Price war

It wasn’t just Derby who were up in arms at QPR’s sudden price hike. Thom Gibbs and his fellow Rangers fans are far from sitting comfortably

How much would you pay to watch Championship football? Coventry have recently offered ticket bundles for three home games against Southampton, Burnley and Derby for the price of £50; some QPR fans paid that last month just to watch their side against Derby. Classed as an “A” category game under a new banding system unveiled 12 days beforehand and seven games into the season, the QPR board deemed a seat in the “Platinum” area of the ground for the Derby game to be worth £50. That gets you a mostly unobstructed view from the middle of the South Africa Road stand, a padded seat and access to a private bar.

The walk-up cost to sit in the “Gold” area I call home at Loftus Road was £40. From my seat it’s a stretch to see about an eighth of the pitch, the members’ bar for season-ticket holders has made way for extra corporate hospitality, and I finish every game with fresh, sore indents at the top of my shins caused by the seat in front of me digging into my legs. Call me a traditionalist, but charging £40 for 90 minutes of pain and humiliation (a lacklustre Rangers surrendered 2-0 to Derby) should remain the preserve of leather-clad inhabitants of Soho.

Scandalously, my nouveau riche club were also planning to charge Derby’s travelling fans £40, reneging on an agreement set before the season, and all for the dubious honour of a seat in the truly shoddy School End. Credibly, Derby’s board turned down their ticket allocation at the increased price and took the matter to the League, who ruled the rise unlawful. QPR’s increasingly Pravda-like official website merely carried a story stating all tickets for the “Platinum” area had been sold. The empty seats in the £50 section suggested that all its season-ticket holders had gone on holiday together, or that the club had crossed the line from spin to outright lies.

“It’s just rank, a horrible way to treat people that have stuck with the club through really bad times,” says Clive Whittingham, editor of independent fan site, about the price hike. “Something’s not adding up somewhere, possibly because the owners have spent all this money on ground improvements and new premium seats which no one is sitting in. They’ve now said that to meet budgets previously set they need to raise the prices.” The hardest hit will be people who decided not to buy a season ticket, reasoning that it would be better value to pay for individual tickets as they could not make every game. Whittingham says: “You declare your prices in summer, which were already pretty high anyway, and to increase them again three [home] games into the season is just crazy.”

Leaflets protesting against the new pricing were handed out before the Derby match from an umbrella organisation of supporters’ groups named One QPR, which encompasses five different organisations. “Our fans are incredibly divided,” Whittingham says. “There are so many supporters’ groups, when there used to be just the Loyal Supporters Association, which is how it should be. Various people have fallen out, and various people think they’re important enough to deserve their own say.”

Co-owner Flavio Briatore said recently that he doesn’t think fans who pay £20 once a fortnight deserve a say in how their club is run. But now that fans are paying up to £50 to sit in a charmingly cramped, but decrepit stadium to watch much improved but still-patchy football, aren’t they entitled to a voice? The new owners’ long-term plan appears to be built around attracting wealthy west Londoners to a small, niche, ground with excellent hospitality. ­“Boutique football,” Briatore calls it.

A sensible lack of largesse has seen QPR assemble a decent, exciting squad. It’s the owners’ appalling PR (insert your own “there’s no QPR without PR” joke here) and the blatant disregard for supporters that is so distasteful. If you treat fans like consumers, they’re entitled to behave like consumers. That’s why Loftus Road is an increasingly bad-tempered and negative place, despite fine progress on the pitch. That’s why QPR supporters are likely to hear again the refrain the Derby fans sung, to the tune of Rangers’ adopted anthem, Pigbag: “Der‑der‑der-der/Greedy bastards.” 

From WSC 261 November 2008