The cost of football to the modern day fan

In any age of austerity and monetarist policies, where the dark shadow of economic depression looms high and the glib consequences of a recession inevitably play their evil hands, cuts, and more for the purpose of our article, COST becomes a big agenda to consider. So, additionally, when you consider COST, you often find things are costing way too much, are way beyond your means, and that you need to make cuts. The usual, and regrettable place to do that, is in the respect of any luxuries you enjoy, and Football, under its present day guise, must most definitely be described as a luxury, where cost is most definitely a big agenda, and perhaps is arguably beyond the realms of the average person’s purse strings, which for me, is a ghastly perversion of all the foundations of the beautiful game.

This is not just a problem for Everton Football Club, or its supporters alone, it’s a problem all supporters face in unison.

Indeed, the problem, including rising costs and wages, or mass corporate investment certainly isn’t a new one either. You will often hear in the distance somebody complaining how much a rich Arabian so and so has spent on a club, or how a player has asked and probably been given an extortionate wage rise compared to the average working person, or how It cost £45 to watch Manchester United play away at Fulham.

As I said, these trends, and problems, are not new. They have been longstanding unsolved conundrums for the Football authorities, which they have often found themselves juxtaposed between helpless and clueless to figure out.

Indeed, just under 30 years ago (1982), The Football Association, extremely worried about the trend of (like at the moment) stagnate or decreasing attendances (Which had slipped from 1979-80’s 24.6million to 1982’s 20m), chose to send out its Special Reports Tsar, Sir Norman Chester, to go out and investigate the problem, in the form of compiling a paper that would eventually be formulated as ‘The 1983 Report Of The Committee Enquiry Into Structure And Finance’

Sir Norman set out to work to resolve amongst many things, the receipt of gate money by home/away clubs, and to gather a solution to the rising total insolvency rate (37m) of all the member clubs in the football league had in terms of debt, worrying by the days standards, so its unnerving that you’ll probably find yourself rather unmoved when I tell you Manchester United’s insolvency rate alone amounts to a whopping 716 Million ((1)>See 1st Reference).

Along the way, Chester plundered on a few problems that where getting rather a bit hot to handle and beyond the requested scope of his report. As the investigation went further on he began to come to the understanding that football had begun to become riddled with inflated prices (2)(1982 had saw a 20% rise in general prices compared to that of 1979) Big Wages – of which, there had already been much media hype about, having seen a 45% rise during the period 1979-81, with players like Kevin Keegan receiving a 3k a week wage at Newcastle and Alan Simonsen’s seemingly colossal 1.5k a week wages at league stalwarts Charlton.

However, digging further and further, Chester could see that it wasn’t just with regard to insolvency, club overspending, or indeed what percentage of the gate receipts each club was entitled to after a game, nor even general pricing or wages, but the social and economical behavior of the supporters themselves which had resulted in as much a bigger consequence for them as the authorities themselves. In short, he found spectators where being priced out, and that meant the clubs and The Football League was losing out as well.

Cursory chats with Club Chairmen and Executives found that it wasn’t just the quality of football being played at the time that the supporters found hard to stomach…it was the COST as well “We Feel That The Product On The Field Is Just As Exciting Now, But Spectators Find It Very Difficult To Find The Sufficient Cash To Attend Games” (4)

He then, rather more strikingly, to his dismay, began to uncover the stark reality that football wasn’t just squeezing and becoming costly and beyond the financial realms of ordinary supporters, but of the owners, the average businessman and any potential investors too!

Martin Spencer, a member of Chester’s Investigation team, and football accountant expert, spared no missed chance of an opportunity to declare that the cost of running a football club was becoming bigger and bigger, way beyond that of the majority of ‘Local Owners…More That Of International Owners’ (5). Indeed, in hindsight, he even managed to go one better, with his rather prophetic but accurate assertion that the old days of family or locally owned clubs by passionate dynasties  would soon come to an end, and ‘Soon People Similar To Robert Maxwell Will Be Investing In A Football Club’ (6) . It is an ironic testament to Spencer that just under a year later, Robert Maxwell, Super Entrepreneur, went out and bought lowly Oxford United, and especially today when we have become very much accustomed to Russian & Arab Oligarchs buying British Clubs for huge sums of money just as easily and similarly  as they’d acquire some new Toy from Hamleys.

