The Expansion of The Etihad That’s Literally Splitting The Fans

Date: 17th October 2013 at 4:45 pm
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Manchester City Fans

The natives are revolting once more. With another batch of literature from Manchester City dropping through letterboxes across Stockport postcodes this week, the creeping realisation of the effects of financial fair play and the club’s insatiable desire for extra revenue (that this week led Tom Glick to declare City would soon be in the top five club revenues) has meant that with the proposed stadium expansion comes the inevitable extension of the corporate areas spreading out away from the halfway line and the subsequent exodus of many of the East and West stand ‘s current inhabitants, priced out of their seats.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of this reorganization, there can be no excuse for being surprised at the developments. It has been coming for years, and previous club literature has mentioned the possible expansion, so there has been fair warning, however wronged people may feel.

I attended a fans forum in the Commonwealth Suite a few weeks ago (See here: https://comeoncity.com/2013/09/fans-forum-report/) and at the meeting, Danny Wilson (Director of Sales, Service & Operations) said that the trade-off for the expansion of the corporate areas is the introduction of cheaper seats – so the club presumably see it as like for like, with no detriment to the fans. As was seen with the conversion of the North Stand into a family area, they clearly see the situation whereby fans have to move as an acceptable by-product of the club’s development and expansion. You may not, and that’s fair enough. It’s not for me to preach to you whether it’s acceptable to have to move. It’s not nice, and you have the right to complain. Either way, it’s happening though, so start planning now.

There is an obvious consequence to enlarging corporate areas, and that is enlarging the swathe of empty seats after half-time and perhaps before it too. We’ve all seen the inability of some “corporates” to return from the bar after the break, and a 4-0 lead in a Champions League final wouldn’t be enough to lure some of them back from their Asti Spumante* and prawns with vanilla foam (they’re to die for). It also seems unlikely to me that the market is out there to sell these seats week-in, week-out, but City have done plenty of research on this and are clearly confident they can. At the aforementioned Fans’ Forum, Danny Wilson commented that fan surveys had shown a strong interest in premium seating, which not only raised my eyebrows, but caused them to levitate out of the room.

But there is another section of fans that is forgotten in this scenario, the silent majority. They don’t sit in padded seats, they won’t be squeezed out by the corporate expansion and they won’t be sat in the cheapest seats also. It’s the fans who will remain exactly where they are, and presumably put up with the constant, creeping increases in prices, year on year. This separate problem of pricing out the majority of the stadium not affected by the expansion is the biggest problem of all, because once swathes of various blocks around the ground say enough is enough, then that is the beginning of the end of the match-day experience, an experience already tarnished across the land by modern consumerism and the reluctance to talk about a return to terraces. The introduction of cheap season tickets by the club is a great move (just like the introduction of direct-debit options), but it won’t house everyone that wants to move there, it won’t satisfy everyone feeling the pinch as modern football becomes more and more expensive with each passing season.

The situation hasn’t been helped by the scurrilous rumours that have abounded over the future plans of the club and the usual jumping-of-the-gun and doom-mongering amongst a minority of fans. The best I heard was that the whole of the 2nd tier was to become a corporate section, just like Wembley, an idea so ridiculous I’ve only just stopped laughing. At least the club have been open with us fans and had a full consultation, including the opportunity to see the plans at the ground.

The owners have given us so much, we almost have lost the right to complain, but a wonderful team in a wonderful stadium is not as impressive or fulfilling when experienced through a television screen, a scenario many are already resigned to and a scenario that creeps ever closer for me personally, as I already spend money on football way beyond my means.  We come across as ungrateful for complaining despite the transformation of our club from nobodies to somebodies.
What’s more, we cannot however allow our perception of modern football to be clouded by a warped sense of nostalgia, as things are better now, but there is, as always, a price to pay. We’ll never know if the owners are increasing match-day revenue solely to meet financial fair play criteria, or whether they always intended to break-even come-what-may. But it is a false economy increasing prices if it results in reduced attendances. It is a fine balancing act getting it right, and at this moment many fans are wobbling. And by moving fans around the ground once more, the club have created a situation that is quite literally splitting the fans.

* that’s what posh people drink, right?

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