Clubs risk pricing fans out of the game despite new TV deal

Long ago, it was said by someone now destined to silently suffer the inequity of anonymity that although there are many things in life that can be changed, the two things humans will find forever unalterable are who your mother is and which football team you support.

Football fans may be notoriously impatient to judge individual performances, but when it comes to club success (or lack of it) supporters seem to have a near inexhaustible supply of forgiveness.

With this unerring loyalty in mind it seems unsurprising that when retailers have found it almost impossible to increase the price of non-essential goods during a cost of living crisis, a vast proportion of football clubs blithely increased the price of attending home matches. Far from seeing demand falter, last season’s statistics show Premier League match attendance at an all-time high.

West Ham have recently made waves by reducing season ticket prices, to reflect next season’s unprecedented £5.13 billion TV rights deal. By introducing a ticket at £289, they undercut Manchester City, who currently offer the cheapest season ticket in the Premier League, by £10.

In contrast, Chelsea charge an adult wanting to pay for a season ticket for a seat in the upper tier of the West Stand £1,250. Season tickets at the Emirates range from between £1,014 and £2,013. This is not an issue exclusive to the Premier League.

A study undertaken by the BBC studying this season’s season ticket prices discovered that Manchester City charge less than 15 Championship and 10 League One clubs.

West Ham’s decision goes against a general trend mimicking the title of Yaz and the Plastic Population’s 1988 hit single. You guessed it. The Only Way Is Up.

Clubs like Everton, Newcastle and Southampton are rightly proud of the deals they offer on children’s tickets but the reality is when adults can no longer afford to take their children to games, clubs run the risk of a crisis of support, and indeed success, several generations down the line.

Ultimately, people are currently willing to put up with the spiraling expense of supporting many football clubs in the not wholly unreasonable belief that fans must suffer such high prices because success depends on paying ever increasing wages demanded by players and agents. As wages for the exceptional reach unprecedented levels, the wages of the average are also increased.

Last season’s accounts show a correlation between those holding the top positions in the Premier League and those footing the highest wage bill leading many to presume that to remain competitive on the pitch clubs must also be able to compete in the marketplace.

With the prospect of wage caps, a legal minefield, it seems that UEFA’s Financial Fair Play programme could prove to be the saving grace of British football, so long as fans aren’t treated as cash cows.

Some argue clubs shouldn’t be worried that ticket prices are becoming too expensive for the general public because fans will simply switch to watching games on the television. The argument continues that this would bolster TV rights deals, thus providing alternative revenue. However, the bigger the crowd the better the atmosphere and, on the whole, the better the performance. Consequently, the better the crowd the better the game broadcast by the TV.  Appropriate ticket pricing is crucial to protect the future of football.

Football will never enjoy perfectly inelastic demand. Fans may have infinite supplies of loyalty but if nothing changes paying to watch their beloved team play live will soon outstrips the majority of fan’s finite budgets. In that case, not even the strongest of club loyalty will be able to keep turnstiles spinning.

Photograph: PSGMAG.

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