For many seasons, Manchester City fans have been criticised for not being able to sell out many of their home games, especially by those who follow the team on the other side of town. Many supporters, from all clubs, refer to City’s Etihad Stadium as the ‘Emptyhad Stadium’, a reference to the number of unoccupied seats that are seen when the Blues play at home.
This was brought to the football world’s attention again during their FA Cup semi-final win against Brighton at Wembley. It was reported in the days before the game that the club had to return as many as 2,000 unsold tickets of their original 30,000 allocation. The empty areas were plain to see, which allowed fans of other clubs to stick the boot in on one of the best teams in the world for being unable to sell tickets.
However, once you have looked at the situation for what it really is, the jokes show an ignorance of the real circumstances, and it just looks like sour grapes.
Supporting a Premier League football team is expensive, especially a successful Premier League team. For example, City’s semi-final against Brighton was their fourth trip to Wembley of the season, having played in the Community Shield in August, a league fixture against Tottenham in October, and the Carabao Cup final in February.
Admission to Wembley is not cheap, neither is travel to and from Manchester and London. Then you have all the things you would normally buy on the day; food, drink, memorabilia, and it all starts to mount up.
City also played Tottenham in London in the Champions League quarter finals, a midweek away trip requiring fans to take time off work, and they remain one of the favourites to win the Champions League this season, so there could be additional trips to either Turin or Amsterdam for the semi-final, then possibly Madrid for the final, with more time needed off work.
To go to all these big occasions starts to look like an exciting but money draining past time.
One of the reasons City struggle to sell full ticket allocations is that their fan base is simply not as big as those at rival clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. Yes, it is very loyal, as shown when they played in the lower leagues whilst still attracting massive attendances, but they have not had the global exposure of other clubs yet.
With a smaller fan base comes a smaller demand for tickets, so regular fans can easily get tickets and have to pick and choose games. There just isn’t the same number of supporters waiting, hoping desperately to pick up any extras that might become available.
This is a sign of the sheer speed at which City’s success has built over 10 years. They are on course for an unprecedented quadruple and have become one of the most feared teams in Europe, not just England. That fan base will surely build with success.