Chester’s report was soon finished and eventually landed on The Football Associations desk in 1983. But it did little to slow rapid and charging financial decline, with Middlesbrough virtually going out of business and having to reform in 1986, and Halifax Town consenting to be owned and administered by the local council until 1987!

The report was soon forgotten about and regretfully the decline and inequalities in pricing, and percentage sectors of society being able to afford the opportunity to watch the game live, worsened extensively.

By 1997, it was now not only difficult to afford a ticket, but to have the money and means to be eligible to apply for one as well!  At Arsenal it was £20 simply in itself to become a registered supporter, with Highbury – which housed 38,000 thousand people at the time (disadvantaged by the recent change to all seater stadia), only putting up a maximum of 14,000 tickets up for general sale for home games to a membership that had 20,000 members and either couldn’t afford a season ticket or where put off by its 5 year waiting list. They had simply been priced out by the increase in admittance price due to the new policy of seating, and finding it more difficult to actually get access to the stadium due the decreased capacity prior to The Taylor Report which ordered all UK stadiums to have provisions for seating. Gone where the days of pay on the day, and in came the ‘fashion’ for owning expensive season tickets to forgo that angst of applying for a ticket each and every time. Eventually, this became a prevalent and popular issue, reaching as far as the Conservative Minister for Sports & Culture, David Mellor (7), who was compelled to set up a ‘Task Force’ in 1997 to try and recommend any changes that would be beneficial to all concerned. It was under Mellor’s stewardship, that the task force collecting substantial evidence showing many traditional fans where being excluded by price or ticketing methods. It has to be said then, that it was unfortunate therefore, that Mellor’s task force had no statutory powers and seemed fearful of inconveniencing its Football League members in any way, which resulted in few real, serious recommendations being radical enough to alleviate the problem.

Thus, the trend for more and more fans to become priced out of regular attendance continue to spiral out of control and the wide dichotomy of people that used to attend had continue to narrow.

Take our friends from the north, Newcastle United and its fans, as a case study in question, and allow me to relay some accounts, from a few select group of the Newcastle fan base, courtesy of Andrew Wards’s ‘Football Nation’, that managed to put footballs affordability to the average man under the microscope when interviewed way back in 1998…..

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1. Kevin, 46,Bus Driver, Interviewed Before A Game, In A Pub, Along With The Rest….

“Somethings definitely been lost in the ground when all seater stadium came in, I don’t think they should bring back the whole standing capacity which was there, but at least some part where people can go in and pay on the day and stand and recreate some of the passion and intensity that’s gone….A lot of these people that have got Season Tickets and Platinum Bond Holders are not true supporters that have followed the team for a long time….they are sort of middle class people with plenty of dosh’like

2. David, 36, Unemployed

“You’ve got to be working and if you’ve got a young family trying telling your kids that your going to the match but you cant take them. Your lass would go mad…They’re going to lose generations of supporters because parents cannot afford to take themselves and there kids to the match. I’ve said it before, my kids will probably never seen Newcastle United play, and that’s sad”

3.Alun, 44, Mental Health Nurse

More professional people go now. The Bond Scheme, the cost of the season ticket, WHO CAN AFFORD THAT? And that’s just for 19 matches….then there’s the extra for your cup games! There’s mot many normal, working class people with kids, who’ve got £400 to splash out on a season ticket….thats why there’s a lot more ‘new’ type people coming to games now

4. Mick, 46, Train Driver

“There are so many true supporters who went for years and years, who now cannot afford to go the game …..You feel like you’ve been pushed aside to allow the club to (Financially) go a little further. Its like, ok, we’ve had you for long enough now but you cant afford it, this man here’s got a lot more to offer Newcastle right now so as to watch us because he’s got a bigger bank balance…HE can afford tickets”

Later, in this same chapter I partly relayed above, which I believe offers a hefty insight into the common feelings of most regular, dedicated and ordinary fans today, a Sheffield Wednesday fan recounts how although tickets where not difficult to acquire, and an adult and 2 children was only £17…the whole ‘package’ quickly became a very expensive one. £1 charges for a Mars Bar inside Hillsborough and £2 a programme each, and pressure to visit the souvenir shop really hit the purse strings (the whole day cost £60) when you’ve taken your two daughters to watch ‘The Owls’ play a game.

