Fenway Sports Group deserve praise but ticket prices remain an issue
That Liverpool's owners, Fenway Sports Group, have not only relented on their initial plans to raise ticket prices at Anfield next season, but also apologised for them, was unquestionably a victory for fan power and showed that, by sticking together, they can make a difference.
However, there is more work to do and praise for Wednesday's news needs to be tempered. That's because, even with those concessions made, supporters will not pay any less to watch their team. FSG didn't make some grand gesture of generosity; essentially all that happened was that they agreed to keep prices at an unacceptable level, rather than raising them to an even more unacceptable one.
Ticket prices at Liverpool -- and many other Premier League clubs -- are still too high, but FSG's willingness to back down is certainly a step in the right direction and should diffuse some of the animosity directed towards them by supporters, who had become increasingly irritated by being treated as customers rather than loyal fans.
Putting a freeze on ticket prices for two years does not solve the problem, but it is a compromise that gives both club and supporters some breathing space in which to find a better long term solution that will hopefully lead to reductions in future.
"Message received" read the statement signed by FSG's John W Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon and acknowledgement that they misjudged the situation was refreshing and also a little surprising. Yet it shouldn't have taken over 10,000 fans to walk out of a game for that message to get through, and you have to wonder just what kind of advice the owners were getting from the Merseyside-based club hierarchy, and specifically chief executive Ian Ayre.
So what happens now? The upcoming TV deal means Premier League clubs will share a cash windfall in excess of eight billion pounds over the next few years. However, it seems unlikely that ticket prices will be lowered, even though clubs would still make more money than ever before, and the biggest reason for that are player salaries and agent fees.
Players are already obscenely overpaid, while their agents take millions out of the game, often for doing very little. It's ludicrous that these representatives can be paid millions for facilitating a transfer between three willing parties. Clubs used to manage just fine negotiating with each other, yet now everything has to go through agents. Why?
The agent represents the player, so they should be the ones paying for their services, not the clubs, yet Liverpool paid over £14 million to agents last year. The clubs don't even need to make public to whom they are paying these fees. How is that in any way acceptable? Thus, while FSG bore the brunt of fan outrage last weekend, they are only part of a wider problem and, indeed, cane be seen as victims themselves as they are held hostage to the escalating demands of players and agents.
If they don't spend, supporters will criticise them and it's difficult for any club to take a stand against player wages and transfer fees when none of their competitors do. Liverpool could refuse to pay agents, slash ticket prices and set a cap on player salaries but, if nobody else follows suit, then they will not be able to compete. Let's face it, they're finding it difficult enough to compete as it is!
As Liverpool supporters showed, unity is strength, and so it's hard to understand why clubs are not getting together and asking one another: "What on earth are we doing handing all this money over to agents?" If everyone agreed that, from now on, they would not pay a single penny to agents -- transferring responsibility for that to the players -- it would be the end of those fees, at least in England.
If clubs took a stand against agents, it could also help to control player salaries. Take West Ham's Dmitri Payet this week as an example. After six good months in the Premier League he is reportedly using reported interest from China as leverage to get more an improved contract.
So his club have a choice; either refuse to pay and risk losing him to China, or give him what he wants. The money is there from the new TV deal, so most teams in the Hammers' position will bow down to the player -- and his agent. As long as that keeps happening, ticket prices will not come down.
The more money that comes into the game, the more competitive the market for players becomes and the more clubs will try to outdo each other. The end result is that the match-going supporter suffers while footballers of varying quality become millionaires from just one contract. Only the clubs can do something about that, but it doesn't look like there is any collective desire to do so.
That's where fan power has to come in. If supporters across England want lower ticket prices, they need to stick together and fight back. Liverpool fans did and saw immediate results. Had FSG not responded to the protest, next time it might have been 20,000 or more walking out.
But the fight must continue: Only the clubs can control the money going out of the game but, if that's going to happen, they'll need a big shove in the right direction from the match-going fan.