Andy Mitten: Reds face battle for fans
South Africa may command the attention of the football world but much closer to home the staff in United's ticket office are counting up the season ticket renewals. They won't have to worry about the extra workload of Gary Neville's testimonial, which was scheduled to be played this summer but has now been postponed. A big-name opponent on a relatively limited budget was required. Glasgow Rangers appeared to fit the bill until police wisely stepped in to block such a game. The people of Manchester saw enough Rangers fans fuelled on cheap alcohol to last a lifetime when the Govan hordes were in town for the 2008 UEFA Cup final. While there are many genuine Rangers fans who know how to behave, the drunken damage has been done. Sunday was the deadline for season ticket renewals at Old Trafford and, despite prices being frozen following the sustained protests by fans, the renewal figures seem to be well down on the same point last year. United will reason that many fans usually need a gentle reminder to renew after the deadline and a United spokesman said: We are very happy with the renewals. Based on previous years we are very confident with the way it has gone. Anger But it seems there has still been an underwhelming response from Reds, many of whom are angry at the Glazer ownership and the huge debts attached to the club. Sales of executive tickets are understood to have been especially low so far and given that the waiting list for season tickets for many sections of Old Trafford is now non-existent, expect United's marketing department to start advertising the merits of owning a season ticket throughout the summer. Without any big-name signing so far, United will have to work especially hard. The United hierarchy have other reasons to be concerned. The average age of the match-going fan at Old Trafford is currently 53 years and seven months. The figure is predicted to rise year on year, part of a national trend that sees the average age of match-going football fans rising. It brings all kinds of knock-on effects - twice as many ageing Reds struggle to reach their seats in the upper tiers and now apply for lift passes by comparison with six years ago for example. United should not be complacent. Junior fans may not be as profitable as adults, but they are the future lifeblood of the club. Committed City have always been excellent at recruiting young fans and discounting tickets. Surplus capacity at Maine Road at the City of Manchester stadium has allowed them to do so but the Blues have remained committed to younger fans attending matches. United's family stand is always sold out and the club do an excellent job with the annual open training session and other youth initiatives, but the family stand accounts for around just six per cent of the Old Trafford capacity. Kids can get reduced price tickets in other sections of the ground but gone are the days when unaccompanied local youngsters could queue to pay on the day and get in for an affordable price. In 1987, I used to deliver this newspaper for a wage of £2.20 a week twice what it cost to stand on the Stretford End. No such possibilities currently exist and what 14-year-old wants to be applying for tickets six weeks ahead of a game? Most kids at the match are now taken by adults - an inherently different experience and passage to adulthood than going with your mates. If the trend is not abated, the average age of fans will creep up towards pensionable age. Hoardings would be better advertising holidays for the elderly and stair lifts rather than lurid new football boots. That's one area United's marketing are probably looking into now. THE summer issue of United We Stand is now on sale in all good newsagents.
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