Independent Manchester United Supporters Association

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REDprint for change
Introduction
Seating configuration, behaviour and young fans
Away match tickets
European travel
Prices and finance
Dialogue

Introduction

1.1 The need for an independent fans organisation has been evident for some time because of the ever increasing admission prices at Old Trafford and the lack of a constructive dialogue between fans and the Board of Directors. The catalyst for the formation of IMUSA was an announcement over the PA system at Old Trafford during last season's match against Arsenal. As supporters encouraged a performance that put us back in the Premiership chase, the aforementioned announcement informed us that we must sit down or be removed from the Stadium. This message, which resulted in changing the atmosphere from one of celebration to one of anger, proved that relations and communications between the Club and the supporters had reached an all-time low.

Seating configuration, behaviour and young fans

2.1 The redevelopment of the North Stand provides an ideal and unique opportunity to redefine the match day experience for all United fans. At present, the general opinion amongst many supporters is that there is an imbalance between what is expected by the fans and what actually happens at a match. As not all supporters want the same things from a match, a re-configuration of the seating arrangements at Old Trafford would also provide the opportunity to reduce tension between United fans with different match-going expectations. Redevelopment provides the chance to recreate the balance that appears to have been lost since the Taylor Report which has resulted in a vast reduction in the number of young fans attending Old Trafford as well as a loss of atmosphere.

2.2 Thousands of regular supporters wish to stand at appropriate times during play such as when a goal is scored, a corner or free kick awarded, an exciting attack develops or simply to urge the team to victory. IMUSA acknowledge that many fans become annoyed by persistent standing and understand that the aforementioned announcement was in the interest of those supporters.

2.3 However, the expansion of Old Trafford should allow provision for areas in the ground where it is understood that, at appropriate times, fans can stand in seated areas. Such an understanding would reduce tension in the ground, improve the atmosphere and therefore improve the match-day experience of all United fans at no expense to the club!

2.4 In the same period since the implementation of the Taylor Report - and despite the success United have achieved - there has been a noticeable drop in the number of young, particularly local, fans attending matches. For some, the price increases have proved prohibitive, whilst others have been locked out or discouraged from attending due to the non-existence of an area where they can socialise with people of their own age. For many, it is just too `uncool` to sit in the Family Stand with their parents. IMUSA propose that under 16`s should be encouraged to get into the habit of watching United, otherwise they may be lost to some other form of entertainment forever. Going to the match should be turned into a social event for teenagers, as it was for many of the current generation of adult supporters, as this is the most likely way they will become repeat consumers. In short, IMUSA propose that areas of the Stadium, preferably behind the goals, be set aside for pay-on-the-day admission. We believe young fans could be encouraged into this area by way of cut-price admission. We feel pay-on-the-day admission is essential to attracting young fans, as many do not have bank accounts or are unable to raise the money for a ticket five weeks in advance. How many of United`s current supporters would be going now if forced to go through such an ordeal as teenagers?

2.5 Additionally IMUSA believe that the junior upper age limit of 16 is too low for the modern teenager. Many 16-18 year olds go into further education and are therefore without an income, whilst the majority of those employed are on very low incomes. The age limit should be increased or an intermediate pricing scale initiated.

2.6 Concessions for OAPs should be advertised far more widely, as many older fans are unaware that a discount is available on LMTB/ST prices. OAPs should be offered half price admission in line with other clubs, as many of these fans have given years of loyal support to MUFC. Cheaper admission would be a just reward, as well as enhancing the Club's public image.

2.7 As a measure to improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford, it is proposed that there should be areas of unreserved seating i.e. where people can sit in any seat in these specified areas. This will enable both groups of friends and people who wish to sing to sit together rather than be dispersed separately throughout the ground as at present. A further advantage of unreserved seating is that supporters will be encouraged to arrive early at the ground so as to get the best seats, thus reducing congestion close to kick-off time and increasing pre-match revenue from in-stadium catering. Unreserved seating arrangements are successful at several Premiership clubs, such as Liverpool and Everton. Those LMTB/ST holders currently sitting in such areas who wish to remain should be allowed to do so.

