/ Money, Travel & Leisure

Have high ticket prices destroyed our sporting dreams?

Angry sports fan

Tickets have been big news of late. The Olympics ‘fiasco’ took up more column inches than Cheryl Cole’s X Factor exit. But other stories show a worrying trend – the ever inflated ticket prices for sporting events.

The cheapest seats for last month’s Champion’s League final between Manchester Utd and Barcelona were more than £100. Indeed, seats in the neutral area cost £150 (plus a £26 booking fee).

And price hikes aren’t just limited to blue-chip occasions such as the Champions League final. Arsenal recently announced that it would be raising season ticket prices for 2011-2012 by 4.5% – though this pales in comparison to the 40% hike from the newly-promoted QPR.

Football isn’t the only sport to hit its fans in the pocket. If you’re looking for a seat at the Wimbledon men’s final (good luck if you can get one) you’ll be paying way in excess of £100.

Back to the Olympic Games

Since the Olympic tickets ballot has now closed, it’s been reported that the only way to get guaranteed tickets for the men’s 100 metre final is by purchasing a corporate hospitality package.

How much will this set you back? It’s only a snip at £270,000 – that’s for a minimum booking of ten people (so just £27,000 each then). All for a race that’ll probably last less than 10 seconds (a lot less if Usain Bolt has his way).

And this is where the problem really lies. Major sporting events are no longer about the competition, the fans or even the sport – they are opportunities for corporations to show clients just how much muscle they have. Ordinary fans have been priced out – many were priced out years ago.

Time to tackle high ticket prices

The organisers, clubs and sporting bodies will argue that the market dictates pricing and that they have extreme overheads, such as players’ salaries. And there is some truth in that.

However, when you hear stories about people going into debt to pay for Olympic tickets or putting the cost on expensive credit cards, you realise that something is very wrong.

It’s time that organisers realised that high prices will only suit those who can afford corporate hospitality and it’s unlikely that our next generation of sportsmen and women will be coming from the boxes.

At a time when we are all tightening our belts, inflated ticket costs will end up forcing most average fans onto their sofas and into the welcoming arms of Sky. If we don’t look at pricing structures now, the only sports we’ll be winning in the future are the synchronised whingeing and the horizontal bores.


Interesting piece, Nick. Thing is, it’s not like the football clubs are making any money out of high ticket prices. Because of a massive gamble by Sky in the early 90s to pay unprecedented amounts to show live football, the Premier League now has the greatest broadcasting income (the TV contracts for the UK market are a drop in the ocean compared to what the PL makes globally) and highest ticket prices in the world. However, were it not for the backing of wealthy owners prepared to sustain heavy losses and, in some cases, the goodwill of banks, the majority of its clubs would be insolvent.

At the heart of this paradox are players’ wages. To win matches you have to have the best players and there are a finite number of talented players in the world (you can see from any club’s line-up that it’s a global labour market). So that drives up wages – particularly where the league has several big, well-resourced clubs able to pay far more than anyone else. Alan Sugar summed it up best when he described it as ‘the prune-juice effect – it comes in and goes out straight away’.

A salary cap – as used in the leagues for American sports – has been discussed for football, but there are a few problems with that. Firstly, is it ethical to cap wages at all, and particularly when playing careers are so short? Secondly, for any salary cap to be effective it would have to be implemented across Europe (due to free movement of labour across the EU) and possibly the world. Otherwise all the best players would gravitate to non-salary-capped leagues (Spain, Italy, even the US). American sports don’t have this problem – it’s a huge domestic market with hardly any international interest (I mean, do you know anyone outside the US that watches baseball?).