Fans decry astronomical Champions League final costs

The road to Kiev is set to be a weird but not so wonderful one for thousands of Liverpool and Real Madrid fans attending Saturday’s Champions League final in Ukraine.

Astronomical costs of flights, accommodation and tickets have forced some to conjure creative ways to get to Kiev this weekend and though it will be an adventure for many, they are far from happy.

For Gareth Roberts, editor of the Liverpool fanzine the Anfield Wrap, his will be a two-day journey driving through five countries — France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany and Poland — in a coach to reach the Ukrainian capital in time for European football’s showpiece event, which starts at 2:45 p.m. ET on May 26.

Comfort and personal hygiene, he jokes, must be sacrificed to witness the English Premier League side attempt to win a sixth European title.

Yet even this cheaper option will set the 41-year-old back £1,000 ($1,345).

“The whole thing has been an absolute joke,” the Liverpudlian tells CNN Sport.

“We’re leaving Liverpool at 2 a.m. Thursday, driving down to Kent, getting on the Eurostar, getting over to France, then it’s through Belgium, Holland, Germany — stopping in Berlin — and through Poland into Ukraine.

“We’ll stop somewhere else in Ukraine, about 100 miles from Kiev, stay at a hostel, have four hours’ sleep, get a shower, then get back and carry on. We think we’ll arrive at 8 a.m. on the day of the match and the driver wants to be turning around again at 3 a.m.”

An issue for Britain’s Parliament

Fans of both clubs have been critical of UEFA, European football’s governing body, for allocating 16,626 tickets to each club for an event being held in the 63,000-capacity NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium, while airlines and hotels have also come under fire for raising the cost of flights and accommodation.

The issue has even been raised in Britain’s Parliament, with Liverpool season-ticket holder and lawmaker Derek Twigg describing the situation as “appalling.”

As of May 21 on, a room for one adult at Hotel Verhovina on May 26 was £859 ($1,155), while staying a night in the same hotel on June 2 would set guests back just £16 ($21).

On the same website, a guesthouse apartment for one person for May 26 was £4,226 ($5,686). Rooms were unavailable at the time of searching in one of Kiev’s plushest establishment, the InterContiental Kiev.

So expensive is the accommodation that generous Kiev residents have mobilized on social media to offer spare rooms and sofas to fans for free.

Meanwhile, a flight to Kiev from London Gatwick on May 25, returning on Sunday May 27, was £1,214 ($1633) when searching SkyScanner on Monday. Flying to Kiev from Gatwick on June 2 and returning June 3 was £267 ($359).

‘A tax on loyalty and passion’

“To have two clubs the size of Liverpool and Real Madrid in the Champions League should be a special moment as a football supporter and what you’ve got is loyal supporters being frozen out,” added Roberts, a regular at Liverpool matches for 28 years. Liverpool had to organize a ballot to allocate tickets to fans.

“It all feels unfair that they (a) can’t put it in a bigger venue and (b) in a city that’s got better infrastructure to cope.

“There’s been rooms advertised on the internet for £10,000 ($13,473). Going in the van is the only way we can do it.

“You only have to go online and type in Champions League tickets and you find them from anything from £500 ($672) to £4,000 ($5382).

“Even through UEFA, they were selling tickets for £394 ($530). That’s ridiculous. That’s not fair pricing. That’s a tax on loyalty, a tax on passion for your football team.”

The estimated gross commercial revenue of UEFA’s European competitions — the Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup — during the 2017-18 season is approximately 2.35 billion euros ($2.78 billion), according to European football’s governing body.

Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters’ union, said the final would be “surely the most expensive club competition final ever.”

In a statement, the union criticized the governing body, saying: “With their huge wealth, amassed from TV rights and sponsorship deals, how can they justify charging fans up to £394 per ticket?

“Aside from the kindness of individuals wanting to help fans, what we have seen is a brazen rip-off with pre-booked hotels canceled and made available again for twice the price.”

The union claimed Thomas Cook, Liverpool’s travel partner which was chartering four flights from Liverpool John Lennon Airport to Kiev, had deliberately increased prices.

Thomas Cook had angered fans for charging £899 ($1,210) for flights when they had initially offered up a round trip for £759 ($1,021).

In a statement, the airline said the cost was “based on a number of factors,” such as fewer aircraft available to charter in the summer season.

The company added that the final was also taking place on the same weekend as the Monaco Grand Prix, a bank holiday and also fell during school holidays in some parts of Britain.

“When we secured the additional aircraft for supporters, the increased price of seats reflected the increased costs we incurred from the aircraft leasing company,” a statement read.

“In no way have we been putting prices up to take advantage of supporters who want to get to Kiev.”

‘A party for UEFA not the fans’

A total of 40,700 tickets have been made available to fans and the general public, according to UEFA, for a final being held at a 70,000-seater stadium operating at reduced capacity.

According to a UEFA spokesperson, category three and four tickets — the cheapest available — have stayed at the same price since the 2012 final, with category four tickets selling for a “reasonable” 70 euros ($82) in March.

“Overall the pricing structure in the last five years has stayed very similar, as has the allocation for finalists. For example, at the final in 2014 in Lisbon with a stadium capacity of 61,000, the finalists received 17,000 tickets each,” the spokesperson said.

Defending champions Real Madrid were allocated 892 fewer tickets for Kiev than they did for last year’s final in Cardiff.

The club says 24,268 season-ticket holders applied for the 12,802 Kiev tickets made available to fans by the club via a lottery but, according to the Independent, more than 2,000 Real fans have returned their tickets because of cost.

For the fans who planned ahead and had supreme belief in their team, however, they will travel to Kiev at a fraction of the cost of those who waited until the conclusion of the semifinals.

Nacho Vignote, a Real season-ticket holder for 18 years, booked his flight and accommodation in September. His confidence is perhaps understandable as this is Real’s third final in four years.

Vignote’s flight from Madrid cost 100 euros ($118) — the cheapest flight departing Madrid on May 25 and returning on May 27 was £466 ($627) on SkyScanner on Tuesday.

He and nine friends have not had to dig deep for accommodation either as they are renting an apartment for four nights for 1,000 euros ($1,181).

“I try to book some months in advance and if Real reach the final then perfect for me and if not it’s a nice weekend in a city,” he tells CNN Sport.

“This year fewer Real fans have applied for tickets, about four times less. The club is still calling for people on the waiting list because a lot of people have rejected tickets.

“The fans are angry with UEFA for the location they have chosen for the final. The cost is because of the location. If it had been anywhere in central Europe it’d be completely different.

“And all the tickets are just for VIPs and UEFA. This is a party for UEFA instead of a party where fans can go at an affordable price. The real fans have to either stay at home or spend a lot of money.”