Subsidising The Ultra-Rich
Bernie Ecclestone is said to be worth £2.243bn, according to the 2008 Sunday Times Rich List. Lakshmi Mittal has done even better for himself than Bernie. Mittal is, according to this year’s Forbes Rich List, the fourth richest man in the world. He is worth an estimated £20bn. Flavio Briatore doesn’t quite exist in this rarified atmosphere, but he is still worth £70m. These are the people that own Queens Park Rangers Football Club. Since taking over at Loftus Road, they have spent quite a bit of money, wiping the club’s estimated debt of £13m and working hard to try and bring outside investment into the club. Some of their supporters, meanwhile, didn’t exactly endear themselves to neutrals last season when, at their FA Cup match against Chelsea, they held up banners like the one to the left, claiming to to now be a wealthier club than Chelsea. It used to be about the football, you know.
One doesn’t, however, have to be a fan of QPR to have a degree of sympathy with them over the latest storm brewing around the club. They have, in a strangely passive-aggressive way, been somewhat put upon over the last few months. They had to grin and bear the new owners changing the club’s badge to something which looks as if it might have been designed for one of the stock teams on Pro Evolution Soccer. They had to grimace through the agonising sight of Naomi Campbell yawning her way through a QPR home match wearing a blue & white scarf that bore all the hallmarks of having come straight out of the packaging. Now, however, it would appear that they are about to be hit in the pocket, in one of the most shameless ticket pricing “initiatives” that I can remember seeing. As if this isn’t enough, the new ticket pricing structure at Loftus Road will also have a dramatic effect on visiting supporters to Loftus Road.
After last weekend’s 4-1 win against Southampton, QPR moved up to fourth place in the Championship table. As an air of jubilation swept around the club, they announced that, from now on, they would categorising matches as A, B or C (depending on the opposition) and pricing them accordingly. Never mind that we are just six matches into the new season. Never mind, indeed, that there was a large price increase during the summer. Somehow along the line, QPR seems to have got the idea that their club is a premium product of some description. Tickets for this weekend’s match against Derby County will be priced at £50, £40, £30 and £20. You can probably guess which sections of the stadium are more or less sold out and, to give you an idea of the sort of price rises that we’re talking about here, tickets that cost £25 for the Southampton match last week will be costing £40 for the visit of Derby County. On top of this, all away supporters will be housed in a Category B area of the ground, meaning that Derby County supporters will have no choice but to pay £40 for tickets for their match on Saturday. Derby County, for their part, have put up a terse message on their official website stating that they were not putting tickets up for sale due to “problems with receiving the correct stock of tickets”, but rumours are circulating that they are refusing to put the tickets on sale because of the cost of them.
It’s hardly as if QPR can be picky about who attends Loftus Road. Their average crowds there this season are up by 5%, but they still at an average of 15,000. Their local rivals, Chelsea and Fulham, are both offering Premier League football at better grounds. How is this sort of behaviour going to persuade the floating voter in south-west London that Queens Park Rangers could be the club for them? Even if they could afford to be picky, though, there is something fundamentally immoral about increasing ticket prices for a second time this early into the season. During the summer, many people will have made the decision over whether to buy season tickets or not based upon the prices that were made available at the time. Those people, and we are talking about regular, match-going people here, now find themselves potentially priced out of Loftus Road altogether. It’s also important to remember that the categorisation for matches is completely arbitary. You can bet a pound to a penny that, should the club find itself near the top of the table at the end of the season, every game will suddenly become a Category A fixture.
Unsurprisingly, QPR supporters are up in arms over this, and they are right to be. It’s difficult to say whether this price increase has come about because of pure greed or because of a black hole in the club’s finances. Either way around, there has been no explanation for it and, considering the wealth of those that now own the club, it’s probably fair to say that the former has had some degree of influence. These are tough times, financially speaking, and two significant price rises at one club in the space of two months is adding significant insult to significant injury. The match between Queens Park Rangers and Derby County has been set as the featured match on ITV’s “The Championship” this Sunday, and the likelihood is that it will be played out in front of banks of empty seats, as people either refuse to go out of principle or because they can no longer afford to. Either Flavio Briatore has completely lost touch with reality or he is choosing to price out many of the supporters that carried Queens Park Rangers through their recent, well-publicised financial difficulties. They deserve better than to be treated in such a contemptuous manner by their club.