Manchester City ticket prices in focus after Vincent Kompany's comments
Manchester City's fans have enjoyed some of the best football the Premier League has ever seen this season. Yet while Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling have been lighting up the pitch, the supporters in the stands tend to be ready and waiting to be entertained -- rather than trying to do their bit to lift the team and get the magic happening.
Most weeks, the Etihad is at capacity. Some weeks, though, it isn't -- and that's not something you'd expect of a team playing the quality of football that City are right now. Fans should be banging on the doors to get in and when they're there, they should be making the atmosphere as hostile as they can for opponents.
Of course, this isn't a City-only problem, but the club does have the opportunity to do something about it. One of the biggest issues facing supporters at the moment is ticket prices, a field where City aren't the worst offenders, but where they are complicit in not addressing the issue. Why would supporters contribute to a rocking atmosphere if the majority are feeling like they've had to pay through the nose to get in?
City's supporter-base largely comes from a working class background. The prices those fans have to pay to get in make up a large part of their income and at a time where the cost of living is higher than ever before, it's hardly surprising that some have to pick and choose what games to go to. That means much of the most vociferous support isn't always at the match -- and when it is, it has every right to want its money's worth from those on the pitch.
Vincent Kompany spoke to the BBC about Premier League ticket prices, urging top flight clubs to lower them to avoid pricing fans out of going to watch their team. City should be taking note. They're approaching a tipping point, because often when fans have given up their seat they don't come back.
The club could point to season ticket waiting lists and a nearly-full Etihad each week, but it gives a false impression. It values the casual match-goer, who may not even be that invested in Manchester City and who just wants to see some top quality Premier League football, as the same as the die-hard life-long supporters, who will make far more noise. It suggests they don't care who is in the seats, providing someone is and the money is being paid.
They could also point to their cheapest £299 season ticket, which offers a handful of fans the option of one of the best value-for-money purchases in the Premier League. There are too few of those available for it to be much more than a token gesture.
For context, City froze their season ticket prices at the end of 2015-16 -- which saw the club scrape to a disappointing fourth-placed finish, beating Manchester United to the Champions League qualifier spot on goal difference alone. That was the first time in almost a decade that the cost hadn't risen, though that changed at the end of 2016-17, when an average of two percent was put on prices.
In an era where City -- and all others in the top flight -- have more commercial partners than ever and more income from television channels broadcasting their product across the world, they can afford to cut the fans some slack.
When Pep Guardiola was asked about Kompany's comments at his prematch news conference ahead of the 4-1 FA Cup win over Burnley, he quickly shot back that he's "Not the CEO". After a moment's thought, and as the next question was being put to him, he added that he believes the CEO always wants what's best for the fans.
It was a big opportunity missed for the manager, who has spent a lot of time over his 18-months' worth of news conferences calling for the fans to get behind the team and help them when they really need it. Had he agreed with the captain, it could have sent a message to Ferran Soriano that action needs to be taken.
This is an issue that all fans of all clubs should be getting behind. Half-empty stadiums don't look good when a product is being sold worldwide like the Premier League, so instead of laughing about how many empty seats there are at rivals' grounds, supporters should be wondering why so many now choose to view their team's football in other ways.
City could be at the forefront of a movement to drive the cost of going to games down for their fans, off the back of Kompany's comments. The ticket prices for next season are only a few months away and the business people at the club will already be in discussions about them. Supporters will wait with bated breath to see if the captain's words have had any effect.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney