Stop The Greed

Sammy James 22nd February 2019

By having the worst defence in Europe’s top leagues, it’s been a pretty horrific season for us Fulham fans to witness. Heavy defeats, cruel defeats, we’ve seen them all. However, for me it all pales into insignificance compared to the alienating ticket strategy that Fulham Football Club have adopted, and I for one am sick of it. This is a long read, because it’s an emotive subject and there’s plenty to say on the issue. We’ve set up a GoFundMe for a protest banner – and we’d like your support.

For the few of you reading who are unaware, tickets for Premier League matches at Craven Cottage have been astronomical. A seat behind the goal at the Hammersmith End will have set you back either £45 or £55 for every game bar one (an early season game against Burnley, where tickets were a very reasonable £25).

As you’ll see from the table made by our own Farrell Monk, that makes the cheapest Fulham behind-the-goal ticket more expensive than the most expensive equivalent ticket at 10 of the other 19 Premier League sides. For a newly promoted side, that is supposedly a “family club”, it’s a very extreme pricing policy, that is unsurprisingly causing an angry reaction from supporters.

For me, this is all about lowest common denominator. I’ve seen many articles in other publications get too caught up in picking up the most expensive tickets in the ground, probably because it generates better headlines. Personally, I couldn’t care less if Fulham want to charge £1000 per match for the privilege of sitting on the half-way line and sipping champagne pre-match with Barry Hayles whilst munching on a vol-au-vent. However, the barrier to entry is staggeringly high this season, and it’s such a short-term approach.

Building a Fan-Base

Remember the summer of 2004 when Fulham had just moved back to a revamped Craven Cottage after two years of exile at Loftus Road? Chrissy Coleman was in charge, Mohammed Al Fayed was in his scarf-swinging pomp and Andy Cole was enjoying the swansong of his career. Our opening two games that season, back at our sacred home, drew gates of roughly 17,500. Compare that to the regular 20,000+ gates that we drew whilst one division lower in the Championship.

It was clear that despite an incredible rise up the leagues, Fulham’s attendances had not kept up with the on-field acceleration. FFC were suffering after years of lower-league obscurity, and needed a radical boost to fill those seats and create a new generation of fans. The result was to keep ticket prices low, and create the much-ridiculed neutral section.

The results took time, but all these initiatives made Fulham a natural choice for ‘stumblers’. People came to see good football at an affordable price, but in many cases, they became invested – I’m sure there are many who discovered Fulham this way reading this article right now. Many of these fans are now in their late-teens and twenties, have their own disposable income and as you can see from our rejuvenated away support, willing and to follow the team all over the country.

This is what upsets me most about our ticket policy – we are not thinking long-term. Our support base may be larger than it was, but it’s far from saturated. Why would any prospective untapped fan come to watch Fulham when they can see Spurs at Wembley this season for £30? I can’t imagine there are many families willing to part with hundreds of pounds just because they’re looking for a bit of Saturday entertainment.

However, the people that are willing to pay this money? Tourists and touts. If you’re over in London from abroad, and it’s your dream to see a Premier League match, £55 to see Fulham versus Manchester United is a no-brainer. It might be lucrative in the here and now for Fulham, but will they turn into long-term fans willing to buy a season ticket in a few years time? Unlikely.

Slow Sales

Whilst tourists may purchase tickets to games such as Manchester United and Liverpool, this hasn’t stretched quite so well into other matches this season. As Farrell pointed out, average attendances are actually down from the last time we were in the Premier League.

The Brighton match in January, where Hammersmith End tickets were priced at £45, drew a gate of 22,008 – our lowest Premier League home gate since February 2010. Of course, the team’s poor form plays a small part, but for me this is a clear indication of fans voting with their feet. The upcoming SW6 derby against Chelsea at Craven Cottage is still far from sold-out, something that has been unheard of ever since I’ve been a fan.

Do the people making these decisions not realise that a ground full of Fulham supporters is beneficial to the team? Who can forget the famous atmospheres during the European nights, or the play-off semi-final against Derby, when the team rode the euphoria in the stadium to achieve that famous result and book a place at Wembley. A limited away support, and reasonably price tickets all contributed to that factor.

