I received another call from the United ticket office this week asking me if I plan to renew my season ticket in East Stand for the coming season. This was the third or fourth call since the end of May, and there have been many emails too. It may surprise some that the club are seemingly so desperate to secure renewals from match going regulars, but this does not come as news to me. I know I am just one of many thousand Reds posed with this dilemma, and there are many factors why this is no longer a straightforward decision.
Friends of mine who don’t support United are quick to play the ‘You’re only not renewing because you had a bad season’ card. If I were not to renew, this could not be further from the case. After an abject season last term, there is now genuine excitement around the team again; a proper manager and some proper signings already this summer. For footballing reasons you could argue that this season shapes up to be the most interesting for years. The truth is there are many other factors why a renewal is far from certain.
The lack of clarity around obtaining and allocating away tickets is a huge issue with many season ticket holders. The club splits any away tickets between ‘executive’ season ticket holders, those in the ‘loyalty pot’ and those in the ‘standard pot’. I’m in the standard pot myself and I apply for every single domestic away match. To put it simply, I may as well not bother. I can count on one hand the number of away tickets I have obtained via this method over the last 5 seasons. That’s 19 x 5 applications (19 away games in a season). Out of 95 attempts, my return is maybe 6 tickets. So do those in the loyalty pot or those that pay extra for executive privileges guarantee success in the away ballot? Increasingly not is the answer. The loyalty pot (which is a dubious creation anyway) used to be a dead certain for any away game application, and Execs were not far behind. Yet I know dozens of people in both of these categories whose success rates in away ballots are down to around the 50% mark. The club are typically vague about this when questioned, and numerous suggestions have been put forward to make the system more transparent, yet it remains an immense frustration for most fans, and little progress is being made.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford is another concern. As is the case with other big clubs, in recent years the atmosphere at United has become sterile. You can cite any number of reasons for this: pricing out of traditional fans, the club’s success on the pitch attracting more day-trippers and a generally more ‘expectant’ crowd, stadium acoustics as capacity has increased. However we want to justify it, the fact is, apart from the odd game the atmosphere at Old Trafford is generally rubbish. And it didn’t used to be rubbish, it used to be great. Having watched United all over the country and all around Europe, watching United at home these days is a distinctly more uninspiring experience. I for one would be more inclined to renew my season ticket quickly if the atmosphere at Old Trafford could be improved.
This links in to my next point about the new ’singing section’ at Old Trafford which will be in place this coming season. Some may scoff at the very idea of a section designated for fans who wish to sing and ‘create’ an atmosphere, but credit to the club for recognising that something needed to be done. After successful trials of signing areas last season at the Fulham and Real Sociedad games the club decided to permanently create one for the new season. This is to be housed in J Stand, an area in the corner between the North and East stands.
So why is this a bad thing? The problem is that J Stand, along with K Stand and parts of The Stretford End, is one of the more traditional parts of the ground. Folk have sat and stood there for 30, 40, even 50 years in the same place. From what I have been told by people who sit there, the club’s treatment of them regarding this has been abysmal. They were not properly consulted about the location of the singing section, they were just told it was happening. They were then told that due to the move they couldn’t renew until after the usual deadline, meaning that the only seats likely to be available were in inferior parts of the stadium, away from their family or mates. This action was enough to prompt a petition against the singing section, and I now know of several J Stand ticket holders who are not renewing for the first time in decades. Why the club could not house the singing section in the current away fans area and therefore not disturb one of the most loyal parts of United’s support is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately this is symptomatic of the club’s short-sighted attitude towards core season ticket holders.
Taking into consideration all of this, I am faced with a genuine dilemma. I don’t really want to commit to giving the club £700 of my hard earned money up front (or over a monthly finance arrangement which they keep trying to flog me). I can pick up tickets for most home games and the odd away game from mates, the supporters branch I belong to or the online ticket exchange forums. That way the money is redirected to fans who have tickets going spare, rather than going directly to the club. In my head, this is the logical thing to-do. The drawback of going down this route though, is having to miss some of the genuinely bigger games by not guaranteeing yourself a ticket, probably any Cup Finals should we reach them, and missing out on the regularity of going week in week out.
The club are clearly worried after last season’s dismal display on the pitch, and they are being proactive about getting people to renew. I would be surprised if I didn’t get another call or email this week. What they don’t seem to understand though are the reasons why loyal, time-served, match going fans are not chomping at the bit to sign up for the 2014/15 season. And herein lies the problem. These issues, which have been there for several years, were easier to overlook when we were winning back to back titles. Overall demand was always going to exceed supply and they could afford to sweep any noise under the carpet. Well, now things are a bit different, and you would hope that the club would begin to address things with their supposed most loyal fans, although I think this is probably wishful thinking.
So will I renew? Probably yes, however this decision is becomingly increasingly less associated with what is happening in the stadium or any loyalty to the club, but down to the fun I have on match days with the people I go with. If it wasn’t for this I’d probably just watch it on the telly.