Sunderland Powerless In Semi Final Ticketing Injustice

Scott Heavey

Sunderland fans are being charged through the roof for the second leg of the League Cup Semi Final with Manchester United. It's an injustice, but it's not one the club can be criticised for failing to prevent or reciprocate.

To be completely honest, the whole 'against modern football' thing is something that I don't personally get. Call me a cynic if you like, but it seems to be more of a hipster calling card than it is any real point of actual principle.

Occasionally, though, it does carry a genuine sting in the tail and almost taints the enjoyment for you. This week, that has certainly been the case. We were treated to the euphoric high of a last minute quarter-final extra time winner on Tuesday against Chelsea, and then on Friday news started to filter through that Sunderland fans will be exploited and bled dry on ticket prices for the semi-final.

It is important to stress that Sunderland AFC themselves have played a blinder here. For the first leg - the home leg - the club have set a price of £20 for all supporters. It's more than was charged for the quarter-final, but considering the occasion it is a tremendous gesture as far as I am concerned.

Sadly, Manchester United think differently. That is their prerogative, of course. It's their ground, their costs, they can pretty much set whatever ticket prices they want. But we are not talking about a one-off game here. It's a two-legged cup tie with each set of fans visited the other within a couple of weeks of each other, and traveling Sunderland fans will be forced to pay more than DOUBLE the price of their United counterparts.

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Frankly, it stinks and it is wrong. It's the same competition, the same cup tie. It's even the same month. There is no good reason - aside from greed - for the ticket prices for visiting fans to be so outrageously different.

The worst thing is that there isn't really much that can be done about it. I have seen plenty of proffered 'solutions', but not that are especially viable due to the ticketing rules of the competition. Some suggest, for example, that United fans should be charged £45 to enter the Stadium of Light for the first leg, but Sunderland cannot enforce that without also forcing their own fans to pay the same:

22.2.2 the admission prices to be charged to supporters of a Visiting Club shall not be higher than those charged to the supporters of the Home Club for comparable accommodation and in particular concessionary rates offered to senior citizens and junior supporters shall apply equally to both sets of supporters;

So no joy there, then. Oh well. Perhaps Manchester United could be punished for their greed by having a seriously restricted allocation for the first leg? Think again. Football League rules also specify that 15% of the ground be allocated for away fans.

Basically, and frustratingly, the club's hands are tied. Of course, Sunderland and Manchester United do have to agree upon the price set in the first place, as per regulation 22.1, and you could argue that perhaps a little more strength could have forced United's hand a little.

22.1 Immediately after the draw is known the two Clubs concerned must mutually agree the prices. All questions in dispute must be immediately referred to the Management Committee for settlement.

Though United's ticketing pricing is in line with what they have previously charged in other rounds, so they can claim precedent, as well as, I'm sure, make a case over higher policing and staff costs and so on and so forth... basically wrap the whole thing up in so much rubbish and bull that the 'Management Committee' can barely decipher it let alone rule upon it.

In truth, ticketing pricing policy for cup games has been a hot-topic for Sunderland fans for a while now. Many, including one or two on this site, have suggested that the club could include free home cup tickets as a perk of the season card. It's true, they could.

However, it is important to note that, for cup ties, tickets are not actually the club's to give away. As previously stated, prices have to be agreed upon and I'm sure the Football League take a slice too. Should Sunderland give tickets away for the competition, they'd have to pay for them themselves and essentially pay the visiting club to play them:

22.6 Where the Home Club issues season tickets which allow holders of such tickets free or discounted admission to a match in the Competition then the Home Club shall include within the Gross Receipts of the match an amount equivalent to the value of such Season Tickets, divided by the number of matches which the holder is entitled to attend without admission charge or at a reduced admission charge. Where the Home Club issues Season Tickets which allow holders of such tickets discounted admission to a match in the Competition then in calculating the amount to be included as Gross Receipts of the match any discounted admission price shall be excluded.

So all of this basically boils down to what it always boils down to now - rich football clubs intent on exploiting football fans passions to fuel their own greed. But it isn't Sunderland's greed that is fuelling this semi-final ticketing disgrace. They have done all they realistically could have, and the £20 price for admission to the home leg is good value. Credit to them.

If you want to blame someone, then blame Manchester United. They are in a position where by they can charge whatever they want for tickets because they have an almost unlimited demand. Such is life.

If there is one consolation, at least it mean Sunderland will receive a far greater sum of money for the second leg than United will from the first.

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