With football fans marching to Premier League and Football League HQ to demonstrate over high ticket prices, FSF National Council committee member Billy TheBee Grant asks the question – could more be done to make football more affordable for fans in all divisions?
Hundreds of football fans are set to march from Marble Arch to the Premier League and Football League headquarters on Thursday August 14 at 1pm to demand cheaper priced tickets, the Football Supporters’ Federation has announced.
The national fans’ group and supporters will argue that clubs should use multi-billion pound media deals to lower ticket prices for both home and away fans.
Playing the majority of our lives in the lower leagues, ridiculously high prices rarely affect Bees fans. There is the odd match though. Paying £25 for a terrible view at Swindon watching third tier football is a prime example.
However, depending on who you support in the Championship, price for entry will vary from £23 to just under £40 for a ticket. It’s OK if you are unglamorous Rotherham playing up at Blackpool. Not so great if you Leeds playing away at Ipswich.
With Brentford’s ambitions of Premier League football within the next 5 years, where prices of £40 and £50 are regularly quoted to see your team play, you can understand why a certain section of fans feel they are being priced out of football.
Lower league teams do not have the TV money that cushions clubs higher up the chain, instead relying heavily on gate income for survival. However, the Premier League’s current media deal is worth a whopping £5.5 billion (UK & international rights) and very little of this income is going back to the people who help make the game an exciting spectacle.
There is an argument to say that the fantastic atmosphere generated at league grounds up and down the country has a value to broadcasters, giving football authorities additional ammunition to charge premium rates to media companies. Would they be able to justify such high prices if every single match they broadcast showed a half-full stadium with a muted audience?
Without a shadow of doubt, the atmosphere generated by fans attending football matches has an intangible financial value to football. Broadcasters should realise this and compensate fans accordingly.
The increase in Premier League media rights alone (latest figures show that in the UK these were up 70% on the previous deal and currently amount to around £1 billion a year) could have led to all 20 Premier League clubs letting in each and every supporter for all 38 games for free last season, without being any worse off than they had been the season before the deal was struck.
Using the ‘half full stadiums’ theory above, one radical solution could be to use TV money to reduce and cap prices throughout the football pyramid in an attempt to fill stadiums not only in the Premier League …. But up and down the country with new and lapsed fans.
Clubs could then concentrate on providing additional value for these larger crowds. Bigger crowds means increased turnover from advertising and sponsorship. Whereas there will be more opportunity to merchandise products those fans actually want to buy – from decent food and drink to clothing and ‘special events’.
Surely the Premier League wouldn’t balk at the idea of using a fraction of their additional TV income to introduce a price cap for teams up and down the country if they really valued fans (and not just fans from the top teams in the top league)?
Oh hold on. The Premier League has nothing to do with the Football League. The two are mutually exclusive.
Or so they say.
So why should they give any of their hard earned money away?
With the Football League contributing to the success of the Premier League – developing players who more often than not get poached for so called ‘bigger’ teams – why not trickle down some of their vast income to more than just those teams who were relegated from the top division (and don’t get me started on parachute payments for relegated teams … the short term fix from the Premier League giving teams who failed an unfair financial advantage against their new rivals).
I remember much hyped Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert strutting their stuff around Griffin Park only three seasons ago playing Division 1 football for Southampton. Where are they now? Poster boys for the deep pockets of Sky and BT Sport’s new exciting season and playing international football for England.
Does the Premier League have a social responsibility to football as a whole? Or is it all about lining their own pockets? Where does all that money go? Couldn’t a proportion of it be re-invested in other areas of the game not already targeted?
Clubs in other European leagues, such as Germany’s Bundesliga, use their immense commercial income and cheap standing areas – outlawed in the UK – to subsidise tickets for fans.
Meanwhile, we’re ‘happy’ to pay £26 to watch Brentford play at Bournemouth and are delighted that our season ticket price is just over £300.
But have we simply got used to paying a higher price for watching football in the UK?
A reality check across the continent sees German fans watching Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich all season for only £104 – less than the price of some tickets for a single Arsenal game. I had the pleasure of watching St Pauli play second tier German football last season in a full stadium for just £10.
It’s interesting that teams from the higher divisions take no real interest in the lower league teams’ plight until they get relegated. Having recently seen the likes of ex-Premier League teams like Southampton, Norwich, Wolves, Portsmouth and Charlton play at Griffin Park, I’ve noticed a shift in attitude with these ex-top flight fans being more aware of and sympathetic to the lower league cause – realising that the majority of money being pumped in at the top end of football actually does very little for the majority of British teams.
Football was more affordable when older fans first started attending matches. In 1981, an average Arsenal season ticket cost £84 – today, their cheapest adult pass costs £1,014, a real-terms increase of 370 per cent.
Kevin Miles, chief executive of the FSF, said:
“Being a regular football supporter is a habit that’s formed at a young age. If you keep raising prices, what you’ll get when you look around the ground isn’t what you had when you started, because you’ve priced out the whole generation – you’ve broken that habit. And if the crowds keep ageing, sooner or later they will die out.”
Miles adds: “Nine out of 10 fans we spoke to think football is simply too expensive. There is always the odd deal that clubs can quote to play it down, but the truth is supporters tell us they think tickets cost too much.
“It’s not just top-flight football either, fans throughout the leagues tell us prices are too high.
“Football is swimming in money, with clubs pocketing record amounts from broadcasting deals while squeezing supporters with high prices. Something has to give.
“Ultimately we, as football supporters, have to speak up about this.”
Maybe I’m being naive and unrealistic. A football fan stuck in a fantasy world where everyone has the good of the whole game in their hearts. In particular, people with the responsibility and power and the money to change things.
If the Germans can do it, why can’t we?
Maybe things will never change.
But one can only live in hope.
And hopefully …. One day …. Football fans up and down the country just might get a pleasant surprise.
The march will leave London’s Marble Arch at 1pm before heading to the Premier League and Football League offices where a Brentford Beesotted rep will be part of a delegation meeting football execs to put forward the fans’ case.