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October 2020

Liverpool fans are revolting. Arsenal fans force change of pricing. But why do football clubs get their PR so wrong?

By Tony Attwood

Premier League clubs have lots of money.  Premier League clubs need good PR.  Premier League clubs have consultancy groups representing mainstream fans and minority groups.

And yet they get their PR wrong.  Utterly, totally, hopelessly wrong.

Arsenal, as has been well-reported, has applied its rules about Cup Credits for season ticket holders, and raised a storm.   Liverpool meanwhile have been buying up streets, knocking down houses, imposing compulsory purchase orders with the help of the local council in order to re-build their ancient stadium, and have now put the prices up.

Both this week have had a backlash from some fans.

Of course in such circumstances it is hard to say what percentage of fans are up in arms – those who are can make a lot of noise and the press love it when fans turn on their club, even if they are not fans who attend matches, and thus who make no financial contribution to the club.

But whatever the number, there is a certain amount of breakdown of trust between some fans and some clubs.   Man U for example have had a long history of argument with its season ticket holding fans for forcing them to buy league cup match tickets, whether they want to go or not.   I think that policy has stopped but it took several years for the club to get the message and a huge amount of damage was done in the interim.

However I suspect most people actually don’t want their club to respond to all their fans.  Indeed they can’t because the fans have different opinions.  I’m always delighted to find that day after day, week after week, Arsenal take no notice of the aaa and their media bedfellows.

That’s great, but ignoring fans at this level does not help guide the club when it comes to issues like the cost of tickets for cup matches.

Arsenal is quite unusual in that it includes cup matches with season tickets – up to a limited number, which I think is seven.  Of course the media normally ignore this fact when doing the regular “most expensive tickets in the multiverse” headlines, but the arrangements for the way in which the club provides tickets for cup matches has been established for many years.

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But this year it meant that suddenly the cost of the next Euro cup match shot up, because Arsenal have yet again been drawn at home in the FA Cup.  So the club applied the rules that have been in position for a number of years, and some fans got agitated.

In response the club backed off and changed the charging process.  Which is good, fairly fast, and resolved, and quite well written.

Liverpool however haven’t shown any sign of backing off.  In fact they are digging in further and further.  (The thought when in a hole stop digging hasn’t reached Merseyside yet). For while Arsenal have put out a statement, saying (among other things), “It was never our intention that we would upset those fans who are amongst our most loyal supporters. Having listened to their feedback, we are announcing on this occasion that we will not ask fans to pay the additional amount due under our season ticket conditions for the game on February 23rd.”

Which is quite different from Ian Ayre saying he is “staggered that supporters would walk out of Saturday’s game against Sunderland in protest at rising ticket costs at Anfield and denied prices could have been reduced thanks to next season’s record broadcasting deal.”

He might feel staggered.  He might be staggering, but saying it is just about the silliest thing Liverpool have done since the owner, John Henry, addressed a big sporting convention in the US and boasted that yes, there was a buy-out clause in Suarez’ contract, and yes, Arsenal did exceed it, and yes, he was bullshitting at full speed when he made his insulting “What are they smoking at the Emirates?” statement.   He lied, lied, and lied again and the media, lap dogs and poodles that they are, lapped it up.  Fortunately for reality Untold was on hand, and we read the international sporting press.

The revelation made Liverpool look like a bunch of cheap conmen.

I am sure many Liverpool fans and indeed Arsenal fans, will want to point out that even with the new price hike, Liverpool’s prices are for the most part, a lot lower than Arsenal’s.   And Tottenham’s come to that.

Personally I can see why Liverpool are going to charge more for the top tickets in their rebuilt stand.  What I am surprised at is that a club that size gets itself into such a mess so easily in trying to explain it to their loyal and long suffering fans.

Now Liverpool has a supporters’ committee, which apparently was consulted on the proposals, but they have been among the most outraged and it seems that over a short period of time communication broke down.  Liverpool FC have been quite aggressive in taking the dispute into the open, conducting discussions via the media – never a very helpful thing to do.

Issues of ticket pricing are complex – as when Man City arranged a protest at the Ems over the price of away tickets.  Only a small number of tickets were sold to away fans and the media made a lot of that.  What they made nothing of was the fact that the barriers between home and away fans were moved, and all the spare tickets returned by Man C were snapped up by Arsenal fans.  Which says something.

