There was a boycott of last night's Hull game by over 1,000 LFC fans in protest at the extortionate cost of football tickets - Hull were charging LFC fans more than three times what they had charged fans of some other Premier League clubs. In this article Joey suggests that Liverpool should take the lead in rewarding their most powerful asset - the fans.
There are many fans who would say that Liverpool Football Club owners, Fenway Sports Group, are happy to keep us as a sensibly ran football club, looking after ourselves with a comfortable turnover and seeing the dividends of the lucrative TV deals that come our way as a member of the Premier League.
And they may be right.
In all honesty, after witnessing what Hicks & Gillett nearly did to us, being as far away from the brink of financial ruin as we have ever been is, at the very least, comforting – though it is the absolute minimum we expect of those who take ownership of our football club.
But to say that is all FSG are about may be doing them a disservice, I feel. I do actually think that FSG have sought to improve with a slightly different method - taking a punt on an up-and-coming manager – as they did with Brendan Rodgers. And we have spent money. A lot of money. Whether the methods we have gone with have been effective enough or not is very clearly up for debate at the moment.
Now the decision makers at the club are undoubtedly faced with a decision.
Back to basics on the field
It is abundantly clear that changes are going to be made before the start of next season – an obscene amount of money was made available last summer and we have failed to make the best of it, to put it politely.
Whether the changes retain the current setup, tweak it or completely start afresh – the reality is that we’re a club in transition - again.
There is a certain degree of irony that we’re back to the point we were when Rodgers first arrived – starting a season after two domestic cup runs and a disappointing league finish.
New ideas - same fans
Amid all of the changes we have seen the club over the years are the fans.
We have seen players – some good, many bad and a few outstanding - come and go.
We’ve seen off awful owners for financially sensible ones.
We’ve seen great managers, and we’ve seen Roy Hodgson. All of this in the last ten years.
The fans have been here throughout, consistently handing over money to watch a varying standard of football team – and doing their best to make some noise in the stands, if only at the away games.
Yet while there have been ups and downs on the pitch, the only trend we’ve seen off it with prices has been an upward one. The cost of watching a football team stop, start, stall and start over again has increased – save for one season – exponentially, year on year.
The recent protests around ticket prices are rightly getting people talking – credit must go to the Spirit of Shankly and the Football Supporters Federation for getting this in the public domain with some importance. The price of football in general is reaching a breaking point – one that will see stadiums half empty with little to no atmosphere.
Fans used to bring in sponsors
When Liverpool Football Club are marketing themselves to anyone who may be willing to put money in to the business in exchange for exposure, images and videos of the fans are used.
A full stadium, with stands full of flags, scarves and at its best the kind of noise that drives people to search for us on YouTube. If the current trend of prices continues, those marketing pieces are going to consist of empty seats and/or the kinds of people who, typically, will be paying to be entertained while experiencing that atmosphere as opposed to helping create it. They’re hardly going to pull the sponsors in, are they?
At some point, football clubs must realise that fans are the lifeblood of the sport.
Winning trophies is the ultimate goal, of course, but the constant for all teams are the paying fans – in much the same way as businesses need a constant flow of paying customers. The same rules apply to both – if the product on offer starts to become unaffordable then your customer base begins to move elsewhere. Or in the case of loyalty to certain football teams – they stop putting money in to any team. If this is a risk for the individual football clubs, is it not just as big for the Football Association and the Premier League too?
Liverpool Football Club is in a good position. While we are not challenging as strongly as we would like, we are clearly being ran well enough to blow stupid money on players without the fear of financial implosion. The renewed TV deals that are coming the way of Premier League clubs are putting enough money in to allow fans entry to stadiums at less than half the price without clubs making a loss. Yet prices will still increase.
Liverpool could set an example
The club needs to protect its long term interests by retaining one of its key unique selling points – its fan base. Whether it’s the atmosphere, the images of the fans, the sales of food, drink and merchandise in the stadium or even the database of email addresses that sponsors can send their offers to.
This may be a shot in the dark – an absolute fantasy even. But there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that there will come a point when all clubs must realise that the money they are asking fans for is getting out of control.
The deals that have been struck with sponsors over the past five years have seen some ludicrous amounts of money coming into our club. They are genuinely viable channels of income – and the club seem to be doing well on that front.
If the fans start to become alienated – as many are – by the increased prices, those deals are undoubtedly going to be more difficult to make. A decreasing target audience is hardly something that will appeal to potential sponsors or TV executives.
Liverpool Football Club are one of a few clubs who can realistically set an example in the Premier League. Stop overcharging the fans who pay headliner concert prices to watch the support acts. Don’t just lower ticket prices slightly. Drop them to levels that would see stadiums full with a thriving fan-base who will be more than happy to throw everything they’ve got into creating that atmosphere you’re signing sponsorship deals off the back of.