Why UEFA clearly don’t care

Last week the prices for the Champions League final at Wembley were announced, to shock, and a fair dose of anger. They were always going to be expensive of course, but the prices were above what even a cynic would have expected, and the booking fee on top is nothing short of a disgrace.

Some 11,000 tickets will go on sale to the general public costing £300, £225 and £150 plus a £26 “administration fee”. An allocation of 50,000 tickets which will be reserved for fans of the two finalists will include “category four” tickets at £80 each, according to UEFA but the Football Supporters Federation condemned the prices as being too high.

“These prices are absolutely outrageous and take ticket pricing to an absurdly stratospheric new level,” said the Football Supporters’ Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke. “In a difficult economic climate, not only in this country but across Europe, where supporters may be coming from, this represents disgraceful exploitation of fans.”

The cost of Champions League final tickets has rocketed since Manchester United played Barcelona in Rome 2009. The category three tickets have almost doubled since then, when they cost £80. The new ticket prices represent an increase of around 15% in each category on those for last year’s final between Internazionale and Bayern Munich in Madrid.

But then UEFA don’t really care if you or I are bankrupted by attending a football match. They will sell the tickets, and they will make their money. And after all, that is what is important to UEFA – the organisation supposedly there to run the game we love in Europe, like its dad FIFA, is often little more than a licence to print money.

Its director of competitions, Giorgio Marchetti, argues that its pricing is fair and reasonable. “This is the market price,” he said in London last weekend. “Do you think we would have trouble filling Wembley if the prices were higher?”

Well no, they wouldn’t – they could fill the ground with corporate junkies alone – but that hardly makes it fair.

UEFA do not need to make £14m off one football game (the amount I read they are expected to clear this year). They do not need money so desperately to insist on clear rows of seats at the front of every Champions League game so that their “commercial partners” can advertise their products.

But then we shouldn’t act surprised. FIFA act like gods during a World Cup tournament, forcing the South African government to change laws to suit their needs and expecting money transfer edicts to be by-passed so they can move their millions around freely. They will happily hold a world cup in the middle of the desert, alienating virtually all true football fans.

We should be thankful that England didn’t win the World Cup bid really. Because, as a FIFA spokesman told the BBC last May, when asked about England’s bid to host the World Cup: “Any host country requires a comprehensive tax exemption to be given to FIFA and further parties involved in the hosting and staging of an event.”

Yes, that’s right, this supposed non-profit organisation expect (and they get) free movement of money without paying tax. There is an extensive (and I mean EXTENSIVE) document available online that details what FIFA expect of a world cup host. It makes for staggering reading.

Let’s not forget, FIFA has over a billion dollars sitting in its bank accounts – why? Saving it for a rainy day?

Oh sorry, my mistake. Sepp Blatter has just updated that figure. It seems the finals in South Africa went swimmingly for him and his cronies. He has announced that FIFA now has reserves of $1.2 bn (£740m). Blatter told African football adminstrators that the financial results were better than the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany. He has said more details of its success will be published next week (the beginning of March 2011) in Fifa’s annual report. They have argued it is a reserve in case of a cancelled world cup – they say the money would last 18 months. So that’s ok then. They obviously have some inside information on an upcoming world war.

Continue to the NEXT PAGE…

But back to UEFA, and let’s not forget another true act of selflessness from them – moving the Champions League final from a Wednesday to a Saturday in order to help children and families attend. For after all, the children are our future.

“I did not see many children or families in Athens because Wednesday is a school night,” said Michel Platini when his intentions were announced in 2007. “Moving it to Saturday should make it more of a family occasion.”

And it gets better. Giorgio Marchetti announced last week that there would be a special rate for the kids for this year’s final at Wembley. “That’s also why we put some tickets from children at a discounted price,” said Marchetti. “That’s a 50% discount for the child.” What a beautiful gesture. I may have been too hard on UEFA after all.

Yeah, right. Of the initial 11,000 allocation to ‘neutral’ fans, only 500 of these ‘youth’ packages will be available, and only in the ‘Category 2’ price range. Category 2 means 2nd most expensive tickets, so the cost to take a family of four (the group Platini was so keen to be a part of future finals) will cost a very reasonable £702, which includes the £26 admin fee. That’s if you live in Europe – it’s an extra tenner if you don’t. But hey – as football365.com pointed out, it does include the postage.

Marchetti has also said: “The prices are based on the type of event and when you compare it to other events we don’t think that the Champions League final is overpriced. We do not want to squeeze every single penny out of the market. We have to benchmark this event against other comparable events like for example the final of the Euros and the World Cup.”

Football365.com commented on this: Ignoring the fact that cheapest tickets for the 2009 final were £80, and they’re up 40% since last year, let’s take a look at some comparable prices. When even FIFA offer the little guy a better deal, start worrying.

A ticket for the final day of last year’s Ryder Cup cost 130 Euros. A pass for Centre Court on Men’s Final day at Wimbledon would’ve set you back £102. The cheapest available ticket for the 100 metres final at the 2012 Olympics is £50. And a few South African residents got into the World Cup final last year for £10.

An article in the NY Times this week made for even more boggling reading.

What is fair to the administrators is foul to a whole generation of fans who live for and through the sport. Not even counting the £4,000-per-person cost of the corporate seats, or the 25,000 tickets reserved for members of what is euphemistically called the UEFA and FIFA Family, this treatment of the ordinary fan is obscene. You have to buy a ticket now by credit card payment directly to UEFA, and even the full payment up front does not guarantee you a ticket. If the event is oversubscribed, customers go into a lottery and wait to see who gets in. Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager whose stadium at Old Trafford is invariably filled to capacity, called the Champions League pricing “a killer, and a corporate deal.”

Also last week, the organisations that push financial fair play and rally against the extortion of the people found themselves in court, challenging the right of the British (and Belgian) government to designate the World Cup and European Championships as guaranteed ‘free to air’ events.

The right to view the biggest tournaments in the world without paying for it twice, was seen by them as a ‘disproportionate and unjustified distortion of competition on the relevant market’ and that the ‘Crown Jewels’ rule was a ‘restriction of the way in which the applicant may market the television rights to the Euro Championships.’ Or to put it another way – our government was stopping UEFA and FIFA from making even more money. Well thankfully, their bid failed.

And yet UEFA are not always out for pure profit. For a similar operation, the Europa League final in Dublin on May 18 (though obviously not as high-profile), tickets are from €50 to €135. The administrative charge is €15. The women’s Champions League final in London, two day before the men’s, carries an administrative fee of just £5.

Marchetti said: “I hope you don’t think the men’s final and women’s final have the same target of people. We are not making a profit. We have different targets and objectives for the women’s final.”

FIFA take the World Cup to places like Qatar because they say they want to spread the word and make the game accessible to everyone. But when it costs hundreds of pounds to go to a football match, that promise looks pretty empty to me.