The walkout that resulted in a PR own goal for LFC

The weekend’s protest at Anfield when around 10,000 fans walked out after 77 mins in protest against an increase in ticket prices for “just” 200 supporters/fans/customers may result in a U-turn by the club’s owners but the demonstration has caused a disconnect with supporters that could prove difficult to mend.

Liverpool fans know more than most why sticking together gives them power; for many  fans (and no, I’m an Evertonian) it seems like the club hierarchy has temporarily forgotten the true meaning behind the words to their anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ ; it’s more than a song from the musical ‘Carousel’, more than a rallying cry to the players as they march onto the field, more than a Gerry Marsden Number One from the ’60’s.

But fans leaving the ground on Saturday weren’t singing YNWA…but “You greedy bastards, Enough is Enough’.

As ex-LFC hero John Aldridge tweeted from the 13th hole of the golf course in Portugal……. it’s been a “horrible” few days for the club.

Yet Liverpool probably thought long and hard about the ticket price changes and estimated that the likely PR fallout was worth the risk due to the overall financial benefits to the club and the fact that only a minority of fans would be affected.

They may well be reconsidering that assessment now.

Chief executive Ian Ayre was certainly quick to defend the rise last week and highlighted the fact that only 200 supporters would actually, from next season, be paying £77 for a match ticket for certain games..but the damage had already been done as far as many supporters were concerned.

What about the locals?

Although the club attracts many out-of-town and foreign supporters the bulk of the fans I know, and who I’ve heard on the radio and online,seem to feel that it’s the local fans who will be hit hardest by the price hike; the traditional working-class fan.

Remember them? Yes, there are still quite a few left despite the onward march of the prawn sandwich brigade.

Unless Fenway hadn’t noticed there is not much sympathy for big corporates nowadays, for a whole host of reasons. Particularly at Anfield, where the Hicks-Gillette saga is still fresh in the memory.

The club are now under pressure to admit they got it wrong….and ought to admit it quickly before a bad situation gets much worse. So either the American Fenway Sports Group do a U-turn and apologise or tough it out in the hope that loyalty to the LFC brand will see them through ; if they take the latter option, it’s my view that it most certainly won’t.

Perhaps there’ll be some sort of compromise as part of a ‘rethink’ but the weekend’s events are a potent example of how easy it is for a company to upset its customers. The club miscalculated the reaction of supporters and by all accounts were shocked by the reaction.

Think Coca Cola or VW, or Ratner’s…if you need spectacular examples of where a miscalculated executive decision can quickly spiral out of control into a PR disaster.

As John Aldridge said in an earlier tweet ‘Scousers know how to protest” ; an understatement if ever there was one . They also know how to work the media as anyone who has witnessed the media coverage over the past few days will testify.

The next step

The city of Liverpool has undergone an economic transformation over the past 15 years after the dark days of the 70’s and 80’s but people haven’t forgotten how to kick off when there’s a slight.

Comments on social media and fans forums show that there’s a considerable amount of sympathy among other clubs to the Liverpool protest. Indeed some Sunderland fans, according to callers to BBC Radio Merseyside, joined them in the walkout (and missed their side’s 2 goal fightback!).

It was with no great surprise when the Liverpool Echo reported on plans by some fans to target one of the club’s commercial partners, SUBWAY, via a social media campaign as the next step in the campaign.

LFC have so far been outmanoeuvred in the PR stakes and the trust between supporter and club has been fractured,at a time when everyone knows the top clubs will receive a massive windfall of tv money next season to bolster their coffers.

The team might not be setting the world alight on the field but it’s not like they’re bottom of League Two either, in desperate need of a few million to keep going. Fans know this – hence the accusation of greed.

The club will need to work really hard to win back their trust, and given the recent displays on the field they won’t be able to rely on magnificent performances to carry the fans forward in a tsunami of glory and slip in an extra £3m of revenue through the back door by putting up the price of scouse pies.

At least not yet.

So unless there’s a change of heart from the club, expect more ex-players to back the fans via social media and interviews.

Blimey, if Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer felt a need to come off the fence on BBC’s Match of the Day (their views are of course their own and not those of the BBC…) then don’t be surprised if you hear from Steven Gerrard next.

Over here

Other clubs will of course be keeping a close eye on developments at Anfield…particularly across the park at Goodison where US owners are reported to be ready for a takeover by American owners.

FSG perhaps didn’t fully appreciate that football fans are not like other consumers whose loyalty is dependent on the quality of the goods or service ; they tend to stick with their product through thick and thin, but even their loyalty has limits, and FSG  just didn’t get this. It looks to me and many other outsiders that that loyalty has been stretched a bit too far . Even though the majority of fans stayed in their seats on Saturday it’s clear that many more remain sympathetic to the protest.

Things might be different if Liverpool were playing like Barcelona ( or Leicester) but they’re not. And although they might not be setting the world alight on the field, it’s not like they’re bottom of a lower league either, in desperate need of a few million to keep going.

The club needs to make a decision about the tickets as possible and then implement a communications strategy with the overall aim of rebuilding trust with the fans as the ultimate long-term goal – otherwise the protests will escalate and a difficult situation will be become even worse.

In the meantime the protesting fans won’t give up ; it’s not in their interests (or their blood) to do so.

Over to you, Fenway.

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