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Tit-for-tat mentality sees fans pick up the bill

The sudden increase in ticket prices across UEFA club competitions is football's quiet scam, with away fans losing out more often than not.

With Valencia following the recent Spanish trend of upping ticket prices once drawn against English opponents, Manchester United officials reacted by announcing they’ll again be returning the favour.

3,800 Valencia fans who visit Manchester for the UEFA Champions League group tie will now be charged £77 instead of the original quote of £55. The added £22 will subsidise Manchester United fans due to visit the Mestalla in December – who were also quoted £77 – with any additional revenue being donated to the Manchester United Foundation.

If you’re a Manchester United fan due to visit the Mestalla, this may seem like karma being served. But read between the lines and you’ll soon realise this is yet another example of tit-for-tat behaviour which results in fans picking up the bill – only difference being they’ll be Valencia fans, not Manchester United.

True, Valencia are in the wrong for increasing the price to such an extortionate amount, but the issue surely lies deeper in the commercial opportunism which seems to be swallowing the game as a whole. This isn’t the first case of such nature. It’s quickly becoming football’s quiet scam.

1280px-San_Mames
The Old San Mamés Stadium. Image: Wikimedia

I was part of the travelling United contingent visiting Athletic Bilbao for the 2011/12 UEFA Europa League last-16 tie. Eye-wateringly, Athletic increased ticket prices and charged United fans €90.00 for the second-leg at the Old San Mamés. Whilst United fans never begrudged paying the fee demanded, it was a hard one to swallow due to it being a 350% increase on the €20 fee the visiting Lokomotiv Moscow fans were asked to pay in the previous round.

Then in 2016, the Spanish gave way to the Danish as FC Midtjylland charged Manchester United fans 710 kroner (£71.00) – three times what they asked Southampton fans to pay earlier in the tournament.

“I can understand that it’s expensive for a Manchester United fan to see FC Midtjylland and that they are angry, but that’s how it is,” explained Jacob Jørgensen, the club’s commercial director, at the time.

Then last season, Manchester United faced a UEFA Champions League last-16 tie away to Sevilla. The Andalusians triggered a series of complaints from United supporters after charging £89 for them to watch the first leg in Spain. Branding the prices “unfair” and “excessive”, United –  similar to the present day with Valencia – reacted by raising the cost of tickets for Sevilla supporters travelling to watch the return leg at Old Trafford to £89 and said they would use the extra proceeds to help refund their own fans.

Sevilla responded by then subsidising their own support, whilst Valencia may still decide to do the same. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop the issue from rising to the fore again in the future and Manchester United fans aren’t the only side to have suffered of late.

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The Wanda Metropolitano built in 2017.

Atletico Madrid announced ticket prices of £79 for Arsenal fans in last season’s UEFA Europa League semi-final, in comparison to the £36.50 paid by Los Colchoneros for the first leg at the Emirates Stadium. However, Arsenal confirmed they would also make up the difference, ensuring their fans paid the same price as Atletico fans for their visit to north London. Only difference being they would be doing this out of their own pockets, not by transferring the cost to Atletico fans.

Still the scam recently caught up with leading Belgian side Anderlecht. They were ordered by UEFA to partially refund Bayern Munich fans for their 2017/18 Champions League group match. The Belgian club charged visiting supporters €100 per ticket for the game at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, which Bayern won 2-1, with the visiting fans throwing fake money on the pitch in protest. UEFA ruled the price was excessive and instructed Anderlecht to reimburse Bayern by €30 per ticket.

In a statement released at the time by their Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body, UEFA said: “RSC Anderlecht is ordered to contact FC Bayern Munich within 15 days to compensate their supporters with an amount of €30 per ticket to those away fans located in the upper tier section (sections S14, S15, S16 and S17).”

This incident followed Anderlecht fans calling their very own hierarchy a “disgrace” in April 2017. They accused the club of “a lack of consideration” over high ticket prices for the Europa League quarter-final home tie with Manchester United. A banner stating “€40 for a standing place? Shame on ‘our’ directors” was attached to railings at the main entrance to the Belgian club’s Constant Vanden Stock stadium prior to the match.

All of the mentioned examples happened in UEFA licensed tournaments. The association’s recent ordering of Anderlecht to refund Bayern supporters shows the occasional right-minded individual remains part of the organisation after all. Nevertheless, the issue requires further attention, otherwise supporters will keep on picking up the bill in the future.

*Update*

Football Supporters Europe are asking UEFA to amend and clarify Article 19 – Paragraph 3 of its Safety and Security Regulations at the earliest possible opportunity to prevent clubs from using loopholes in the regulation, for example by charging regular season ticket holders or members much less than away fans. The most effective way to make the regulation as fan-friendly as possible would be to change the regulation to: “The price of tickets for supporters of the visiting team must be no higher than the cheapest tickets available for home fans in the respective categories.”

They are also calling on UEFA to continue to enforce its regulation by obliging clubs to compensate the affected fans in cases of a breach of the ticketing regulation. However, early arbitration rather than retrospective disciplinary proceedings would minimise these cases.

They further call on all clubs playing in European competition to adopt self-regulation mechanisms, taking the purchasing power of the respective country of the visiting team into account, therefore encouraging more supporters to travel from countries with significantly lower wages and salaries.

More at this link.

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