Unfair local promo rule riles away fans

The season is entering its home straight and clubs are beginning to think of ways to pull in the crowds for next season. Encourage a fan to come along with a cheap ticket deal in the in the sunny spring months of April and May and they might, just might, fork out for a season ticket for 2011-12.

But in this swirl of special offers one fan in particular is missing out, and he or she is the most loyal of all – the away fan.

Read on to find out what you can do to help change this.

The Football Supporters’ Federation has received numerous complaints this week from travelling fans of Football League clubs upset that they are being forced to fork out more than the home support. Football League clubs are obligated to charge away fans the same price as home fans pay in equivalent areas except on four occasions per season when they are allowed to offer so-called “local promotions”. (Rules vary throughout the football pyramid and local promotions are not allowed in the Premier League.)

The Football League rules (31.2.11) state: “Discounts or special promotions (in each case for one match only) made available to supporters of the Home Club must also be made available on a similar basis to visiting supporters provided always that each Club shall be permitted to designate four (4) matches per season as ‘local promotion’ Matches where this regulation shall be deemed not to apply.”

The idea of offering discounts to fans at this time of the season is a sound one and something to be applauded – the FSF does not want to see this practice ended at all. These promotions aim to build long-term support and clubs argue that they shouldn’t have to pass on to away fans who will only return when their side visits. But it is clear from the emails we’ve received that football fans believe the deal should be extended to all in acknowledgement of the trials and tribulations the away fan goes through.

The loyal lose out

Away fans spend more money than anyone following their team and much of this goes to the home club – think of all those extra pies and pints sold. The away fan also brings positive benefits to the home club that are difficult to quantify. Put it this way – would you go to games week in, week out, if there were no away fans to banter with? Without fans travelling hundreds of miles across the country in support of their side atmospheres, and the general popularity of football as a spectator sport, would take a definite hit. And the thanks they often get in the Football League? More expensive tickets.

The incongruity of these deals is shown by the manner in which the same set of fans can benefit one week, only to lose out another, all on the whim of a club’s marketing department – let’s take Crystal Palace and Doncaster Rovers as examples. Rovers have a good track record for innovative, fan-friendly deals as the FSF has pointed out before, and their latest wheeze is to offer free tickets for home fans for Friday’s game with Crystal Palace.

This would have generated nothing but good publicity if it wasn’t for the fact that Palace fans still have to fork out the full price of £25 for an adult ticket (or the usual concessions for juniors and OAPs). The Eagles’ support was riled and understandably so. Ironically it is only a few weeks since Palace’s own commercial department ran a “Family Day” - a local promotion itself - that wasn’t available to Barnsley’s travelling fans.

In a similar twist Doncaster Rovers fans, who might benefit from free entry come Friday, lost out when their team visited the Walkers Stadium in December 2010. “Leicester City offered a cheap deal to their fans but not the away supporters. It was £5 for the home end and £26 for Donny fans,” says Alan Bloore, the FSF’s ticketing guru. “We also know for definite of a mini-bus of Donny fans who went into the Leicester end to save money and we estimate there were at least 30 away fans in the home end that day.”

Increased security risks?

Aside from arguments of fairness, this brings another factor into the equation – the safety and security of supporters. In an age of free, instant, worldwide communication networks, it’s naïve and unrealistic to think that local promotions can remain local. Whatever checks clubs put in place on ticket sales, whether the discounts are only offered to those in certain post codes or with previous sales history, you can be sure some enterprising away fans will know someone who can get them cheap tickets in the home end.

How many Palace supporters will be in the home end for their side’s trip north? No one can be sure – and that’s the point. While we’re not suggesting fans are incapable of controlling themselves – far from it – being unexpectedly seated next to an away fan who’s sneaked in the home end to save a few quid could cause tensions. If local promotion deals were reciprocated every last travelling fan would be in the away end. Problem solved.

To ask for parity isn’t an unrealistic dream either. Earlier this season Watford offered its own local promotion to Barnsley, after Tykes fans contacted the Hornets pointing out the rule’s inherent unfairness, and credit to Watford for that. Doncaster Rovers themselves have, on occasion, offered away fans access to local promotions too. In October 2010 Swansea City fans visited the Keepmoat Stadium and paid a very reasonable £10.

Are these deals discriminatory?

But are local promotions clubs unwittingly breaking Football League rules by discriminating against certain fans? Alan Bloore thinks so. “Clubs say Football League rules allow these local promotions but I would argue that this rule breaks the Football League’s own Anti-Discrimination Policy.”

Milton Keynes Dons fan John Brockwell agrees. His club’s supporters were on the wrong end of a local promotion deal when visiting Huddersfield Town in November although to the Terriers’ credit, the club reimbursed fans after MK Dons Supporters’ Association (MKDSA) and the FSF pointed out the unfairness of the rule.

“The Football League’s rules ‘seek to ensure that spectators, players, officials and others involved at football matches and in football generally should be protected from discrimination, including that on the grounds of age, Race or Ethnic Origin, Religious Belief, Sexual Orientation, Disability, Gender or any other unjustifiable reason’,” argues John. “One widely held definition of Ethnic Origin is ‘Ethnicity is defined from the recognition by others as a distinct group and by common cultural, linguistic, religious, behavioural or biological traits.’”

And who better fits the definition of shared culture, language, and behaviour than football fans? It seems bizarre that, according to the Football League’s own guidelines, the only grounds on which clubs can discriminate is on the basis that someone follows another club. Football actively discriminates on the basis of football loyalties but nothing else. This isn’t a justifiable position in the FSF’s view.

An appeal to clubs and guidelines for fans

The FSF has outlined its position with the Football League but they say their rules can only be changed if member clubs choose to do so. Therefore the FSF makes this appeal to clubs:

Please pass on local promotions to away fans as a gesture of goodwill and an acknowledgment of the lengths they go to in following their team. They not only add to your club’s coffers via matchday sales but also add immeasurably to the spectacle that is football. If all clubs pass on deals to away fans on a reciprocal basis your club’s travelling fans will feel the benefit too and you can rightly claim credit for that.

Of course the principle is one that should matter to fans of all clubs and we, as supporters, have our own role to play. The only way we will convince clubs to automatically extend these local promotions to away fans is if we make our feelings known. This will have more impact if fans not only make their voice heard when they lose out, but also complain vociferously when the opposition loses out - stand up for the away fan as next time it could be you:

  • HOME FANS: If your club runs a local promotion and refuses to pass the deal on to away fans write to them, inform them of your experiences, and explain that you believe they should pass on any special offers to away fans.
  • AWAY FANS: Write to the offending club pointing out how unfair you feel this is and ask how many times they’ve run local promotions this season. Any more than four and they’ve broken Football League rule 31.2.11 (unless the offer is passed on to away fans). Contact your club too arguing the unjustness and ask that they do not treat visiting fans in this way.
  • ALL FANS: Email the Football League via enquiries@football-league.co.uk when you spot one of these deals not being passed on to away fans and link to this article. Explain just why you think Football League rule 31.2.11 is unfair and should be amended to incorporate football’s most loyal and important supporter – the away fan.

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