Comment: Premier League clubs must lower ticket prices following the new TV deal

The TV deal is an opportunity for clubs to rebuild their relationship with fans

Football

Football fans will be shocked, if not entirely surprised, by the size of the new Premier League TV deal. The contract for 2016-19, worth £5.1bn, represents a 70 per cent increase on the current deal. The Premier League gravy train shows no sign of running dry.

Much of the media coverage in the wake of last week’s announcement has focused on the financial strength of top-flight clubs. Many commentators have welcomed the deal, arguing that the extra revenue will help entice the world’s elite players to England, with clubs better placed to compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona on wages and transfer fees.

But one crucial actor appears to have been forgotten in debates about what the new deal means for the game: fans.

Supporters of Premier League clubs are already shelling out at least twice as much to attend a match than their counterparts in the other top four leagues in Europe. And ticket prices continue to rise more than three times faster than the rate of inflation, pricing increasing numbers of ordinary working fans out of the game.

It is no coincidence that the average age of an adult Premier League fan is now 41. Younger people, who have less disposable income, can’t afford to follow their team the way their parents did.

In 1990, a ticket to watch Arsenal cost £5. The cheapest ticket for a ‘category A’ game at the Emirates stadium is now £64. If wages had increased at the same rate as ticket prices over the same period, average earnings would now be about £165,000.

Top-flight football is operating outside the realm of economic reality. And it’s the fans, on whom the game relies but whose support is all too often taken for granted, who are paying the price.

The additional wealth generated from the new TV deal could, and indeed should, be used to significantly lower ticket prices. There is no doubt that clubs can afford to do this. The Football Supporters’ Federation has calculated that clubs could use the £5.1bn to reduce every ticket at every Premier League game by £40 and still be no worse off than they are this season.

While reducing ticket prices wouldn’t have an impact on the finances of clubs, it would make a huge difference to hard-pressed fans, many of whom are still struggling with the Cost of Living Crisis.

Clubs should provide guarantees that the extra revenue won’t be frittered away on excessive transfer fees and pocketed by players through higher wages, which is exactly what has happened after previous TV deals.

It’s safe to say that top-flight players aren’t in need of a pay rise any time soon. The average Premier League player, now on £43,000 per week, will earn more in a year than most fans will make in their life. Since you started reading this blog, Wayne Rooney – one of the league’s highest paid players – has earned over £100.

When such a chasm exists between the players and supporters, it’s no wonder many fans feel alienated from the modern game. A commitment to pass on the new windfall to fans in the form of reduced ticket prices would go some way to bridging the gap.

But initial signs have not been encouraging. Responding to calls from politicians, supporters groups and former players for clubs to share the new wealth with fans, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore was quick to say that clubs are “not set up for charitable purposes”.

Fans don’t expect charity, but they do expect to be treated with respect. Owners, players and their agents have all profited from the huge injections of cash that broadcasting income has provided over recent years. It’s time fans – an integral part of the spectacle that Sky and BT have paid so much money for – also benefited.

Matthew Whittley is a recent graduate and Labour Party member and works as a researcher for a Midlands-based housing association. Follow him on Twitter

15 Responses to “Comment: Premier League clubs must lower ticket prices following the new TV deal”

  1. urzz1871

    I think the big mistake here is trying to make moral arguments to the club owners – the vast majority of them (and certainly enough of them to hold a blocking majority in Premier League votes) aren’t interested in morality, or even the long-term good of the game.
    All they are interested in is short-term greed and prestige – although people like the Glazers have shown they can’t be shamed or embarrassed into decent behaviour.
    So I’m afraid asking Premier League club owners to “give away” money when they don’t get anything back will be as effective as asking the banks to reform themselves into responsible and law-abiding institutions with a genuine respect for tax regimes.

  2. madasafish

    Football supporters tend to be emotionally committed to following millionaires. And by doing so, keeping the millionaires being paid.

    So if fans are “hard pressed” they should engage their brains and not pay. That would say more than anything.

    I can only assume Matthew is pleading for a cut in ticket prices because he thinks fans have not the intelligence to see that,

    It’s simple: if you can’t afford it don’t watch it.

  3. Guest

    Yea, if you can’t afford to eat, don’t eat. If you can’t afford shelter, don’t have shelter.

    Blah blah, rich good poor evil.
    *claps*

  4. Duncan Stone

    That’s the same spurious argument that the middle class elites running rugby and cricket spewed in the nineteenth-century regards professionalism. ‘If you can’t afford to pay (because you lose wages elsewhere), give up the game’. All fine and dandy for wealthy ‘amateurs’ of independent means. Some even publicly suggested raising entrance fees explicitly to eradicate the presence of working class cricket supporters!

    Football was once the ‘People’s Game’, but no longer. It’s not as bad as cricket (yet), but watching football is also fast becoming a ’boutique’ pastime for the rich.

