This week a BBC study revealed that football ticket prices among 164 clubs in the top 10 divisions have fallen by 2.4% over the past year. The sports minister Hugh Robertson welcomed the study as ‘good news’.
So is this finding something to celebrate? No, let’s get real – even a price reduction of 20% would be nowhere near satisfactory bringing back football as a game affordable for everyone and offering value for money. Malcolm X once said “If you get stabbed with a nine inch knife, and you pull that knife out by six inches, you should be wary of celebrating your progress.”
A 2.4% reduction in football ticket doesn’t even pull the knife out by an inch.
I’m an Arsenal supporter who stopped going after twenty years of being regular, because prices rose to a point that I couldn’t justify paying. It’s not just home games where fans of a club like Arsenal are hit hard. For every away game they’ll be charged grade A prices and expected to fork out somewhere in the region of £50; normally for games against teams who are categorised grade B or C when they travel to Arsenal. For away fans like these there has certainly been no 2.4% decrease in price, quite the opposite. But even if there was, big deal – you wouldn’t even be able to buy a pie in the stadium with the ‘saving’.
It’s vital to have a sense of history when discussing the issue of ticket pricing, in order to be aware of just how hard fans have been hit in the past twenty years. I’m not picking on Arsenal here because most clubs are guilty, but as they’re my team I’m 100% familiar with the rise in pricing so will use us as an example. In 1986 a seat in the East Stand Lower at Highbury for any game was £4.50 along with the option of standing in the terraces for around £3. In the space of just twenty years, that same seat went up to £39, which was way above the average growth in wages during that time, which did not even triple. In 1995 you could still get in to any game at Highbury for £10. From £3 to stand at any game in 1986, to £63 for the cheapest ticket at a grade A game is a breathtaking change and one that comes with massive consequences to maintaining a traditional fan base and atmosphere.
Reduction in football ticket pricing will typically be in line with the supermarket tactic of perceived cost reduction. In other words, hike up prices – then put them back down by a fraction and pretend the customer is making a saving. A perceived or flimsy price reduction is something we should be very wary of, and the FSF’s ‘Twenty is Plenty’ campaign should be used as a benchmark for fairness in ticket pricing. Twenty is most certainly plenty, especially when you consider the millions that Premier League clubs generate from television, advertising and merchandise. The team in the Premier League who finishes bottom will still be £60 million better off than they would have been a year earlier in the same position. Spin and false perception are simply not satisfactory and fans need to demand significant pricing reductions in order to see a return to the ‘People’s Game’.
Fan power is a weapon that is underestimated. This summer I attended a meeting with four other football fans in the offices of the Premier League, where we discussed ticket pricing with Richard Scudamore. Outside the building 300 angry fans from clubs all over the country were protesting and making their voices heard inside the building. From what I could see, the officials inside were a bit shaken up by what was going on outside in the street. They do not want any bad publicity to harm their corporate friendly product. Can you imagine if the percentage of protesting fans outside rose by the same figure as ticket pricing has in the last 20 years? If that were the case then the thousands of fans would really give the chaps in the Premier League offices something to worry about.
Matthew Bazell is the author of Theatre of Silence: The Lost Soul of Football