Season after season, ticket prices for Champions League matches get higher and higher. As clubs squabble, hardcore traveling supporters across Europe bear the brunt of the costs. UEFA must cap tickets to end this circus.
The Bayern Munich supporters won't let it go.
In October 2018, they were overcharged for their team's group game away at AEK Athens, paying €20 more than what Greek fans had paid for equivalent seats in the home section — a clear breach of UEFA regulations. But, despite a UEFA investigation finding in the fans' favor, AEK were only ordered to refund each fan €10: not enough.
"AEK/FCB: Return the money!" read a banner displayed on the Südkurve at the Allianz Arena during Bayern's 3-1 loss to Liverpool in the Champions League last week. "You've ripped us off!"
The tickets in Athens cost €35. It's not a huge amount, but it's the principle that counts. In Europe's premier club football competition, it can be, and frequently is, much worse for traveling supporters.
Three weeks earlier at the first leg in Liverpool, the Bayern fans unveiled another set of banners. "The greed knows no limits!" read one, referring to the €55 cost of away tickets at Anfield and in Munich. And it gets worse still.
Arsenal charged them €75, as did Paris Saint-Germain. Away at Anderlecht in 2017, it was €100 – although the Belgian side were also found guilty of breaching ticketing regulations and ordered to refund each Bayern fan €30.
"Is your greed now finally satisfied?" read a banner in Brussels. The answer, it would appear, is no – as Manchester United supporters have found out.
The latest ticket price farce
When the English side were drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinal, fans braced themselves and their bank balances. After being charged €85 in Valencia in December and €100 in Sevilla last season, they knew what to expect from Spanish clubs. But even they were shocked by what Barcelona were charging: €120 – the most expensive ticket in Manchester United's history outside of cup finals.
"We believe that our traveling supporters are again being subjected to increased/excessive ticket prices from the host club," said United, referring to the practice of charging visiting supporters non-members prices rather than the reduced prices offered to Barcelona members, or socios.
"Yet again, this is proof that the current regulations for UEFA competitions are not sufficient," said Fans Europe. "It has become clear over the past year or so that certain clubs, including FC Porto and Barcelona, are using discounts for members and season ticket holders to justify higher prices for away fans."
After Barcelona refused to negotiate, United announced they would be increasing the cost of Barcelona fans' tickets for the Old Trafford leg and using the difference to subsidize United fans, as they had done with Sevilla and Valencia. Now, it was the Barcelona fans who were being punished.
"[United's] decision to impose reciprocal pricing is part of the problem and undermines efforts to find a fair and effective solution," said Fans Europe. "Barcelona fans should not be forced to pay for the sins of their club."
No, they shouldn't, but what else could United have done? Direct subsidies sound great in principle but only encourage clubs to charge what they like in future, knowing United will foot the bill.
Members of the "Seguiment" Barcelona fan club, hardcore supporters who are among the relatively few who regularly attend away games, were rightly annoyed and complained to their club – whose president they elect as voting socios.
Having refused to negotiate with United initially, Barcelona now announced that they too would subsidize their supporters' away travel packages to compensate for the increase in price. And so the circus had come full circle.
Meanwhile, 1,000km to the west in Portugal, FC Porto listened to representations from Liverpool and agreed to reduce to ticket prices for visiting English fans from €85 to €60. Still expensive, but a much more sensible approach.
Time for UEFA to act
"We expect UEFA to change the regulations to state that ticket prices for away fans should be the same as the cheapest tickets available for home fans, including those discounted for members and season ticket holders," said Fans Europe. "Just because elite level football is awash with money does not mean that fans are - quite the opposite. It is incumbent upon clubs to recognize this fact and act accordingly.”
But will UEFA act? Back in December, the organization's president Alesander Ceferin admitted he was aware of the problem.
"It would be good to do something to cap prices," he said. "Perhaps the solution is to say what is the highest away fans can be charged. Football is played for the fans and if the fans are treated improperly or not the same as the home fans, that's simply wrong.”
But four months later, UEFA told DW: "We do not have any updated statement or comment to make regarding this topic at this stage." European football's governing body may have nothing to say, but the fans certainly do.
"Twenty's plenty!" read a huge banner displayed at every Bayern Munich home game in the Champions League this season, referring to the campaign in England which ultimately led to the introduction of an away ticket price cap – albeit at £30 ($40), not £20. "Price cap for away tickets now!"
And they won't let it go.