THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

A ticketing fiasco leads to hundreds of empty seats at a supposedly showpiece game. Bruce Wilkinson reports

Watching the FA Cup semi-final between Blackburn and Chelsea, you may have been surprised to see quite so many empty seats. The distance Chelsea supporters had to travel and the number of big games they have coming up were contributory factors, while Blackburn have had well publicised problems filling Ewood Park in the past couple of seasons. Ticket prices, however, also had a significant effect on the attendance.

Tickets started at a reasonable £25 and then were available in £10 increments up to £55. The problem for Rovers’ support was that there were only a limited number of the cheapest seats, all of them snapped up by Blackburn’s season-ticket holders and members. The FA had decreed that concessions should only be open to fans buying in the cheapest price bracket. This meant that when they went on general sale, only the more expensive seats were available. There was thus no chance for those fans who could not afford a season ticket to buy the cheapest seats or to get a concessionary rate.

With a number of the Premiership’s “smaller” clubs looking to attract an increasingly disillusioned public by reducing  entrance prices and becoming more flexible in their marketing, it seems odd that ticketing for the semi-final was structured and priced in this way. Also, given that their flagship competition is being devalued by Premiership clubs fielding weakened sides as they’re either focused on the Champions League or trying to avoid relegation, the FA should surely be trying to ensure that games in the latter stages draw a full house.

Blackburn Rovers’ press officer Paul Agnew confirmed that both his club and Chelsea had asked the FA for a review of the ticketing at the planning meeting for the semi-final. As a result, Blackburn were given an extra 5,000 seats at the cheapest price and thus with the possibility of concessions. But these tickets had all gone by the time of general sale, demand for cheaper access to the game outstripping supply.

He went on to comment: “The club welcomed the inceased allocation of £25 tickets but would have benefited further if concessionary prices had been available in all areas. The importance of the fixture and the desire of supporters to attend may have masked the issue of pricing.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the FA stated: “We agreed prices with all four clubs [involved in both semi-finals] via commitee and are looking at creative ways to build on attendances for next year’s semi-finals.” The FA, along with many clubs, only allow concessions in certain areas of the ground.

Next year’s semi-finals will be at Wembley regardless of which teams are playing. The 2007 FA Cup final prices (from £35 to £95) indicate just how expensive next year’s semi-final games are likely to be. Mark Longden, of Man Utd fans group IMUSA, commenting on prices for this year’s final, said: “I despair. When will the FA get it? The prices are yet another kick in the teeth for die-hard fans. It’s just ruthlessly exploiting loyalty.” Sports Minister Richard Caborn’s view was that “the FA have to look at ticket pricing and make sure that some of the profits are recycled back into the game”.

The FA are desperate to claw back some of their huge outlay on the rebuilt Wembley. It would appear that one of their preferred methods is to fleece supporters who want to go to the bigger games. The 2007 Cup final could sell out many times over, even at these prices, both because of the teams involved and the novelty aspect of the new stadium. It will only be when there is a half-empty ground for one of next year’s semi-finals that we will see the true cost of the FA’s intractibility.

From WSC 244 June 2007. What was happening this month

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