Sunday 26 July 2015

How can Sheffield Wednesday fans effectively protest against the ticket price hike?

No one wants to pay more for something than they have to, but a sense of value for money is paramount. It is a lack of this sense that enabled new Sheffield Wednesday owner Dejphon Chansiri to hike home matchday ticket prices - using a plethora of inexplicable categories for games - to as much as £52.

The anger at the sudden decision has enraged Owls fans and supporters organisations. The general feeling has been that this is an obscene amount to pay to watch second division football at Hillsborough which, last season in particular, has not exactly been home to spectacular top dollar football of late. It is unreasonable to expect a family to pay this (not least as the old ground hasn't exactly got great family facilities) when people are still struggling to find work in South Yorkshire and the next generation of kids who want to go may be deprived of the experience. What's more, the timing of the decision, after all the cheap early bird season tickets have finished sale, meant those on those on the fence about renewing or buying a season ticket who didn't have been heavily stung if they want to visit Hillsborough a bunch of times this season.

As an ardent fan proud that we were amongst the cheapest teams to go and see in the league it has been a painful turn of events.

To put the decision into context, Chansiri bought the club in January, taking over from Milan Mandaric - widely seen to have saved the club and who was even granted a 'Thank you Milan Day', unusual among chairmen. But, as Mandaric agreed to stay on to advise, we must assume he had some say in the ticket pricing decision. Chansiri, who has been popular with Owls fans, keen to see the seafood magnate spend big to achieve his much stated goal of reaching the Premier League. 

"Chansiri has approached his reign like a Prime Minister's - charm on arrival before dropping bombshells"

In a delayed letter explaining the ticket price hike, he used funding transfers (the only language that gets fans on side, we hardly want to hear the ticket cash is being spent on plush back room facilities) as a justification. It's pathetically transparent behaviour: bang on about attacking football, which of course everyone wants to see (but can be difficult in a tight division led by a new manager inexperienced in English football) and then demand the fans pay for it.

But is this really fair? In the Premier League, ticket income vastly lags TV rights and advertising revenues to fund multi-million pound transfers. With reduced access to that in the Championship, Chansiri has clearly decided the fans, rather than canny deals brokered by his business, will fund his ambitions. It appears he has approached his reign like a Prime Minister's parliamentary term - charm on arrival and shortly afterwards before dropping the bombshells, knowing you've bought yourself some time before the masses can really turn on you.

In response to the price hike - to £39, Bristol City fans have understandably decided to boycott the season opener at Hillsborough on August 8. We've seen a propensity, particularly at Premier League level, for teams to raise away prices against those who overcharge their fans and the temptation with a well supported club like Wednesday will doubtless be they will see the blue and white pound and do just that.

But I think this may be what it takes. As an exiled Owl in London, I go to plenty of games in the south and am always proud to stand amongst a heaving WAWAW faithful. If this number starts thinning out, the supporter numbers are held up against previous years and - after a few seasons of inflated revenge pricing - we become a less lucrative club to host, then Chansiri may be shamed into cutting prices. Empty seats at Hillsborough is one thing, but a true protest needs to reverberate far wider.

Although his background is very much not a footballing one, the more the new Owls owner becomes embedded in the flash, trophy asset world of football club ownership, the more his reputation will play a part. If this is as someone charging Premier League prices to see sub-par football, this may just force his hand.