On the last day of the season and front of a capacity crowd at Loftus Road, Queens Park Rangers played their last Championship match of the season against Leeds United. The match was covered by the cameras of the BBC, who had already, for the last episiode of “The Football League Show” of the season, been hanging around the main entrance to the ground on South Africa Road (one of the more confusing aspects of the club’s idiosyncratic ground) as the FA’s decision that the club were not to be deducted any points over the Faurlin affair was announced, a decision made just in time to leave those that had assembled there in paryoxyms of delight at the club’s return to the Premier League after an absence of fifteen years.
Some of them may this evening be wondering what they got so worked up about, after the announcement made earlier today of the club’s tickets prices for its first season back at what is, for better or for worse, football’s top table. Individual tickets for Loftus Road will cost beween £47 and £72, whilst season ticket prices have been raised by a jaw-dropping 40%, even though the club will play four less home matches next season than it did this time around. There have been understandable howls of outrage from supporters of the club over an announcement, which threatens to much of the feelgood aroma that has been wafting around it since the FA decided that a fine would suffice for its wrong-doings.
The obscenity of these price rises becomes plain when we pause to consider who the owners of the club are. Lakshmi Mittal is the richest man in Britain and the second richest man in Europe. He is said to be worth around £21bn. Bernie Ecclestone is said to be worth – depending on who you believe – between £1.5bn and £2.5bn. Flavio Briatore resigned his chairmanship of the club at the start of 2010, but retains his share-holding. He is said to be worth over £150m. No-one would suggest for a moment that anyone should necessarily fund losses that Queens Park Rangers or at any other football club may incur during their time in the Premier League. The club will, however, benefit from the voluptuous television money that comes from joining the Premier League, as well as, it seems reasonable to presume, increased sponsorship and commercial revenue from being there.
So, what is the justification for the price rises? Predictably enough, the club’s official defence of the decision, which read that the club, “…is keen to stress that the prices are in line with other London-based Premier League Clubs, and are encouraged by early sales figures following the release of season tickets earlier on Tuesday”, which could lead us to one obvious, if unappealing conclusion: because they can. The current capacity of the ground is 18,360. If supporters of the club are priced out by the increases – which they surely will be – or refuses to pay this level of price out of principle – which some may – the club may well merely work to the assumption that someone else will fill those spaces and carry on as normal. This, perhaps, is what has happened to football over the last couple of decades personified in one club. Very few people shed many tears for those that have been priced out of the game since the cost of tickets started to spiral out of control, yet millions have been.
Even if we set aside moral considerations, Queens Park Rangers have already been hit on an altogether more practical level. Vice-chairman Amit Bhatia, the son-in-law of Lakshmi Mittal, resigned earlier today, stating that, “it is clear to me from recent board meetings that my vision, strategy and direction for the club is very different from that of the other shareholders and board members”, and that, “the recent decisions to sack club CEO and Chairman Ishan Saksena and significantly increase season ticket prices are just two of the decisions I disagree with”. Bhatia has reportedly failed to agree terms with Ecclestone and Briatore to buy the club out and this may or may not have more to do with his resignation, but that he should mention it all when his family will be holding onto its share in the club is telling, to say the least.
Even if we cast moral considerations aside, there are practical concerns over raising ticket prices by this much upon promotion to the Premier League. QPR may last one season in the Premier League, they may last two, three or five. It would be foolish, however, to hold the opinion that they are likely to become perpetual members of it. Will ticket prices be reduced by the same amounts that they have increased if or when the club is relegated again? Even if they are, the club may find that they need the supporters that they are pricing out and angering right now in a year, two years or five years time, and those people might well have found something better to do with their Saturday afternoons by the time the club needs them again. Such short-termism – some might call it profiteering – is unsurprising, but it doesn’t make it any less depressing for being so.
Meanwhile, today saw the public release of the FA’s report into the Alejandro Faurlin affair. It makes for interesting reading, and it all adds to a sense of unease around the club that can only grow with the sort of decision that they have made over this ticketing policy. Flavio Briatore made his desire to turn QPR into a “boutique” club no secret, and this pricing strategy, with all the exclusion that it carries, puts right into that category. Perhaps it would be wise just to keep our fingers crossed that the club will be okay in the medium to long-term. Somebody has to, after all, and decisions like this add to the lingering suspicion that the owners couldn’t give a damn about the supporters. This summer, which should really be one for celebration for them, feels as if it is starting to turn sour already.
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