/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Football ticket prices are in a league of their own

Football in the corner of a pitch

New research into the cost of leisure activities has revealed that the cost of Premier League tickets has risen 198% over the last 10 years. Is top-class football getting beyond the means of traditional fans?

In comparison, the research from Halifax found that cinema tickets cost a ‘mere’ 43% more than they did in 2003, with tickets averaging £6.34, up from £4.44. General inflation over this period, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, stands at 30%.

Watching football is the most expensive activity included in the Halifax report, with an average monthly spend (based on tickets to two Premier League matches) of £85.85. That’s a 16% hike in the last year, with an increase just shy of 200% over the last decade.

Prawn sandwich, anyone?

In Germany, it’s now possible to buy a season ticket for a top German club for the same price as a single game ticket to watch Arsenal. And with ticket prices in England exploding, it’s not hard to imagine London’s top clubs becoming the exclusive preserve of corporate hospitality types who prefer free prawn sandwiches to supporting their teams.

You might think the lower leagues would offer a low-budget fix for football fans craving action – but you’d be disappointed. The BBC’s ‘price of football’ survey last year found the average cheapest ticket in the Championship to be £21.07 – not cheap by any means.

The equivalent figure for League 1 was £18.54, while fans of League 2 clubs were still shelling out an average £17.06 to watch the action in the basement division of the football league.

Has English football lost its way?

I’ve been a Bristol City season ticket holder for around 15 years. My season ticket last year set me back around £400 – roughly £17 a game. But match day prices for those who like to turn up spontaneously are typically £25 or £30.

Now living in London, I’m unlikely to be able to make enough games to justify a season ticket. So I’ll be paying for single games next season, although I have to say I’m not thrilled at the prospect of paying £25 for third-tier football plus the cost of train travel.

A trip to Berlin a couple of years ago highlighted to me the way English football has lost its way. A ticket to watch Hertha in the Bundesliga cost €8 and came with public transport to the Olympic Stadium thrown in.

Do you watch your team regularly? How much do you pay? How much would tickets have to cost before you’d consider doing something else with your Saturday?

Do you think football tickets are too expensive?

Yes (60%, 282 Votes)

I don't go to football matches (40%, 187 Votes)

No (0%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 471

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Comments
Profile photo of John Ward
Member

As ever, there are several sides to this question. I have always been strongly in favour of anything that takes money out of the economy that would otherwise be competing with my money for my preferred goods and services. So, very high prices for watching football matches, high duties on gambling and tobacco, and high charges for mobile phone contracts and satellite TV, don’t bother me much. But . . . I realise there is a downside: overcharging for popular pleasures inevitably, for some people, leads to a degree of financial hardship, debt, family neglect, illness, moral hazard, criminal behaviour, and other consequences that are a cost to our society at large.

Watching soccer on a weekend afternoon remains an extremely popular activity and, if the atttendance at my local team Norwich City is any guide, it involves whole families across three or four generations. This is wholesome [mostly], friendly, community-spirited, participative, and entertaining. I think it is, truly, a very good thing, and that those partaking should not be exploited. In an ideal open market there would be some competition for the public’s support, but the game is heavily regulated and controlled so that there are limited opportunities to watch top-class football live, the barriers to entry are formidable, if not to say prohibitive, for the formation of any new clubs and grounds, and the overall seating capacity is severely restricted so the most attractive teams cannot just admit thousands of additional spectators. It is possible that there is some degree of authorised collusion in this, exercised through the governing bodies, that in any other field of commerce would be declared anti-competitive. Leaving aside the question of footballers’ wages that seems to come up in every discussion on this topic, with the top teams coining it in from TV rights and sponsorship, advertising and ancillary sales, the fans should be able to go in for nothing, but the fighting at the gates would probably cause serious public order problems. So admittance has to be rationed and the price mechanism crudely achieves that; there is probably, overall, an equilibrium between supply and demand, and the cycle of Home and Away games – combined with the irregular fortunes of the FA Cup – probably smoothes out excessive distortions except when the uppermost top teams play each other.

Profile photo of Harry Rose
Member

John Ward,

Great comment, thanks.

I think there is a point to make about players wages, albeit not quite the one that is normally made.

Wages at the elite level are, of course, extremely high. But if , for example, Chelsea wanted a new left back, there are only maybe one or two in the world that could do the job to a higher standard than their existing left back. As a result, potential signings will charge a premium for their services. There is a basic supply and demand at work at the elite level, even if most people find the wages top players earn obscene. Top clubs charge high ticket prices because they know they will still sell out even though they don’t necessarily need the money, as they get plenty from Sky.

However, the bigger problem, in my view, comes lower down the leagues. Wage inflation at the top level leads to wage inflation lower down, with unscrupulous owners paying over the odds for mediocre players. Those owners that try and run their clubs in a sustainable way struggle to compete. Because they don’t have the TV money that top clubs get, they put up ticket prices in order to fund wages, which represent a massive proportion of revenues for most clubs.

So smaller clubs with loyal fans, but limited numbers of potential new fans, keep prices high because they have little choice – where else are they going to get the revenue to pay the wages? If they don’t pay competitive wages they will eventually get relegated.

Profile photo of John Ward
Member

A lot of good points there Harry – the economic drivers of the game are exceedingly powerful and complex. The rewards of promotion and the adverse consequences of relegation are so immense that they do affect the character of the sport. The buying and selling of players [through shadowy intermediaries] for collossal sums, and the whistle-sharp firing of managers, suggest to me that the tycoons who are in command at the higher levels are actually getting their thrills in the board room rather than from the pitch.

Profile photo of Harry Rose
Member

Well put, John.

There’s another interesting point about about Germany here – as I understand it, private investors can only own up to 49% of a club. The majority stake must be owned by club members – fans, essentially.

Not entirely unrelated to their cheap ticket prices, I suspect.