When the rich yanks first arrived in Britain to buy some of the ‘franchises’ in the English Premier League, they got a bit of a surprise. As they toured the stadiums of the clubs they wanted to buy and examined the books, their first question was often: ‘How many differential ticket prices do you operate here?’
Puzzled English club execs would happily inform the strange newcomers that – apart from the ‘executive’ boxes and stuff, there were only a few differently priced tickets for ‘ordinary’ fans: the cheaper ones behind the goals and those a bit pricier in the stands along the full length of the pitch. That was it.
At this point, the visitors invariably looked a bit puzzled themselves, assuming that their question had been misunderstood. They would explain that they were after the differentials in price for tickets within the same stand: ‘You’re not telling me that the guy whose sitting slap bang in the middle of the stand, right on the halfway line, with the best view in the house, is paying the same money as the poor sucker whose stuck by a corner flag at one end?’
The English would politely explain that there was no tradition here of differentiating between the lucky guys who had a ticket (often a season-ticket) for the centrally located seats, and those condemned to the outer reaches of the corner flags. The yanks would furrow their brows and think to themselves, ‘Well, we’ll soon see about that tradition.’
Back home in the US of A, some of these new entrants would be operating sports franchises in a stadium with 30-plus different seat prices, depending (very precisely) on where the fan was sitting.
At Liverpool FC, ‘tradition’ counts for a lot. In fact the first pair of American owners, Hicks and Gillet – known locally as ‘the Texas shysters’ – were fighting so many battles on various fronts that they never got round to addressing the ticket price differentials in any serious way. But with the arrival of the current American owners, led by Tom Werner and John Henry, it was only a matter of time before they did get down to it.
This week, following the release last week of the Club’s annual accounts for 2011 – 2012 which revealed a significant rise in debt, LFC announced a new pricing structure which firmly inserted the concept of differential pricing in an interesting way.
They generally hiked their ticket prices for next season by between 4% and 8%, but they lowered the ticket prices in a couple of areas too.
And, significantly, they didn’t touch the Kop: the heart and home of LFC’s ‘traditions’.
Once they’d decided last year to renovate the existing Anfield stadium, rather than build a new one, the owners had to get the differential-ticket-prices ball rolling, to soften up (or ‘educate’) the crowd. The steepest price hikes the Club announced this week were 8% rises on the tickets for the central areas of the Main Stand and the Centenary Stand which run the length of the pitch, and the blocks much nearer the corner flags were limited to a 4% rise, establishing a differential.
And, cleverly, there were reductions of £1 for match tickets in both stands behind the goals for those seats on the outer edges. As Liverpool’s MD, Ian Ayre, put it: “…similar to many other Premier League clubs, from next season we will also be introducing a multiple-tier pricing structure which will more accurately reflect seat location and view.”
Henry and Werner also own the Boston Red Sox and, after their renovation of the old stadium, Fenway Park, they reputedly doubled the ticket prices.
Let’s hope they don’t attempt to do the same at Anfield where there is also another, newer tradition of vigorously opposing unsympathetic American owners.