As Liverpool fans fought back against their club’s directors and the possibility of having to pay £77 for just one afternoon of top-flight football, fans rightly heralded a victory. But then we saw Borussia Dortmund fans having to fight (by throwing tennis balls onto the pitch) against rising prices at away games in the German Bundesliga, with some costing £55 per game, proving the battle is nowhere near finished. So will top-level clubs listen to us? Might higher television income actually mean cheaper tickets at games?
For so long football was a working man’s game, easily affordable for the masses with grounds often packed out to the rafters, great entertainment for the local fans of their city’s team. Most represented the city they came from, including steel workers in Sheffield, dock workers in Manchester, cobblers of Northampton and iron workforces at West Ham. This is the romanticist’s view of football in England from around 1870 to 1960, the traditional stories we read about yearning for a return to such values. But unfortunately this dream is not achievable in the modern day, as worldwide economies have forced most of the British steel works, the cobblers, the iron works and the docks out of business as they can’t compete on the world scale. There are melting pots of society in every street of London, Liverpool and Birmingham et al, with much more disposable income available for these bankers, IT advisors, marketing directors, shop owners and chefs to spend at the weekend. As a result of higher annual wages, many more people are willing to pay around £50 for tickets to watch their team.
Many fans have lived through his long change, starting with paying around £11 in today’s money to watch a match at the 1966 World Cup and 70p to watch a match at Old Trafford (at the cheapest) in 1976. This has risen steadily over the decades, with most fans accepting the ‘inevitable’ changes, resulting in very rapid prices hikes during the televised, money loaded Premier League era. Match day prices at Manchester United began at £13 average for seating during the 1992/93 season, rose to £20.50 for the 2000/01 season, and now stand at a £42.44 average for adults. So ticket prices have risen over 200% over the past 15 years, despite income from television rights having climbed from £772 million in 2001 to £5.14 billion in 2015, an ascent of 666% income. How this hasn’t meant that ticket prices should fall is completely crazy, as like Alan Shearer (who I think always speaks a lot of sense) declared during Match of the Day last week that teams should “reward fans for their loyalty”.
This problem is definitely most pressing in the English Premier League, where according to the BBC Price of Football survey 2015, currently the cheapest match day ticket is at Aston Villa for £23, and the most affordable season ticket also at Villa Park for £335. Compare this to Arsenal, where the very cheapest season ticket is a staggering £1014, which could make up 4% of the average British worker’s yearly income. To make anyone pay so much for a seat in a stadium of 60,000, which is always packed out, is a complete ploy and cheat of their fans, who somehow remain loyal, sacrificing large chunks of their budgets to support their team. We see this happening across all of England’s top four leagues. This is not what football is about. If they keep making massive profits on ticket sales, food sales and merchandise, while receiving hundreds of millions of pounds from BT Sport and Sky Sports, surely they have enough money to convince Arsene Wenger to spend? Seriously though, why can’t they drop prices and give something back to supporters, like Alan Shearer says?
Other European leagues certainly don’t have such a vast problem. Some of the biggest clubs in the world are easily affordable for such a great experience, such as Barcelona, where the cheapest ticket sets you back only £17.16, Benfica for only £6.72, or Anderlecht, consistently one of the best sides in Belgium, for a meagre £3.73. These cheap tickets are part of a range of prices available at large European clubs, designed as a part of their culture to make football available for everybody in the local area, no matter their budget. I believe the Premier League needs to set up an initiative like this, focusing on not alienating people from lower income backgrounds from football across the nation. At this moment in time, big English clubs are far too self-obsessed and greedy (which is a phrase thrown around all too easily, but not in this case), resulting in tickets only becoming accessible on a regular basis for those in highly-paid jobs, a minority in society.
Picture corporate boxes full of celebrities, long-time members in Oxford Street suits, uber-rich businessmen and friends of billionaire owners, all ignoring the football on display on the pitch at somewhere like Stamford Bridge. Or Old Trafford. Or the Emirates. Now imagine all of those small sections of society packing out stadiums of top-flight clubs. It is very difficult to believe that football could ever get like this, but if prices keep rising across the board, it could easily be the future. More and more fans will arrive from their high-end apartments in Shanghai, New York, Moscow and Singapore, arrive at Premier League grounds, buy half-and-half scarves, accept sky-high food prices and post pictures of ‘their team’ on Instagram afterwards. Only the richest of the rich affording to go to the game. And as long as the international squad of players are each paid their £250,000 a week, the clubs don’t care who comes through the gates. They know there will always be people able to afford it, and that is what their fundamental problem is.
Directors and Chairmen are clearly not in touch with the clubs fans, so they need to be shown a clear message that we will not accept their careless and callous behaviour at our clubs. After all, fans are the bedrock of any club; upset them at your own peril, demean them and you will fall. So by no means has the fight against ticket prices run its course, in fact it has only just begun. So if fans keep walking out of matches, keep throwing tennis balls onto the pitch, chant at the directors, boycott matches and organise marches against rising prices, we will achieve our goals. We are going to have to make them listen to our voices.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!