Manchester United has reported this week that season ticket prices will be frozen for next season and for the first time since the takeover by Malcolm Glazer. United were widely criticised for being the only Premier League club not to take this step for the 2009/10 season and it seems the club is starting to bow to severe fan pressure.
Many sources have widely credited the current green and gold campaign operated by the powerful supporters group, the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) as the reason for this decision coupled with the potential mooted takeover by the Red Knights. Whether this decision would have been taken without the pressure from the support is something which we will never know. Old Trafford is not the consistent sell out it once was with season tickets being on open sale for the last few seasons meaning this decision may have simply been taken due to good business sense.
The green and gold campaign, in which the club’s supporters are adorning the colours of the club in its initial incantation – Newton Heath – in order to show support for the pre-Glazer status of the club has been running for just over two months and reportedly has already seen a jump in online MUST membership from 36,000 to 145,000 since the beginning of the campaign. These are staggering statistics and reportedly are concerning the Glazer family no end. The freeze in ticket prices could well just be the first step in a number of initiatives run by the club owners in order to appease the fans. Although, it is clear that there is only really one initiative which would appease all the fans – selling the club.
This is not the first recorded victory of the United supporters with their involvement in campaigns against the proposed takeover by Rupert Murdoch in 1998 cited as a huge influence in the takeover not going ahead and also the supporters pressure in the conditions imposed on the club by the Office of Fair Trading in relation to season tickets – although the club never admitted wrong in this case. The most recent victory will be seen as just that, a victory but there is still a long way to go if the fans are to get their overall wish of a change of ownership.
The price of season tickets is not the only issue which the clubs fans have with the current ownership structure – there is still the huge issue of the debt used to purchase the club and other exploitative practices towards fans in order to recoup some of the debt. The steady increase in ticket prices for a stadium holding over 70,000 fans was clearly the best way of doing this as was the automatic cup scheme (ACS) and the continued merchandising. The ACS requires season ticket holders to automatically be provided with tickets for cup matches as part of their season ticket. They will then be charged additionally for these tickets without an opt-out clause. Following pressure from the Office of Fair Trading the club has now provided an opt-out for the League Cup.
The issue of merchandising is one which still sits high on the list of fan exploitation in the eyes of MUST. When the Glazers first bought the club in 2005 United was pitted against Arsenal in the FA Cup final in Cardiff. An anti-glazer campaign called Love United Hate Glazer was first introduced in which club supporters in disagreement with the change of ownership were to boycott, so called, Megastore replica shirts in favour of black. This is clearly one of the aims of the green and gold campaign to replace the red replica shirts with the green and gold. When seeing sections of the United crowd against Liverpool last weekend the predominant colours were green and gold – which must be seen as a success – whereas many of these scarves were adorned over the latest replica shirt. If the campaign is to achieve its full affect in the opinion of this writer there may be required certain educational techniques on every single issue faced by the campaign.
This however, should not detract from the overall success of the campaign as following on from goings on this week the early stages must be seen by those involved as a huge success. There has been reports over the last two weeks that the Glazer family are looking at ways of reducing the debt through refinancing to rid themselves of the Payment in Kind (PIK) loans used to buy the club and widening their supporter base through new sponsorship deals throughout Asia. Whether this will improve the financial situation of the club remains to be seen and surely will not have the desired effect of stemming the flow of fan protests which looks set to continue growing in strength.