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By ESPN Staff

'Fans may stay away from OT'

The sight of empty seats at Old Trafford for Premiership games is now inevitable, according to a leading Manchester United fans' group.

United have confirmed an average season-ticket price rise of 12.3%, with some seats going up as much as 16.7%.

Although it is thought those with executive seats will be hardest hit by the rises, with a top price ticket now £39, it is claimed many fans will either be priced out of watching the Red Devils completely or choose a less expensive option of watching the game at the pub.

'Traditionally, there are three reasons for having a season ticket at Manchester United,' said Mark Longden, chairman of the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association.

'You were guaranteed to see every home game, you could apply for tickets to away games and you could get a cup final ticket.

'But the capacity has expanded so much United are pleading with people to buy season tickets now. There are so many, you would only have a one-in-two chance of getting a final ticket and less than a one-in-19 chance of getting into an away game.

'When you add in the amount of games that get switched, even the hardcore fan is going to think twice about spending £35 to go watch Birmingham at 5.15pm on a Saturday evening.

'It is far easier - and cheaper - to go and watch the game on TV in a pub somewhere, where, it has to be said, the atmosphere is often better as well.

'The more prices go up, the more people fall off the edge and, without a doubt, there will be empty seats for league games at Old Trafford next season.'

Despite expanding Old Trafford's capacity beyond 70,000 over the past decade, it is 15 years since United failed to sell out league games on a regular basis.

However, the club remain confident they will continue to play to packed houses, with finance director Nick Humby pointing out United, despite spending big money on star names such as Wayne Rooney, remain among the middle-ranking of Premiership clubs when it comes to buying a ticket.

'It is the time of year when football club directors become public enemy number one,' admitted Humby.

'But we strongly believe that the new ticket prices still represent the best value in the Premier League.

'We do not know what most of our rivals will charge next year but even a price freeze across the rest of the Premiership would mean that next year, only seven clubs will have a cheaper ticket than £23 and nine clubs will have a top price over £39 - in some cases almost double.'

Everyone attending games at the Theatre of Dreams next term will feel the pinch, with the exception of a supporter with two children who sit in the Family Stand, for whom the price of watching United will remain stagnant.

United have left open the possibility of fans being allowed to relocate to cheaper areas of the ground should space permit, while they have also scrapped the controversial 3% administration charge on cup tickets, but only for fans who join the equally contentious automatic cup ticket scheme.

'The cost of getting into Premiership games is too high and there are too many games on TV,' observed Longden.

'In fairness, United cannot be expected to do anything about that situation on their own, it would be nice to think they could use some of that £56million sponsorship money on subsidising the price of tickets.

'I appreciate what the club are saying about the pricing structure across the league but, if I can't afford to watch United play, it doesn't make me feel any better to be told Arsenal fans are paying even more.'