Problems in Liverpool: Walking Out on the Club that “Never Walks Alone”

By | February 8, 2016

For the first time in the 124-year history of the club, Liverpool fans staged a walkout during one of their Premier League matches—and it was not for lack of quality on the pitch that was at issue with the home faithful.

Liverpool was leading 2-0 at Anfield Saturday against Sunderland in an English Premier League matchup when fans began pouring out of the stadium by the thousands in the 77th minute. The focal point of the mass exodus was not the players on the field or the play of the game, but rather, newly released plans for ticket pricing next season. Fans united to protest price hikes that were projected to rise from £59 (approximately $86) for match day tickets and £1,000 for season tickets to £77 (approximately $112) and £1,029, respectively, in the coming year.

Video of the Liverpool Fan’s Walkout Protest from The Redmen TV channel published on YouTube February 6, 2016

After the symbolic walkout at the 77th minute for the £77, Liverpool preceded to concede two late goals and squander its chances for three points with a 2-2 draw against the Sunderland squad that sits at the bottom of the table (Bell, 2016). In The Guardian, Jay McKenna—a spokesman for the fan support group Spirit of Shankly—told Press Association Sport that the results of the protest were successful from his perspective:

“We are happy with yesterday’s demonstration and we are pleased with the number of supporters who took part,” McKenna said. “But the protest was aimed just as much at the owners because the decision of the prices is one made by Fenway Sports Group and the ownership of the club. It is a good indication that supporters are very angry at prices and this will just be the start of taking more action” (Press Association, 2016).

Liverpool executives did not view the protest in the same light. Club Executive Ian Ayre attempted to diffuse the protest Friday prior to the match by asking fans to “look at the facts,” which he pointed out show that 45 percent of match ticket prices have declined and that 64 percent of season tickets have remained the same or declined as well.

Despite his pleas to the contrary, it appears that fans did not perceive of the Main Stand’s new pricing structure in the same manner, and were instead fed up with the increases. In his defense, Ayre responded regarding the difficulty of making balancing both the business and fan base:

“I have a responsibility as chief executive to run the business and we have to do the right things for our fans and the club and the mix is a really tough one to get right,” he said (Bell, 2016).

Although the walkout was not unanimous—estimates suggest that 10,000 fans marched out of the stadium’s 45,500 capacity crowd—the demonstration shines light on fan reactions to increased bureaucracy in ticket pricing. The projected ticket increases are projected to make the club around £2 million of increased revenue next season from supporters’ tickets, which does not include the hospitality or projected £2 million increase from newly created seats in the Main Stand (Kelly, 2016).

Obviously clubs have to make money, but the question becomes were Liverpool fans justified in their actions and how damaging are the price hikes to their ability to watch from the stands? Compared to the rest of the Premier League, it seems that the Liverpool faithful may have had just cause.

In research conducted by the League itself last year, the average price of the adult season ticket that was most commonly paid—the modal price—was £30 per match. Across all 20 clubs in England’s most respective division, the average price paid by adult season holders works out as £32.50 for each fixture.

But where does Liverpool stand?

According to the League’s numbers, Liverpool charges the third-highest of the “lowest season ticket prices” and the third-highest “modal season ticket price” to catch a match at Anfield. Breaking it down per match, Liverpool charges its fans the highest “modal/match price for season ticket holders” at £45.74 (Barclays Premier League, 2015). Visit this link to view a table of the Premier League’s research and a table summarizing the ticket-pricing results.

Based on these projections, fans of the club have a right to protest the sharp price hikes for home matches, despite the objections of club executives. With the English Premier League already one of the most expensive soccer leagues to view in person, Liverpool standing at the top does not bode well for fans wanting to see the pitch. The cheapest season tickets at Bayern Munich run fans £104.48 and at Camp Nou—home of Barcelona—season tickets cost £73.88. Compare that to the top four leagues in both England and Scotland, and there is not a cheaper option.

According to the Independent, a soccer fan could enjoy the beautiful game in the Bundesliga for next to nothing compared to English prices. A matchday ticket for Bayern Munich (£11.19), Bayer Leverkusen (£11.19) and Borussia Dortmund (£11.94) would cost a fan £34.32, which is still cheaper than a Premier League supporter paying the price for the average hospitality and cheapest matchday ticket totaling £36.06 (Critchley, 2015).

So yes, Liverpool fans have a point. Being at the top of a league that is already overpriced is a problem, and upcoming matches may give them further opportunity to point out the issue. With fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester City on the upcoming schedule, the protest supporters have ample opportunity to push the issue; however, club executives have decided to take a closer look at the pricing options to prevent another walkout. At the beginning of the week, a thorough review of prices and options was undertaken and changes were being considered (Lusby, 2016).

In light of the walkout and subsequent review, maybe now the executives will step off their pedestal and realize that the game is about the fans, and that making sure they are in the stadium should be a top priority moving forward. As Vincent Kompany told the League during its research last season:

“Everybody knows the impact a crowd can have on the game,” the Manchester City captain said. “I can tell you that the idea of the ‘twelfth man’ is very real to all of us. That atmosphere, that wall of sound, is one of the things that makes so many people love the Premier League” (Barclays Premier League, 2015).

 

Bibliography:

Barclays Premier League. “Full and vibrant stadiums make the League special.” The Barclays Premier League. October 8, 2015. http://www.premierleague.com/en-gb/news/news/2015-16/oct/081015-premier-league-overview-of-ticket-prices.html (accessed on February 8, 2016).
Bell, Tom. “Liverpool fans walk out of Anfield in 77th minute vs. Sunderland.” espnFC. February 7, 2016. http://www.espnfc.us/liverpool/story/2802375/liverpool-fans-walk-out-in-77th-minute-protest (accessed on February 8, 2016).
Critchley, Mark. “Ticket prices: How much does it cost to watch your team?” Independent. October 14, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/ticket-prices-how-much-does-it-cost-to-watch-your-team-a6694486.html (accessed on February 8, 2016).
Kelly, Andy. “Liverpool FC fan protest: Thousands leave Anfield in the 77th minute of 2-2 draw with Sunderland.” Liverpool Echo. February 6, 2016. http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/liverpool-fc-fan-protest-thousands-10851711 (accessed on February 8, 2016).
Lusby, Jack. “Liverpool considering ticketing structure review after unprecedented Anfield walkout.” This Is Anfield. February 7, 2016. http://www.thisisanfield.com/2016/02/liverpool-may-review-ticketing-structure-after-unprecedented-anfield-walkout/ (accessed on February 8, 2016).
Press Association. “Liverpool fans warn of further action after walkout over ticket pricing.” The Guardian. February 7, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/07/liverpool-fans-warn-further-action-walkout-ticket-pricing (accessed on February 8, 2016).

One thought on “Problems in Liverpool: Walking Out on the Club that “Never Walks Alone”

  1. Samantha Shapiro

    The idea here of striking a balance between pleasing the fans and maintaining business growth is really interesting. On the one hand, fans can be crucial to a game, just as Kompany suggests; a team without a supportive crowd can obviously still play, but such an atmosphere would undoubtedly feel less purposeful and exciting. For this reason, securing ongoing support from fans, both emotionally and monetarily, should be a top priority for league executives, for as we have extensively talked about in class and as Galeano stressed in his book, the crowd is a central component in the game of soccer itself. At the same time, however, many soccer fans are so devoted that they could still very well continue attending games despite raised prices, even if they are not happy about doing so. It seems that this dilemma might come down to whether or not executives like Ayre are willing to call the fans’ bluff and assume that their dedication will remain regardless of ticket prices, but this of course adds an extra risk of creating a tense, hostile relationship between the fans and the league.

    In addition, while admittedly I am not extremely familiar with the intensity of Liverpool’s fanbase, I wonder if it would be easier for these frustrated fans to shift their dedication to another team in the English Premiere League in order to really prove their point. It seems that there are so many teams (many of them in good standing) in this league readily available to attract fandom; perhaps if these fans took a “break” from being Liverpool fans and suddenly directed their attention towards another team, executives would realize that that fans’ commitments are not steadfast and unwavering, especially at the cost of what they perceive as disrespect from the businessmen behind their favorite team. It is important to keep in mind, however, that only a fraction of the Liverpool crowd actually participated in this protest, which definitely undermines the dichotomy of the dilemma at hand. Losing these protesting fans will probably not hurt the league’s overall ticket sales, which might lead executives to simply ignore the protest and rely on the remaining fans in the stands for continued revenue support.

    Finally, this protest reminded me of the clip we watched in class of two of the Greek teams sitting on the field in the middle of their match. While the causes between these two protests are entirely different, they were both impressive in how the participants coordinated the act and got so many individuals to agree on a very specific issue. This Liverpool protest, similar to the one over refugee policy in Greece, was savvy in the sense that protestors took advantage of the fact that the protest would be televised and therefore made public and widely-known very quickly.

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