By Nick Harris
26 July 2010
Manchester United are hopeful they will sell most if not all of the 54,000 “ordinary” season tickets available for the 2010-11 season, having already broken the 50,000 barrier and with the first-come, first-serve sale ongoing of the remaining 4,000.
Some opponents of the club’s American owners, the Glazer family, who bought United in 2005 in a leveraged buyout that has led to £700m of debt, have urged a boycott on season tickets. The rationale is this could hit the Glazers in the pocket, damage them financially and force them to sell, perhaps to the so-called Red Knights, the super rich fans group supported by the grass roots Manchester United Supporters Trust.
(Whether the RK or MUST will ever be able to afford such a buyout or organise one remains doubtful. United were named by Forbes as the world’s most valuable sports franchise this week, worth $1.84bn).
Unsubstantiated claims that season ticket sales are significantly down on previous years have been in circulation for weeks, but the club is relaxed that this is not the case, and expect full houses, or at least close-to-capacity crowds for a forthcoming season that starts on Monday 16 August with a home match against Newcastle United.
Although the capacity at Old Trafford is 76,000, the club has been restricted to selling 54,000 “ordinary” season tickets since last year, as a knock-on effect of a judgement by the Office of Fair Trading.
The OFT ruling was a result of a complaint by some season ticket holders; while obliged to buy all cup tickets under the season ticket policy, some could not be accommodated at some of the “biggest” games, for example an FA Cup tie with Arsenal, where under FA rules United had to allocate 15 per cent of stadium capacity to Arsenal fans.
In other words, United had more season ticket holders for Premier League games than they might be able to accommodate for cup games, so reduced the amount of season tickets to 54,000 so no season ticket holder would miss out on a cup ticket if required.
The remainder of the capacity of Old Trafford is allocated to executive ticket holders (8,000 sold on an annual basis, 1,000 match-by-match), 3,000 seats for away fans per league game, 1,000 seats for Press, directors and sponsors, and 8,000 seats or so on sale to members then on “open” sale when necessary on a match-by-match basis.
Anti-Glazer campaigners argue that United putting 4,000 season tickets on general sale is proof of a downturn in demand, partially as a result of anti-Glazer sentiment. They are also skeptical about United’s fabled lengthy waiting list for season tickets.
In fact, a number of United season tickets have gone on “general sale” every summer since the number of season tickets was raised from 44,000 to more than 50,000 for the 2006-07 season.
The waiting list actually numbers 26,000 people (not 60,000 as regularly and erroneously reported), and many of those 26,000 are not simply looking for any season ticket but waiting for a season ticket in a specific area of the ground, for example near the halfway line, or in the Stretford End or elsewhere.
There is always a “churn” of season ticket holders each summer and this year’s churn, given the economic climate, is “within the normal tolerances”, a source says. Executive sales are “exactly in line with last year, which means ahead of 2008,” says an insider.
Without doubt a big slump in ticket sales would hurt the Glazers, but on the available evidence, no such slump is imminent.
Anti-Glazer protestors are already ramping up plans for a fresh season of “Green and gold” campaigning; one irony is that there will be many thousands of such protestors packed into Old Trafford for each game, having renewed their season tickets or bought seats on a game by game basis.
Even if United don’t sell another ordinary season ticket between now and the start of the season, they will have sold more “ordinary” season tickets than the full-house capacities of 17 of the other 19 Premier League clubs.
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