There is more money than ever in football as shown by the latest billion pound domestic Premier League TV deal and the record £460 million that the Premier League clubs spent in the summer 2009 transfer window. Despite this influx of revenue, many have argued that ticket prices do not allow the average fan to be able to take his family to a Premier League game. Similarly, some clubs have been made aware of the legal implications of imposing certain conditions on paying fans. Fans groups have in recent months been at the forefront of challenging the ticketing policies of certain clubs.
The Legal Framework
There are two key pieces of legislation that set out the means by which ticketing policies can be challenged. These are the Competition Act 1988 (the “Act”) and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contract Regulations 1999 (the “Regulations”).
The Act makes abuses of a dominant position unlawful. From a football fan’s perspective, this means that a football club cannot use the fact that it is the only supplier of tickets for its club’s matches to charge sky-high prices or attach unreasonably restrictive terms to the tickets. The Regulations are designed to protect consumers against unfair terms in contracts. This means that fans who purchase tickets which are subject to unfair terms will not be bound by them. It is important to note, that “unfair” is not a defined concept and it is only the court which can decide whether a term is unfair or not.
What bodies are there to help?
Bodies like the Office of Fair Trading (the OFT) and local authority trading standards, can take legal action by investigating possible breaches of the Act and Regulations. There are also organisations such as the Football Supporters’ Federation, which is currently campaigning for lower away ticket prices (1). The OFT, however, is the main investigatory body. Two examples of the OFT’s recent involvement, concern Tottenham and Manchester United.
Refunds – Tottenham Hotspur FC (2)
In November 2008, Spurs fans complained to Haringey Trading Standards Service due to the condition displayed on the club website that “'tickets cannot be refunded or exchanged under any circumstances”. This meant that if fixtures were rescheduled and fans could not attend the revised match, fans who had bought tickets would not be able to claim a refund. The OFT held that such a term was likely to breach the Regulations and secured an agreement from Tottenham Hotspur FC to amend its terms and conditions and the club swiftly removed the term from its website. The OFT simultaneously issued a reminder to all football clubs “to ensure their terms are compliant with this aspect of the law” (3).
Season Tickets – Manchester United (4)
Manchester United was bought out by the Glazer family in 2005 and since then many fan groups believe that season ticket prices have risen sharply. The club made its Automatic Cup Scheme (ACS) compulsory for the 2007/8 season. The scheme meant that season ticket holders who bought tickets to league fixtures were compelled to pay for tickets to the home games in all competitions, with the result that the cost of some season tickets rose to £1,414.
If supporters did not hand over their credit card details, they risked having their season tickets voided. The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) approached the OFT asking it to investigate the club’s ticketing policy on the grounds that the club had i) breached the Act by abusing its dominant position by raising ticket prices unfairly; and ii) breached the Act and Regulations by forcing supporters to buy tickets to all home fixtures, not just league games. After the OFT found a number of potentially unfair terms, the club revised its season ticket rules and regulations. The club also issued fans with clearer information about the cost of their season tickets.
Model Terms - STAR
On 22 July 2009, the OFT announced the introduction of model terms and conditions (5) for the sale of tickets which were created following discussions between the OFT and the Society of Ticket Agents and Resellers (“STAR”). Whilst no football club is a member, such action creates a standard against which fans can measure the ticketing terms and conditions of their own clubs.
Noise of discontent
The Virgin Money’s Football Fan’s Inflation Index showed that ‘the cost of being a football supporter has risen by 36 per cent since 2006’ (6). At every level of the football pyramid from the Premier League to the Football League and Ryman League fans believe supporting their team should be more affordable. There however continues to be attempts by clubs and leagues to offer special ticket deals for certain matches (albeit one’s which are probably not that popular!). Whilst there have only been two challenges of note, fan activism may well result in further complaints being submitted to the OFT in the future. This may result in full investigations taking place into ticketing policies. The moral of the story appears to be for clubs to ensure they are fully advised on the legality of their ticketing policies. Fans should also be similarly aware of their rights when purchasing tickets.
By Daniel Geey and Emma Brownlow-Smith
About our Editor
Daniel Geey is a solicitor in the Competition and EU Regulatory Group at FFW. Daniel has a keen interest in sports law and has experience indealing with English Premier League Rules and broadcasting revenues. Hehas written various articles which have included competition issuesrelating to the Premier League's television deal as well as papers onEuropean football broadcasting rights, club ownership, takeover codeissues as they
relate to football clubs and copyright issues regarding football broadcasts.
The FFW Sports Group has, over the past six years, establisheditself as one of the leading providers of legal advice to the sportsindustry. The Group acts for sports bodies and regulators, marketingagencies, sponsors, sports brand owners, broadcasters and professionalclubs. Our expertise in sports sector ranges from advising onregulatory and disciplinary issues to advice on TV and media rights,sponsorship and sports marketing, the acquisition and funding of sportsbusiness, brand protection, betting and gaming, merchandising,ticketing, endorsement, litigation and stadia development. Thispublication is provided for information purposes only and is not asubstitute for detailed advice on specific transactions and should notbe taken as providing legal advice on any of the topics discussed, norshould it be taken as creating a solicitor-client relationship betweenthe reader and Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP.
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