Xenia Sports – London
A Cheshire-based firm offered to sell ticket and hotel packages for the Manchester derby this weekend starting from £340 per person despite the match being played behind closed doors, a PA news agency investigation has discovered.
World Choice Sports, based in Widnes, posted a tweet on Monday offering packages for Manchester United home matches starting from £169 per person, and Newcastle matches, by calling its offices.
Manchester and Newcastle are currently under tier three restrictions under the Government’s regionalized approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
The World Choice website said no tickets were currently available for Manchester United matches owing to the restrictions, but PA called its office on Tuesday morning, posing as a customer interested in buying a package for the Manchester United v Leeds match on December 20.
This is the first match at Old Trafford after the next review of the tier system on December 16, when fans could conceivably be allowed in if Manchester moves into tier two.
World Choice said no tickets were available for that match, but PA was offered tickets and a hotel for the Manchester derby this Saturday instead.
Despite repeatedly querying how that could be possible given the current restrictions, the World Choice sales representative proceeded to work out a quote, as well as pointing out that tickets were also showing as available for the Manchester United v Wolves match on December 29.
For the derby, the sales representative said the cheapest option for two people was £680, for two tickets and for one night at the Crowne Plaza hotel. The sales representative read out a disclaimer at the start of the call stating that because these were not hospitality tickets, they could only be supplied to Manchester United or neutral fans.
At no stage did the sales representative say that attending this match was impossible, or point out that hotels in tier three could only welcome guests in a small number of exceptional circumstances, and attempted to take payment using the credit card details supplied.
The representative did say, when asked, that the tickets would be refunded in the event of fans being unable to attend – which is already certain to be the case – but said the hotel could not be refunded, due to the cancellation period in effect.
World Choice’s representative said the company was able to access these tickets because they came from “a supplier based outside the UK”.
There was also the option of buying tickets for the December 29 match when some fans may be able to attend.
However, even in tier two areas where clubs have been able to open their stadiums to up to 2,000 fans since December 2, they have been operating strict ballots of season ticket holders and other members, and it is understood United intend to do the same as and when they are able to welcome spectators in, with strict identity checks in place.
World Choice managing director Shay Soni told the PA news agency: “One of our suppliers offered the tickets to home fans only and other suppliers offered the hotel.
“A member of staff did not understand the tier system and that Manchester is in tier three and hotels should therefore be closed.
“The offer has been taken off and we have not sold any.”
It is understood World Choice is not an authorised seller of Manchester United tickets and the club have no relationship with the company.
The original tweet posted on Monday was deleted on Tuesday afternoon, as was the one about Newcastle tickets.
Manchester United said in a statement: “Old Trafford remains closed to spectators and therefore no tickets are currently available for any of our matches.
“Any attempt to mislead supporters into buying tickets which are not available is deplorable.”
Which? consumer rights expert Adam French said: “Under current tier three restriction sports fans are banned from attending matches, so it is unacceptable for any company to sell fans tickets for fixtures they’ll never be able to attend.
“People must be vigilant when looking to book events or sports fixtures and check whether they could be affected by regional restrictions before making a purchase. They should also use a credit card for any purchases worth £100 or more as they may be able to get their money back should something go wrong.”
Any United supporter caught selling tickets is subject to a three-year ban from their matches.
In 2018, World Choice had to cancel three flights for Liverpool fans to Kiev for the Champions League final because it did not have sufficient landing slots at the airport in Ukraine.
The last match where fans were allowed into Old Trafford was the Manchester derby last season on Sunday, March 8.