Back in July, at the height of the summer transfer window bonanza, Chelsea released this nice little news tidbit: subsidized away travel for selected matches. While not nearly as exciting as waiting for the next Tancredi tweet about what Edinson Cavani was having for breakfast, we took note of the club helping fans cope financially with some of the longer away trips as a lovely and welcome PR move.
I think most of us assumed it was indeed a wholly altruistic gesture from the club, to show genuine care and concern for the dedicated and boisterous away fans. Amid the usual league-wide concerns over ticket prices and attendance figures, and along with the brand new stacks of millions from the domestic and foreign TV deals, it was certainly the least they could do, no?
It turns out the story is a bit more complicated than that. While the gesture itself is still welcome, an unknown percentage of the funding - I'm guessing on the order of 'most' if not 'all' of the funding - is actually coming from the Premier League's own Away Fans' Fund, a £12m initiative over the next three years distributed equally across all Premier League clubs. So that's £200,000 per club per year to spend on fan support and subsidies. While Chelsea could easily supplement these funds from their own coffers, whether they are doing so at the moment is not at all clear.
Perhaps the real credit needs to go to the non-profit Football Supporters' Federation, who claim that their 'Twenty's Plenty" campaign was at least partially responsible for the creation of the Away Fans' Fund. Or perhaps we'll just have to pat the Premier League and their chief executive Richard Scudamore on the back for a job well done.
"In the past six months we’ve put a lot of effort into what can be done for away attendance.
One of our unique selling points is the away attendance because it creates the tension, the passion, the show. The clubs are investing £4million a season, £12million over the next three seasons, in initiatives to make the away fan experience better and that’s either helping their own fans travel away or doing something to encourage opponents’ away fans to come to them."
-Richard Scudamore; source: Daily Mail
Here's how some of the clubs are choosing to spend their allotment of the £4m this season:
- Chelsea: subsidized travel to at least 10 away games, including the Everton and Manchester United matches already played.
- Spurs: subsidized travel to all 14 away games outside of London, while refurbishing facilities at White Hart Lane that cater to visiting fans.
- Fulham, Stoke City: free coach travel to all away games.
- Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United: reduced ticket prices.