I am a lifelong football fan, experienced football sponsor, Chairman of a marketing company and Director of a consultancy that specialises in customer experience. So, on several levels, I can engage personally with the furore over high ticket prices that has dominated Premier League headlines in past weeks.

Let’s start with a powerful stat from the Football Supporters Federation, 9 out of 10 fans feel that football is too expensive and that their loyalty and commitment to their clubs is being exploited. And yet, football remains the most popular sport in the UK. Why? Because millions of us follow it with a passion, an emotion that unfortunately can easily be exploited. We support our clubs and want them to do well. But, if the statistics are correct, one of the things that alienate 90% of us is the lack of empathy frequently displayed by those in the marketing hot seats.

The Premier League, usually the biggest and richest clubs, is in effect composed of monopolies. If you are a Liverpool Fan for example, you can’t ‘buy Liverpool’ anywhere else. If the club says it will cost you £77 a ticket to see a match, then the stark choice is pay or stay home.

Because we are dealing with monopolies the prices charged to see games can be quite staggering. And yet most Premiership games are 100% sold out, leading the Premier League and clubs to claim that fans must be happy to pay that much. However, the recent walk out of 10,000 fans at Anfield, in the 77th minute of a Reds' game, would say otherwise. Have we perhaps reached a tipping point?

The action is causing Liverpool to look at pricing but there is little sign that other clubs will follow suit. Meanwhile, fans feel they are being exploited and clubs say the popularity of live football says otherwise. As a marketer I can only see what I perceive as a ‘scalping’ attitude towards ticket pricing as myopic. Who wants a relationship with a ‘brand’, as clubs like to refer to themselves nowadays, when there is an apparent lack of empathy for the feelings of supporters - the customers?

No doubt the expanding teams of marketers in clubs would claim that everything in the customer experience garden is rosy. And, if you look at it from their point of view it is - for the time being anyway. If you are 'Head of Fan Relationship Management’ for a major club you might say your purpose in relation to fans is to "better engage them, serve them and monetise them.” In fact, Claudio Borges’ used exactly those words, spotted by the eagle eye of The Independent’s journalist Michael Calvin on the marketer’s LinkedIn page as he took up the job of Fan Supremo. Not surprisingly within 24 hours the M word had been removed and replaced with “provide fans with relevant commercial opportunities!”

So, what’s the bottom line? It appears that fans, with their abundant enthusiasm and passion, are there to be monetised, sorry, I meant to say, “provided with relevant commercial opportunities” and ‘customer management’ systems have been put in place to achieve that. Scan through the web sites of clubs, and the case studies of their activities, and you will see a forest of expressions relating to ‘customer’ value: ROI, lifecycle programmes, retention, recruitment, cradle to grave, low value and high value and the ghastly ‘outreach’. Whilst we all appreciate the desire for clubs to generate incremental revenues, one wonders what it really has to do with our sport and how it relates to providing a genuinely good customer experience for the fan?

Could football be in danger of joining some of the most notorious customer experience black-spots? The Energy sector springs to mind with N-Power’s tour de force of 2 million complaints last year. Already, The Football Supporters' Federation has called a meeting of fan organisations to show Premier League clubs the red card through a "a wave of coordinated action.” They point out that vast numbers of supporters have been driven to breaking point over the failure of teams to share some of their new £8.3bn television contract, “a windfall set to widen the gulf between those within the game and those who pay to follow it.”

It's likely that the discontent of Liverpool fans will spread and I wonder what measures the Leagues and clubs have put in place to grasp the customer experience nettle if that happens? Maybe it's time to find out if fans feel truly happy with their club, whether they trust it, feel that it is transparent in its dealings with them and if it actually cares what they think!

Peter Gandolfi - Chairman, Mr B & Friends, Executive Director, CXCo

Published on: 3:52PM on 29th February 2016