Below is the open letter sent to Manchester United following our initial meeting to discuss atmosphere and stadium development. We intend to follow up on the issues contained therein with a series of further discussions particularly concentrating on the areas where we can start to make an impact in the short term, such as the Family Stand and Exec seats in the Stretford End. However we believe that stadium expansion is essential in the longer term to deal with the major challenges which exist so we will be returning to this in the future.
It should be noted we do not support any compulsory relocations so any such changes will happen through natural churn or voluntary relocation.
We have received approximately 300 submissions from supporters but we continue to encourage comments from Season Ticket holders and other match going fans via the form here: http://action.joinmust.org/stadium
M.U.S.T18 Sir Matt Busby WayMANCHESTERM16 0QGwww.joinmust.org@MU_ST
14th February 2018
Richard ArnoldGroup Managing Director Manchester United Football ClubOld TraffordSir Matt Busby WayMANCHESTERM16 0RA
ATMOSPHERE & STADIUM DEVELOPMENT - SUPPORTER CONSULTATION
We welcomed the opportunity to meet with you and colleagues recently to have an initial overview discussion of issues affecting match going fans and we look forward to following up with dedicated meetings with appropriate staff on key issues we explored.
While we understand that the issue of stadium expansion at Old Trafford remains under active consideration, and that a firm decision has not yet been made on whether the investment will be made into a significant capacity increase, we recognise the major financial, technological and logistical challenges this presents. For that reason, in this letter, we intend to concentrate primarily on interim measures which could be taken to improve atmosphere and develop the stadium in the absence of expansion. We are convinced, however, that expansion is essential to fully address the key issues that M.U.S.T has raised with the Club over many years, so we will be returning to that in forthcoming discussions.
ATMOSPHEREAs you know the atmosphere in the stadium is a key issue for supporters and also for the manager and the team. While other factors affecting fans’ perception of their relationship with the Club and players are of key importance, undoubtedly stadium reconfiguration could open up opportunities to address many of the underlying physical and operational issues which affect atmosphere.
Both of our hardcore vocal ends have been impacted over a number of years by the Family Stand and executive facilities expanding across the Stretford End and the current expansion of the disabled section across East Lower. The original Singing Sectionintroduced into the Stretford End at the turn of the millennium was put in the upper tier, which limited its impact on atmosphere, despite subsequent improvements to acoustics and opening up of the quadrants. Siting the new Singing Section in J-Stand was also a compromise location.
These diluting influences have been compounded by the progressive loss of younger adult fans who cannot afford the higher ticket prices. There is currently no capacity for Season Ticket Holders to voluntarily relocate, making any major changes in seating locations and arrangements within the current constraints difficult. In particular, new younger supporters have not been able to move into the Lower Stretford End in any numbers to regenerate its famous vocal support of the past.
Having said that, we do believe there are some solutions which could deliver progress in the short to medium term, some of which emerged during discussion in our initial overview meeting. We have already received several hundred responses to our recent supporter feedback request with many respondents making these suggestions. More have added their voice in response to weekend media coverage.
RECLAIM THE STRETFORD ENDThe biggest single change which would impact on atmosphere would be to reclaim the Stretford End as a traditional “popular end” with cheap tickets, a youthful age profile of highly vocal fans. To achieve this, and so doing re-unify the Stretford End, would require relocation of the Executive International Suite and at least part of the Family Stand to a more suitable area of the stadium.
One of the key guiding principles in our considerations is that supporters should not suffer compulsory relocation. Therefore, in addition to natural churn, perhaps incentives could be offered to voluntarily accelerate the process.
We would also call for protected ticket prices to replace the eroded number of minimum price (£28) tickets resulting from expansion of Disabled Facilities into East Stand since the mid-2000’s. We recommend reinstating the number of such affordable seats to at least the same proportion of stadium capacity as they comprised prior to those developments , and locating these, at least initially, in the Stretford End.
Younger supporters should be given priority on any new migration into a rejuvenated Stretford End. We appreciate the importance of fair and consistent pricing policies across different sections of the stadium so we recognise that this has to be done with careful consideration of unintended consequences and we would welcome the opportunity to explore how this could best be delivered.
RECLAIM THE SCOREBOARD - EAST LOWERRecreating two popular ends would power the atmosphere throughout the whole stadium. Therefore we believe that as soon as it is possible to offer disabled supporters superior accommodation, custom designed to meet their requirements (perhaps as part of stadium expansion), then the East Lower section should revert to cheap seats (and standing when this is allowed) for vocal fans to mirror the Stretford End.
