon to be 'Tantalising (fits with the Far East schedule and let's face it that's where we're aiming at) Thursday.

It works fantastically well at the moment but it cannot and should not work at the expense of the people who really make it work because then it won't work at all.