It looks like the Glazers are finally listening to their fans.
In an unexpected move, the owners of the English Premier League’s Manchester United Football Club are holding ticket prices steady for next season.
Ever since their 2005 purchase of the 18 time League champions, the Glazers have been at the center of controversy regarding the club’s financial health and management. Fans have seen ticket prices nearly double in recent years as the team continues to carry substantial debt related to the takeover. Recent news that several Glazer family members borrowed heavily from the club and then sought a £500 million ($744 million) bond to cover some of their takeover debt – with a whopping £127 million ($189 million) reverting to the parent company – has met with further public outrage. The bond’s prospectus also suggested that another rise in ticket prices might be coming.
Following the 2005 takeover, angry fans organized under the auspices of the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (MUST), a group which has long fought private interests’ efforts to purchase the club. Over recent years MUST has organized open protests at home and away games, even engaging in boycotts of games. Most recently, MUST urged fans not to renew their season tickets for the 2010-2011 season.
Over past months, fan unrest has seemed only to be on the increase, with MUST online membership growing from 36,000 to 145,000 in just the last two months, and organizers estimate that nearly 60 percent of fans could cancel their season tickets next year.
MUST has allied with a group of wealthy United fans calling themselves the Red Knights. With members like Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill and former League chairman Keith Harris, the Knights’ primary focus is in developing a deal with the Glazers to buy them out. On Friday, March 26, the group stated that they are still working on their proposal and will not be presenting any deal to the Glazers this season, which ends in May.
Amidst continued assertions that the team is not for sale, the Glazers clearly are feeling the mounting pressure of these two forces on the club’s well being. Man. U. was the only club in the League to raise ticket prices for this past season, but announced this week that both individual match and season ticket prices will not increase for the 2010-2011 season. Ticket prices will remain at £27 to £49 (roughly $40 to $73), with seniors at £20 ($30) and minors at £10 ($15).
MUST hailed this move as a victory for their organization, and as proof that individuals acting as a united group can effect change. Still, the Trust sees this as only the beginning of a long fight. As the group’s Chief Executive Duncan Drasdo told the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph this week: “[The Glazers are] trying to buy off supporters. I don’t believe that will happen…. We’ve had huge ticket prices in the past so a freeze now is just a freeze at very high prices.”