Premier League Ticket Prices: Money For Nothing & Kicks For…

by | Mar 9, 2016

It is, of course, being paraded as a victory for fan power, and in some respects it is. After all, the protests of various fan groups and the Football Supporters Federation, through their Twenty’s Plenty campaign, had been loud and consistent whilst seeming to unite large numbers of supporters under the unifying banner of protesting for lower ticket prices. And it’s worth remembering that the modern Premier League football club is a rapacious cash-guzzling machine, finely tuned in the dark arts of understanding with scientific precision how to be able to separate passing supporters from their disposable income.

Furthermore, the Premier League had no obligation to put any caps on ticket prices in places, to anybody, and for any reason. Indeed, the league has been actively resisting such complaints for the entirety of its twenty-four year history, citing the quality of its “product” and the vagaries of “market forces” as all the justification it needed not to intervene in what felt like a cycle of perpetually upwardly spiraling prices. In the space of a generation, top flight football had been gentrified beyond recognition, and those running the clubs had been the biggest beneficiaries of it all.

This winter, however, something has changed slightly in the dynamic of the relationship between the Premier League and the supporters of its constituent clubs. Away ticket sales are high, but they’re not as high as they might be, with only four-fifths sold and price believed to be an important constituent part in that. On top of that, there is something of a feelgood factor surrounding the Premier League, with Leicester City sitting proudly atop it, that hasn’t been present in recent years. This would make for excellent PR, and it may well be no accident that it was made right in the middle of a stultifying Champions League knockout stage which feels a little as if UEFA may as well just have given the clubs in each of the eight ties with the highest turnover a bye and saved a lot of people a lot of trouble.

And then, of course, there is the small matter of the fact that all of this publicity – and you can’t buy publicity like the sort of newspaper headlines the Premier League can expect to see tomorrow morning – is so inexpensive, with some estimations for the total cost to the whole of the Premier League being as low as £2m-£3m. And when we consider that each of next season’s twenty entrants as £40m per season each just as result of the new television deal, it starts to look like extremely good value for money indeed. In short, Premier League football clubs could afford to give every single away ticket away free of charge next season and still be an average of £38m richer per club because of these new broadcasting contracts.

The next question to raise its head is an obvious one – is today’s announcement the end of something, or is it the beginning of something? Because the fact of the matter is that tickets sold to away supporters are only a small proportion of those sold, £30 is still fifty per cent more than those campaigning had been campaigning for, and it only applies to Premier League clubs, for Premier League matches. FA Cup and League Cup matches usually invite lower ticket prices because they don’t enthuse supporters as much and because all season ticket holders have to pay for these matches on top of their season tickets, whilst European matches only apply to a minority of clubs within the Premier League.

The Premier League can, of course, afford to cut its season ticket prices, but last year’s The Price Of Football survey found that thirteen clubs in the Football League Championship (as well as one club in League One) charge £30 or more for their most expensive away tickets whilst only four – step forward Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Huddersfield Town and Reading – charge less than £20 for their cheapest. The Premier League is not, of course, responsible for the entry pricing policies of clubs in the Football League, but it should be obvious to the Football League that it will now need to follow suit and introduce caps of its own.

This is, of course, something of a sticky wicket for the Football League. The Premier League has television contracts worth billions of pounds beginning in the summer, a luxury that the seventy-two clubs sitting just below it are, of course, not afforded. This layer of financial insulation, therefore, is not open to Football League clubs, many of whom have had to be coerced towards solvency through salary caps and even more of who will be reluctant to voluntarily cut their income. Ultimately, the clubs of the Football League – and even the senior levels of the non-league game – have had to keep their prices higher than they might even have wanted to in order to remain “competitive” on the pitch. And until such a time that there is a greater degree of the redistribution of the vast amounts of money that flow into the Premier League through television contracts, this will always be the case.

Then there is the small matter of season ticket costs. Arsenal stated today that they will be subsidising their supporters to the tune of an extra £4 each from the start of next season. A commendable decision, of course, but we have to bear in mind that this is coming from a club at which the cheapest season ticket for this season cost £1,014 even though it has £193m in the bank in cash reserves. Tottenham Hotspur announced that they will be freezing season ticket prices for next season, but these prices will be frozen with the cheapest price standing £765, the second most of all twenty clubs in the division. This isn’t, of course, to single these two clubs out or particular criticism. It’s been a trend surrounding the Premier League for as long as the Premier League has been in existence. It just seems to have reached something approaching its apotheosis in North London over the last few seasons or so.

The fact of the matter is that reducing ticket prices for all should be the next target those whose protests seem to finally have had some impact this week, as should reduced prices for the financially disadvantaged and greater inducements to get more young people inside grounds on Saturday afternoons. Furthermore, the Premier League’s crumbs from the table that were issued today must not be considered the last word on the matter. Price reductions should also filter down through the Football League, and we should not forget that the key to guaranteeing the financial security of all of our clubs can only come with a greater redistribution of money through the game overall. It may be a distant hope, but today’s news is a start. That’s all it should be considered to be, though.

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