Has anyone else noticed their wallet feeling a lot heavier at the moment? Even with all the takeaways, craft beer deliveries and whatever else we can find to take the edge off of lockdown. The non-football fans are saving money by not going to restaurants or the opera, or whatever it is their kind do at the weekend. But for us, there are no more overpriced train fares, no more extortionate football tickets, and no crap £5 pies. (Unless it’s a balti pie, which I would pay any amount of money for.) When you include the refunds from Sky Sports and BT Sport, the savings add up.
I am not going to talk about how football is a working class game, because that’s just not true anymore. It crosses social boundaries in a way I feel governments wish they could. Take my friendship groups for example, all from different backgrounds, all with a love of football. The exception is the lot originally from Buckinghamshire, but they are weird (don’t worry they won’t read this).
The rising cost of watching football is an issue that affects most of us. Every year it seems to get more and more expensive and decisions sometimes have to be made about which games you’re going to go to and which ones you’re going to miss. Why has football in the UK become so expensive? (And yes, the Premier League are the worst culprits here, but the Championship is nearly as greedy too.)
Let’s break down the costs to go to a match, say, a Championship away game, Leeds United vs Bristol City. You, Charlie and James are heading up to Leeds for a banging away day. Your match ticket costs £40 (no away ticket scheme in the Championship), your train ticket is £123.60 (you’ve waited to the last minute here – you haven’t been smart). There are beers before the game, naturally, and you end up in a ‘Spoons, despite having vowed never to drop a single penny in Tim Martin’s pockets again. Call it £20 for a few rounds of drinks and some snacks. Finally, a pie in the grounds because why not, and another beer, so £9. We are now £192.60 down for 90 minutes of agony and/or ecstasy, and I haven’t even included train beers (I am assuming you took some cans from your lockdown stash – you’ve got to get through all those beers you hoarded somehow.)
Considering football is on every week, this cost is not sustainable for most, especially if you throw in cup games. Why are fans being mugged off? This isn’t even taking non-3pm games into account (a whole separate issue). Why do I have to pay £40 to watch my team away at Leeds, or £29 to watch my team play away at COLCHESTER!? That’s one quid less than going to any Premier League away game. The same issue is true of home tickets, they are just so high. The Football Supporters Association has revealed that the Championship is the most expensive league in the world to watch. Yes, you read that correctly, more expensive than the bloody money-grabbers in the Premier League!
There are a number of reasons why ticket prices remain high in the lower leagues, but the main one is revenue. There isn’t much TV money in these divisions (see my post on the Football Elite)), so match day revenue makes up a good chunk of income for a club, but it comes at the cost of fans suffering and even lower attendances. If clubs adopted a stack-’em-high, sell-’em-cheap strategy and lowered prices it would: a) help out fans who are being taken for a ride and b) potentially see a rise in attendance, and even revenue overall, as you’re more likely to pay £15 to go to a game instead of £30.
If there’s still a shortfall, footballing governing bodies should be subsidising the difference (though I appreciate this is pie-in-the-sky; getting these organisations to part with their cash is like getting bloody from the proverbial stone). Or – and this is the more satisfying solution – giving serious fines to clubs and players who break the rules, and using this money to make up the difference. I await the FA’s call.
For those who think this is all wishful thinking, take a look across the North Sea to Germany to see that ticket prices can remain low across the board. The cheapest season ticket at Bayern Munich can be had for just €145 (£130). In comparison, the cheapest Manchester United season ticket is €618 (£532), which is just crazy. You can see an arguably better side, in a better stadium, in a nicer city (Munich vs Manchester is no contest), for a quarter of the price.
So why is football so much cheaper in Germany? The football is of a great quality; granted it’s not the Premier League, but the Bundesliga is probably the 3rd or 4th largest league in the world. The answer is simple: they have a rule called “50+1” where the club owns 50% plus 1 share of the club, which means that you can’t have someone swoop in and privately own the club and do something mental like change the club’s badge and colours (I am looking at you Vincent Tan). Most importantly, it means the club is owned locally, giving members some level of power. (Let’s be honest, if Manchester United fans protest ticket prices, there are 100,000 fans on the waiting list who would snatch them up.)
Club presidents in Germany are elected by the members, and it is in the culture of German football to keep ticket prices cheap. This does mean lower club revenue, but this has led to more sensible transfers in Germany with fewer big-money transfers, and less obscene wages for the players too.
Unfortunately the ship has probably sailed for British football. Fans will continue to be treated as a cash cow, largely due to our blind desire to go watch a game (we have all been itching to for the last few months) and the structure of club ownership will probably never change.
Hopefully, playing games behind closed doors for a while will show the Premier League and Championship that the fans are important and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be treated with some level of decency when things go back to normal. Somehow I doubt it though.