‘We need to tell our MPs to buck up, stand up and fight for us’

The West Ham United Supporters’ Trust wants fans to demand ticket price regulation

Now is the time to be angry. It’s time for armchair footy fans to get off the sofa and stop shouting at the TV. The keyboard warriors can now have a valid target for their typing. And for match-going punters, it’s time to raise your voice like never before.

We need to tell our elected MPs to buck up, stand up and fight for us. Just as MPs started the nitty-gritty discussion about a new regulator for football, the cartel that is the Premier League pretended it had no knowledge of individual clubs’ pricing.

As it lied through its teeth, fans saw season tickets prices soar and – worst of all – the ending of concessions being announced at club after club. The Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) hastily called a meeting of fan groups from all the PL clubs.

The pattern became clear. The response was unified. The proposed regulator must have a role in setting ticket prices and fans must be properly consulted. West Ham fan groups, through the club’s Independent Supporters’ Committee, told the club in no uncertain terms that the ending of concessions was intolerable and price hikes unjustified. The club, politely, stuck two fingers up at us.

Behind the scenes, the FSA is working on proposals to give the Independent Regulator of English Football (IREF) powers to regulate ticket prices. At the time of writing a petition is being proposed by fans at Everton. WHUST is discussing writing to MPs.

It’s time MPs stood up for the people and stood against the powerful Premier League and club owners.
With an election coming, our aloof and often unconnected MPs might just decide to do something for their constituents for a change. If you weren’t aware of it, ticket prices were explicitly excluded from the regulator’s remit as proposed in the Fan-Led Review.

The targeting of concession ticketing shows that initial benevolence to club owners was misguided. They’re as thick as thieves. But don’t wait on petitions. MPs on the Public Bill Committee have put out a call for all of us footy fans to contact them. And it’s urgent.

The first sitting of the Public Bill Committee is expected to be on Tuesday 14 May and the Committee is scheduled to report by Thursday 6 June. It says: ‘You are strongly advised to submit your written evidence as soon as possible.’ Email: scrutiny@parliament.uk

Officially the regulator would work by operating a licensing system, where all clubs in the top five tiers of the men’s game would need a licence to operate, and establishing a new, strengthened owners’ and directors’ test to make sure a club’s custodians were suitable and to protect fans from irresponsible owners.

It would work by setting a minimum standard of fan engagement and requiring clubs to comply with new FA rules on club heritage, and requiring clubs to seek regulator pre-approval for any sale or relocation of their stadium.

It would also prevent clubs from joining breakaway leagues that did not have the support of fans or that threatened the heritage or sustainability of English football, have a backstop power to intervene in the distribution of broadcast revenue if the leagues failed to reach an agreement, and establish a compulsory ‘Football Club Corporate Governance Code’.

There’s already an acting CEO of the shadow regulator in place. The three-day-a-week job of chair has been advertised at a salary of £130,000 a year – suggesting they won’t exactly be in touch with most fans. Non-execs will get more than £20K for one day a week.

The Fan-Led Review said: ‘While it is a legitimate area of significant interest to fans, IREF should not set the level of ticket prices or merchandise prices. These are commercial decisions that clubs should be free to make.’

The Bill that has already had its second reading in Parliament does not include the word ‘ticket’. Most of us Hammers fans have had our gas and electric bills held by OfGem’s price cap. Thames Water wants to hike our bills by 40% but the water regulator OfWat has a say.

What would be the point of a regulator for football that did not stop greedy company owners hiking prices with no justification? The headline 6% to 14% price increases in the currently on sale season tickets is just the tip of the iceberg. There will be no new concession seats except in the lower bands – five and six.

A band four child ticket was £115 this season. A senior concession was £325. No new discount seats will be available – they will all cost £670. A child’s seat will have risen more than 480%, while newly retired supporters will be paying more than double (106%) what their predecessors paid.

And West Ham claims to be the ‘home of affordable family football’. If that doesn’t make you angry, you haven’t understood. Finally, an update on Fan Advisory Board. All Premier League clubs were supposed to have a Fan Advisory Board in place this season.

West Ham is nudging closer to that, though the club suddenly announced it wanted to drop having a special seat for Away Season Ticket (AST) holders – something it had previously always insisted upon. That’s hardly surprising as it has indicated it wants to abolish ASTs but there are a few outstanding issues over the terms of reference still being ironed out.

Other documentation, such as the confidentiality agreement, have been settled. There might at last be a FAB by the summer. It’s not yet clear if it will make any difference.

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