This summer promises to be financially a barren one for many football clubs. With unemployment having already passed the two million barrier and many analysts predicting that it will reach three million before things start to improve again, purse strings are starting to tighten and football clubs are likely to feel the pinch. Season ticket sales have become critical to the financial well-being of clubs. As they have grown over the last ten or fifteen years, clubs have become dependent on the large annual financial windfall that they bring and there is some level of concern that many clubs’ financial stability may be affected if season ticket sales fall during the summer.
Many Premier League clubs have already confirmed price freezes on season tickets for next season, but one notable exception to this is Manchester United, who have already confirmed that their prices will increase by £1 per match for next season in addition to their controversial scheme by which season ticket holders have to purchase tickets for all cup matches if they purchase a season ticket. In the light of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the most radical season ticket pricing policy should come at FC United of Manchester, the Unibind League club borne of frustration at the running of the modern game.
Over the last couple of years, Bradford City and Huddersfield Town have both benefitted from offering very low season ticket prices to supporters, by FC United have taken things a step forward by announcing that supporters will, subject to a minimum fee of £90 for an adult ticket, decide for themselves how much they pay for their own season ticket. The club hopes to raise £125,000 from the scheme. On the face of things, it sounds like commercial suicide, but FC United isn’t like that many other football clubs. The club is still groundsharing at Bury, which has a serious effect on their ability to raise money. In addition to this, they are still raising money to try and start work on a home of their own. However, this is a club run by its supporters and a board that trusts its own supporters to do the right thing.
We can expect to see many token gestures made by clubs towards supporters because of the current economic turmoil, but this seems to be the genuine article. It is a bold, brave move that may yet backfire on FC United, but when their general manager Andy Walsh says that, “The Premier League clubs have put up prices regardless of the ability of people to pay. Those that can afford to pay continue to pay and those that can’t fall off the end. Ultimately that will undermine the game of football, which has always been about inclusivity, not exclusivity”, it is borne of a conviction – not a terribly popular one these days – that football clubs are borne from the communities from whence they spring. Those that can afford to pay more will subsidise those that can’t. At ninety-nine per cent of football clubs, you suspect that such a plan would be doomed to failure. At FC United of Manchester, you suspect that it isn’t.