Liverpool’s owner, Fenway Sports Group, has performed a major U-turn over its planned ticket price rises and issued a public apology to supporters who felt compelled to walk out of Saturday’s game against Sunderland.
The compromise that the manager Jürgen Klopp had called for has resulted in general admission prices being frozen at 2015-16 levels for the next two seasons, the removal of game categorisations and the number of £9 tickets being increased to 10,000 across a Premier League campaign.
In an open letter to the club’s fans, the principal owner John W Henry, chairman Tom Werner and FSG president Mike Gordon concede “part of the ticketing plan we got wrong” and that it was the strength of opposition to their proposals that forced the rethink.
An estimated 10,000 fans left Anfield in the 77th minute of last Saturday’s match. That exodus, following chants of “You greedy bastards, enough is enough”, left FSG stunned and prompted swift discussions between the Boston-based owner and senior management in Liverpool. Four days later they have abandoned the most contentious features of a ticket-price structure that was 13 months in consultation.
The highly controversial plans for a £77 matchday ticket in the redeveloped main stand and season tickets of £1,029 have been scrapped. Instead, they will remain at £59 and £869 respectively. FSG is to freeze revenue streams from general admission tickets for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons rather than seek to raise income to £39m once Anfield’s capacity rises to 54,000. Ticket revenue stands at £35m.
“It has been a tumultuous week,” began the letter signed Henry, Werner and Gordon. “On behalf of everyone at Fenway Sports Group and Liverpool Football Club we would like to apologise for the distress caused by our ticket pricing plan for the 2016-17 season. The three of us have been particularly troubled by the perception that we don’t care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s expense. Quite the opposite is true.”
FSG has been stung by accusations of avarice and protests that threaten Klopp’s ideal of unity between fans and the club. The open letter states the new Main Stand is being constructed thanks to a “£120m advance from FSG” – an interest-free loan – but that depth of anger against the proposed ticket prices forced their urgent review. “The widespread opposition to this element of the plan has made it clear that we were mistaken,” it adds.
“A great many of you have objected strongly to the £77 price level of our most expensive GA [general admission] seats and expressed a clear expectation that the club should forego any increased revenue from raising prices on GA tickets in the current environment. Message received.”
The decision to end game categorisation will be well-received by supporters who currently pay for six category A games a season, 10 category B and three category C. Matchday tickets next season will be the same price regardless of Liverpool’s opponent and proposed £9 seats for category C matches will now be available for every Premier League game.
FSG admit “individual ticket prices may move marginally from this season” but, as well as scrapping the biggest planned increases, it is to retain initiatives to make 20,000 tickets available across a Premier League season at a 50% reduction for 17- to 21-year-olds. Free 1,000 tickets across a league campaign for local schoolchildren also remain.
Wednesday’s announcement followed widespread opposition to the Liverpool owner’s initial plans plus Premier League prices in general. The walkout, organised by supporters groups Spion Kop 1906 and Spirit of Shankly, led to an early-day motion being tabled by Southport MP John Pugh, who called on parliament to support the protests and condemned the club’s owners. The Football Supporters Federation also intends to meet with supporters of all Premier League clubs to consider a unified course of action against rising ticket costs.
FSG, however, insists its revised ticket plans demonstrate the importance of the relationship with Liverpool’s fanbase. The letter added: “We believe we have demonstrated a willingness to listen carefully, reconsider our position, and act decisively. The unique and sacred relationship between Liverpool Football Club and its supporters has always been foremost in our minds. It represents the heartbeat of this extraordinary football club.”
FSG’s climbdown met with a positive response from Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906, the Liverpool supporters’ groups behind Saturday’s successful protest. A joint statement read: “Although the last week has been a sorry tale in the recent history of the relationship between owners of LFC and the club’s supporters, it has also seen both the best of what Liverpool FC supporters are about and the incredible power those same supporters have to promote change for the better at LFC.
“Today’s announcement has to be seen a positive step in repairing the relationship between owners and supporters. If they had recognised what was being said by supporters about the impact of the original price rises (perhaps by actually meeting with their own Ticketing Working Group) then much of the embarrassment and upset of the last four days would have been avoided. It is a sobering lesson in listening to your supporters properly.
“We welcome these changes from the owners and that they have recognised the mistake made and apologised for it. We take no delight in them being wrong. It helps no one. What is important though is that a lesson is learned and that proper engagement and taking note of supporters’ concerns occurs and those views are taken more seriously. We started this process to make football cheaper for all LFC supporters, to make it fairer and to increase access for younger and local supporters. This proposal is not our panacea.
More must be done to make football affordable. However we have always stated that this is a journey that the owners should embark upon and this is a positive step in the right direction towards fairness and away from greed, but it is only one step.
“We will now take this opportunity to review the numbers and their impact upon supporters, we will be speaking to the club about it and we will speak with supporters to get their views. The Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906 believe that given the fact there has been this reconsideration by the owners, it is only fair and appropriate that we reconsider our next steps until the full impact of these changes can be established.”