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Friday, September 19, 2008

Yet More Commentary re QPR Rising Prices

Tom Luntz - Guardian Blog

Long-suffering QPR fans forced to jump through financial hoops
With Rangers doing well on and off the pitch, it's galling for many fans that ticket prices have been hiked

There's always a price for success. For Julius Caesar it was a backstreet spinal tap, for a post-Croatia Theo Walcott it's the sour breath of a thousand hulking full-backs on his neck and for the Stereophonics it was, well, you've heard Just Enough Education To Perform, right? But the fans of QPR - currently fourth in the Championship - can put an exact figure on their stroll up the table: £40 for a home game against Derby.

Not too long ago, of course, QPR's supporters would have been happy to hear they'd still be paying to watch their team play anybody. Hoops fans had endured the humiliation of their side going from a team that often played the beautiful game at its most erotic – they finished fifth in the top flight in the early 90s too – to a side of League One also-rans. The fun didn't end there though; the club had a £10m loan they'd taken out from a mysterious Panamanian conglomerate hanging over its bowed head, was involved in a mass brawl with the nation of China, while the then chairman Gianni Paladini claimed he had a gun pulled on him by a fellow director (the allegation was thrown out in court). To top it all off the board even sunk so low as to appoint John Gregory manager.

But last year, with QPR just hours from administration, they were snapped up by Formula One supremos Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore, who were later joined by Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal, a man so rich he could probably buy a 0.32% share in Man City. Rather than Ridsdale-it-up, though, the new owners have invested in the club sensibly, paying off debts renovating the ground and bringing in good players on free transfers.

Last season was one of consolidation. Gregory departed in November and was replaced by Luigi Di Canio who got the team playing attractive football again. Unfortunately, he forgot to tell them to defend and they gave away leads again and again. This season, Iain Dowie has kept Di Canio's attacking ethos, but tightened up at the back – at Norwich on Wednesday QPR played 65 minutes with 10 men and still came away with a win.

So with the club doing well on and off the pitch, it's galling for many fans that ticket prices have been hiked. And it's happened more than once. "In the summer we were told season ticket prices would be going up by 10%," says Clive Whittingham of Loft for Words. "Many of the rises ended up being closer to 100%." This was compounded when prices for the Derby game went up too – a change that's set to be permanent for games against bigger sides (whether a side who set a host of new lows last season is a top club is an argument for another day). There's a bewildering array of tickets for games at Loftus Rd: Platinum, Silver, Bronze - chintzy names for what is essentially a plastic seat - but what it comes down to is that a good seat that cost £30 last week will now set you back £40.

"We feel like we're not being told the whole truth and we're being ripped off," says Whittingham. "£40 is ridiculously poor value to watch Championship football."

Derby County agree, and the Football League will rule today whether the price changes are fair. "We have stuck by our guns. We don't think it is fair to increase those prices," said Matt McCann, the Rams' head of communications.

According to QPR "the board has considered it a necessity to increase match-day prices to maintain budgets previously set. We are totally committed to building a sound financial base for the future." They also point out that you can get tickets for as little as £20, although many fans will point out that you might not be able to see one of the goals from your seat.

And then there's Briatore's sometimes baffling quotes, which bring in to question whether he thinks he's running a football club or a swish hotel. "Step by step we have been putting money into facilities so as to create a unique brand and concept; in essence a boutique stadium," he said earlier this season. "It is an exclusive side of football that will rely on service, style, the ability to look after people and an insistence on playing the game the right way. It is all part of our plan, and we must make sure we do things the right way."

It's a shame that it's come to this – despite Rangers' encouraging start to the season crowds have only passed 15,000 once, and price rises are likely have something to do with that - especially as Whittingham acknowledges that the vast majority of fans are grateful for what the new owners have done for them. It just seems very little reward for a set of fans that have stuck with their club through thin, thinner and gossamer.
Tom Lutz Posted by Tom Lutz Friday September 19 2008 - Guardian Blog

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