The fact that Liverpool has got plans for having some £9 tickets for category C matches and 1,000 tickets over the season being given free to local children get lost in all this, and begin to sound a bit like an excuse.  1000 tickets free is nice, but across a season it comes down to around 50 tickets a game.  That doesn’t sound that good does it?

And a statement like, “I think there is a difference between somebody creating whatever noise they feel they’ve got to create to get people’s attention and the facts,” from the Liverpool chair, as quoted in several newspapers, is really dumb.  I mean really, really, really dumb.

Whether you call people fans or customers calling them “Somebody” is really silly.  Want to alienate the people who pay you money to attend your games?  Call them “somebody”.

Likewise failing to explain the club’s finances properly is also a mistake in my view.   Just saying, “Of course everybody would like the tickets to be cheaper, including us, but that’s not an option for us right now,” doesn’t help either.

Maybe it is so, but why?   That would be good to hear.

What they said instead was,

“How are we pricing fans out of the stadium if 65% of season tickets have flattened or come down, and 45% of matchday tickets have come down? Aren’t we feeding what we – certainly me as a Liverpool fan – have been saying for years: more young people, more local people. These initiatives are feeding that.”

Maybe, but that is not how you convince people.  Ask anyone who has ever worked in advertising or PR and they will tell you.  Getting people to change their minds is possible.  But you can never ever do it by telling them they are wrong and you are right.

Subtlety is the name of the game.  And here I can speak with a little authority, having run an advertising agency for more years than I want to remember.

Now my firm isn’t that huge; we are certainly not in the top bunch of advertising agencies.   But we have our area of specialism, and in that little field we are pretty much at the top.  And so like all agencies, we study which adverts succeed in changing the behaviour, we study the attitude and views of people, we know what psychologists have discovered across the years about human behaviour, and we could tell every football club that this is not the way to do it.

Especially not when Premier League clubs are getting from the benefit of a £5.14bn broadcasting deal from next season.   Calling the money from TV rights and the money from fans “separate business streams,” as the Liverpool boss has done, is stupid in this scenario . And I can say, if one of my staff was in this sort of PR disaster and said, “The TV revenue goes into a completely different product on the pitch and the prices of that could be X, Y or Z. We can’t build a sustainable solution for the stadium based on what we may or may not spend in the transfer market. It’s the same plan we’ve always had for the stand and tickets,”  I would sack him for gross incompetence and undermining the long term good of the company.

Handling people and changing attitudes is difficult.  But clubs are big enough to be able to employ experts and get it right.  And they do employ experts.  The problem is that the experts themselves are removed from the fans – they generally don’t have a clue how fans feel about their clubs.

Really, clubs have sufficient money to be able to bring in people who are close to fans and who know how to communicate with fans.  Arsenal didn’t think ahead to what the fans reaction might be – and that for me suggests that their links with fans who also know about communication is not strong enough. But they picked up the pieces quickly, and things are resolved.

But Liverpool!  They are just not at the show.

More anniversaries

  • 6 February 2010: Arsenal lost to Chelsea 2-0, following close on home defeat to Man U on 31 Jan, meaning there were no wins in three games, and with Liverpool the next team to be played.
  • 6 February 2010: A member of the Norway Arsenal supporters club claimed that the club had lost over 300 members in the last month because of the poor performance by the team under Arsène Wenger.

Recent Posts

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12 comments to Liverpool fans are revolting. Arsenal fans force change of pricing. But why do football clubs get their PR so wrong?

  • Landana

    Liverpool fans are what? I think I’ll have a word with you. You can suffer my play and humour. ok?

  • Billious

    (Even if they are not fans who attend matches, and thus who make no financial contribution to the club). What an outrageous statement to make, not everyone can afford to attend matches or even be able to get tickets except for the odd games and in my case I’m a disabled pensioner and just couldn’t afford to support the club I’ve been following all my life, I can’t even afford a TV package. Most of the supporters you are disrespecting have Sky and or BT that they have to pay extra for to watch games. And a great deal of that money goes to the clubs so they do contribute to the clubs finances.

    As to Liverpool the new stand and extra seats are in the main going to corporate.

  • Pete

    I think the problem arises from the Cat A/B/C system that was only relatively recently introduced at Arsenal. Season ticket holders haven’t thought through, and the club hasn’t explained the complexities around the sub-division of the 26 matches – and what happens if the 7 cup ties don’t break down in the prescribed way between the categories.

    I can’t recall how the CL games are rated. Bayern would have been A – but Zagreb and Olympiakos may not have been. Sunderland, Burnley and Hull I would think would all be C’s?

    Therefore I’m surprised that we got a rebate last season but a proposed surcharge this time? Can’t remember which were the cup ties from last time though…

    But I haven’t taken the trouble to properly understand this!

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    OT: Are Leicester City FC a phenomenal club in the 2015/16 Barclays Premier League season? The way Manuel Pellegrini and his Citizens team have uncharacteristically fell down to Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes molding today at the Ehihad, calls for a serious sober reflection and re-thinking of those of us who think Leicester will eventually fell by the wayside. And thus Arsenal will become unhindered on their ways to lift the big coveted BPL title trophy this season. To unfailingly reached their BPL title lifting destination ahead of Leicester this season, Arsenal MUST unfailingly double up if they are to overtake the prolific Leicester City outfit. And they have another opportunity to seize to move closer to Leicester on Sunday.

    Season ticketing cost is not a problem for Arsenal FC to contend with. As they look to resolve quickly any arising ticketing issue by nipping the bug in the bud whenever it reared it’s ugly head up. Therefore, Arsenal quickness to resolve their fans discontentment over the cost of season and match day tickets for all competitions should be exemplary for other clubs in trouble with their fans on cost of tickets to emulate.

  • upp

    Totally agree with you Tony. But I don’t think you can say arsenal management has been much better in the recent past (excepting the recent ticket surcharge turnaround). I believe Peter hillwood especially was notorious for making statements that didn’t endear him and the club to the fans

  • nicky

    I’m afraid Arsenal are becoming no different from any other club.
    The escalating costs of players wages, transfer fees and ticket prices has meant that the economists and accountants have taken over in all of the top echelon of clubs, in the now lemming-like crusade for increased revenue.
    This quite obscene bubble will eventually burst as it is bound to do.
    The poor old supporter at matches can be milked only so far.
    It can only be a question of time before some form of capping is applied to wages and ticket prices.

  • Porter

    Simple answer is to remove the 7 cup matches from the season tickets and allow holders the chance to opt in if they wish to attend.

  • GoingGoingGooner

    @Porter…makes sense but clubs want stability in revenue streams and including cup matches in the season tickets does that.

  • colario

    Many clubs do good work in the community and it goes unreported because in England only ‘bad activities’ are news.

    In recent times their has been a considerable move to ‘theme of the time’ which is reported by everybody is repeated on and on.

    News that is important but is without a hint of sensationalism is now not news, so the media does not report it.

  • ARSENAL 13

    No doubt this was a PR howler from ARSENAL. BUT then other things go unnoticed dont they. Like the refund and price freeze….

  • Gooner S


    As you say you get 7 cup games with your season ticket (excluding Carling Cup). Now, this always worked in that the first 7 home cup games were part of your season ticket and any over and above 7 were added at a pro-rata cost to your following years cost of a season ticket. When Arsenal introduced price bands per category of game this made life slightly more complicated as a season ticket holder would have to understand the category of any cup games, over and above the 7 included and it was that cost which was added to your following years ticket price or so we thought.

    The Barcelona game would be our seventh cup game so should be included in the season ticket price. But what Arsenal haven’t explained at all is the cost of the season ticket for a year is made up on a certain formula of Category A + B + C games. They were saying that the Barcelona game would break their formula (too many category A games) hence the extra cost they wanted to levy.

    I’m pretty fair minded and not one to complain about the club but they did not explain this prior to me purchasing. As far as I was concerned the Barcelona game was one of my allotted 7 games. I rarely tweet the club but I did on this occasion. I thought they were out of order.

    So this was one massive PR cock up, albeit one that was quickly rectified. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

  • Gooner S


    No don’t remove the cup games from the season ticket. Its a USP and good value. Someone in the club screwed up with the pricing formula they apply and the communication of that formula. Instead Arsenal should communicate their pricing mechanism more clearly and concisely before they go on sale and then not deviate from that.