Manchester United were correct to act when Sevilla announced a ticket price of £89 for 2,400 travelling fans to attend next month’s Champions League round-of-16 first leg, making it the most expensive in United history for a competitive game outside of a final.
(Tickets have been more expensive for preseason games in the United States, but while this writer is not going to defend prices in excess of $100 to watch LA Galaxy’s reserves, those are games in isolation.)
When contacted on the day that the cost was announced, United said matters were out of their hands, since home clubs set ticket prices in accordance with UEFA rules. However, the club subsequently changed stance and asked Sevilla to reduce.
The Spanish club, who have charged Liverpool and Leicester fans £35 less within the last year, refused to budge. Liverpool fans thought the price being asked by Sevilla was too high, but were powerless to stop them; they also had problems with the police in Andalusia, which concerned their club greatly.
There was a huge response from Sevilla fans when I wrote about this topic on Dec. 19, with the unanimous feeling that they were embarrassed United fans were charged so much. The two clubs have never met in a competitive match and the relationship looked set to get off on the wrong foot, through no fault of the fans.
Sevilla briefed that United had only offered 4.1 percent of the Old Trafford capacity for the second leg, instead of 5 percent that UEFA suggest. The Spanish club had a legitimate point, though United’s argument is that the away section is smaller for safety and segregation reasons.
There were also differing versions of events from both clubs on the minutiae of negotiations, but the most important factor remained the £89 ticket. United sought legal action to see if they could change their pricing and, on Wednesday, announced that they would charge Sevilla fans £89 and give the difference to their travelling fans. The actions were appreciated by supporters, who are tired of paying huge costs to attend European away games.
Amid a flood of negative publicity, Sevilla then said they’d support their own fans so that they wouldn’t pay any extra. It’s a farcical situation and will involve extra administration on behalf of both clubs, but United did the right thing. Moreover, by not subsidising from their own pockets, no precedent will be established, whereby rival clubs could charge what they want, knowing that the richer United would cover any excess.
United will also make a representation to UEFA on ticket prices to prevent this happening again. The club wants European football’s governing body to introduce a ticket cap, like in the Premier League, where prices have been capped at £30. There are no such regulations in European competition and UEFA have had little involvement in this area to date.
Inflated prices became a big issue for United fans in the early 1990s when Old Trafford became an all-seater stadium and prices shot up. It was the main talking point in fanzines, with some fans priced out of attending live games. Some who went away in the early 90s never returned.
In 1993, there was outcry when tickets for an FA Cup game against lower-league Brighton & Hove Albion were priced at a minimum of £15 for adults. Fans who had paid £6 to stand the previous season were being told to pay more than twice that amount to see a game.
Prices rose sharply for five years after the 2005 Glazer takeover, but have since settled with no further increases. Though Old Trafford remains full and demand for seats is almost always high — except for the visit of Stoke on Monday, for which some tickets remain unsold — United find it easier to earn money from television and commercial activities than increasing the cost for fans coming through the turnstiles.
Manchester City also have some of the lowest-priced season tickets in the Premier League. Adult passes cost as little as £299 or approximately £15 a game; excellent value to watch such a good side. Meanwhile, junior get in for as little as £5 per match, though that has the knock-on effect that families feel able to miss some games, creating the empty seats which can sometimes be seen at the Etihad Stadium.
But while controversy over league tickets has declined since the price cap was fully introduced in 2015, cup games can still cause consternation. Derby fans, for example, were unhappy to be charged £45 for last Friday’s FA Cup third-round tie at Old Trafford, prices that were subsidised by £15 by the club owner.
Germany has some of the most affordable prices to watch football in Europe but, when fans travel elsewhere in Europe, they feel the difference: Tickets to watch Bayern Munich at Belgian club Anderlecht this season were €100, roughly the same as Sevilla are charging United.
Bayern offered a subsidy, but their main ultra group boycotted the game. Supporters who were present, meanwhile, threw fake money onto the pitch. UEFA showed how in touch they are with fan sentiment by fining Bayern €20,000 for their protest.
In isolation, £60 or £70 to watch one game may not seem extreme. But hardcore fans go to many matches over a season and, though it may strengthen their cause, they’re not prepared to boycott. They’re the most loyal fans, the ones who create the culture and the backdrop that provides the setting for the spectacle UEFA is so keen to sell to advertisers.
Good on United for standing up to Sevilla’s greed; let’s hope others take notice.