You’ll find Andy Mitten’s column in English at the bottom of this page.
United økte antallet sesongkort i takt med utvidelsen, inntil det ble satt tak et sted mellom 50-58.000 i 2006. Dette ble gjort til tross for en venteliste på nesten 14.000, og skjedde i forbindelse med ferdigstillelsen av de to nye kvadrantene (mellom North Stand/West Stand og North Stand/East Stand), og førte til kapasitetsøkning fra 68.000 til 76.000.
Faktum er at etterspørselen etter kampbilletter har sunket. Til de største kampene kunne United solgt ut Old Trafford både to og tre ganger. Da er etterspørselen så stor at klubben, som følge av enorme fortjenestemarginer, utvider sine lukrative «executive»-områder.
Vanlige sesongkort derimot, er blitt mye vanskeligere å omsette. Men United vokter nidkjært alle tall, og foretrekker å levere positive meldinger fremfor dem som kan gi inntrykk av at ikke alt er like perfekt under Glazers. Likevel har det skjedd en endring.
– New Red Issue out today!
I Uniteds eget reklamemateriell, siteres en fan på følgende:
– Når du sier at du er sesongkortinnehaver, vet folk at du er en ekte fan.
Blant dem som går på kamp er det mange som vil være enige i at man er en bedre supporter enn dem som ser kampene fra lenestolen hjemme. Men slike toner hørte vi aldri fra United tidligere, for heri antydes det jo at noen fans er bedre enn andre. Det er de jo også, men klubben har aldri før sagt det høyt.
Klubben hevder at vanlige billetter «raskt blir utsolgt», og oppfordrer deg til å «ikke drøye med avgjørelsen». Dette er imidlertid tåkeprat hvis hensikt er å få fortgang på salget. Dersom det virkelig var så mye etterspørsel, ville ikke United ha behøvd å bruke penger på reklame – selv om mye av det blir produsert «innenhus».
United har også begynt å fremheve det positive ved å være sesongkortinnehaver. Ja, de tilbyr sågar fansen en avtale som innebærer rentefritt lån med en nedbetalingsperiode på fem eller ti måneder.
Dette har klubben innsett og derfor lagt planer (godt mottatte planer) for en såkalt «syngeseksjon» for å løse problemet med manglende stemning. Denne skulle plasseres der hvor bortefansen til nå har hatt tilhold.
Hvis United i en sesong spiller 26 hjemmekamper, betyr det at et vanlig sete vil koste deg £1.000. I skandinavisk sammenheng er beløpet kanskje ikke så stort, men for en vanlig arbeiderklassegutt i Manchester er det mye penger. Det er også langt mer enn en tilsvarende billett hos noen av de andre Premier League-klubbene i Nordvest-England.
Nå for tiden må 52.000 kjempe om hva enn United måtte få tildelt av finalebilletter. Tallet varierer, men det er aldri så mye som i nærheten av 52.000. Ikke en gang i ’99, da United spilte på Camp Nou, verdens største fotballstadion. Der måtte klubben ta til takke med bare 38.000 adgangstegn.
Den beste måten å øke billettsalget er å signere nye spillere. Alle motforestillinger til tross, ville kjøp av Lucas Moura og Robin van Persie gitt klubben et stort løft. Det vet United, og derfor jakter de på dem begge. Hvor mye de legger i denne jakten, vil bli klart i løpet av de neste ukene.
Andy Mitten’s column in English
At some football clubs, they set a target. At others, they boast about how many season tickets have been sold throughout the summer. If it’s going well, the club will release figures to the local media as a feel good story to signify both fan loyalty and optimism ahead of the new season.
Manchester City recently released news that they had sold all 38,000 season tickets in record time. Other clubs set public targets, either financial or numerical. Manchester United? Nothing. Not now, not ever.
United had 52,000 season ticket holders last season, more than any club in England. Until recently, the club could have had many more, such was the demand. That was the major driver in Old Trafford being expanded from a 44,000 capacity in 1994 to 76,000 a dozen years later.
United increased the number of season tickets as the stadium grew, finally capping the numbers between 50-58,000 since 2006, when the two new quadrants raised the capacity from 68,000 to 76,000. That was despite there being a waiting list of almost 14,000.
The season ticket money was been banked as early as possible over the summer (the deadline this year was June 8th, the reality that fans have an extra month after that) for years. Season ticket revenue was vital and paid up front. Sir Alex Ferguson once said he had to wait for it to come in before he bought players. That was then, when it was United’s major revenue stream. Gate receipts are still very important, but they’re not growing at the anything like the burgeoning rate of television money and commercial income.
In fact, demand for tickets has decreased. For the big games, United could sell out Old Trafford two or three times over. Demand is such that United are expanding the lucrative executive areas, which their huge profit margins, for such matches.
Shifting the same huge volumes of normal season tickets is becoming harder though. United jealously guard all figures and prefer to deliver positive messages rather than ones which might indicate that life under the Glazers is not all perfect, but there has been a change.
