Pricing out the poor vs. Not about the money

Sport

Pricing out the poor Richard Foord

The price of top level sport in England is too high. This is not a novel statement. Yet it is one that has been given new vigour in light of recent events.

Manchester City fans returned almost a third of their match allocation for an away day at Arsenal in protest against the £62 price. Assistant referee John Brooks seemed to agree with the protest; pointing the Manchester City players in the direction of the travelling fans with the remark: “They paid 62 quid over there, go and see them.”

Much has also been made of the high cost of being a home fan at Arsenal. The most expensive season ticket for a normal fan is around £1800 and about double that for the prawn sandwich brigade at club level.

In response David Bernstein, the Chairman of the FA, said that he had ‘a degree of sympathy for Man City fans.’ and that ‘the working class man’ was being squeezed out of the premier league football ground.

Such generalisation may sound reductive but it does represent a trend of rising prices across top-level sport. It also represents the trend of a rising corporate monopoly on ticket allocation.

For the 2012 FA Cup final Liverpool and Chelsea received only 25,000 tickets each. The rest of the tickets went to a mixture of corporate sponsors and members of Club Wembley. This figure feels instinctively low; however it’s a difficult balance to strike with corporate involvement responsible for a large portion of domestic football’s wealth, which in turn attracts the best players and bigger interest.

Of course, the fact alone that Arsenal fans are feeling the pinch doesn’t suggest that UK sport is too expensive. High prices at last year’s Olympics gave a much broader perspective.

In Beijing ticket prices for Athletics finals started at the equivalent of £5.80. In London last year, entrance for the 100m final started at £50 and ended at an astonishing £725: just over £75 per second of Usain Bolt’s winning time. The marketing of the 100m event as a ‘super-final’ felt like a highly contrived and patronising attempt to justify racking up the cost.

Ultimately, the chance to see great sporting history made is something that should transcend economic boundaries. It is of course a good thing to go and support your smaller local football or rugby club, or perhaps watch more obscure event or sport.

However, it is the great FA cup finals; Wimbledon encounters; and 100 meter races which define sporting history and are shown again and again in talking heads montages.

As the prices of tickets continue to rise, the amount of people on low income that are able to say ‘I was there’ diminishes.

Not about the money Ben Crome

Around a year and a half ago, I found myself in Barcelona at the start of a new La Liga season. With the Camp Nou one of the city’s most famous attractions as well as undoubtedly one of football’s greatest stadia, as well as Barça, who were about to start an ultimately unsuccessful quest for a fourth straight league title, being quite simply the best team I’ve ever seen play, sourcing out tickets for a match became an instant priority.

Their first game was a Monday night fixture against Villarreal (remember them?), but the cheapest tickets available were €55. Initially, I baulked at the price. €55? No concessions? #Leaveit, as one Arsenal-supporting rapper would have it. The more I considered it, though, I reflected that €55 isn’t that much to see such a special side in action. Watching sport live is quite different from watching it on television; the more cameras slow the action down, the harder it is to appreciate the genius of the professional athlete: sprinters tearing through the sweaty Olympic air, fast bowlers propelling leather at 90 miles per hour, and Barça’s 21st-century Pythagorases artistically moulding the perfect passing triangle. Moments of magic aren’t only the preserve of the great players or teams. Southampton fans in the 1990s turned up to games because the next Matt Le Tissier wonder-goal was only one match away. Or two. Or three. But the mesmerising run or thirty-yard volley was surely going to come soon.

Like going to a concert, you’re paying to witness artistry, and also to see your heroes in action. You go to see Coldplay/Take That/Boy Better Know (delete as appropriate) because you admire their talents, and because they’re damn good at what they do. At any rate, they’re much better than you are, or your mates are, even if they’ve got Vanilla Ice’s vocal chords or Emile Heskey’s technique. And at the risk of sounding like a MasterCard advert on loop, sporting atmospheres are genuinely priceless. The shrieks, the sounds, the perspiration and the raw enthusiasm are the human factors which make your €55 worthwhile. Or your £62, for any pissed-off tax-paying Citizens.

There is also a range of rational economic reasons why tickets for sporting events, especially in the UK, are as costly as they are. In another bow to Teutonic superiority, comparisons are often made with the Bundesliga, where it’s possible to watch thrilling, competitive football for a tenner. But in German stadia standing is allowed, stewards aren’t the ubiquitous orange mass they are in the Premier League, and, as for food, the White Hart Lane smoked salmon bagel is substituted for the standard wurst n’ beer double act. In short, the sanitised atmosphere the FA desires cannot be provided on the cheap, and while a growing minority of English fans are backing safe standing areas, clubs have to operate under the status quo for the time being. Over 90% percent of seats at Premier League matches are occupied; why should clubs lower ticket prices when so many fans are broadly happy with the rates on offer?

And as for the Barça game, I didn’t end up going. Barça won 5-0, including a brace for Lionel Messi and a wonderful solo effort from Thiago Alcântara. Quite wrongly, I was too tight on the night.

 

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