I remember being very frustrated in April last season when the club priced Brentford tickets from £35 for adults. The team were 20 games unbeaten, and charging towards automatic promotion – but only 20,000 came through the gates for the match. As I’m sure you’ll remember, Neil Maupay scored in the 93rd minute to deny Fulham two valuable points. Might have that been avoided if there was a packed-out Craven Cottage at top voice? We’ll never know, but when winning and losing is so marginal, it isn’t a ludicrous suggestion. Had it not been for the lottery of the play-offs, those dropped points could have cost the club hundreds of millions.

This is why the recent Liverpool ticket sale process has been so widely criticised. By allowing memberships to be sold until just before the on-sale date it played straight into the hands of touts and Liverpool fans desperate to see their team during this tightly-fought title race. Vocal away fans in home ends frustrate supporters and often lead to violent altercations; whilst silent ones dilute the atmosphere that a home fanbase is supposed to create. It’s another clear-cut case that shows, at the moment, Fulham are only concerned with making a quick-buck, and not generating an atmosphere, or building a fan-base. Those with memberships should be given a level of priority, but the club has to do far more to ensure those with memberships are legitimate Fulham fans.

Out-Priced

I don’t want to just make it look like all I care about is long-term fan building though. It’s also about current Fulham fans, who can’t commit to a season ticket for a multitude of reasons, who are completely priced this season. They’re loyal, committed fans – were there throughout our four years in the Championship – but not many people just have £50 spare-change ready to spend every fortnight. We have several people who are involved with Fulhamish in this camp. They love the club, so much so that they contribute to a fan site, but none of them have this kind of money at their disposal.

Nobody is asking for free football (although recent research showed over half of Premier League clubs would still turn a profit if they did let fans in for free). It’s entertainment, and it’s a business, I get that. However, we can’t just go and support a different club, as the FSF brilliantly pointed out on Twitter earlier this week: “football clubs aren’t normal businesses, they’re community institutions and are monopoly suppliers. You can’t choose your team like you choose a broadband provider.”

Like most things in life, there’s a compromise to be reached. I fully support the Twenty’s Plenty campaign, but I realise that trying to convince football clubs to drop Premier League ticket prices to £20 is unlikely to happen. Meet in the middle at £30 perhaps? It’s not a small amount of money, but it’s also manageable for many. Does making a £15/£20 reduction really make that big a difference when each team will make over £100 million from TV money alone?

It’s important to note, that this is everyone’s fight. Certain season ticket holders (like myself) have benefited from good-value season tickets that were sold prior to our promotion last season, and therefore it might be easy to dismiss these issues as somebody else’s problem. However, you will have all seen the season ticket prices once promotion was achieved, where prices rocketed up by an extortionate amount. It’s hard to guess what the club’s pricing strategy for next season will be given our perilous Premier League state and the upcoming Riverside development, but a show of strength now is unlikely to be a bad thing.

The Next Step

So, I hear you ask, what can we do about this? Well, fortunately we have a tool at our disposal, our voices. Fulham has never traditionally been the most vocal of support groups, but this is a time where we need to make ourselves heard. Otherwise the Khans, Mark Lamping and anyone else involved in these marketing decisions will continue with their strategies blissfully unaware of the feeling amongst fans.

In my view, a visual protest with banners is most effective. It makes it likely to be picked up by TV and newspapers, which in turn makes the possibility of this dissatisfaction be noticed by those who matter. We have created a GoFundMe page in order to help raise funds for a banner that fully conveys our message. Any spare funds you have that can help us get this made as soon as possible would be really appreciated.

Relegation is a painful pill for us to swallow this season, and there have been many mistakes on the pitch and in the transfer market. I don’t know about you, but I can live with those – it’s part and parcel of supporting a football team. Sometimes your team win, sometimes your team lose. What I find less forgivable, is a strategy that jeopardises this club’s future and alienates loyal supporters who were here long before the profiteers arrived, and will be here long after they leave. Let’s stand up and defend this proud club from those that seek to exploit it.