2.8 IMUSA believe that the time to incorporate the proposals listed above is upon the forthcoming opening of the new North Stand. This opportunity should also be used to create a healthy atmosphere and give all types of supporters the choice of seating they require.

2.9 The ground plan enclosed with this document shows how a re-configuration of the seating plan can be of benefit to everybody involved with Manchester United.

2.10 Most supporters agree that it is only fair for United to give a reasonable allocation of tickets to away fans as we expect the same when visiting other grounds. IMUSA also understand the difficulty in the placing of a sizeable away following and the constraints issued by the police. It is therefore proposed that an approximate allocation of 3000 seats would be appropriate, situated in Stands A, L and L Lower, which gives easy access to Sir Matt Busby Way and is sufficiently far enough away from both the Family Stand and Executive seating areas. Stands A and L are both segregated underneath and are therefore ideal. IMUSA proposes that the disabled seating area, currently in L Lower, should be relocated to a larger area in the Stadium, possibly in the South Stand Lower.

2.11 It is understood that the plans for the new North Stand include a provision for an area of premium seating in the central section of what was G and H Stands. This will mean that many central section G & H Season Ticket and LMTB Holders will be re-located to inferior areas. IMUSA propose that on completion of the re-development work these supporters should be offered seats similar in view and location to those previously held. We submit that the new area of premium seating should be in the tier above, along with the relocation of Club Class from the Stretford End. Additionally, it is proposed that the Family Stand should also be relocated to one side of the premium seating area. These measures would provide a complete area of premium seating between the two tiers of Executive Boxes, together with an increased area for the Family Stand, and hopefully would re-create the Stretford End as the hot-bed of United`s support. We would also hope that the restaurant facilities beneath the current Club Class area could be converted into a social club for members, similar to those at most other major clubs. We assume that new restaurant facilities will incorporated in the re-developed North Stand.

2.12 We propose that the specified areas where 'standing' (see 2.2) could be allowed should be the entire Stretford End, K Stand and East Lower. The combined capacity of these areas represents approximately 30% of the new capacity. It is further proposed that East and West Lower should be areas of unreserved seating.

2.13 Stands F, J, South Lower, and the remainder of the North Stand not already allocated, should be for those who wish to remain seated and have a pre-determined seat etc.

2.14 IMUSA believe that these proposals would be to the advantage of all United fans, both present and future.

Away match tickets

3.1 Many regular away match travellers feel aggrieved that the ticket distribution system of 1994 did not reward loyalty but affluence. The system introduced for 1994-1995, although more democratic, does not reward loyalty either. Many find it morally wrong that away ticket priority should be offered as a selling point for Executive facilities at Old Trafford. It is essential that any system is seen to be fair and that those holding Executive and Club-Class facilities should be given no greater priority than LMTB or Season Ticket Holders.

3.2 IMUSA has contacted all Premiership clubs to research fairer systems of distribution. Several clubs operate sophisticated methods that could be used by the ticket office at minimal expense. The favoured distribution method is similar to Arsenal`s, where every travelling supporter has a personal code which is input to a computer for every away match they attend. Then, for matches where tickets are in great demand, computer records show who has attended most away matches therefore allowing for loyalty to be rewarded. As tickets are in great demand for all United away matches, records should show everyone who applied for tickets, not just the successful ones. We would be willing to make the details of this research available on request.

3.3 It has been argued that such arrangements might encourage more affluent fans to apply for all away matches, whether they intended going or not, thus ensuring a favourable probability of getting tickets for `big' away games. However, IMUSA believe that the number of fans who can afford all games but are not willing to attend such matches would be minimal. Obviously this system will take the best part of a season to settle down, though eventually it should run smoothly and fairly, so long as records continue from the previous season.

European travel

4.1 Travel to European away games has also caused concern for many United fans. When spending hundreds of pounds for one match, most fans wish to spend some time (i.e. several days) enjoying the country they are visiting. Unfortunately, official club tours have proved less than satisfactory in this regard but, because the club refuse to issue tickets to fans travelling on their own resources, many fans have no other choice.

