The price you pay

Season ticket prices are in a state of flux, as clubs try to fill their grounds, whatever the price, says Adam Powley

Strange things have been happening in the Premiership with several clubs freezing, or even reducing, their season ticket prices for the next campaign. Leading the charge in this bizarre phenomenon is Tottenham, a club notorious for its high admission charges and dreadful public relations. Others have fol­lowed. Aston Villa, Leicester City and freshly relegated Watford have all decided either to cancel any increase or, in the latter’s case, actually cut some prices to the level they were two years ago. Even Chelsea have promised to put prices on hold for 2001-02.

All, however, may not be quite what it seems. Spurs fans have been quick to point out that the cost of watching their team is still extremely high. Years of huge increases mean that even the cheapest adult seat at the Lane comes in at a hefty £430, while some fans are coughing up £795. So a hold on prices hardly am­ounts to an act of unbridled generosity.

Leicester have reduced their season tickets by up to £55 while introducing special concessions such as £99 for juveniles sitting in Filbert Street’s South Stand. Chairman John Elsom says: “We are determined that season tickets will be as affordable as possible to our supporters. We have listened to our fans who said they have found it difficult to attend as many matches as they would wish this season because of the costs involved. Our new pricing policy reflects these concerns and will hope­fully encourage more of our supporters to purchase season tickets.”

In common with other clubs, however, for next season Leicester have withdrawn the usual three domestic home cup ties from the season ticket package. The club claims this is in response to comments from supporters and the new package does include one UEFA Cup game. Nonetheless, the team has performed consistently well in domestic cup competitions in recent years: now, any Foxes season ticket holder will have to stump up extra cash to see their team repeat the feat.

Watford believe that if they want to retain their support in the Nationwide League they have to make it worthwhile. To that end, the general principle is that if a Watford fan re­news early, they’ll save money. Already, des­pite relegation, the club have received 8,500 re­newals and new applications, a figure ex­pected to reach the 10,000 mark before the start of next season.

How far prices would increase at Vicarage Road should the team bounce straight back up remains to be seen, but even in that situation, early birds can still save money. A club spokesman said: “If you paid £310 for your season ticket for next season and you renewed it the season after, you’ll still get it for £310. For clubs like us we can be going up and down, so the way to attract people is to say no matter what division you’re in, you’re still going to pay the same price.”

Watford’s realistic approach suggests that some clubs are paying more attention to the needs of their fans. For Oliver Butler, editor of the bulletin Soccer Investor, there is also a harsher economic reality at work. “Basically a lot of clubs have seen with the onset of pay-per-view that there will be probably be less demand at the gate for particular games.

“Clubs appreciate that with season ticket holders there is loyalty. They don’t want to lose those cus­tomers because, of course, they are the kind of people who stay faithful over a longer period of time than the casual fan. There is a belief that by encouraging more season ticket holders it will give them more money in advance. It’s guaranteed income.”

Butler believes the demand for attending matches is still there, but clubs are recognising it could start to fade. So is the football bub­ble about to burst? “It’s not inflating at the same rate as before,” he believes. “I think clubs will realise that soon more people will have more choice in how to watch the game, be it live at the ground, on TV or via their tele­phone or computer.”

Butler foresees a situation developing sim­ilar to that in Italy where greater numbers of season ticket holders pay comparatively less money. With the inflationary curve of prices in England levelling off as capacities increase, clubs should become more imaginative and flexible in the way they offer season tickets, he argues. The days of individual arr­angements tailored for a certain number of games against selected opponents may not be far off.

From WSC 160 June 2000. What was happening this month