The club have started advertising season tickets, heavily, something United have never previously needed to do. The adverts vary from a televised plea from Sir Alex Ferguson to well executed adverts on MUTV showing what it means to have a season ticket. The ads show that going to the game is a superior experience to watching on television and that the match day is far more than 90 minutes of football. Diehard fans have known this for years, now the club is trying to encapsulate it. They try to tap into fan culture and you hear a cry of ‘new Red Issue out today’ on the advert.
In United’s promotional material, one fan is quoted as saying: “When you say you’re a Season Ticket holder people know you’re a real fan.”
There’s plenty of people who go to the match who’d agree that going makes you a better supporter than an armchair fan, but you’d never have had this sort of talk before from United because it infers that some fans are better than others. Which they are, but it’s been unsaid by the club.
United have contacted as many potential season tickets holders as possible. Anyone who has previously been a season ticket holder, anyone who ever applied for tickets or ever passed their details to MUFC will have received emails this summer offering one of a ‘Limited’ number of season tickets. The language is carefully chosen. What does ‘limited’ mean? One, one hundred, ten thousand?
Executive ticket holders who didn’t renew received hand-written letters from United offering to sort out any issues. You can’t fault the efforts of the ticket or sales office, but issues such as the Glazer ownership can hardly be tackled by a sales executive.
The club say that normal tickets are “selling quickly” and urge that you “don’t delay”, but it’s nebulous talk designed to drive sales. If there was so much demand United wouldn’t need to pay to advertise – though much of the advertising is done “in house.”
United have began to accentuate the positives of owning a season ticket too, they even offer a deal where fans can pay 0% per cent on a loan to spread the payments over five or ten months.
After aggressive price increases in the first five years of ownership under the Glazers, prices have again been frozen. Why? Because demand, for the first time since 1992, is now less than supply. Why? The price rises, the economic situation and a multitude of other reasons. Some fans think that the Old Trafford experience is nothing compared to what it was and many no longer go to games because of this. The culture has shifted from fans being ridiculed if they didn’t go to games, to an acceptance of why they don’t go to games.
The club have realised this and a planned (and well received) singing div was mooted for the current way end to address the lack of atmosphere. The plan had to be put on hold because the police wouldn’t sanction away fans moving to tier three of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
That leaves another problem for United. Away followings have dwindled in the last two seasons, partly because of the price which has made Old Trafford one of the most expensive grounds to visit, partly because of constant changes to kick off times, partly because many away fans are less inclined to see their team lose once again in M16.
Just five teams sold their away allocation last season and even Newcastle United, a huge club, couldn’t sell their 3,000 tickets. Those Geordies who did travel at least saw a draw. Fulham sold just 11% of their potential allocation. That left United’s ticket office with 2,670 seats they might not have had to sell a few years ago.
United’s price freeze is better news for fans than continued rises, as is the 50% discount for fans aged 16-17 and a 25% discount for 18-20 year olds. Fans groups have been asking for as much for years and it’s to the club’s credit that they now offer this. Would they still be offering it if the demand was what it was?
One problem is that season tickets are still expensive to most. There may be seats which work out at just £28 a game, but there are just 4,000 of them in total on the lowest tier behind either goal. Most of the season tickets on offer cost £37 and £42 a game – and they’re not great seats. Most are towards the back of the second tier behind either goal or in new quadrants.
Unlike at rival European clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, United’s season tickets only include league – not cup – games. So you pay for 19 league matches and then you pay extra every time United are drawn at home.
If United play 26 home games in a season you’ll be paying £1,000 for a normal seat. That might not be a huge amount in Scandinavia, it is to a working class lad in Manchester. It’s far more than an equivalent ticket at any of the other Premier League clubs in England’s north west.
United chose the wording in adverts carefully. Words like ‘waiting list’ have been used to indicate a demand that isn’t really there. There are waiting lists – but only for certain select areas or from fans who want to switch to better placed seats, like the few cheap ones behind the goal. There’s no overall waiting list like there was.
Owning a season ticket has become less desirable too. There are too many of them for a start. When I was allowed to upgrade my League Match Ticket book (an inferior season ticket in the late 80s and early 90s) to a proper season, it all but guaranteed you cup final tickets. United had about 23,000 season ticket holders and an allocation for Wembley would be around 25,000. You were in. Now, the 52,000 has to fit into whatever United are allocated for finals. The figure varies, but it’s never close to 52,000. Even when United played in Camp Nou in ‘99, world football’s biggest stadium, the allocation was only 38,000.
United tell prospective season ticket holders that they can apply for away match tickets if they hold a season ticket. You can. You can also win the lottery jackpot if you buy a £1 ticket.
There’s another problem. If you had a season ticket five years ago, you could easily sell your seat on for face value if you couldn’t make a game. Now you’ll struggle because of a lower demand.
The best way of boosting tickets is to sign new players. Despite all the reasons given, the signing of Lucas Moura and Robin van Persie would see a big boost. United know that – that’s why they are chasing them both. How hard they are chasing will become apparent over the next few weeks.