Thirty six thousand people were at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester last night for the first leg of Manchester City's League Cup semi-final against Liverpool, twelve thousand short of the ground's 48,000 capacity. Watching the game on TV, you could clearly see the thousands of empty seats. In fact, the upper tiers of the stadium seemed not to be in use at all. This followed last weekend's FA Cup Third Round when between them clubs playing at home recorded a 80,000 drop in attendances compared to their average League gate.
You can argue that it's just after Christmas, it was a wet and windy night in Manchester and the match was being shown live on TV. You could also argue that the League Cup's a bit of a meaningless competition. But even if all that's true, it's not every week that Manchester City have the chance to book a trip to a Wembley cup final.
Ten years ago on my first trip to America, I went to my first baseball game, at Camden Yards, the much copied retro ballpark in Baltimore. Sitting in the upper deck for the Orioles-Chicago White Sox match up, you soon realised that Friday night was student night when young people with ID could buy a ticket for $5 and once inside a beer and hot dog for the same price. Looking around the upper deck, half the undergraduate intake of the nearby University of Baltimore seemed to have taken them up on the offer, giving a huge boost to the atmosphere of a run of the mill regular season game. The Orioles clearly understood that given they were paying staff to steward and provide catering for the game, it made more economic sense to sell tickets for the upper deck cheap than to leave them empty, especially as some of the students who came on Friday nights would become fans of the team and after graduating regular customers paying full price for their tickets.
So why couldn't Manchester City, easily the richest club in the world, have filled their ground for a cup semi-final by offering cheap or even free tickets to kids, students and other people priced out of modern football?