In defence of football ticket prices

Everyone’s in agreement: something must be done about the price of football. As someone who regularly spends up to £90 to watch my beloved Arsenal, I’m instinctively sympathetic with those who want football to be more affordable. 


Photo via Guardian Witness

The argument is well-rehearsed so I don’t need to repeat it at length: hard-pressed fans who make English football what it is are being asked to fork out increasingly ridiculous sums to watch their team play. Meanwhile, clubs are charging ever higher prices whilst seeing their incomes balloon from new TV deals.

The consensus is that things need to change, and cutting ticket prices for fans seems like a much worthier way of using extra TV money than inflating agents’ fees or players’ wages further.

While the frustration is understandable, it’s not just ticket prices that have increased in the last few years – attendances have too. If ticket prices are too high, why are Premier League grounds around the country full – or nearly full – every week?

Admittedly, a Gooner unhappy with £90 tickets won’t go to watch Brentford for £27 instead: you can’t watch Arsenal at Griffin Park. But most Premier League games are available in some form or another on the internet. Despite this, each week the 60,000 seats at the Emirates are all sold.

In this context, it’s unclear to me what the correct pricing level should be, but if tickets are too expensive fans should stop buying them – clubs would soon respond by reducing prices.

Otherwise, a cap on prices is needed – imposed by the FA or the Government. There are some issues with doing that.

Although I’d like to pay less to see Arsenal, I’m also grateful for the opportunity to get tickets at all, such is the size of the club’s fanbase. Those wanting a season ticket must join a decade-long queue. A meaningful cut in prices would only increase the wait.

I’ve often tried to get tickets for away games, but it’s virtually impossible to get tickets unless you have been to every single game since Arsene Wenger took over. You could also travel without a ticket and take your chances with a tout. Many do it but, call me fairweather, I just don’t fancy taking a week off work to travel to Istanbul and haggle in three different languages with someone to pay 350 Lira for a bit of paper that may or may not get me into a Champions League qualifier that we’ll probably lose. That’s not the fault of ticket prices, and I would be concerned that a dramatic reduction in ticket prices would make it even harder to get a ticket.

Anyone who has been to the Emirates will have noticed the 60,000 seats aren’t filled with 60,000 people. Demand for season tickets is so high people are unwilling to relent theirs even if they can’t actually attend games. It’s weird that people are willing to pay some of the highest ticket prices in the country for the privilege of not actually going to a match, but it happens and it would happen even more if ticket prices were lower.

Of course, Arsenal are a well supported club. For my other team Colchester United, struggling down in League One, it’s hard to imagine such overwhelming demand in response to lower ticket prices. But if the U’s were forced to cut their prices, they would be forgoing income they can ill-afford to lose out on. Would that really be good for the game as a whole? And how would we sign players like Kenny McEvoy if we took £3 off matchday prices?

Ultimately, lower ticket prices aren’t a panacea. The biggest winners would be clubs that don’t have to rely on ticket income – clubs with an owner willing to pour their life’s immense earnings into them. Premier League clubs with their bumper TV deal would also be less affected than those in the Football League.

My other concern is that focussing on ticket prices comes at the expense of other genuine – and easier to solve – problems. Things like safe-standing and game times have a significant impact on the match-going experience. If the Government removed the ban on standing, we could increase capacity at Premier League grounds, reducing prices and improving atmosphere in the process. And if TV executives and the FA cared a bit more about away fans, we wouldn’t have to deal with Arsenal travelling to Manchester on a Monday night when the last train departs during the game.


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