DEBATE – Are rising ticket prices endangering the future of football?

Matt Ford: Yes, a cap on ticket prices is essential to  halt the increasing alienation of supporters

The moment football loses its support base is the moment the game as we know it begins to die. It might sound slightly hyperbolic or indeed a little bit dramatic, but this is a very real concern within the modern football climate we now find ourselves in.

The debate about what constitutes affordable football has been rumbling on for years, but what cannot be denied is that while the game has benefited from increased coverage and widening audiences, the growth has come at a huge cost.

The commercialisation of ‘the beautiful game’ has not only alienated some and led others to question the direction football is heading, but it also continues to price out many supporters who are not willing, or not able, to meet the annual price hikes on match and season tickets.

Liverpool fans were the latest in the spotlight after their recent walkout in the 77th minute of their 2-2 draw with Sunderland, in protest against the £18 increase on the top price of a match ticket at Anfield from £59 to £77. Quite rightly, it was met with vast condemnation by many high profile figures across football, who felt that price increases have gone far enough and must be curtailed.

The simple facts are that clubs should be doing as much as possible to help their supporters and expand availability to a wider audience. It makes absolute sense, particularly in the commercialised world of football, to excel on the marketing side and make it as affordable as possible.

Football is now a business, and the powers that be are unsurprisingly content to raise their prices even at the expense of the fans. However, Liverpool’s u-turn on their price increase is a positive step and a lesson for clubs everywhere that the supporters must come first.

Initially, fans are generally sore about the whole thing for a while, but then the storm blows over and the fans, being as loyal as they are, continue to pile through the turnstiles on a Saturday.

That said, it is unacceptable to prioritise profit maximisation over the supporters. Widening the demographic is all well and good, but it is inevitable that the working classes will be the ones that suffer the most.

That is not even considering the detrimental impact on matchday experiences and the overall atmosphere at clubs, which has left some to abandon the money-laden top tier in favour of lower-league or non-league football.

The reality is we have become so blind to the state of football that situations like this are readily accepted by the masses. Fortunately, supporters’ groups have begun to take a stand against this.  But they should not have to. The clubs should be championing the cause of the supporters and working with them to find a solution that everyone can get behind. Otherwise, they risk an irreconcilable fracture between both parties.

One look at the figures makes for rather painful reading. Take Arsenal as another example: the Price of Football Survey in 2015 revealed the cheapest season ticket at the Emirates is over £1000.

When you compare that to the rest of European football it is staggering. A matchday ticket at Bayern Munich is just over £11, the sort of price that fans have not seen in England since the 1990s.

What are we doing wrong and how do we fix it? With the astronomical TV deal set to kick in from next season, this ought not to be an issue but it is. A football club is expensive to run, granted, but it is not a burden that should be placed on supporters.

Fans should not feel as if something as routine as watching your team is unaffordable. Recent events only reinforce calls for a cap on ticket prices, but it is doubtful if this will ever be realised. Action is required, and quickly.

 

Charles Nurick: No, as businesses, clubs raise prices in the knowledge their seats will always be filled.

There have been arguments in football as long as there have been egos. Was he offside? Can he really be worth that much? The latest issue to engulf the sport is that of ticket prices. While hardly a fresh topic, it has once again reared its ugly head in the wake of Liverpool’s now retracted plan to raise top price tickets to £77 a pop.

To many, this rise is a blasphemous act against the sacred sport of football –  resounding confirmation that clubs are out of touch with fans and only care about profit. How dare they charge people to see their beloved team play!

At the end of the day, clubs are reliant on revenue to function; without it they would collapse in a glorious mess of liquidation and financial uncertainty.

Football clubs are businesses, with owners, employers, and bottom lines. This is something so frequently ignored when discussing the financial situation of clubs that is seems almost dirty to remind people. Do you want your team to buy that top striker? I hate to say it, but he is not going to come cheap, and that 50 million pounds is not just going to magically appear out of thin air. Don’t have a go at the owner for not digging deep in their pockets if you aren’t willing to do the same.

Like any business, the goal is to turn a profit, and the club has every right to try and do so, even if that does include raising ticket prices.

Attending a football match is a luxury, not a necessity, despite what some will try and argue.

If the biggest gripe in your life is that a rise in ticket prices allows you to only attend every second game rather than every single game, then you are not exactly leading a cursed existence. Perhaps there are other luxuries you could cut down on: believe me when I say that Sainsbury’s finest is not that much better than their basics, and you do not need to have the next pint of Carlsberg.

Of course, if you are still pining for a healthy dose of football on a Saturday afternoon then do not despair; there are other options. The easiest option is to simply watch it on television, where you can enjoy the match for a fraction of the price in the comfort of your own home or local pub. It is warmer, it is cheaper, it provides a better view, and if you find an establishment with a decent atmosphere, you can still enjoy the same buzz as you would if watching it in the stands.

But if you just need to be a stadium and cannot stay away from the action then why not go and support a lower league team who would not normally be packing out the home games?

There may not be the same international stars on show but the passion will remain, and you can give something back to clubs who legitimately survive thanks to the commitment of their supporters. It is an unintentional side effect of the rising cost of top-flight football, but it is hard to argue that it is a bad thing. As previously mentioned, clubs are businesses that require income, and the smaller clubs are no different in this regard.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, however, is that clubs can get away with this. Yes, some fans may choose not to attend matches anymore. Will the club care? No. The seat will not lie empty and desolate. It will still be filled by another eager supporter who loves their team.

Until mass action is taken – action that noticeably disrupts the club – then there is no reason to lower prices of tickets. So do not complain about the prices. It is business, after all.

 

Image courtesy of Neil MacDonald.

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