When Goal.com reported that Manchester United had sold just 18,000 of 56,000 season tickets a week before last Sunday’s renewal deadline, the green & gold movement appeared to have impacted the Glazers’ bottom line in the starkest manner – a mass supporter boycott on an unprecedented scale.
With the deadline now passed Manchester United is refusing to announce how many holders have renewed amid reports that, despite a late rally, thousands of United season ticket holders have failed to renew this summer.
Everything is as it always is, is the message – quite literally – emanating from United HQ today but anecdotally at least not only are ticket sales well down on previous years but the club has already begun re-selling tickets to those fans willing to take up the slack.
Indeed, fans reported today being offered tickets in large blocks, seat changes – again in blocks – or executive seats in popular areas as the ticket office worked overtime to reduce United’s season ticket shortfall before the start of the domestic season on 14 August.
Reports that non-renewers have already been sent text messages by ticket office also emerged today. Previously the sales department has sent executive seat holders aggressive letters urging immediate renewal.
With the deadline passed on Sunday the club is likely to announce first an extension and then offer new tickets to its ‘waiting list’ – effectively an email and mobile number marketing database – up to an including the first day of the new season.
While the Soviet-esque secrecy surrounding season ticket sales this summer means even Old Trafford ticket office managers, according to one Rant source, do not have full details on current numbers, there is little doubt that the Glazer family’s overactive PR machine would shout the numbers from the rooftops through a vuvuzela had a sell-out been achieved. Or anywhere near it for that matter.
United’s communications department is right in one sense though. Everything is as it always is. Thousands of fans who have chosen to walk away this summer join many more who have done so over the past five years. Once at 67,000 with a similar number purportedly on the waiting list, the Glazers huge price rises have ensured few season tickets sold and the waiting list evaporated.
This process has taken place organically with no United supporters group willing to call for an all-out boycott, although the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association (IMUSA) has long urged fans to visit Old Trafford only on a match-by-match basis. It’s a message now also echoed by the Manchester United Supporters Association (MUST).
Ticket sales are important though and not just in the phony PR war that has waged since March. The Glazer family’s desire, as detailed in the January prospectus, to remove significant dividends from the club is materially affected by both cashflow and meeting certain profit targets. It’s a scenario that offers United fans significant power as customers.
Indeed, United supporters are, arguably, undergoing a transition. From a body that supported the team – and therefore the club – no matter what to a realisation that being the best United supporter may indeed mean withdrawing certain forms of custom to shorten the Glazer family’s regime at Old Trafford.
Those who left to form FC United of Manchester in 2005 will understand the painful decision made by many supporters this summer.
Inevitably, United will sell many of those tickets not taken up by the current season ticket base and a positive spin will of course be spun by those responsible for it at HQ. It misses the point. Supporters, no matter how passionate, are now far better educated about the Glazer family’s impact on the club over the past five years.
Despite speculation no doubt encouraged by the club – it’s repeatedly daily on the official website after all – United has made no attempt to buy off supporters in the transfer market this summer. After the family has taken a £70 million dividend at some point later this summer there really isn’t any money left.
It’s just one of the many reasons there’s now much silence on the ticket sales front.