Football loves its phrases. We speak of a player getting stuck in and having good feet for a big man, while saying his form is poor as he’s gone off the boil. Some squads play Route One football and others just run about. The sports lexicon is thick with these and many other sayings that at times can remind us in short order what message is attempting to be conveyed–a little Richard Keys banter if you like–and on other occasions cause us to grind our teeth slightly at their overusage–again, a little Richard Keys banter if you like. Now swiftly being added to the standard book of catchphrases for Scottish football representatives is, “Given the current economic climate,” but it is coming to sound less a cliché than their “focus on youth development” and more of a crutch to justify why the game north of Hadrian’s Wall struggles. Supporters of Scottish Premier League clubs must surely be frustrated when this chestnut is pulled out, as it suggests the part they play in digging the game out of its current muck is once again being overlooked.
Alarm bells are ringing and dark clouds hang ominously low, but Neil Doncaster & Co. are presented as trying to put a brave face upon the situation the SPL confront. Champions Rangers await a now delayed answer from the courts on whether their massive tax bill must indeed be paid in full, threatening to reduce one of Scotland’s biggest and most successful clubs down considerably, making the club appear a risky investment going forward. Heart of Midlothian are being tossed off by the foreign owner that had saved them previously from hitting the wall, as he wants to be shot of Scottish football for the price of a Fernando Torres so he can attend the theatre instead. Even Clydesdale Bank, a long running sponsor of the top flight, has chosen to end its financial relationship with the league after its current contract expires in eighteen months. At the moment, it seems no entity with money wishes to sink it into the Scottish Premier League.
The league did get a new television deal, though, but this is only worth a bit more than the last one signed while stood on the end of a plank.
Upon announcement of the improved, £80 million agreement with ESPN and Sky, Doncaster highlighted the positive effects of such a deal, including how this now increases the league’s probability of obtaining a worthy new title sponsor as well as more pounds in each club’s empty pockets to invest in their squads. Tied to this new contract, however, was the guarantee of broadcaster acessibility to Old Firm matches, and in particular the ability to televise four of these during a league season. Fans could immediately see the implication of this, that not until after this five year TV deal ends will the league see any meaningful reconstruction. There will be no expansion from the current 12 team set-up, as any increase in the size of the league would have negated Rangers and Celtic getting together that many times. While the money is a bonus, the deal feels like another blow to supporters, who have had their pleas for an expanded league, lower ticket prices, standing areas, and a return to the more standard 3 p.m. Saturday start time for matches looking to have fallen on deaf ears once again and won’t be addressed for at least a few more years.
Given the current economic climate though…
Regardless of financial situation, though, the reason why the game exists to begin with because of fans, and rather than employing this phrase to explain away why their interests are being ignored, Scottish football authorities might be better placed were they include them in the reckoning. After all, other than the renewed TV deal and pending a new sponsor to replace Clydesbank being located, the only parties apparently interested in investing in the Scottish top flight are its clubs’ supporters. So, if the extension of the television contract with ESPN/Sky means fans will continue to be denied the chance to see an expanded league in the near future, what then of calls to reduce ticket prices? Despite this current economic climate suggesting clubs would be daft to cut one of their ways to generate revenue, when combined with attendance figures, such a decision could actually make them a bit more money.
By torturing figures obtained from the official Scottish Premier League website on attendances and modeling them against the cost of ticket prices as presented here, were SPL clubs to reduce their ticket prices by 10%, a hypothetical increase in fans purchasing those cheaper tickets–and these are for seats as there are no prices for standing section tickets yet–would result in over a 1% increase in the average gate receipts save every club but Hearts. Utilise the average “day out” cost obtained from that BBC report and this result holds even more strongly for all clubs, including an increase now for Hearts, if the price of Bovril and a programme remain static but only the ticket price drops. Again, these results are highly dubious, as they are based on 2011 average attendances (which are of course not based on a full season of matches) in order to correspond with those 2011 statistics from the BBC and purely extrapolated to stadiums at a partial capacity of either the cheapest or the most expensive ticketgoers. Were we to average the highest and the lowest ticket prices into one number, though, the 1% increase maintains stability through the middle of the SPL attendance board and actually strengthens for the bigger clubs like Celtic & Rangers, whom we would have imagined at the outset would see the opposite effect from other clubs, considering their greater average prices as well as larger attendances on the whole.
Overall, should a decrease in ticket prices spark enough interest in fans to return to their seats at Ibrox, Celtic Park, Easter Road, or even McDiarmid Park, the league would see matchday receipts increase roughly by £500,000. Further, multiply this average intake over the entire season and the league would be looking at an additional £19 million on average gate receipts. Funnily enough, this comes nearly close enough to the £20 million Doncaster suggests the SPL would lose per season were it to expand the number of participant clubs. This has yet to take into consideration the matter of standing areas being returned to the top flight, as has been discussed by Celtic and considered by other clubs. Such sections would not only increase the capacities of these SPL stadiums and provide an additional boost to these wholly unreliable figures. Further, this hasn’t included an increase in concession sales to clubs, whom would assuredly be selling a few more pies and programmes to the larger gates.
So, rather than speaking to the current economic climate, perhaps the Scottish Premier League ought to think of investing in the future with its fans, which could end up paying dividends both financially and emotionally for all those involved. Were the Premier League clubs to decide and listen to their supporters on this one after turning them away (for now) on expansion, it would send a clear signal to them that they do care what they think and that, while other groups are avoiding the SPL like the Plague these days, the current economic climate could be brightened with such a positive alignment of both clubs’ and fans’ bottom lines. Instead of using financial straights as an excuse for denying the fans what they demand, perhaps the Scottish Premier League and its clubs should be thinking in terms of another standard phrase from the football lexicon.
We did this for the fans that have supported us from the beginning.
Author’s Note: All the numbers derived were individually created with a 10% reduction in the average low/high, and overall average ticket price per club for the 2011/12 season, which amounted to between £2-£4 less per ticket. The attendance figures were based on current numbers, which can indeed be problematic considering they do not represent a full season of play. Further, the assumption of an increase of attendance was based on each club’s percentage capacity rather than a simple raw figure.
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