In 2008 many Liverpool fans were angered at the poor running of the club by its American Owner George Gillett and Tom Hicks. The pair allowed debts to rise whilst on the pitch results suffered leading to a rise in tensions with fan favourite manager Rafa Benitez. As a result many fans joined the Spirit of Shankly as an unofficial union for the fans to protest against the ownership. Today, despite last season’s second place finish, under new American ownership the union are turning their focus elsewhere: The issue of rising ticket prices.
The Fenway Sports Group headed by John W. Henry, also owner of MLB team Boston Red Sox, bought the Merseyside club in 2010 after several court hearings. Despite continuing investment on and off the pitch including major investments in the likes of Andy Carroll, Adam Lallana and Luis Suarez anger is growing in groups such as the Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906 as the fan base, like many clubs being working class people, are priced out of Anfield. Fans and supporter’s groups protested at the home game in October against Stoke with an absence of the normal flag filled Kop and replaced with signs reading ‘Supporters and Customers’ and ‘Kop kids pay adult prices. The centre-piece of the protest being the illustration of the increase in ticket prices over the years at Anfield above the banner of ‘Let me tell you the story of a poor boy’ taken from the fan song of Scouser Tommy. The anger of football fans at ticket prices is a continuing trend throughout the country.
The best way to understand the extent to which British football fans are being out-priced from buying a seat at a Premier League game is to compare the inflated prices against that of the rest of Europe. Despite in comparison having a low highest price ticket on average against those of their European counter parts, Premier League teams come off horribly when the average price of the clubs lowest priced tickets is inspected under the spotlight. Both average lowest ticket and season ticket price for Premier League teams is double that of the Bundesliga and more than the other major European leagues. This comes on the backdrop of German and Spanish domination in Europe so it’s no longer the case Premier League fans are paying top dollar to see the best league in the world.
Then there’s the reason for the anger growing in Liverpool fans in particular. Everyone has heard the outrage from Arsenal fans since the Emirates Stadium was built about the high ticket prices and with the most expensive ticket for an Arsenal fan standing at £126 it’s clear to see why. Arsenal’s cheapest matchday ticket is £26 which seems very reasonable indeed; Liverpool fans pay the second highest in the League for Anfield’s cheapest seat at £38. Only Chelsea charges more. London, on the other hand, has the highest average disposable income in Britain with Liverpool hovering in the lower regions of any income table. It is easy to see where the anger comes from as American owners spend over £100 million in the summer on players but continues to out-price the working class backbone of Liverpool’s fan base.
The shining hope for many fans is the now the in motion plans to for the expansion of the 122 year old stadium to a seated capacity of 59,000. Ian Ayre, Chief Executive Officer at Liverpool, has boasted this week how the added revenue from the expansion will place the club on the same level as Chelsea in the transfer market. Granted all fans want to see high quality entering the club but at what price to the fans. The nature of how the Fenway Sports Group’s plans for Anfield are being carried out is creating tensions within Liverpool fans and those living in the local area. The housing around Anfield was bought by the club in the 1990’s in preparation for any future stadium expansion. These plans were then shelved and houses bought by the club were left empty. This in turn drove the remaining house prices with inhabitants down. Now with the plans very much back on the table coupled with the council planned regeneration of the area those left will have to sell up forcing people out of their homes. The integrity of the club has certainly been brought into disrepute despite the owners looking to advance the status of the club.
The lack of flags at the Anfield against Stoke was certainly a shock to many and Henry has contacted the groups involved in the protest. The Spirit Of Shankly group has said that there campaign for price reduction now will secure fans for Liverpool into the future. Liverpool isn’t the only centre of protest of how modern football is outpricing the working class and shaping the game for the worse. Last season Ajax protested against the cost of the modern game to fans with focus on the cost of an away ticket at Manchester City and got fined £10,000 for their troubles. City fans in turn protested this season at the Arsenal pricing policy for its away section. Football is certainly evolving season on season. The problem is whether the working class fan will be left behind.