Liverpool fans score apology, U-turn from owners on tickets
ABS-CBN Sports on Feb 11, 2016 10:16 AM
Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho, centre, celebrates scoring a goal during the English FA Cup fourth round replay soccer match between West Ham United and Liverpool at the Boleyn Ground stadium in London, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
ROB HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) — Liverpool's American owners apologized to fans and reversed planned rises in ticket prices on Wednesday, insisting they were not "greedy."
The climb-down came after more than 10,000 Liverpool fans staged a walkout at Anfield during Saturday's match against Sunderland. Their campaign reached the House of Commons on Wednesday when British Prime David Cameron intervened, calling the rapidly escalating cost of watching Premier League games a "problem."
Within hours, Liverpool's owners backed down and accepted the supporters' concerns in an open letter to fans.
"It has been a tumultuous week," said John Henry, Tom Werner, and Mike Gordon, who also own baseball's Boston Red Sox.
"On behalf of everyone at Fenway Sports Group and Liverpool Football Club we would like to apologize for the distress caused by our ticket pricing plan for the 2016-17 season."
The anger was set off by some ticket prices for next season being hiked to 77 pounds ($112) in Anfield. As a result, Liverpool fans chose to leave their seats in the 77th minute of Saturday's game. Liverpool was leading 2-0 at the time and conceded two late goals in front of thousands of empty seats.
"It wasn't just Liverpool fans sticking up for themselves," former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher, who joined in the protest, wrote in his Daily Mail newspaper column. "It was Liverpool fans saying 'Enough is enough' for every supporter across the land."
During Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, Cameron was asked about the prospect of walkouts spreading to other stadiums.
"There is a problem here where some teams and some clubs put up prices very rapidly every year, even though so much of the money for football actually comes through the sponsorship and the equipment," Cameron said.
England's topflight are less reliant than ever before on ticket revenue. Premier League clubs are preparing for the start of new three-year television deals worth around 8.3 billion pounds ($12 billion).
Liverpool's about-turn on prices will see the most expensive ticket price frozen at 59 pounds next season and the cheapest will remain nine pounds.
The Liverpool owners said they were "particularly troubled by the perception that we don't care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club's expense. Quite the opposite is true."
Such protests against Fenway Sports Group would have seemed unthinkable in 2010 when the investors ended the despised Anfield reign of fellow American businessmen Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.
The current leadership, though, has shown itself to be more receptive to responding to the concerns of fans.
"We don't want the people leaving the stadium before the game is finished," manager Juergen Klopp said.
Protests against ticket prices aren't just restricted to English soccer, with German fans disrupting a game on Tuesday. Fans of Klopp's former club, Borussia Dortmund, threw tennis balls onto the field at Stuttgart and held up a banner: "Football must be more affordable."
At Dortmund, ticket prices for the best league games range from 16.70 euros (standing) to 78.20 euros. At leader Bayern Munich, they range from 15 euros to 70 euros for adults.
Fans of Dortmund and Bayern complain that they pay more when going to away games given the status of the teams, with tickets costing up to 44 euros.
In England, there is the "Twenty's Plenty" campaign, with the Football Supporters' Federation lobbying for a cap of 20 pounds on away tickets. The Premier League is receptive to "meaningful" measures to help visiting supporters but the 20 teams are yet to reach a consensus.
"Away attendances have been the most vulnerable to economic pressure over the last few years," FSF chief executive Kevin Miles said by telephone. "Away fans are absolutely crucial to the atmosphere generated that the broadcasters want to buy.
"We will continue to keep making the case for a cap on away ticket prices. It would take a tiny fraction of the windfall increase on broadcast revenue."
Associated Press writer Ciaran Fahey in Berlin contributed to this report.