Things, it seems, have finally been moving in the right direction for AFC Bournemouth of late. Promoted into the Football League Championship at the end of last season and with the wackier excesses of the behaviour of co-owner Eddie Mitchell, which featured on these pages before several times, the club seemed to have broken out of something of a straitjacket and has been starting to look more upwardly mobile of late. Upward mobility, however, comes at a cost and the extent to which it can cost was thrust into a harsh light yesterday with the news that the Cherries would be playing Real Madrid in a friendly match, with tickets on sale at £60 for adults, £55 for season ticket holders and £30 for children.
These may be the sort of numbers that make the head spin but, remarkably, the club might not even make that much of a profit from the evening. Dean Court, which is currently masquerading under the sponsorship-driven name of the Goldsands Stadium, has a capacity of 12,000 people, but it has been reported that the fee for bringing Real Madrid to the Dorset coast is £1m, which is the biggest single reason for the lavish cost of the tickets for this match. If the ground was completely sold out with non-season ticket holding adults, only just over seventy per cent of the cost of just the opposition turning up would be covered by gate receipts. Now, the club may make more money from the sale of refreshments and other commercial revenues in addition to the money taken on the gate, but the likelihood of it turning a huge profit on the fixture seems slim.
It is probably this which informed the slightly peculiar sight of Mitchell announcing these ticket prices with the notion that it was a “thank you” to supporters, but it is difficult to shake the idea that all this means is that, rather than standing accused of profiteering from the match, the club may be pouring good money after bad down the drain. The club will benefit from the publicity of it all, of course, and once the circus rolls into town it is likely that all publicity will be good publicity. It is difficult, for example, to imagine that Sky Sports News will focus their coverage on the cost of ticket prices on the night when Real’s gold-plated team coach rolls into the car park at Dean Court. But there are questions relating to this match which should be raised, and which the club should answer.
Firstly, there is the small matter of what those turning out to watch this match might be getting for their money. It has already been trailed by Eddie Mitchell as an “exhibition match”, and it had also been reported that Real have another friendly match against Galatasaray the following day which is being broadcast live on the television, though this is now not happening. However, with Confedations Cup players reported to be not returning to training until the day before the match, it remains possible that a full strength Real Madrid team may not be on view. This, however, is conjecture and presumably there is a contract in place which lists minimum requirements for Real to fulfil for this fixture, but these haven’t, at the time of writing, been made public.
Then there is the small matter of the Bournemouth defender Steven Purches, whose ten years at the club are set to be marked by a testimonial match against West Ham United which is due to be played in ten days’ time. Supporters, who remain in the grip of what is still a harsh economic climate, may now find themselves in a position in which they may feel as if they have to pick and choose between the glitz and glamour of a match against one of world football’s biggest names and a match to mark a decade’s worth of appearances for a player. We can’t, of course, claim to speak on behalf of the player concerned, but it does feel as if it would be a shame if the attendance for this match was adversely affected by the cost of tickets for the subsequent match against Real Madrid.
And finally there is the matter of the cost of these tickets, independent of any other considerations, on their own terms. It isn’t so much a matter of these prices being indefensible. The arguments over why they cost as much as they do has been outlined above, and they make sense in their own way. However, it is worth considering the question of whether AFC Bournemouth need to play Real Madrid to the extent that these ticket prices must be justified. There is an argument to be had over the morality – or otherwise – of a club with the resources of Real Madrid needing £1m to pitch up somewhere to play ninety minutes of football at a leisurely pace, but it can hardly be argued that this isn’t an arrangement that Bournemouth haven’t entered into voluntarily, and with full knowledge of the costs of doing so – well, we would hope that this is the case. But the high cost of tickets for football matches remains a contentious issue, and this contention doesn’t end at the foot of the Premier League, even though media reporting on the issue may occasionally give the impression that it does. To that extent, not all of the publicity that AFC Bournemouth has received and will receive over this story is positive, and some people will argue that these ticket prices are a ‘rip-off’. Whether they are or not is a matter of perception and definition, though.
The answer for Bournemouth supporters seeking to express dissatisfaction at the cost of attending this match is obvious in some respects – don’t go, then – and clouded in others – if they don’t, it’s likely that there will be plenty of others that will if they don’t. The ‘market forces’ argument that applies in the case of normal match day tickets is less relevant in this case than in other demonstrations on the matter. This match is likely to be a one-off, after all. However, the idea of saying thank you by requesting supporters to pay out the sort of money being requested for tickets for this match does have an element of perversity about it, and it is this sort of perversity which only lends to the idea that football ticket prices have already spiralled out of control, and the argument that those who don’t want to or are unable to pay this sort of price should just keep quiet and listen to it on the radio – or whatever – doesn’t feel like a particularly strong argument from a moral point of view. Ultimately, the wallets of the people of Bournemouth and Boscombe will make the decision over whether this match was worthwhile or not.
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