When 10,000 fans walked out of Anfield stadium in February, the issue of ticket prices in the English Premier League returned to the spotlight.
Liverpool’s supporters, who left in the 77th minute of the match, were protesting against a potential increase in ticket prices. Following the action, the owner announced that general admission prices would be frozen at 2015-2016 levels for the next two seasons.
Earlier this year Supporters Direct, the umbrella body for supporter trusts, published a report looking at practical steps needed to increase community ownership of sport clubs across the UK.
Supporters Direct works to support fans that organise in supporter trusts, run on co-operative principles. The report, entitled Incentivising and Supporting Community Ownership in Sport, proposes a new tax status for democratically owned clubs, which meet specific criteria.
The paper recommends reinvesting surpluses and protecting assets for community use and suggests that supporter clubs benefited from Gift Aid donations, receiving an 80% tax relief and have exemption from Corporation Tax.
James Mathie of Supporters Direct said: “While many people will be familiar with the low ticket prices that supporters of member-owned clubs in Germany pay to watch top-flight football team, it would be inaccurate to simply say supporter ownership leads to cheaper prices.
“What we can say more confidently is that supporter-owned clubs in the UK are much more likely to discuss and consult pricing with their community so that the range of issues to consider such as financial implications of pricing, inclusivity and competitiveness are better understood and factored in when ticket prices are set.
“It’s another reason that Supporters Direct are pleased to have secured the commitment from Premier League and Football League clubs to meet with a representative group of supporters twice a year from 2016/17 to discuss major issues.
“It will hopefully make the recent scenes at Liverpool of a mass supporter walkout during the game less likely as the supporter voice is taken seriously by club leaders.”
Southport Lib Dem MP John Pugh, himself a Liverpool fan, has tabled an Early Day Motion at the House of Commons in support of LFC supporters.
“This house supports the protests made by Liverpool Football Club supporters in response to ticket prices showing little regard to or respect for the club’s loyal fanbase, recognises that football clubs are not simply large businesses intent on maximising shareholder value but are part of the life and soul of their community and urges honourable members to seek further engagement with all stakeholders including supporters groups across the land to see what can be done to prevent professional football outcomes being entirely determined by money and economic interest,” reads the motion, backed by 21 MPs.
Early Day Motions are tabled by MPs to bring attention to various subjects, but are rarely debated in the House.
In January, the Government launched a new sports strategy that highlights the importance of good governance and the wider community benefits of sport. The report gives statutory rights for fans to be consulted on a range of issues.
“Supporter ownership is in a better place than it has been for some time but the regulation needs to be tightened up,” says Andy Walker, fundraiser and press and communication officer at FC United of Manchester, a supporter-owned club. “It would be a wasted opportunity if the report didn’t get implemented.”
Our members are making the decision so it’s entirely up to members what other members pay
He added: “Prices out of reach from traditional supporters. The reason you’ve got the problems with tickets is the lack of regulation. Clubs can charge as much as they want. Fans pay astronomical sums to go watch the game even at Championship level not just in the Premier League.”
At FC United members decide at general meetings each year how much to pay for season tickets, starting from a minimum of £100.
The club’s management puts forward a suggested amount to balance the books, for example £160. Some fans pay more and others pay less. Those choosing to pay more end up subsidising those that cannot afford the £160. Supporters also have the option to pay in instalments.
“Our members are making the decision so it’s entirely up to members what other members pay,” explained Mr Walker.
“Whether that’s because it’s supporter owed, it certainly makes it easier to take the decision to have tickets that are affordable.”
Mr Mathie said FC United was a good example of how supporter-owned clubs were “taking the lead with innovative ticketing schemes”.