The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched an investigation into Manchester United, following a complaint by the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). MUST submitted documents to the OFT in November on the back of numerous complaints from its 35,000 members and other match-going fans regarding the club’s Automatic Cup Scheme (ACS).
The compulsory ACS forces supporters to pay for tickets to home FA Cup and Champions League games as a condition of their season ticket for the Premier League. As a result of ACS, implemented at the start of 2007/08, fans can have no idea how much they’ll be expected to fork out over the season.
The OFT met with representatives of MUST on Wednesday, December 10, in Westminster to discuss the complaint in more detail, following a meeting the supporters’ group had held with a wide group of MPs, to present their case and discuss plans to broaden their campaign for a Fair Deal For Fans.
Those present included Hugh Robertson MP, the shadow Sports Minister, and Alan Keen MP, Chair of All-Party Football Group, who said: “The Automatic Cup Scheme seems a pretty clear-cut case of unfair practices, and we were glad to learn that the OFT will be looking into it. But now it’s up to politicians to use the various tools at our disposal to broaden this campaign and get a fair deal for all fans.”
The scheme had already been branded “outrageous” by Don Foster MP, the Liberal Democrat’s Culture, Media and Sport spokesman.
MUST’s Duncan Drasdo said: “We’re delighted that the OFT have chosen to launch an investigation into this matter, and we’re confident that the level of political support we’re gathering will ensure that the Fair Deal for Fans campaign now goes beyond United and beyond our compulsory Cup ticket scheme. Huge ticket prices and the systematic exploitation of loyal supporters affect many fans at clubs throughout all the Divisions.”
While the ACS forces fans to purchase tickets for less popular games - such as Coventry in the League Cup at the beginning of last season, when United fielded a weakened team - it does not guarantee them a ticket for games in the FA Cup or Champions League.
Away allocations, corporate tickets and stadium space required by the media and police can vary greatly meaning fans that have been forced to purchase tickets for early cup rounds may miss out on crucial FA Cup ties or Champions League nights.
Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) chair, Malcolm Clarke, said: “MUST have the FSF’s full backing and we really do hope their action is successful. For too long there has been an imbalance in power between supporter and club, many of whom think they can get away with whatever they like.
“If MUST’s action is successful it is a victory for all fans.”