The BBC stepped into the breach yesterday with what they claim is the biggest survey on the cost of attending football matches in England and Wales. Despite the headlines and graphics, there was little new in their findings beyond Kidderminster Harriers having the most expensive pies at £4.50 a pop. They may be gourmet, they may be very nice indeed but it’s still expensive whichever way you cut it or whatever flavour the gravy is.
It’s all relative of course, hence ‘Piegate’ was surprising but the issue of ticket prices has long been a bone of contention for supporters and is nothing short of scandalous when you consider that they consistently outstrip the rate of inflation. So does everything else, it’s one of the reasons for wondering how inflation is so low although given that it is an official statistic, few would be surprised to learn that three years ago, someone forgot that there should have been a ‘1’ in front of the then reported figure of 5.6%. No-one had the brass balls to tell the Chancellor of the mistake and it’s been allowed to continue. Or at least that’s the only plausible reason for prices rising so quickly that I can think of.
Anyway, I am not sure what the point of a graphic comparing the lowest price of a match ticket is on either a game-by-game basis or season tickets; Arsenal are the most expensive in both cases but what do we learn given the majority of seats are priced in between. Indeed without knowing the spread by number of seats you are comparing apples with legs of pork; a meaningless and ultimately futile adventure.
We know that ticket prices have outstripped the cost of living. We also know that they are too high compared to other clubs in continental Europe although sweeping generalisations that the Bundesliga is cheaper than the Premier League is not entirely true. At least they have corrected the notion that watching La Liga is; prices between comparable clubs are, well, comparable. Again though, we are comparing clubs which are structured differently and operate in different financial regulations. Until those basics are aligned, casting envious eyes at the prices in Germany is another pointless exercise.
It isn’t that I am not interested in such arguments, they are irrelevant. Even before the Sky deals injected vast sums of money into the game, prices were increasing rapidly or that’s how it seems looking back. I would venture that we are probably paying around 35% more for season tickets and matchday tickets than if those prices had kept place with inflation, perhaps even more. Using Highbury as a base, well, I won’t; different ground, different amenities, different times. The Man won, we lost; that’s how it is.
Doesn’t make it right though, does it? With the new broadcast revenues, the Football Supporters Federation calculated that the clubs could have given the difference between the new and old deals back to supporters by knocking roughly £30 off ticket prices. It’s a lovely notion, one that says thank you. Arsenal could have forgone the last ticket price rise and Stan could have foregone the £3m he took in fees. Another nice idea, one that would have reduced the irritant factor by two. But they weren’t were they?
Questions can be asked at AGMs, they can be asked in the House but the only way that clubs will reduce ticket prices is if they are forced to. They pay lip service to supporters. We might be the lifeblood of the game but there are quite a few areas where clubs view us as nothing more than a nuisance. It’s all down to perspectives; some directors, chairmen and owners believe that we ought to feel lucky to be able to watch a high standard of football. After all, if it weren’t for their money, we wouldn’t be watching of a standard that is any higher than the equvialent of the Romanian Second Division.
I’ll tug my forelock on the way out, Sire.
But as much as I rail against clubs and for the most part, they deserve all the criticism they get on the subject of ticket prices, they are a victim of circumstances. A staggering suggestion for me to put forward given that clubs create the current and created past events. If players have too much power now – they do – it’s only as a result of the lack of foresight of successive generations of owners before them. Men who believed that clubs were their own personal fiefdoms and everyone should be in their awe for keeping them afloat. If they hadn’t been run so badly, perhaps we would have been. But they were and we aren’t.
Decades of players being kept down through oppressive rules and an archaic attitude began crumbling in the 60s. Eastham and the PFA invoked the Law to overturn outdated rules whilst successive decades proved that new owners didn’t learn the lessons of their past; Bosman is a name that will haunt them and their heirs. It also put us in the situation we find ourselves now. From power residing with clubs, it has shifted to players or more accurately, their agents. We saw the balance, the middle ground, when we sped past; it’s now not even on the horizon in the rear view mirror.
Players wages cost an average of 71p for every pound of revenue clubs raise. It’s madness but a lot better than it used to be but if we want to know why costs involved in watching football are so high, there is the answer. 71% of every pound of your ticket price (net of VAT) is going into pay packets. 71%. Supply and demand, Dear Boy, supply and demand. Yeah, I know, I remember my ‘A’ Level Economics course.
There’s no sign of the madness ending. Every time the plateau or fall is predicted, football comes up with a new answer, another angle. It’s reached the point where I’ve given up wondering which will be the big club to fall, few are showing any signs of such weakness and with Financial Fair Play regulations proving to be nothing more than a way of keeping the rich élite in their places, there is little sign of anything changing.
Wages could be brought under control, the oft-mooted salary cap might actually turn from words to actions but it can’t happen unilaterally and needs players co-operation. Anything less than the latter and we will not be quoting Bosman so frequently, just the name of the next legal action that changes football. In any case, clubs and individuals are so cynical that earnings will be diverted from salaries into promotional activities. Which club pays the most for them will be the best employer in town. Or should it be, whichever sponsor has the deepest pockets makes their clubs look so attractive. Where there are rules, there are minds to bend them.
Even if the wages are capped and clubs are able to cut prices, would you trust them to do so? I wouldn’t. There seems precious little incentive for them to do it, certainly no impetus on their part to find a solution. You want the stars, you gotta pay baby. It’s a mantra that serves them well at the moment and we can’t expect turkeys to vote for Christmas. They aren’t going to do anything which gives their peers, their opponents, an advantage.
Corruption in the ruling bodies has not damaged the game, the mud is sticking to individuals and even then, it is proving to be almost impossible to remove the President who oversaw an era of corruption from his role. The American military would kill to have the kind of defences that Sepp Blatter has. Perhaps match-fixing will be the poison arrow. I am genuinely not convinced. Football is entertainment, its big business; it’s like a cockroach, seemingly impervious to a nuclear blast, likely to outlive us all.
And we’ll keep paying through the nose to watch it, whether it be ticket prices and television subscriptions or the hearty mix of both. Predictions are routinely made that matches will be played in the future with stadia half-full, without atmosphere. They said that about hooliganism; football survived. Cockroaches always do. There doesn’t seem to be a large, heavy boot waiting to stamp on it. There might be but I am not counting on it.
’til Tomorrow. Even though it’s not much of one, is it?