High cost is driving away the lower-league hardcore
Gate receipts more important lower down
18 October ~ The BBC's release of its Price of Football Survey 2012 revealed the increasing costs of watching football in England, with ticket prices going up at five times the rate of inflation in the last 12 months. Matchday costs remain excessive throughout the country amid calls to reduce the amounts charged for admission at all levels. The most expensive match ticket at Conference level is listed as £19, with a further 11 clubs charging £17 or £18 out of the 23 clubs who replied to the survey.
Onlookers are justified in saying that these prices are too much for non-League clubs to charge: take out the hardcore who will go almost whatever the price and the real issue comes in attracting occasional fans or those contemplating going for the first time. Those prices, coupled with the common stigma that the game won't be of any real quality because it's so far removed from the Premier League, is enough to deter fans from bothering. The same can be said in the lower reaches of the Football League and at levels further down.
With even members of the hardcore beginning to drift away due to cost or increasingly poor performances, attendances around the country have dropped. Five Conference clubs are currently averaging gates over 5 per cent up on last season. Three of them are newly-promoted and Newport are enjoying title-challenging form, a big budget and a new home in the city centre. Elsewhere clubs are struggling and ten of them are 15 per cent or more down on their figures from last year.
While the troubles are most pronounced the further down the pyramid you go, the increasing cost of matches and lack of disposable income around the country is having an influence at the top of the game as well. While the BBC trumpeted that Premier League grounds are over 95 per cent full, teams are struggling to sell tickets where previously this wasn't an issue. Saturday's fixture between Tottenham and Chelsea, surely one of the biggest games of the season for both sides, went on general sale.
With money tight and the high-profile matches always likely to be screened by Sky, the temptation not to attend and watch games on TV instead may be heightened. With the latest broadcast deal seeing a 70 per cent increase in revenue for top-flight teams the number of Sky subscriptions is arguably of more importance to clubs than the prospect of being unable to sell out home games. If this sight becomes more common then perhaps those calling for a reduction in ticket prices will get their wish.
Arsenal earned an estimated £56 million last season from broadcasting revenue, a figure which will rise considerably when the new deal comes into place – do they really need to risk alienating their "customers" and charge up to £126 for a ticket? Without the benefits of massive television deals and with smaller fan bases and sponsorship income, ticket sales remain a large amount of a lower division club's turnover. They need to charge £20 for a ticket more than a Premier League side needs to charge £60.
The threat that a generation of fans may miss out on the experience of attending live football appears to be a very real one. Being able to attain tickets for all but the very biggest games is easier than it was only a few seasons ago but only if you can afford it. Matt Ramsay