These days I don’t often write for The Tilehurst End, a site I helped found 12 or so years ago. But every now and then something happens that so engages or enrages me that I just have to set fingers to keyboard again. And this week one of those things has happened.
Because what I always really loved about Reading FC in the 47 years I’ve been supporting them is that no matter what happened on the pitch, and despite all the bumps along the way, their heart was in the right place and they always tried to do things the right way.
For instance, I love that they have been one of the clubs who always appeared to be on the side of supporters as much as was possible. They can only be applauded for signing up to a new ‘structured dialogue’ relationship with STAR in 2019, going much further in this than just about any other non-fan-owned club. And I really loved them for their stance of vocally and actively supporting “Twenty’s Plenty” and for publicly doing the right thing on offering fair and accessibly priced tickets to away supporters.
Those were the sort of things which reassured me that, despite the cock-ups in choosing managers, the cock-ups on the pitch and, especially, the cock-ups in complying with Football League FFP regulations, the club has a moral compass and it’s always been pointed in the right direction.
But suddenly, that moral compass has swung 180 degrees, almost as if Dr Jekyll has been replaced by Mr Hyde at Reading Football Club.
Because the club has decided to change their ticketing policy for away supporters to one openly designed to exploit the most money possible from them – by moving the first allocation to away clubs to the Upper West Stand, where tickets are the most expensive in the ground. Although some visiting clubs will be offered cheaper South Stand tickets, this will only happen once they have sold all of their Upper West allocation, and that’s not something likely to happen often next season.
The only thing to say in favour of this move is that at least the football club is being open and honest that they are doing this to exploit as much money from away supporters as possible – they actually say in their statement that:
“Moving visiting supporters to the Upper West also enables the club to charge a proportion of away fans a higher ticket price than we are currently able to. Regulations mean we are obligated to offer visiting supporters the same price as home fans when they are located within the same stand - but this change will mean we can charge a section of away supporters the Upper West matchday ticket price and increase revenue from visiting fans...”
Various other clubs in the past have adopted similar policies of “pricing to maximise revenue” rather than “pricing to maximise attendance” and have been frequently called out for this policy.
One example only a few years ago being Reading’s match at Elland Road in early 2020. Reading fans were rightly up in arms at the policy of Leeds only making the most expensive area of the ground available to visiting supporters, and there was a predictable storm when the home club’s Twitter crowed about Royals fans failing to snap up tickets at £39 each.
Reading are the latest club to not sell out their away allocation, so extra tickets have now been made available to #LUFC fans in the West Stand— Leeds United (@LUFC) February 17, 2020
Clearly, this level of pricing is wrong, and even the Leeds United Supporters Trust acknowledge this – their public response held up Reading as a beacon of how things should be done in their statement on ticket pricing.
This ability to charge higher prices was only made possible by Leeds United’s cynical manipulation of the Football League’s ticketing rules, something Reading have now decided to emulate. Various other clubs have done this from time to time – certainly, a few years ago Swindon Town received widespread criticism for deciding not to open their away standing end for some matches, leaving visiting supporters only the single option of paying higher prices to sit in expensive seats in the main stand.
But instead of being seen as a beacon of how things should be done to be fan-friendly, Reading will now be seen as the same kind of club that disdainfully exploits the regulations to get as much extra cash as they can from away supporters.
I know what some Reading supporters will be saying: “They charge us more, let’s charge them more” – as if it’s the supporters themselves who set the prices and benefit from them! But this kind of retaliatory pricing only ever works against supporters as it legitimises prices forever going up for all sets of fans.
And, of course, anyone who supports Reading’s policy of doing everything possible to charge away supporters higher prices immediately loses the moral high ground and any right to publicly criticise any other club who charges us as much as they possible can get away with when we visit their ground. From now on we have to just quietly pay up whatever a club we’re visiting decides to charge us, so the club’s move won’t just mean visitors to the SCL have to pay more – it’ll inevitably put up costs for Loyal Royals who follow the team at away matches.
Other Reading supporters will no doubt be saying that away fans won’t be paying any more than home fans pay in the Upper West, ignoring the fact that all those Reading fans in the Upper West have chosen to pay extra for that “premium accommodation” and could easily have chosen to sit elsewhere in the stadium for less money. That’s an option not being made available to visiting supporters, as effectively as if a train company no longer sold standard-class tickets and made everyone buy first-class tickets.
We all know *why* they’re doing this after the financial trials of the past few seasons, of course. And we all know that the loophole they’re using of only making the most expensive accommodation available is legal under Football League regulations.
But for me the question isn’t if Reading FC *can* do this. It’s whether they *should*. And it’s an unequivocal “no” from me. It’s cheap, tawdry and exploitative, openly being done to extract as much money as possible from visiting supporters, and it’ll make the club the pariahs of League One in the same way that Leeds were the pariahs of the Championship (and likely will be again next season!).
Come on, Reading – you’re much better than this!
Or at least used to be…