Terriers plan Blades boycott

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Hundreds of Huddersfield Town fans look likely to boycott their side’s derby at Sheffield United in protest at the cost of their match ticket. The Terriers are due to visit Bramall Lane on Tuesday 13th September 2011 for the Npower League One clash but might find themselves playing in front of an emptier away end than expected.

Frustrations bubbled to the fore via the Terriers’ fans’ forum Down At The Mac as supporters began adding their names to a thread titled “Not going to Sheff U because of cost? BOYCOTT HERE”. Hundreds have now added their name to the list which, if all posters stay true to their word, will see ticket income drop by around £12,000 for the fixture and the anger from many fans is palpable.

Away fans are being charged £28.50 to watch their side play in the third-tier of English football, a price many have side they’re unwilling to pay, and much of the anger stems from two facts. Firstly, thanks to ticket categorisation, Bury fans are only being charged £14 to sit in the same seats 10 days earlier. Secondly, Terriers fans could pay up to £4.50 more than Blades fans sitting in “equivalent” seats thanks to the Football League’s rules.

“There comes a point when people say enough is enough,” said forum poster cheesyhtfc (presumably not his real name). “Prices rise in very small stages…that’s easy ammunition for people saying 'of course you can afford it'. But the boycott isn’t really about that. The boycott is saying that the general pricing at football matches is already ridiculously high, and Sheff Utd have stepped too far.”

While campaigns or boycotts organised online, often by anonymous individuals, are by their very nature informal, the game’s pricing structure has also been condemned by Huddersfield Town Supporters’ Association (HTSA) who said they will lodge a complaint with the Football League. The fans’ group did however hold off calling for an outright boycott arguing that that course of action “should be a personal decision.”

But HTSA did “record their disappointment” with both clubs and the Football League all of whom say that the ticket prices for this game are within the rules. This argument doesn’t wash with all fans. Huddersfield fan Stan Frontczak contacted the Football Supporters’ Federation and argued: “It’s the usual lame responses we expect from clubs when it comes to setting prices and categorisation - that these things are decided at the League AGM. And who is it that attends this meeting? The chairmen and chief execs!”

The rules relating to match prices are fairly complex although fans wishing to delve into the detail can read them on the Football League’s website. To summarise, away supporters are meant to be charged the same as home supporters for “equivalent seating”. So if the travelling support is located behind the goal, in an uncovered terrace, then they should be charged the same as home fans behind the goal, in an uncovered terrace, and so on.

However, clubs can offer supporters cheaper tickets once they have joined membership schemes. So, for example, you join your club’s membership scheme for £15 or £20 and receive match tickets at a small discount of a few pounds. These schemes pay for themselves if you’re a home fan planning on attending 10 or 15 games but for away fans they are irrelevant. However, it is an irrelevance that allows clubs to charge away fans a few pounds more.

Added to this the Football League’s rules, specifically 33.2.8 (b), also allow clubs to charge away fans more for their “accommodation that is of an equivalent ranking” if it is of a “higher standard”. The extra charge has to be “reasonably justifiable” and no more than 10 per cent. This clause in the Football League’s rules and regulations allows Sheffield United to charge away fans £28.50 – just under 10 per cent more than the home support will pay at £26 (plus another £2 discount if they are signed up to the Blades’ membership scheme).

As far as the FSF is aware Sheffield United are currently the only club to use Football League rule 33.2.8 (b) in order to charge away fans more for “equivalent seating”. If you know of any other clubs doing so the FSF would certainly be interested to hear of your experiences – email info@fsf.org.uk.

Sheffield United told the FSF: “Sheffield United has used categorisation of matches and a three tier pricing structure for a number of seasons now. This is the case at many football clubs. This season we have four category A games – high profile or derby fixtures – which are the club’s highest priced matches. The match against our Yorkshire rivals happens to be one of those category A games.

“Also, the club has four category C games – a quartet of fixtures each season whereby the aim is to provide affordable football for families and supporters who normally may not be able to attend. The match against Bury is one of the category C games and is therefore very competitively priced.

“The prices for the away end for the Huddersfield game are less than the prices paid by our fans in every part of the stadium with the exception of The Kop, where there is some restricted viewing and the concession kiosks are in uncovered areas. Parts of the Bramall Lane/Westfield Stand are normally occupied by our own fans sitting in this area paying the same price as the visitors (as has been the case for this season’s home games against  Brentford and Walsall). On this occasion, we have however moved our fans from this area to accommodate an extra 2,000 tickets for Huddersfield supporters.”

Many fans will feel frustrated that while these types of pricing patterns might be “within the rules” they are rules set by the clubs themselves. These rules do nothing to reward the trials and tribulations of the away supporter who, aside from forking out on additional food and travel expenses, is often expected to pay more for his or her match ticket too. Without away supporters football would not be the spectacle it is and the FSF firmly believes clubs should acknowledge this in their pricing structures.

Local promotions – the FSF is often asked about “local promotions” which are a slightly different issue to that covered above. Home sides are allowed to run four so-called “local promotions” per season although the Sheffield United-Huddersfield Town fixture is not designated as such. Read more on the local promotion rule here.

Image: thanks to polandeze.

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