From voluntary scheme to money-making scheme – United Memberships & The Rip Off Reality

This season, we see the latest development in the ticketing scene at Manchester United. The club have initiated a full move to digital, app-based ticketing for home games.

To attend a game in Old Trafford this season you will need to:

  • Obtain a ticket, via either a MUSC branch, the online sales with insane queues, get one sent to you by a season ticket holder not attending, or buy the grossly priced “hospitality” tickets available.

To then use one of these tickets, or to even buy one, you will need:

  • The app downloaded along with an account with United
  • A purchased membership

The membership brackets are as follows (I’ll focus solely on ticketing, not “discounts for museum access” or any of the other nonsense):

  • Junior (under 16) – this gives an under 16 the ability to purchase a ticket from the website, or have a ticket forwarded to them from a Season Ticket holder, also includes a kids merchandise pack – £20
  • Forwarding Membership – this solely entitles the owner to receive a ticket from a season ticket holder, at a cost of £20
  • MUSC Membership – this allows a member to be part of a MUSC (all other memberships except forwarding are acceptable for MUSC branch membership) and receive forwarded tickets from ST holders, but does not allow purchase from general sale tickets on the website site
  • Lite Membership –  this gives an adult member the ability to purchase a ticket from the website or have a ticket forwarded to them from a Season Ticket holder – £35
  • Full Membership – this gives an adult member the ability to purchase a ticket from the website, or have a ticket forwarded to them from a Season Ticket holder, and includes an adult’s merchandise pack
  • Premium Membership – this gives an adult member the ability to purchase a ticket from the website, or have a ticket forwarded to them from a Season Ticket holder, and includes a “premium” adults merchandise pack, the club also says this is the membership to buy to get higher up the “waiting list” (hmm) for a Season Ticket

It’s pretty complicated, isn’t it? At the end of the day, you just want to go watch a game of football, with the lads or your kids, but to do so you need to satisfy a lot of requirements, and to boot, shell out a waste of dosh for you all to go, on top of the ticket prices.

Take into account that ticket prices have now risen, twice, in recent years, to coincide with all this membership stuff.

The membership system has gone down a rabbit hole in recent years.

Its inception, a voluntary system in 1989, which was one of the reasons that sparked the beginnings of Red News to fight against mandatory ID suggestions by the government for football fans, has revolutionised into the ultimate cash cow for football club owners. No better-placed experts in ripping the arse out of its own fans than Manchester United.

A membership wasn’t enough, it has to be a paid membership, of course.

Eventually, as detailed above, it has spiralled into varying nuanced brackets with slight variations, little terms placed on each category to try push you to upgrade to the next level up to open another door for you, all the while, rinsing extra hard-earned from your pockets.

I’ve not held a membership for a long time, personally, as I’m a season ticket holder, but my involvement with a MUSC branch keeps me constantly up to date with memberships and their varying levels and abilities, plus the ever-changing scenery around what memberships are available and what does what.

Yes, I have a huge bee in my bonnet about the membership system and how much it blatantly screams out “we are absolutely maximising every single avenue we can to extract as much money as we can from you”. It offends me, if I’m honest. The “forwarding membership” in particular is a pet hate of mine. A ludicrous £20 per person, to use someone else’s ticket. If you’re attending one game in the season, that’s an expensive match ticket adding an extra twenty quid on top for an imaginary item.

Let’s take an example costing here, for a family of 4, two adults and two kids, who want to attend one game a season, let’s say they’re from down the country in England or from Ireland, or whatever location suits.

Let’s suggest they somehow manage to beat the other 100,000 people on the queue on general sale to obtain tickets and they somehow manage to source 4 seats together, obviously got a lesser game against relegation fodder opposition, so it’s no glamour tie they’re in Tier 3, the worst seats in the house. There’s a lot of things that need to work in their favour to even achieve this, but here’s the breakdown

  • 2 adult Lite memberships – £70
  • 2 junior memberships – £40
  • 2 adult tickets at general sale price – £96
  • 2 junior tickets at general sale price – £50
  • Ticketing costs, alone – £256

Also, take note that U16 tickets have risen from £13, to £20 and now to £25, in the space of 2 seasons, an occurrence that should anger even the most apathetic Red.

Two hundred and fifty six English pounds, to watch United play, let’s say Luton, on a Tuesday night.

They’re going to have to fill the tank of petrol, or worse, 4 flight tickets, or potentially even more expensive again, 4 train tickets.

They’ll likely need to stay over, given they’re taking kids with them, and the hotel prices will be greatly inflated because it’s matchday and them vultures feed off football fans.

You’re looking at a grand, let’s be realistic, at low waters.

But what about if you’re not a family of four, what about it’s your own family and you’re a season ticket holder and can’t make the game?

This is my situation.

If I wish to give my ticket, my own specific seat assigned in the ground, to my wife, my sons, my mates?

They’ll have to throw United £20 for the pleasure, with a forwarding membership.

I have long asked for support to change this, to allow a “family and friends” list on your account of people allowed to use your ticket for free.

Shouldn’t they be able to? Shouldn’t my wife be able to just go in my place to my seat? Of course she should, it’s my bloody ticket and it has been paid for in full, up front, for the entire season.

The club began using the line around security as the core reason they needed to “know exactly who is in the ground at all times” by having paid memberships when they eradicated the ability to create a free account on the website and receive a ticket.

Maybe it’s my Matt LeTissier tinfoil hate side, or maybe I just don’t buy it and it absolutely roars from a mountain top “we found another way to make money out of you saps that want to go to games”? I’ll let you make up your own mind. United are well known for making the rules up as it suits them, take into account lesser-level European/domestic cup games, when they’d flog 6 per person to any man on the street just to fill the ground and make a few quid.

Take into account our membership system would bear convinced you were owned by Michael O’Leary and Ryanair, there are so many different categories with little nuanced differences for a seat on this plane, or the good ship Old Trafford.

Much to the amusement of many, last season shortly before kick-off, you could inexplicably forward your ticket to a non-member, out of nowhere.

Zero communications from the club to inform us, it just appeared?

Now, we learnt after that this was solely for games that aren’t sold out.

They’ve changed the goalposts again this season and will allow you to give your ticket to a non-member, at a cost of £10 per ticket, per game, paid to the club.

Why the club feel they should be paid, for you giving your ticket to your mate, I will never understand, it leaves a wry smile on my face at the outlandish cheek of it.

“What would happen, though, if we were forced into a situation where every supporter had to have a membership card electronically read at the turnstiles?” Barney asked in Red News in January 1989

Well, Barney, I guess we’re about to find out mate!

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