  5. urzz1871

    But that’s such a short-term view. All the studies show that the current pricing regime is changing the demographics of football audiences – for instance the average age of a Premier league season ticket holder is 51 and it’s been rising continuously since 1992.
    The generation that grew up in the 70s/80s watching football via affordable tickets are the affluent ones now able to afford the game, but there’s no new generation coming through who are used to attending games because they’re now being priced out.
    So whilst the Premier League’s golden goose might be laying golden eggs now, will that always be the case?
    And the economic argument for the Premier League themselves is that one of the things that makes their “produce” so saleable is the vibrancy and atmosphere of the crowds – that’s dying all the time due to pricing policies and changing crowd demographics.
    None of this can be good for the game in the long-term.

  6. madasafish

    You utterly (deliberately?) missed my point.

    A boycott by fans – if organised properly – would kill a club.

    Supporters don’t boycott. So they whinge but really don’t do anything.

    As for Football no longer being the “people’s game”, I assume that Raheem Sterliing – the 22 year old Liverpool striker went to Oxford and Eton like Wayne Rooney?

    Football makes millionaires of kids with talent no matter their background in life..

  7. Duncan Stone

    I did miss your point. And then some! 🙂 Ha ha. Must not comment on things after a long day and no tea.

    I worked with an old school Chelsea season ticket holder once who gave up on them more than ten years ago, once he realised he was no longer allowed to stand and swear, and was surrounded by disinterested rich kids (playing their nintendo) and their mums. Not the club he knew or wished to be associated with. initiatives like AFC Wimbledon and FC United are the way to go I reckon.

    Mind you (and I think we’ve some common ground here), I do believe the powers that be don’t really care. Like any big business these days – short-term profits appear to trump any planned strategy.

    And, although it’ll take a few more generations to fully manifest itself, football will increasingly be populated by the privately educated. Whether this may be due to football being more acceptable to the middle-classes (they shunned it for over a century), it being more than a financial rival to a career in the city these days, better facilities and/or an ethos where competitiveness is encouraged I don’t know?

    Frank Lampard and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Victor Moses, and “Derby’s 17-year-old starlet Will Hughes, reportedly coveted by several Premier League clubs, is one of three young professionals to have gone to Repton”.

    See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21457349

    Mind you we’re getting onto a broader issue of social mobility and the middle-classes monopolisation of sport, the media and culture as well as senior jobs in the Law, Civil Service etc. http://angrysoutherneroopnorth.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/what-olympic-legacy.html (I’d had a sandwich when I wrote that one).

    Apologies for the misunderstanding. 🙂

  8. madasafish

    Basically the trouble with sport is to be really good at it you need to spend HOURS practising. See Beckham : hours kicking a ball and practising free kicks.

    Most people appear to want instant gratification: so getting kids to spend hours practising usually requires a pushy parent : see Louis Hamilton’s Dad and Judy Murray. Which means time and money..and motivation.

    A generation which believes in playing on mobile phones is not going to hack it irrespective of their class.

  9. Duncan Stone

    I’m afraid that goes for anything, and not just sport.

    Pushy middle class parents (glad I didn’t have them though) recognise the importance of a good education at an institution which has facilities – sporting or otherwise – and that’s why (at the very least) their charitable status should be removed.

    I teach 19 year olds (who have not been through the public school system) and their sense of entitlement is staggering. Only want to be spoon-fed information. No work-ethic whatsoever. Most sad. ;-(

  10. urzz1871

    Sadly, for the big “brand” clubs at least, boycotts won’t work. For every long-term supporter who doesn’t go, a “football tourist” comes along and takes their place. Maybe not for the less glamorous games, but certainly for the big, high-profile ones.

    An this actually helps the clubs, because a season-ticket seat older will visit the club’s “megastore” once or twice a season, maybe. Put a different “football tourist” in that seat each game and that’ll be an additional sale of a replica shirt and another bunch of overpriced, branded tat for every single game.

    Finally, the growth of TV revenue compared to ticket income means the latter is much less significant. If a boycott would actually take-off – which I know it wouldn’t, having tried to organise them in the past – it might sting a club. but it certainly wouldn’t hurt them. In fact, boycotting away games, where ticket prices are often most onerous, would play into clubs’ hands again. They could sell those tickets to their own fans and reduce stewarding costs too – many clubs would love to have no away fans. The atmosphere would be lousy, but atmosphere has no financial value, and if something can’t be “monetised” then it has no value to today’s football club owners.

  11. madasafish

    I used to interview 18-20 year olds for a starting job. I reckonned about 40% were unemployable due to their attitudes. I wouldjhope things have improved since then.

  12. Guest

    The problem is that kids are taught one skill – memorisation. You then blame them for this, when the problem is not allowing educators near education, which you excuse and blame the kids instead.

    No surprise you’re all for starting to strip charitable status from schools which can’t come up with the cash richer schools can afford, blah blah…

    And yea, no willingness to work for free. Eviiil, etc.

  13. Guest

    Yea, I’m sure you’d want “better” people – i.e. more people desperate enough to work 60 hours for the pay of 40 (despite the fact that they’ll do less in the longer term, in reality, your way)

    Or not having the attitude that work came before basics like their health. Or…

  14. Guest

    Keep arguing for excluding people based in education, as you hate on the middle class as usual, and try and attack the existence of media, culture, law, civil servants…

    And of course you lash out at games, can’t allow any entertainment medium invented later than, what, 1890?

  15. Guest

    Well of course. Your capitalists are not letting the peons earn enough or have the time. Stop whining about these minor side effects!

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