A Department for Culture Media and Sport select committee hearing may be the next battleground.
Manchester United introduced the ACS (Automatic Cup scheme) which often compelled season ticket holders to take and pay for mid week Carling Cup and FA Cup games against lowly opposition where the game normally held little appeal to some fans, or they were just not able to attend. Thus passing on the onus of selling tickets to the fans and not themselves. The English and European champions have agreed to ensure season-ticket holders have "upfront transparency on potential costs to a guarantee of a ticket to all home games in all competitions'', according to the OFT, although really such conditions should be a given, not a privilege, in any season ticket.
United fans had expressed concern over commiting for an unknown amount of cup ties against unknown opposition. Some buyers of "one-year'' season tickets found they were not automatically entitled admission to some cup ties, indeed, in some of the bigger Champions League games they were overlooked completely as United used tickets for these games for Corporate packages which bring in far more cash then your average fan would. . Concessions have now been made by United, who are to abandon single-year deals.How much pressure the OFT action places on the Glazers to freeze prices for next season is debatable. Having recently released annual accounts revealing United's startling debts, there is a need for the American owners to maximise revenue.
The OFT, though, are happy with its investigation. ''We have worked closely with Manchester United and are pleased that the club has amended its season-ticket terms to the considerable benefit of its fans,'' said Mike Haley, OFT head of consumer protection. "These changes greatly improve the protection for season-ticket holders.''
The OFT told fans groups such as the Manchester United Supporters Trust that there would be "ongoing monitoring to ensure [ticket schemes] are operated fairly in future''. United, though, will feel the OFT judgment is a score draw. Fans' complaints about price increases and the Automatic Cup Scheme were not upheld.
Fans insist these are an "abuse of a dominant market position'' under the Competition Act and pledged to fight on. "We have forced United's hand on a few of their ridiculous policies and this is a win for supporters,'' said a MUST spokesman. "Yet it is only the first step and shows what can be done with supporters working together and not letting the club roll over the fans.''
Clearly, the OFT must keep a sharp eye on the Glazers, a point that will doubtless be made at Westminster if fans have their way. "We are hoping for a DCMS select committee hearing,'' added the MUST spokesman. Given the friends the fans' groups have in Whitehall and Westminster, this hearing should definitely take place.
Back To Home Page...