There have been few empty seats at Craven Cottage this season but with some fans feeling priced out, a short-sighted ticketing policy could have long-term implications
9 January ~ Last year will forever be etched into the memories of Fulham fans. Getting promoted to the Premier League was the headline but for the supporters, it was more about seeing the team go to Wembley for the first time in 43 years – and win.
This season, however, might be remembered as a watershed moment for another reason. The club had a chance, in the transition from the Championship to the Premier League, to show that they stood by the fans, that the identity of the club remained the same. That’s something Fulham feel they have done. I became a board member of the Supporters’ Trust this summer. When we’ve raised the issue, they point to freezing season ticket prices for those who renewed before it was known what division Fulham would be playing in this season. All but a tiny proportion of the 12,000 season ticket holders did so.
However, added to that were around 2,500 new season tickets with price hikes of a couple of hundred pounds each, no matter where you were sitting. For the first time, Craven Cottage had a £1,000 season ticket. Then you have the regular matchday ticket prices, the cheapest of which was £25 in the Championship. Want one of those in the Premier League? That’ll be £45. Against the top teams? That’s up to £55, with the most expensive being at a staggering £75.
It’s not like the stands have been empty though. The first three home games were close to sell-outs while games four and five against Arsenal and Bournemouth respectively were both full houses.
The club, as a result, don’t see the problem, with chairman Shahid Khan and CEO Alistair Mackintosh both continually speaking in the last year of making Fulham sustainable.
The ticketing policy this season says otherwise. The more you tell people to pay, the more you create a culture of entitlement among the club’s fans, something that you can’t afford when you are Fulham. Entitled fans wait to be entertained. If that’s your mentality as a fan, then you’re killing any chance of an atmosphere in the stadium.
The club have called the atmosphere at Craven Cottage “excellent”. As a Fulham fan, I can count on one hand the times it’s hit that level in the past five years. If you told that to any visiting supporter during that time too, they’d struggle to hold a straight face. From speaking to fans, I know there are those who could afford the Championship but not the Premier League. “Who is to say we have the wrong fans in the ground?” has been one line from the club.
But, that’s not an issue until you raise the ticket prices as much as they have done. Making yourself that much more exclusive creates tiers within the fanbase. It creates a debate of who is and isn’t a real fan, something which previously didn’t exist. It ignores the way that long-standing season ticket holders began supporting the club without such an idea of hierarchy – they started as equals.
Instead, supporters who may not have been able to afford a season ticket but came while the club were in the Championship are being disregarded. Replacing them with a customer who pays the highest price is part of the club’s grand plan of being sustainable – a plan which conveniently ignores the Premier League TV deal, the biggest counter-argument there is against such drastic rises in ticket prices. West Bromwich Albion reaped £90 million from last season when finishing bottom of the division. You charge fans an extra £25 on a matchday and the financial difference to Fulham is a couple of million per year – an inconsequential figure in comparison to the monster TV deal. When you spend over £100m on new players in the summer, that becomes even harder to stomach.
The Premier League’s lack of soul isn’t exactly a secret but Fulham still have a chance to show that they’re different, that they care about their fans and a wider fanbase, not just the relatively small extra amount of income per year by shipping in tourists for 90 minutes. The current ticketing policy is a short-sighted, short-term move with long-term consequences – should Fulham be relegated back to the Championship, whenever that may be, those fans who came before won’t be inclined to return any time soon. Archie Rhind-Tutt
Photo by Simon Gill/WSC Photos: Fulham fans at Craven Cottage