Fans are being alienated from football

Sport

Results of the annual BBC Price of Football survey 2015 have been revealed, and again it is harsh reading for football fans.

The average price of the cheapest match-day ticket in the Premier League has rise 6.5% over the past year, passing the £30 barrier for the first time. Across the top five English divisions, tickets have also hit an average of £22. But its not just the price of tickets that have escalated for fans. The increased regularity of release and escalated prices of new merchandise are also hitting football fans hard. 20 Premier League clubs put out a total of 50 new kits this season, with half also putting out third kits this season. The average cost of a shirt is now almost £50 for an adult, and almost £40 for a child as a result of 10 clubs putting their prices up.

To many, this escalating rise in prices makes little sense. In February, the Premier League announced the biggest television deal in football history, worth some £5.136 billion. An increase of 70% on the previous deal, this has caused many fans to question why they are forced to pay even greater fees for tickets and merchanise when other sources of income are dramatically increasing. One can also point to low ticket prices across Europe, and the low prices of even elite clubs especially in Italy and Spain. For example, the cheapest season ticket at the Nou Camp is just £73.88 – cheaper than some tickets to a single game in England.

Many fans therefore feel that their loyalty as fans is being exploited rather than rewarded. There are increasingly visible anger at the prices some supporters are expected to simply watch their clubs. Manchester City fans protested against £62 tickets at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in 2013 (the most expensive ground in the Premier League), and news that Bayern Munich fans will boycott the first five minutes of their Champions League tie at the Emirates in protest at extortionate prices show that the anger at the price of English football is not even restricted to English fans. Away supporters, especially, face astronomical costs, with the price of transport added to the cost of ticket prices as well. This has led to the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) to set up its ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign, calling for a cap on ticket prices for away fans at £20.

But to what extent should clubs pander to this? Football clubs are, after-all, businesses and so claim that consumer demand and the need to compete with European rivals for talent and success means that ticket prices need to be high. A £299 season ticket at Manchester City, for example, covers just 0.00054% of Kevin de Bruyne’s massive £55m transfer fee. Moreover, even Arsenal’s, and the Premier League’s, most expensive season ticket of £2,013 is just 6.71% of the average Premier League players weekly wage of £30,000. This does not even take into account at the more elite clubs that some players could be earner five time that in a week.

But it is precisely this vast inequality between players and supporters that is resulting in this alienation. The average Premier League player earners more in a week than many supporters will earn in a year. Once seen as the ‘working class’ game, football is increasingly becoming like a business. Clubs are brands and players are brands to be bought in to. Corporate brands are even buying into these in the hope that loyalty towards your club brand or player brand will result in loyalty to their brand. Football is now very much part of the globalised, capitalised system. The benefits in terms of improved quality and entertainment value are clear – but is the impact on the everyday fan worth this?

However, it is not just football that is experiencing this. The price of tickets to a plethora of professional sporting events the world over have increased, with the cheapest tickets for even the weakest Rugby World Cup Pool Games, for example, costing upwards of £50. In a tournament that is supposed to encapsulate ‘the world in union’, this appears to alienate more than unite.

However, there could be a shift apparent. More positively, above inflation ticket price rises have been waning, as the price of 70% of tickets have been frozen or reduced this year. Additionally, the Premier League has also taken action. This is the third season of the Away Fans Fund, which sees each club set aside £200,000 every year to help subsidise tickets and transport costs of travelling supporters. An estimated £728,000 has been saved for the 70,000 regular Premier League away fans, roughly £10 per supporter. Although modest, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

It is true that football clubs are not, and should not, be charities. However, fans should not simply be seen as customers – once brought up as a loyal follower, it is not easy to simply switch allegiance to a different football club. Clubs need to remember that, and brace themselves for continued resistance and protests by fans.

PHOTO/ Sam Wonker