As some clubs impose a price freeze or even cuts in response to poor crowds, a campaign has been launched to give a fair deal to away fans. Tom Green reports
How much are you prepared to pay to watch a game of football? With millionaires on the pitch and billionaires taking over the clubs, is it fair that the fans should be paying more in England than anywhere else in the world?
The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) believe that something needs to be done. Their concern is that, at a time when a huge increase in television revenue is imminent, Premiership attendances are starting to fall. Rising season-ticket prices have cut the home support, while away fans, unable to meet the rising costs of tickets and travel, are becoming stay-away fans.
The FSF have launched a campaign to secure a commitment from the Premier League for a three–season freeze of prices at 2006-07 season levels for both season tickets and individual match tickets. In addition, they want an end to the differential pricing for away fans that sees, for example, Manchester United supporters paying around £10 per game more than almost anyone else. The FSF are calling for a universal away ticket price of no more than £15 for all Premiership games (£10 for concessions).
“The campaign is aimed at Premier League clubs,” explains the FSF’s Jon Keen, “because of the obscene amount of money that these clubs are about to receive from the new TV rights package. When the increase in their income is equivalent to £30 for each individual attendance at a Premiership match last season, we feel that any increase in ticket prices would be absolutely indefensible – effectively, they could let all supporters in for next to nothing and still be better off than they are this year. We believe a tipping point in ticket prices has been reached. If prices continue to rise, the people’s game will be the preserve of the affluent and a whole generation will be priced out of watching live football.”
What of clubs outside the Premiership, however? Many Championship clubs regularly charge in excess of £30 and even in Leagues One and Two you can pay £20 or £25. They won’t be sharing in Sky’s largesse – can they be expected to cut their prices, too? “We recognise that pricing is just one issue and that the redistribution of TV money across the whole pyramid is a crucial issue to lower-league clubs,” says Keen. “Campaigning for this redistribution is a key part of our policy and we are not running this Premiership pricing campaign in isolation.”
But the FSF is convinced that stopping price rises at Premier League clubs will also help lower-league fans. “The justification for clubs in every league to raise prices is often the level of prices charged by clubs relegated into that league from above,” Keen argues. “So lowering the price gap between Premiership and Championship will have an effect in keeping prices down in the Championship, and so on down the leagues.”
Some Premier League clubs have already shown some sympathy with the notion of reducing prices. Phil Gartside, at Bolton, was the first chairman to go public with his concerns about the impact of high costs and several clubs have already announced reductions for next season.
There has been a particular desire to target young fans. A recent Premier League survey revealed that fewer than one in ten of those going to games are under 24, while the average age has risen to 43, so some clubs, including Manchester City, are offering greater discounts for children and young people. One-off offers, such as Blackburn granting free entry to season-ticket holders for their UEFA Cup match against Bayer Leverkusen, also look set to become more frequent. There are signs of progress in the Football League, too. Bournemouth’s new prices mean, for example that next season a family of four will pay a average price per game of only £28.26 – 37 per cent less than this season’s match-day prices.
Perhaps the most audacious initiative has come from Charlton. Keen to secure their fanbase in the event of relegation to the Championship, they are offering those who renew now a free season ticket for 2008-09 if the club go down this year and are promoted at the first attempt. If they get back into the top flight, the reasoning goes, they will be able to afford the mass giveaway.
However, while there has been some progress in the right direction on ticket prices and the FSF’s campaign has had plenty of favourable coverage, the difficulty will surely come in getting the Premier League to impose ticket pricing rules on their member clubs. The free market rules in football and it’s hard to see anything changing that simple fact.
As well as signing the FSF’s petition, then, fans might find the need to take direct action themselves. At Fulham in February, Manchester United fans boycotted refreshments and programmes in protest at being charged £45 for their tickets. Other fans who feel they are being ripped off could do the same.
The clubs, of course, would do well to heed the supporters’ concerns. They know that the game depends on fans, not just for revenue but for atmosphere. If people stay away, the Premiership “product” that has been sold so successfully around the world could be undermined. Empty seats and hushed silence do not make for an enticing spectacle.
Moreover, if clubs fleece people while times are good and TV revenue plentiful, they will find fans reluctant to return when they really need them.
From WSC 243 May 2007. What was happening this month