Safe Standing could come to Old Trafford, with Manchester United reportedly exploring a ‘rail seat’ trial according to fanzine Red News. Rail seats are dual-mode seats that can either be used as a traditional seat, or locked in an upright position with a bar in place to safely support standing fans.
The technology is widely used in Germany, where standing is legal, while Bristol City have recently installed them at Ashton Gate. In the Bundesliga clubs use rail seats both to increase capacity, boost atmosphere during domestic games, and offer supporters reasonably priced tickets.
However, legislation in the UK currently demands one seat per fan in the Premier League, with traditional standing only permitted in the lower leagues and sports other than football. It is likely a change in legislation would be required to allow safe standing in the Premier League, with up to eight Premier League clubs believed to be supportive of the change according to the Daily Mail.
UEFA does not permit standing of any kind in its competitions, meaning stadia such as Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion lock the seats up for Bundesliga matches and down for the Champions League.
The potential increase in capacity in ‘seat up’ mode depends on the ratio of standing fans to seats, with any Old Trafford trial thought likely to begin at 1:1. Some stadia, such as Bayer Leverkusen’s BayArena, operates safe standing with two fans to each installed seat. The Westfalenstadion provides standing accommodation for 27,000 fans.
However, the cost is not insignificant, with rail seats costing up to 60 per cent more per seat to install than the traditional variety. Clubs converting blocks not ordinarily due for maintenance will face a significant additional capex bill, although installations costs could be offset by a higher capacity. Whether the Glazer family is prepared to push for rail seats, fund installation and lower prices is an open and relevant question.
And even if the cost and legislative issues are resolved there is still the emotive issue of standing in England; rail seats may have little do to with the terraces of old, but memories of the Hillsborough disaster remain fresh.
Over the past two decades the average age of supporters inside Old Trafford has been on a steady incline. The price of tickets, and the ever ‘ageing’ population of season ticket holders, has served to generate a changing demographic of match-going Manchester United supporters. Indeed, surveys conducted by the Premier League suggest that the average age an adult match-goer is 41 across the country. United is no different.
Increasing price increases mean that teenagers now struggle to attend matches as they have in the past, whether this as part of a group or with the family. This pattern has a negative impact on the development of United’s next generation of Reds, and reduces the matchday atmosphere, which is often more lively when younger fans are encouraged to attend.
It’s a challenge that could impact on United’s commercial business too. After all, young audiences are keenly sought by major global brands, and United could well alienate a key demographic, negatively impacting the club’s strategy. This is a rare area where supporters’ needs and commercial reality are very well aligned.
Yet, there are measures that can be taken – and some clubs are ahead of the curve in realising the long-term risk of disenfranchising the young. United Rant, in collaboration with Republik of Mancunia and other fans groups, is calling on United to introduce an area at Old Trafford which is designated for teenagers only. We believe that ticket price for this area should be considerably lower than the rest of the ground to encourage take-up.
It’s an initiative that can offer only upside for fans and the club – as rivals have found out. Arsenal have introduced a similar area for 1,000 teenagers this season, albeit for specific matches, at a cost to the club of just £400,000 in annual revenues. Tickets in this section cost no more than £10. Other clubs, such as Fulham and West Ham United, offer a ‘kids for a quid’ scheme. Even Manchester City regularly sell League Cup tickets for £5 to teenagers.
The average age of residents at Rant towers may also be on the increase, but we remember well standing on the Stretford End for less than £2 in the mid-1980s. That’s a little over £5 in today’s money. Prices are unlikely to drop that far today, but the club can do something about making the game just a little more affordable.
Manchester United owners the Glazer family has struck a secret multi-million pound deal with PepsiCo to rename Old Trafford. The deal, which will come into effect from the start of the 2012-13 season, will bring more than £400 million into the club coffers over the next 10 years, a source close to the deal exclusively revealed to United Rant this week.
United’s home stadium since 1910 will be renamed ‘Pepsi Cola Old Trafford’ from August 2012, according to documents seen by Rant, and then simply Pepsi Field from 2015. The deal does not initially include shirt sponsorship, although Pepsi is believed to have an option to take over shirt sponsorship from AON, when United’s deal with the insurance firm concludes in three years. It could push the total value of the deal to more than £60 million per season.
The historic deal, brokered by United’s London-based commercial team headed by Edward Woodward, will be greeted with delight by United’s bean counters, while it will likely draw anger from those supporters opposed to changing more than 100 years of Old Trafford history.
Secret talks with the giant New York-based American soft drinks and snacks company, which turned over more than $57 billion in 2010, have been taking place for more than six months the source told Rant. PepsiCo Europe is said to have day-to-day responsibility for the groundbreaking sponsorship, although New York senior management were required to signed off on the deal, which is believed to be the biggest of its kind in football.
“Make no mistake this is a done deal,” the source, who did not want to be named, told Rant.