4.2 IMUSA feel that as it is only a recommendation from the FA that fans should travel with the club, this recommendation should be discarded in favour of a more liberal system where members showing their bona fide travel documents would be provided with match tickets. In short, we feel that United fans should be trusted due to our impeccable record since the European club ban was lifted. Selling tickets to fans who wish to travel independently would mean all MUFC supporters would be in the same part of the stadium thus making control and organisation much easier. We would repeat that the FA`s recommendation remains just that: other clubs have chosen to trust their fans without repercussions.

Prices and finance

5.1 Most United fans - and particularly IMUSA members - are rightfully concerned that continuing increases in admission prices have already proved prohibitive to many long-standing supporters. The costs incurred due to the Taylor Report have been passed on to the average fan, against the recommendations in that Report. Furthermore, prices have continued to rise way above the rate of inflation even after improvements have been paid for; many supporters have been forced to pay for seated accommodation when they would have preferred to stand at much cheaper prices. It is recognised that standing accommodation will not be allowed to return but United`s pricing policy has failed to recognise the hidden extra cost. Another hidden increase is the the reduction in the number of games a Season Ticket or LMTB pays for. These hidden costs, together with absolute changes in price, have resulted in real rises many times above the rate of the average wage increase.

5.2 In light of this, IMUSA proposes that there should be no increase in admission prices next season and thereafter prices should be pegged to the rate of inflation - with prices for young fans actually being reduced. If prices continue to increase at the present rate, many supporters will be forced away from Old Trafford forever. Historically it was the proud boast of MUFC that United were amongst the cheapest teams to watch. Now that this is no longer the case we feel that, as a minimum, prices should be more in line with those charged at other leading North West clubs, particularly in view of increasing revenue from commercial activities.

5.3 It is further proposed that prices should be reduced for less attractive games (i.e. Coca Cola Cup games) to give less affluent fans an opportunity to see the first team at Old Trafford. In previous seasons, LMTB/ST Holders have received a number of free games as recognition for advance payment; this practice should be reintroduced. Other clubs offer discounts if early payment is made when renewing facilities and we believe MUFC should give consideration to similar arrangements. With the expansion of the stadium, the less attractive fixtures will give the opportunity for discounts to be offered to schools and youth groups, thus cementing the youngsters' ties with MUFC.

5.4 IMUSA feel that as Season Ticket and LMTB prices have increased to such a level, some form of payment scheme would be beneficial to United fans. Endsleigh Insurance are running a Season Ticket payment scheme, through a company called Leisure Credit. It is understood that this company approached Manchester United plc to offer their service to MUFC fans. The scheme offered would involve no cost to the club, as Leisure Credit deal with the administration themselves. MUFC simply issue the tickets to the fans and receive payment from Leisure Credit, with supporters making the payments over a period of months. There are no credit checks or interest charges so both fans and MUFC have nothing to lose.

5.5 Premiership clubs such as West Ham, Bolton and Blackburn have accepted this scheme and it has proved successful. IMUSA understand the Board of MUFC have turned down this offer. We would like to ask the Board to reconsider their decision and give consideration to the financial burden of purchasing an annual ticket in one advance lump sum payment.

Dialogue

6.1 IMUSA hope that in future dialogue with the board can be conducted in person rather than through letters and the media. Dialogue with an independent association would have prevented the confusion and anger that the announcement at the Arsenal match caused. Such a matter could have been discussed fully with IMUSA before being passed onto United`s fans. The announcement would undoubtedly have been better received through an independent organisation than via the match programme and PA system. The Club would have been able to gauge reaction prior to any announcement by talking directly to the fans.

6.2 We believe that the foregoing shows we can provide a valuable insight into what your consumers want and help prevent the sort of mistakes that have occurred in the past. Most companies would pay heavily for the type of consumer feedback IMUSA has to offer and, as the final decisions will always be yours, you have nothing to lose. Manchester-based fans have no contact with the Board, except through ineffective letters, and Branch Secretaries have expressed reluctance to reveal their true feelings publicly lest sanctions be applied against their Branch.

6.3 IMUSA therefore feel that regular dialogue with the Board would be beneficial to all United fans, especially Branch members, as well as to the Board of Directors.

We thank for your time in reading this document and commend it to you.

 


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