Liverpool fans and the club are at odds over ticket prices, and some supporters are ready to walk out over it.
Earlier this week, the club announced its new ticket price structure for the 2016-17 season. They led with the good news: 64% of season ticket prices will either freeze or drop, 45% of matchday tickets will do likewise, a limited number of seats available for £9, a plan to give local fans priority access, and a new “Young Fan Initiative” that would give free tickets to local schoolkids.
To finance these apparent subsidies, prices for season and matchday tickets at the higher end of the cost structure are going up. Way up. Some matchday tickets in the newly rebuilt Main Stand will be as high as £77, a new high water mark for Premier League clubs.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Liverpool’s chief executive Ian Ayre said the restructured prices will ensure the club’s long term competitive and financial sustainability. “The feedback has been clear that having more local and young people at Anfield is a priority and we are delighted to be launching these new ticketing initiatives. The redevelopment of our Main Stand and increased capacity has given us flexibility to freeze or reduce more than half of all tickets across the stadium which is reflected in our longer term plan to give fans more choice on what price they pay to attend a game.”
Yet several prominent supporters groups, who were brought in to consult on the process, are not pleased with the end result. A statement from the Liverpool Supporters’ Committee blasted the announced changes.
“The outcome is extremely disappointing and a missed opportunity for LFC to lead in a fairer approach to ticket prices,” read a statement. “After months of time and effort, meetings and debate of ideas and plans to lower supporters’ costs, the owners have chosen to increase prices for many. In the context of the huge income rises the club will receive next year, to up their revenue from fans through season and matchday tickets is both unnecessary and morally unjustifiable.”
“At a time of ever increasing commercial and media revenues, the club’s reliance on ‘general-admission’ returns is diminishing, and this is a lost opportunity for LFC to begin the reversal of the effects of inflation-busting prices that have forced out many loyal fans over recent years. We had hoped to find a solution to better accessibility to Anfield for younger and future generations through reduced ticket prices.”
In the wake of the announcement, and the perception that the club has effectively shut them out of the decision-making process when it mattered most, some supporters are calling for a mass walkout in the 77th minute of Liverpool’s home league fixture against Sunderland on Saturday.
A spokesperson for the Spirit Of Shankly supporters’ group said that the announced reductions don’t outweigh the overall increases. “This is despite the fact that the club promised to work with supporters’ groups and take their views on board. In dealings we have had with the club the people at Anfield have always been reasonable and approachable, our frustration at these unnecessary price hikes is entirely with the owners. We believe the decision making here has come from Boston [home of Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group].”
The 77th minute was chosen as the rallying point both in reference to the highest matchday price as well as Liverpool’s success in the 1977 European Cup Final.
One factor that isn’t getting a lot of attention in the debate is the price of tickets relative to inflation. Liverpool fan Dan Kennett crunched the numbers and made some salient observations:
Another point of contention is capacity in the grounds. Fans across the country have been decrying the rise of ticket prices for most clubs for years, and one recent argument involved pointing to Bundesliga clubs and their wallet-friendly ticket structure. Tickets for the “Yellow Wall” at Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion top out at €20, and Bayern Munich is similarly committed to keeping ticket prices affordable.
Yet as the blog Liverpool Offside pointed out, one of the big reasons why Bundesliga clubs can do that is because their stadia have implemented Safe Standing areas, thus increasing capacity and changing the math on their matchday margins. While there is a growing movement to bring Safe Standing to English football grounds, Liverpool fans have been outspoken in their opposition to it. In fairness, they have their reasons. But the fact that Anfield will remain all-seater for the foreseeable future does put hard limits on what the club can do to increase matchday revenue. And if their ambitions to return to the Champions League— much less win a league title for the first time in over two decades— are to come to fruition, the money’s got to come from somewhere.
The next week or so will be telling for both Liverpool and the Premier League at large. This protest could spark a much-needed conversation about ticket prices across the English top flight and, in a broader sense, who football is for in the era of billion pound transfer windows and jaw-dropping television contracts. It could also devolve into nothing more than disgruntled fans raging against foreign ownership (again), a protest full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. The efficacy of the protest this weekend, and the immediate fallout, will likely show where this particular conversation is headed.