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Mike Ashley’s stance admirable but Premier League must follow Liverpool fans’ lead and act on prices

Mike Ashley
Mike Ashley

It was a point well made.

Unfortunately for relegation-threatened Newcastle United, it helped Sunderland take a point.

More than 10,000 Liverpool fans left Anfield last weekend in the 77th minute.

Their team was beating Sunderland 2-0 at the time.

Supporters were protesting at the fact that the top-priced ticket for Anfield’s new Main Stand, which is taking slowly shape behind the current ageing structure, will cost £77.

It’s estimated that around a quarter of the 44,179 crowd left the stadium with 13 minutes left.

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher – who now works in the media – got up and left.

In his column for the Daily Mail, he got it bang on.

Carragher wrote: “If you hit the jackpot on the lottery this week, what is the first thing you would do?

“I’d say you would go straight to your mum and dad and make sure they were looked after.

“They are the constants in your life, the ones providing support when it is most needed.

“That is the only comparison I can draw in this debate over Premier League ticket prices. The new television deal, which will see £5billion pumped in domestically and another £3billion from overseas, means 20 clubs have won the lottery.

“So why are they not taking this chance to look after the fans?”

Good question.

In their absence at Anfield, second-bottom Sunderland rallied and scored two late goals to draw 2-2.

The walkout, orchestrated by the supporters group Spion Kop 1906, brought the issue of ticket pricing into a sharper focus ahead of the Premier League’s new multi-billion pound TV deal, which kicks in next season.

In terms of a club’s income, gate money is already dwarfed by cash from broadcast rights.

Yet fans – who were paying a little more than a tenner a game 20 years ago and much less than that before top-flight stadia became all-seater – are still getting squeezed.

The Premier League needs full stadiums. Without them, it’s just not the same.

Executive chairman Richard Scudamore wouldn’t have been able to extract so much from domestic broadcasters, and around the world, if the grounds had been half-full and lacking atmosphere since the league’s inception.

So many people have got rich from the game since 1992, when the Premier League was formed.

Is it any wonder than supporters are feeling disenfranchised, having had to reach deeper and deeper into their pockets?

The thing is, supporters have been victims of supply and demand.

More often than not, supply has outstripped demand.

Take Arsenal, for example.

The club has been able to hike prices at the Emirates Stadium. The places is still full every week.

Clubs, not just Arsenal, have got away with inflating prices – and maximising gate receipts – because of this simple fact.

But surely the obscene amounts of money flowing into the league’s coffers mean it can afford to cap ticket prices and ensure future generations aren’t priced out of watching the game at the top level.

Don’t clubs have some kind of moral obligation to moderate their pricing given the TV wealth the fans are helping to generate?

Of course, some fans are able/happy to pay inflated prices. Last week, I got talking to the taxi driver that took me to Goodison Park for Newcastle’s game against Everton last week.

He told me he’d one supporter he’d ferried to a recent Liverpool game had paid more than £1,000, presumably on the secondary ticket market, for a seat.

But for most of fans, the face value of a ticket can be a stretch, especially if you’re also taking children, the future of the game.

Adult away tickets for this weekend’s game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge cost £52 or £55.

Throw in travel and accommodation – the evening kick-off for Saturday’s match, dictated by the broadcaster, rules out the last train back to Tyneside – and the expense of watching one game in London quickly adds up.

And that’s before you’ve even had a pie and a pint or two or three.

United are one of the Premier League’s most progressive clubs in terms of away ticket pricing, having pioneered reciprocal deals which has seen seats costing as little as £15.

Owner Mike Ashley has got a lot wrong since buying Newcastle, but the club’s stance on ticketing is admirable. They announced last night that all standard season tickets for under-18s at St James’s Park will be reduced by up to 54% for next season which will mean kids paying as little as £3 per match.

In addition, a price freeze on all standard adult season tickets will apply for the 2016/17 campaign. The average price of an away ticket at St James’s Park is £30.

There have been 12 reciprocal deals with seven different clubs over the past two and a half seasons. These have average discounts for adults of 40%. More significantly, the discount for children is 60%.

Clearly, some clubs are more open to the idea than others, and that again comes down to supply and demand.

If Arsenal – who charge visiting supporters the most – can fill their away end every fortnight, why would they drop their prices?

The Premier League has looked at the issue through an attendance working group, though a proposed £30 cap on away tickets, sadly, was voted down.

According to the Daily Mail, at least seven clubs – Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and West Ham United – opposed the idea.

But the issue of pricing, especially with more than £8billion of TV cash coming in over the next few seasons, won’t go away.

And it could take more walkouts to jolt the cash-rich league into action.