Fans continue to pay any price to get their football fix, as Nick Hilton finds
IMAGINE, at some point in your youth, enjoying the experience of a night out at a show or an event so intensely that you felt compelled to keep on going back for more.
You kept on going back when the attraction had a change of management and the prices went up, faster than anything else on which you spent your spare cash.
Even as the prices rose by as much as 700% over a 20 year period, you kept on going back, paying up no matter what the cost and the strain on the household budget.
Most people would call that the behaviour of a mug with more money than sense. Or, if you couldn’t really afford the money, the behaviour of an addict.
It is however no more than normal behaviour for a football fan who follows a Premier League club today.
A Liverpool fan spends between £39 and £48 on a seat for a Premier League game at Anfield. At Everton match-day tickets range from £31 to £43. Arsenal boast the highest priced match-day ticket at £126 and a few at £26. At Manchester United the span is £35 to £57, at Wigan Athletic £20 to £22.
Don’t be taken in by the bottom end prices. They are invariably for a few remote seats with poor views of the action. Most seats are priced at the more expensive end of the spectrum.
While most aspects of our daily lives feel the impact of the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s, Premier League football behaves as if it is living in a financial climate of its own, sealed off by a bubble of broadcasting riches.
In spite of the high cost of admission to grounds, attendances at most Premier League clubs show little sign of dropping from the high levels of recent years and many clubs boast a waiting list of thousands of people who want to buy season tickets.
Seat occupancy rates have barely changed in recent years: 92.4% in 2009-10, 92.2% in 2010-11 and 92.6% last season. They may even be rising. According to a league spokesman, seat occupancy is 95% for the 2012-13 season.
No-one has been able to come up with an answer to the question of why football supporters will pay any price to watch the team home and away. Academics differ on how much allegiance to a club impacts on attendances and ticket sales for games.
In recent months however, supporters have begun to organise their grumbles into coordinated protests. Liverpool fans attending the Premier League game at Wigan last Saturday (March 2) unfurled a banner listing ticket prices at Arsenal, the two Manchester clubs, Anfield and Wigan, where seats costs £20-22, declaring: “Enough is enough.” Another banner produced by Liverpool read: “Working class game, business class prices.”
A poster produced by Liverpool fans points out that if the inflation rate of Anfield ticket prices since 1989 (716%, they calculate) were applied to a pre-match drink then the price of a pint of beer, £1.08 in 1989, would be £8.55 today. A pair of Levi jeans to wear to the game, £50 in 1989, would be £409.50 today.
At a recent Premier League fixture at The Emirates, Manchester City fans protested about Arsenal’s £62 price on seats for the visitors’ section and the champions returned 912 unsold tickets. Following the boycott Arsenal enacted a price freeze on all tickets but the prices remain prohibitively high for many.
The days when Liverpool and Everton based admission prices on what the local working man could afford are long gone.
In the year of the Lord Justice Taylor report into the Hillsborough disaster, 1989/90, which would forever change the standing culture of top-flight grounds, the price of standing on the Kop was £4. The cheapest ticket at Manchester United was £3.50 and at Arsenal £5.
Adjusted with inflation those tickets should still have been under £10 in 2011. Instead they went up between 700% and 1025%.
Arsenal were the first club to break the £100 mark for a ticket to a Premier League game. The best seats for a Category A match at The Emirates Stadium costs £126. A season ticket costs up to £1955.
The make-up of crowds at Anfield is different to what it used to be. It is not so much that flocks of prawn sandwich eating company executives are filling the Kop and Centenary Stands. The change is in those who are missing.
David Fairclough, a Liverpool striker in the 1970s and the regular media pundit these days says: “There are not enough young people coming to Premier league games now. The atmosphere has changed. Young people make a positive noise. They don’t see anything negative.”
Rogan Taylor, director of Liverpool University’s football industries group says: “Of course, the grounds have improved out of all recognition, but the ticket price increases have not mostly been necessary to pay for that – they are now going into the arms race of escalating players’ wages.”
Malcolm Clarke, chairman of the Football Supporters Federation says: “Some Premier League clubs do offer good deals but prices at top clubs, particularly London clubs, are mostly outrageous. They are beyond the reach of many young people who used to have access to football.
“Football by tradition was always accessible to almost everybody. In the current economic climate with jobs and standards of living under threat, there is a great danger and increasing section of the community will be priced out.”
Liverpool fans group Spirit of Shankly recently launched a campaign calling on all Premier League clubs to offer a £25 seat and is reaching out to supporters of other clubs – even Manchester United – to join them.
The problem for fans of the best supported clubs, such as Man Utd and Liverpool, is that many fans cannot bring themselves to use the ultimate sanction of not buying the product and staying away from games. They know those tickets will be snapped up by somebody else
Football finance experts Deloitte expect the extra TV money to be spent not on offering spectators a better deal but on paying ever more inflated wages to players.
Dan Jones, partner in the sports business arm of Deloitte said: “Player wages will go up. There is more revenue in the game and more money will be spent on wages. That is absolutely categorically going to be the case. It is the same in every professional sport around the world.”
The Premier League themselves continue to argue that conditions at Premier League grounds have improved significantly over the past 20 years and that the quality of players on view from all around the world adds value to the spectators’ experience.
Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson said: “We must accept that some people feel they are excluded because they can’t afford the prices. Twenty years ago many people were excluded for different reasons: the atmosphere was hostile and many grounds were inadequate.
“We recognise the experience has improved enormously, crowds have increased hugely and a wider section of society feels comfortable coming to football.”
Those comfortable enough to afford it, that is.