One of the more welcome developments in ticketing arrangements in recent years has been the slow realisation on the part of clubs that they cannot always charge the absolute maximum that they can for some matches. Crowds have declined alarmingly recent years in both the League Cup and FA Cup, but what is starting to become apparent is that clubs would rather have people in their grounds than staying away because they can’t afford tickets on top of the cost of their season tickets. The issue of cheaper tickets being, by definition, isn’t a completely black and white issue, though. In the FA Cup, in which gate receipts are shared – after various costs have been removed – between the competing clubs, and this can create tension between them.
In the case of next week’s FA Cup First Round match between Southampton and Shrewsbury Town, this is exactly what happened. Southampton wanted to cut the cost of the tickets for this match from their usual price of around £25 to £10. This may, on the surface, appear to be motivated by altruism, but it makes sense for the club to do this. A bigger crowd, they may reason, would be advantageous to the players and would also push up other revenue streams such as catering, which don’t have to be shared with anyone else. For Shrewsbury Town, on the other hand, a smaller crowd may or may not benefit their players, but higher ticket prices would probably be more beneficial to their financial wellbeing.
Fortunately, in such situations, the FA are on hand to mediate. They stepped in and the ticket prices for the match were fixed at £15, which could be regarded as a compromise which, if anything, falls on Southampton’s side. It may or may not be worth pointing out that, as far as the FA is concerned, anything that pushes up the attendances at matches in the early stages of the FA Cup boosts the prestige of the competition. It could certainly be argued that Shrewsbury Town acted against the best interests of their own supporters – Southampton is a great enough distance from Shrewsbury to be a sizeable drain on the wallets and purses of Shrewsbury’s travelling support, and their club might have acted to protect their own interests rather than those of their supporters.
The rights and wrongs of whether reduced prices should or shouldn’t have been offered for this match, however, are neither here nor there. What was curious (and just as unwelcome as Shrewsbury’s decision to press for full price tickets in the first place) was the article placed on Southampton’s website confirming the price reductions. Was it, we may reasonably argue, strictly necessary to use such a patronising phrase as, “Bearing in mind the opposition” and to allude to Shrewsbury’s challenging of Southampton’s pricing policy for this match as, “looking cash in on their trip to St. Mary’s by charging both sets of fans full price tickets, an over ambitious move designed only to line their pockets”? It doesn’t even particularly matter if there may be a grain of truth behind what the writer of the article is saying – Southampton had won that particular battle and, quite necessary, the tone of it was patronising, to say the least.
Perhaps, however, this is to be expected from Southampton, whose new owners sometimes seem to be making something of a habit of this sort of thing. The club incurred the wrath of the press at the start of the season by announcing that it would be banning all photographers except one agency. Again, the issue of whether they are right to do this (or whether they should have the right to do this) is less black and white it may immediately seem, but the fact of the matter is that there was no great need for Southampton to act in the way that they did. Just as in the case of the photography episode, the club has earned itself unnecessary bad publicity. Southampton supporters may well have been pleased at the fact that tickets for the Shrewsbury match, but it seems unlikely that too many of them will be terribly happy at the comments made in their club’s subsequent statement.
There are, then, pros and cons to the ticket pricing arrangements for these matches. There was never likely to be a resolution to this issue that was likely to satisfy both clubs, and we should perhaps at least take solace from the fact that the FA came down on the side of affordable ticket pricing in this instance. Shrewsbury Town may wish to consider that, with just fifteen league places between them and Southampton, it would not be completely beyond the realms of possibility for their team to snatch a replay with all of the attendant financial benefits that such a match would bring. Southampton, on the other hand, have got what they wanted and what they wanted will benefit those that choose to attend this match. It is just a pity that they chose such a graceless way to announce it to the world.