High price for progressive loyalty

Clive White finds plenty to criticise when it comes to the Football Ass ociation's method of dispensing tickets for 1996
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The Independent Online
Ticket sales for Euro '96 may be going well, according to the Football Association, but at a cost to the ordinary fan, who accuses the FA of ripping him off and fuelling the black market with its contentious ticketing strategy.

Joe Public is being forced to buy far more tickets than he needs if he wishes to attend the knock-out stages and that, say the supporters, will lead to thousands of tickets ending up in the hands of touts. The resale of tickets, they point out, even at face value, is in contravention of the Criminal Justice Act.

A father and son, for example, who wish to attend the final would have to pay between £560-800, even for the cheapest tickets at the various stages, to qualify for two tickets for the final. Under the FA's progressive loyalty scheme, anyone who is not a season-ticket holder or member of an FA-affiliated club or the England Travel Club will have to buy twice as many tickets as he or she personally needs for the earlier rounds to qualify for one final ticket.

Hence, our father and son, in order to enjoy their day out together at the final, would have to purchase 22 tickets, only 12 of which they would require themselves. Alternatively, of course, they could just toss for the final ticket.

"The FA is always on about the importance of football being a family game and here they are setting father against son," Steve Beauchampe, the international officer of the Football Supporters' Association, said.

More seriously, the FSA views it as yet another example of FA high-handedness with the needs of the ordinary fan secondary to its own objectives: a successful and profitable championship. "Their scheme," says Beauchampe, "passes the onus for selling tickets from the FA to the supporters. It's grossly unfair. They have found a nice way of getting rid of lots of tickets that people don't specifically need. I know from meetings with them that they're very worried about unglamorous teams, like Lithuania andMacedonia, qualifying." He estimated that the surplus of "unwanted" tickets amounted to about 200,000.

"A system that allows that number of tickets to become available creates a black market. But then I've always thought the noise they make about wanting to stamp out ticket touts rang hollow."

The FSA says it has no complaints about the price of tickets, the principle of the progressive loyalty scheme or preferential treatment for season ticket holders and the like, "the Football Family" as the FA has called them. They just don't see why the general public has to buy twice as many. "No one would argue if it was on a first-come-first-served basis," Beauchampe said.

Neatly side-stepping the main thrust of the FSA's argument, the FA maintains whatever method it had chosen would have met with criticism, although of that it claims to have received very little. "There's no doubt it's an expensive business but we can seeby the ticket sales that people are willing and able to pay very good money these days to go and see top quality football," Alec McGivan, the media relations manager for Euro '96, said. "The principle of having to buy tickets for other games as well as the final is a fairly established one."

Since 27 October, when tickets went on general sale, a further 100,000 have been sold in Britain and Ireland, raising receipts from the £5m-worth sold to the "football family" to £9m. Glen Kirton, the director of Euro '96, is still forecasting a sell-outbut even at a 70 per cent attendance level ticket revenue would total £38m.

Many tickets, particularly the lower priced, are already sold out for the group games. There are still 9,000 tickets for sale for the final, but they are all at the top price. A further 22,000 tickets will be made available, but only to be shared by the finalists.

But don't despair. Much to the FA's deep embarrassment, one hopes, a ticket agency in Leicester Square has vowed to get its hands on a ticket for the final for those who are desperate to go - at a price - "...and you'll still be quids in on the FA's deal," they claim.

ticket sales Wembley: Cheapest seats for all matches sold out.

St James' Park: Sold out of £15 tickets for all group matches; other categories selling well.

Anfield: Sold out of £15 tickets for all group matches and £25 tickets for quarter-final; other prices still available.

Villa Park: Sold out of £15 tickets for all group matches; other prices still available. Quarter-final tickets going quickly.

Old Trafford: Almost sold out of £15 tickets for all group matches and quarter-final. Sold out of lower priced seats (£40) for semi-final; other prices still available.

Elland Road, City Ground and Hillsborough: Sold out of £15 tickets for 14 June (Nottingham) and 15 June (Leeds); other group matches selling quickly. All other prices still available.