“The Glazer family is secretly delighted with the deal, although they know that it will bring an angry reaction from some fans’ groups. But just as the Green and Gold protest has gone away, the Glazers know that as long as Sir Alex Ferguson keeps delivering results on the pitch, commercial activity will be unaffected by fans’ complaints.
“Pepsi is one of the most active American companies in sports sponsorship, but rarely outside of North America. This is a strategic move for the company to build an even bigger global audience. United has been tracking this deal for months, perhaps even years. Joel Glazer pulled out all the stops to seal it.”
Pepsi, through its cola brands, Gatorade and snack products, has sponsorships across a number of sports, including Major League Baseball, American Football and Ice Hockey. Pepsi has won naming rights, or other stadia sponsorship deals, at several venues in north America, including Citi Field baseball stadium and the new Yankee Stadium in New York. Elsewhere, Pepsi brands sponsor NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, snowboarder Hannah Teter, and American sports stars Eli Manning and Michael Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Glazers are still believed to be planning an IPO in Asian in autumn 2012, seeking $1 billion for up to 30 per cent of the family’s stock. United remains more than £400 million in debt, with supporters’ groups estimating that up to half a billion pounds has been spent on debt repayment, interest and other fees by the Glazers since the family’s controversial 2005 takeover.
“The IPO will go ahead, but only on the Glazers terms,” said the source, who is intimate with United’s commercial machinery.
“The deal with Pepsi, the float, it’s part of the family’s plan to ensures that the Glazers can send much of the IPO gains back to the States, while still growing United’s commercial revenue. On the field you’ll eventually see United wearing Pepsi shirts, drinking Gatorade drinks and touring whatever markets Pepsi needs to break, especially Africa, India and China. It’ll be the ‘Pepsi Manchester Globetrotters’, but at least the players won’t be thirsty on their travels.”
Naming rights are a widespread phenomenon in north American, even for established stadia, but far less common in Europe. Both Arsenal’s home at the ‘Emirates’ and Manchester City’s Etihad Campus were new, or relatively new builds. Meanwhile, Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley courted controversy, renaming St James’ Park the Sports Direct Arena. Indeed, supports recently defaced the Sports Direct signage, while refusing to use the new name. However, most media outlets have reverted to the new branding.
“Old Trafford is an iconic name, with more than a century of history, but such is the longevity of the deal with Pepsi that it will eventually disappear,” said Olaf Priol, Director of Sports Business Group, Deloitte.
“The Glazers are playing the long game. They know that this will bring anger, but fans have been angry for six years and what has it achieved. The family has struck a huge deal that will boost the club’s enterprise value just months short of floatation.
“Fans might be angry at losing the Old Trafford name, but the Glazers will be thinking ‘Screw the fans, United just won the Pepsi Challenge’.”
While the news is hardly unexpected – the club have been looking at options for expanding the single tier South Stand for some time now – it is welcome for the thousands of fans who are locked out of many of United’s home matches. But the development poses some real questions: is the move designed solely to increase turnover at debt-ridden United, or will any of the new seats be offered at affordable prices?
Since Old Trafford was converted to an all-seater stadium in 1992, at a capacity of just 44,000, there has been continual expansion in size and facilities. Firstly, the club added more than 11,000 new seats by building the giant three-tiered North Stand in 1995. Further seating was then added with second-tiers built on the East and West Stands. The North East and North West Quadrant second-tiers were completed in 2006 to restore something of a bowl to the stadium for the first time since 1992.
The new project will is likely comprise of two phases and has two potential outcomes. Firstly, completing the second-tiers of the South East and South West Quadrants, for an additional 8,000 seats. This has always been a matter of time and money as the expansion would use very little extra land.
Secondly, building a three-tier replication of the North Stand on the South side of the stadium that will add an additional 11,000 seats for a new Old Trafford capacity of 95,212. However, the South Stand expansion is a much more complex project because of the Manchester to Liverpool railway line and Manchester United FC Halt station that lies behind the stand. Any project will be affected by the presence of the track, with either a two or three tier new stand certain to overhang or possibly be built over the railway. This will necessitate the club buying up to 50 houses on Railway Road and create a far more difficult planning process.
A less expensive two tier addition to the South Stand is also believed to be under consideration by the board and would not be built over the railway tracks. This would create a final Old Trafford capacity of about 91,212, similar to Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu but well short of Barcelona’s soon-to-be expanded Camp Nou at 106,000.
When United last conducted a feasability study on the project the costs came out at more than £100 million and are unlikely to have fallen in the meantime. With club debt at more than £700 million and rising there must be serious doubts about how the club could fund the project without rolling the costs into the club’s ongoing bank and PIK debt.
The debt also quashes the mooted possibily of a reduction in ticket prices. After all more seats equals more revenue, and financing a stadium expansion together with debt repayment will require a lot of extra revnue. One of the reasons why United were one of the only top clubs in the country to raise ticket prices for next season, in the depths of the worst recesion since the 1930s.