We recognise that the Club recently came under considerable legal pressure to quickly deliver expanded disabled facilities but we also support the argument made by affected fans that if compulsory relocations were the only option then they shouldn’t end up paying a higher price for their new seats. We should therefore also give priority to those displaced from £28 seats on any additional equivalent cheaper seats that are made available.
FRIENDS REUNITEDNew capacity, reconfiguration and aggregating groups of seats when they become available should allow for friends to be relocated together in groups rather than the current reality of seats tending to be in groups of two or four only. This is regarded as a key issue as to why atmosphere at Old Trafford has dropped off, whereas at away games larger groups tend to gather (stand) together. It’s been argued that atmosphere develops better naturally with groups of a dozen or more together - a critical mass perhaps. Sections of unreserved seating might have a similar impact.
SAFE STANDINGWe welcome your public support for Safe Standing and hope to see Manchester United leading the way in progressing towards its implementation. The inclusion of safe standing capacity, in key areas including the Stretford End, is wanted by many supporters and would be an important enabler for co-locating larger groups of friends and for cheaper ticket prices.
Having recently become aware that at least one other Premier League club has already submitted a formal application to the authorities for the go-ahead to install rail seats, we believe that Manchester United should show similar leadership by also making an application for consent to install a limited number of rail seats on a trial basis. The short-term benefit of such a trial would be to enhance the safety of supporters, particularly in sections of the ground where fans tend to be more physically enthusiastic during goal celebrations and other moments of excitement. It would also be a clear signal to supporters, and hence extremely popular, that the Club are serious about rail seats. Looking longer term, it would represent a major step forward in advancing the case for larger areas of safe standing, which would not only enhance spectator safety but also undoubtedly help to generate the improved atmosphere being called for by the manager.
YOUTHA vibrant sustained youth support is essential to protect the Club’s long term support and improve atmosphere. Actions are needed to attract and retain the next generation of young fans. While recent reductions in season ticket prices for young adults were welcome, many are still priced out of attending on a regular basis, especially during the crucial transition period to full adult prices, leading to an ongoing rise in the average age of season ticket holders. An extension of the age range for youth ticket concession prices would be beneficial in this respect and also the possibility of progressively increasing the minimum percentage of such youth tickets in key sections of the stadium such as the Stretford End to deliver the rejuvenation we described above.
TICKET CROSS-SUBSIDYWe think that regular supporters who provide the most loyal support should bear less of the burden of stadium revenue, and that there may be opportunities to review what different categories of ticket holder, including non-members, may be charged. Increased capacity would of course create the opportunity to expand and improve executive facilities. that could fund further measures to keep ticket prices down for the majority and to attract younger supporters around the ground or in designated sections, including a new, larger and much improved family stand.
SUPPORTER FACILITIESFacilities in the stadium have not kept pace with our competitors. We are sure that you will want to address opportunities for expanded and improved concourses where such development is feasible, as well as innovative solutions to expedite stadium access in the new era of higher security. Faster bar service and cheaper drinks are also common request from supporters. Again these could be addressed much more radically with expansion.
CONCLUSIONWe acknowledge the positivity of our initial discussions with you and ask that the Club continues to work in partnership with supporters in developing plans to the mutual benefit of the Club and supporters. We are keen to push ahead as quickly as possible on discussion of interim measures which will produce progress while we await the major stadium development that is so badly needed.
We don’t pretend to be experts in stadium design but we do believe we can act as an effective channel to offer invaluable insight from supporters on a matter of huge interest to them. We envisage a dialogue where we (supporters) review proposals and offer comments, and perhaps new ideas, working with you to explore what is possible so as to produce the optimum mutually beneficial outcome for Club and supporters. Perhaps of equal importance is the understanding that, for the first time, supporters will have had meaningful input into major redevelopment decisions which will affect them.
In conclusion, this opportunity for effective consultation, prior to decision making, has sadly been missed over the many decades of stadium development including, more recently, with the compulsory relocation of J Stand and Scoreboard season ticket holders. We accept that tough decisions are sometimes necessary but let’s work together to avoid repeating missed opportunities for meaningful consultation.
M.U.S.T - the Manchester United Supporters Trust@MU_ST