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Tranmere Rovers & Cheltenham Town Stare Into The Abyss
There is an element of truth universally acknowledged about the fact that tickets for football matches are too high, but the extent to which they are too high is still frequently shocking. Liverpool supporters travelling to London for their match against Arsenal at the end of this month will have to pay £62 for entry into The Emirates Stadium (although this should probably be seen within in the context of the eye-wateringly high prices that are charged for matches in London in a general sense), while West Ham United supporters who were planning to travel to Old Trafford for their FA Cup Third Round replay next week might consider doing otherwise once they see that the home side will be charging £45 a ticket for those West Ham supporters that are hardy enough to make a trip north to Manchester on a midweek evening in January, and the added irony to this is that Manchester United’s travelling supporters were only charged £20 for their tickets at Upton Park on Saturday afternoon.
There are few supporters – in particular, but not exclusively, those of Premier League clubs – who don’t have a tale of woe of some description about being forced to pay a price that is unreasonable to the point of extortion for the sometimes dubious pleasure of watching a match live, and we could easily fill a couple of thousand words with examples of this phenomenon, which his become increasingly shameless with every passing year over the last two decades or so. We all know that it’s wrong and that it’s an abuse of the absolute monopoly that football clubs have on the affections of supporters, but voices of dissent on the subject remain relatively sidelined. The golden goose is the extraction of money from the wallets and purses of football supporters hasn’t stopped laying just yet, and all the time that grounds continue to sell out on anything like a regular basis, clubs will continue to act in the way that they have in recent years.
The answer to the question of why they do this is a very familiar one to anybody that has had dealings with an organisation which has a private monopoly on anything. They do it because they can. And they can, because people allow them to. And the people that allow them to are not only the authorities who run the game in this country itself – apparently now solely in the interests of the clubs and television companies, and certainly not in the best interests of supporters – but, increasingly, supporters themselves. For it is us that pay those prices and have allowed clubs to justify this now decades long period of hyper-inflation with the catch-all stock phrase so beloved of those with pound signs in their eyes – ‘market forces,’ though the concept of ‘market forces’ does have a tendency to disappear from view as soon as clubs want anything for themselves.
Of course, the question at this point can only be that of what we can possibly do about it, and there is only one answer that might just make clubs sit up and take any notice whatsoever: to boycott them. When we consider that a large proportion of those present every other week at many clubs is made up of season ticket holders, though, the idea of persuading people to boycott en masse starts to look unworkable. A window of opportunity for those who would seek to draw attention to this sort of thing, however, does open itself up when it comes to away supporters. Away support is smaller and probably easier to mobilise. It is also made up those that get hammered by these prices on a week-in-week-out basis. Supporters make complaints about the cost of ticket prices all the time, but perhaps the asset that might make club owners sit up and take notice more than anything else would be their silence. The noise – or lack thereof – were, say, West Ham United to score at Old Trafford next week in front of no away supporters whatsoever would not just be heard at Old Trafford. It would be heard around on television sets and computers around the world. It would send a more powerful message than any actual words on the subject ever could.
This is mostly wishful thinking, of course. Football supporters are, for the most part (and there is a certain irony to what is to follow which we are fully aware of, which could probably form the basis of a half-decent social psychology dissertation), far too supine to organise themselves into a boycott to prove a point of this nature. Perhaps notions of loyalty only stretch as far as loyalty to the corporate structure that our clubs have become, rather to the thousands – perhaps even millions – of their fellow supporters that have already been priced out of the game. If a big club’s away support could somehow be persuaded to boycott a match en masse, could the support of the team that they were playing be persuaded to not merely use it as an opportunity to sing, “You’re support is fucking shit” over and over again? Unlikely, but we can dream.
For much of the last twenty years, it has felt as if there must be a tipping point with regard to ticket prices, a level at which further increases will become commercially untenable. This hasn’t happened yet, though, and there are few signs that these increases are likely to even slow down in the near future. There remain hundreds of thousands of supporters that can, at this point in time, still afford to buy tickets on a regular basis, but it hardly seems prudent to leave any protest until after almost everybody has been priced out of the game, without even taking into consideration that an attitude of “I’m alright Jack” should surely run counter-intuitively to the very collective essence of what it means to be the supporter of a football club. It certainly seems as if football clubs will continue to charge what they can get away with for as long as we put up with it. And we have been putting up with it for far too long.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Agree with the sentiments here. How can it be that fans in Germany can organise themselves to protest against ticket prices and we can’t?
The most obvious example is the Dortmund fans who boycotted the derby with Schalke when being asked to pay €20 to stand up (Kein Zwanni für nen Steher – clumsily translated as ‘No Twenty for a standing place’).
However, on the example you mention of price variation between the Boleyn Ground and Old Trafford, in the FA Cup prices have to be agreed by both clubs, so one can only assume West Ham are complicit in the £45 price their fans will have to pay. Perhaps West Ham are taking the pragmatic approach to maximising their 45% share of the gate money?
I agree with the sentiment entirely and I do think there will come a point that fans say enough is enough and vote with their feet.
The problem is, certainly in the top flight these days, television money dwarfs income from tickets so much that clubs are probably not going to be bothered if their stadiums are half-empty.
There’s also the point that fans find it really hard to walk away from their clubs. Although we get treated like normal consumers by clubs these days, we don’t act like them. We don’t generally choose to go somewhere cheaper if we don’t feel we’re getting value for money.
My own club Burnley wanted £31 for me, as a non-member, to watch the Blackburn Rovers game from the best seats at Turf Moor. I decided I couldn’t justify the spending, but would never have forgiven myself for missing it had we won the game.
Ian, if you look at the long term stats for the whole of the post war period, and also at growth rates since the mid 1980s it does seem as if football attendances have been in a period of stagnation for much of the last decade.
Part of this is due to the recession, though the trend pre-dates 2008. Part too is high prices, but in my view the biggest thing (which is connected to high prices) is a lack of capacity. The Premier league has a capacity utilisation of 93%, compared to 58% for the total football league. The simple economics is that with more demand than supply for many PL games clubs have been getting away with price increases.
The stadium construction boom also seems to have come to an end after peaking in the late 1990s and clubs are very much taking the easier approach of focusing on growing their TV and commercial revenues rather than trying to meet demand by building huge stadia. It’s very much a short term approach, but one which seems unlikely to change particularly given the growing importance of broadcast and commercial revenue compared to matchday revenue.
I’ve drawn a couple of graphs about it here: http://rowzfootball.wordpress.com/2012/11/14/the-end-of-growth-have-english-football-attendances-peaked-and-what-happens-next/
A major part of me turning my back on Charlton Athletic was ticket prices. Yes I could afford them but the pain of seeing £20+ being blown on an inept performance or defeat was too much; if Worthing lose yes it hurts, but £9 means that I don’t hate myself for wasting money
Even more ambitiously but necessarily, such a boycott should really be accompanied by a refusal of all away fans to watch the game on television as well.