For the fans of Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea – reaching the final of a European competition is the pinnacle of their season – something to revel in; a chance to make history for their clubs and take part in games beamed around the world, on the most grandiose of stages. The majority of these fans will gather friends around to watch the game or pop down to the local pub to watch it with like-minded fans. What makes this years’ finals extra-special is that they are all-English affairs, creating fervent atmospheres both in the UK and across the world. But whilst this is going on we should remember the poor (and they will be after attending these games) souls who are actually travelling to watch the games in Madrid and Baku.
Showpiece events = gold mines
A lot has been written about the illogical decision to host the Europa League final in Baku – a decision which few people could argue on behalf of. In fact I’m not even sure that UEFA themselves are convinced by their own decision; especially after seeing Henrikh Mkhitaryan announce that he wasn’t going to be travelling with the Arsenal squad because of security concerns, as an Armenian potentially playing in an Azerbaijani stadium. Neverless the game will be played in Baku, and like all big showpiece sporting events these days: it will nicely line the pockets of the organisers with much of it at the genuine fans expense. On a side note: The farce of Mkhitaryan not travelling because of safety fears is likely to be a preview of the Qatari world cup. I certainly wouldn’t want to be there if I was homosexual – despite their assurances.
You see, both FIFA and UEFA use these big events to make as much money as possible – even it means hosting an event in a country with questionable human rights records or little/no football history to speak of. They use the veil of ‘spreading the reach of the game’ as justification for hosting such a prestigious occasion in Doha or Baku rather than Dublin or Buenos Aires. As if somehow, we’re supposed to believe that after an event has taken place here there will suddenly be an explosion in grass-roots uptake and love of the sport in the host countries. Well, if Qatar win the 2034 World Cup then I will happily eat humble pie (or Luqaimat).
At least the Champions League final will be held in a city steeped in football history, with two fantastic clubs. Importantly, the city is also adequately set up to cope with the huge influx of fans travelling to the game; a tiny proportion of whom will actually have tickets – but a larger majority who want to be there for the party atmosphere. Unfortunately, whilst it is little over a couple of hours away from both clubs, it isn’t exactly going to be cheap.
Let’s start with the travel as even the airline operators have been piling in to take advantage of fans. Some flights direct from the UK to Madrid have been selling for over £1,300 for a return. The Liverpool Metro Mayor tweeted Easyjet to express his disgust at prices being hiked up. What’s worse is that even the chartered flights are around £600! To put that in context: many of the same fans travelling could have had a week-long holiday in Madrid for the same price. Now you might argue that it’s simple supply and demand economics taking place here, and I wouldn’t disagree with you. However, if these companies weren’t trying to squeeze the maximum out of fans they could very well increase the supply of flights available. But bar a couple of additional chartered flights; they don’t. To be clear – even if these airlines laid on several more flights they would still be making a tidy profit. The cynical view would be that it’s not worth their effort when they could just allow the remaining seats in their existing flights go to the highest bidder.
There are other ways than flying to reach Madrid, and they may be lest costly but let’s be realistic: a lot of these fans have families and can’t justify driving to Madrid and the time that would take. Nor should we accept that fans are forced into considering cheaper forms of transport that come with significantly increased travel times. Unfortunately for Arsenal and Chelsea fans, there are only 3 direct flights per week to Baku. In fact it’s even further to Baku than to Baghdad! Travelling to this far-flung region of Eurasia will set fans back around £1,300 with at least one change along the way. Let that sink in – £1,300 is about the same amount as the most expensive Chelsea season ticket costs. Yep, you could go and watch all of Chelsea’s home games next season for roughly the same price as it will cost you to watch the game in Baku. Incredible.
Both Liverpool and Tottenham have made the headlines in the last few days for issuing lifetime bans to a handful of their ‘fans’ who have been caught selling their final tickets at exorbitant prices on third-party ticketing sites. Apparently some Liverpool fans were attempting to sell such tickets at an eye-watering price of £4,500. This was a decisive and heart-warming decision by the clubs and should be applauded. Most, if not all, genuine fans of football clubs would never attempt to try and fleece their fellow fans out of hundreds or even thousands of pounds as a price for loyalty. What this heinous act also does, is to help condone the shameful ticket pricing of these big events in the first place. What incentive is there for UEFA to have a reasonable ticket-pricing strategy for these events when they know that fans will pay multiples of these prices through second-hand purchases? It really is a disgusting act and those ‘fans’ have now paid the ultimate price with the punishments that have been meted out.
Putting the price for the Europa League match in Baku aside for a second, Chelsea and Arsenal have been allocated a derisory 6,000 tickets each for this show-piece event. Bear in mind that between them, they have an average combined weekly attendance of over 100,000 fans. Now, UEFA might have been banking on a final between BATE Borisov and FC Zurich when the round of 32 draw was made – which may have merited such paltry allocations, but unfortunately for them it hasn’t. Did they really think that whoever was going to make the final would be happy with just 6,000 tickets each? Their decision about allocation of tickets is an unashamedly bad example of corporate greed.
Getting back to the price. Scrutinising UEFA’s disingenuous rhetoric about Baku being chosen as the setting for the Europa League final because of its attempt to ‘spread the game’, it is obvious that it doesn’t really stack up. I don’t understand the Azerbaijani economy overly well but I’m guessing that 30Euros is a decent sum of money for most locals. I’m betting that 140Euros certainly is. So there you go: UEFA have awarded the final to a country that is extremely difficult and expensive to get to and whose local population are going to have to pay through the nose to watch the game. Well done, UEFA!
Even a full month out from the final of the Champions League in Madrid, there was scarcely an available room for anything much less than £1,000. Some hotels (who shall remain nameless) were selling rooms for more than 18x what they had cost for the week before. Even with supply and demand economics it this cannot be interpreted as anything other than corporate greed. Let’s not kid ourselves and think that there are no rooms available; there are. But even as of two weeks ago – if you wanted to stay in a 4* hotel for 2 nights in Madrid around match day, you would be looking at somewhere in the region of £1500 for a room that would have cost you around £300 a few weeks previously.
Due to the limited number of allocated tickets and ridiculously difficult travel journey for Chelsea and Arsenal fans to reach Baku, hotels are not as comparatively overpriced as their Madrid counterparts. Nevertheless they are still extortionate when compared to their normal prices. A quick search today, a week before the game shows that the cheapest price for a 2-night stay in a 4* hotel that’s located a mile or less from the city centre in Baku during game time will set you back £789.
It’s happened before and it will happen again
The final of a major European club competition should be a memorable occasion for the participating clubs’ fans. They shouldn’t have to feel as though they are being punished for their teams success. Yes sure, they could stay at home and watch it; and many will because of the travel, ticket and hotel costs involved – but is that right? A season ticket-holder that’s traveled home and away to all of their clubs games that season shouldn’t have to miss the (arguably) most important game of their season because of corporate greed. And that’s what these events (and most/all major sporting events nowadays) now symbolise. Good luck to the fans of all 4 English clubs involved in these finals; the average fan stands in solidarity with your unfair plight.