A most curious little article appealed on the Daily Telegraph’s website on Thursday, stating that the Green & Gold protest against the Glazer family’s ownership of the club had failed because season ticket sales at Old Trafford for the coming season had topped 50,000. It was curious because it lacked any real detail behind the story at all and, after a banner headline and no less than two whole sentences, it trailed off into some guff about United’s match against Philapelphia Union before coming to an abrupt halt. You can see what there is of it here.
Now, far be it from this humble website to cast aspersions upon the journalistic integrity of such an august institution as the Daily Telegraph, but this all felt most odd. If this was such a resounding victory against supporters groups, why were no comparisons made between this season’s sales projections and those of previous seasons. The number “50,000” is thrown out there with nothing to compare it to, and it is a big number. Is it, however, an impressive number? There is a subtle difference, after all. An answer of sorts came thanks to the BBC yesterday afternoon and, actually, it isn’t quite as grand as it might seem at first glance.
Old Trafford currently seats 75,957 people, which means that the ground would be almost two-thirds full if all season ticket holders were present for every match, but this doesn’t compare favourably with previous seasons, even though there are less season tickets on sale there than in previous years. For the 2007/08 season, Manchester United had 64,000 season ticket holders of which 8,000 were executive tickets. These executive tickets are important, as they make up approximately 40% of the club’s match day revenue. They also, of course, had a sizeable waiting list of people to fall back upon. It now seems likely that the sales for the start of season will fall by somewhere between five and ten thousand short of previous seasons and, even though the number of season tickets available is lower this year than in recent years, this is a significant number for several reasons.
Quite how this constitutes a failure on the part of those behind the Green & Gold protests is something of a mystery. There have been plenty of people sharing stories over the summer of being cold-called by the club to buy season tickets for the forthcoming season, so it seems as if this particular overdraft of supporters that the club may have thought would be there forever has reached its limit, although some are still stretching the definition of what a waiting list is to breaking point by claiming that this still constitutes one, when really it is more of a “mailing list” than a “waiting list”. In addition, while the club is more than happy to tell tame journalists that 50,000 season tickets is a success story, they haven’t released any figures on the executive tickets, which is where the real money is. It has been rumoured that these ticket sales have been very sluggish over the summer, which might confirm the reason why the information that has been spoon fed to the media has been so selective.
Some might argue that this is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. Release a story stating that season tickets are selling brilliantly and that availability is limited, and some that are wavering might decide, with the new season just three weeks away, that they will clamber aboard rather than missing out. This may or may not be the policy of the commercial department of the club at present, but the one thing that we can say for certain is that the season tickets aren’t sold out at the time of writing, and we should also probably add that there has never even been an “official” (to the extent to which such a call could be made officially) boycott launched. If supporters are deciding to jettison their season tickets this summer, it seems likely to be as much down to the current ragged economic climate as anything else. As recently as May 2009, however, the club was confidently stating that, “We are still turning away over 5,000 people per game on average”. Those days, for this season at least, seem to be over.
There is one further matter that is worthy of our consideration. No-one has suggested for a second that giving up a season ticket for your club is an easy thing to do. For many people, this will have been a summer of agonisingly conflicting emotions. However, the only way to get the Glazer family out of Old Trafford is going to be to flush them out, and the only language that they understand is money. As such, the Green & Gold protest does end this summer for the 50,000 that have bought season tickets for this season. Changing the goalposts and stating that, “I won’t buy a replica shirt” instead is not enough. The battle lines were as clearly defined as they could be, and it was always a matter of personal conscience whether people wished to renew or not. Anybody that has bought a season ticket for this season may as well – should they have bought one in the first place – chuck their green and gold scarf in the bin. Even the Daily Telegraph – and the same writer! – were calling a different tune by lunchtime yesterday, and were leading with the fact that 4,000 tickets have, in a step unprecedented at Manchester United in recent years, been made available for general sale.
Meanwhile, the most obvious, visible protest of all continues at FC United of Manchester. FCUM is, of course, about more than just the Glazer family, although they proved to be the tipping point for many of their members/owners. It’s about a broader disillusion with the Premier League “product”. They are still there, and are now beginning plans to build a ground of their own in Manchester which will serve to embed their distinctive character upon football in the city still further. They may or may not benefit directly from the ongoing dissatisfaction with the way that Manchester United is being run, but those that are drifting away from Old Trafford because of the way that football is going (and its personification in the grinning mugs of The Fabulous Glazer Boys), they remain best advised to give FC United of Manchester a go if they wish to feel part of a football community again.
FC United of Manchester play AFC Telford United for the Supporters Direct Cup at New Bucks Head, Telford, on Saturday 24th July, kicking off at 1.30. This match will be followed by the Supporters Direct Shield match between Scarborough Athletic and Merthyr Town.