The subject of affordability of merchandise and getting yourself kitted out in all things themed on your favourite teams colours, is also a topical one for supporters. In 1996, 17% had to spend (at a National Average) £100 or more to be kitted out in the top 5 most popular items in each club shop. Newcastle United exceeded all other statistics however with the average fan in 1996-97 spending £159 on Merchandise per head!

That was 13 years ago…..As such, its still an issue for many supporters and something that crosses there mind to cut down on, and the trend has hardly ever tended to slow down or get any cheaper, however lately (and arguably) things have shown signs of improving somewhat in the supporters favour, much to the awareness of the BBC’s Matt Slater (14) with Virgin Money also in May 2010 citing that the “average ticket prices across all divisions are now £22.56 and replica shirt costs have fallen to £23.75, and match day costs standing at £84.89 (9), therefore  the cost of attending a game is now at its lowest level since April 2008  compared with that the statistics of last year, when Virgin Money said  (10) the cost of a match day for an individual is currently £95.60 – 22.6 per cent higher than the level at 2006 launch three years ago

With regard to pricing football against inflation, in this respect the game is also doing well, with Virgin Money pointing out that (11) “In sharp contrast to rising prices in the wider economy where the Consumer Price Index has hit a 17-month high of 3.7%, inflation for football fans has fallen 5.2% in the past year”.

However, although a hint of a feeling of an improvement from a couple of years ago from economists, who are often at pains to point out we are now in receipt of a genuine package ‘bargain’ compared with the high price point rate of October 2008 when a day at the match cost a massive £106.21, Virgin Money’s Football Fans’ Inflation Index, measuring the real match day cost, STILL shows the average price of going to a live game is still remaining a quite hefty figure at £84.89. Present year improvements accepted, many will still agree with Malcolm Clarke, Chairman of the Football Supporters Federation (FSF), who commented that “Football still has a very long way to go before it once again becomes accessible to all sections of the community – particularly at the top end of the game.”

This has not gone lost on supporters either, with 27% of Everton fans surveyed considering giving up there season tickets next season and buying when it suits them, and 3 per cent of fans as a WHOLE thinking about giving up going to all games, seemingly with the tonic that they can simply pay the amount of money monthly for a Cable TV Sports subscription that they’d pay for just one game to go and see live at the stadium! This tendency, and phenomenon, is one that Sir Norman Chester called the ‘Most Remarkable Social Change Of The Century’ (12), and likewise fans representatives acknowledge that supporters are now having to become more financially and consumer savvy, commenting that  “Premiership fans know that these days they can watch almost any game in the pub for the price of a couple of pints, and this is becoming an increasingly attractive alternative for many.” (13)

Therefore, many are obviously voting with there feet and voicing there dissatisfaction on subjects like how harshly and expensively away supporters are being hit at the current moment (15 – See FSF Link), and the disproportionate pricing compared with the average weekly take home wages of your everyday working person, using the 22-29 year old male age group as an example. They- according to the The Office Of National Statistics (16), earn a median of £396 a week, which taking into account all the other things in every day life they, as a young person, not yet already high on the employment ladder to earn a considerable wage, taking that into account and what must be paid for, is mere decimals compared to what would be required to visit the match on a regular basis. This is indeed why currently only 9% of fans at Premier League games are under 24 and the average age of the crowd has crept up to 43, unsurprising as by then there weekly earning power in there age group has risen to £584.90

Personally, myself, I feel a lot of fans just simply do not feel an important part of the game, their clubs, or listened to by the Premier League any more, because if you listen to what the Premier League says – in its reports (17) or through its Chief Executive Richard Scudamore (18), there is a somewhat aloofness and anomaly in there attitudes to what is maybe actually going on, with the Premier League saying fan’s feel thoroughly engaged in todays game…..yet they seem dead set against taking up any of there reccomendations, like Mansfield’s quirky but honourable idea to let there supporters set ticket prices (19), and the Premier League’s  attendance figures, along with Everton’s own attendance figures (20) – do not show the discontentment in attendances of those people who where the original followers of the game they so loved, they actually show a steady continuation of ‘good’ attendances. This I can only hypothesize is that whilst the original working class following has been priced out, they have been quickly and conveniently replaced by a new and prosperous middle class, keen to share in the money, glamour and excitement of what we are told is the greatest league and theatre shown on earth.

It’s a sad thing to say but many fans unfortunately feel shafted and exploited, presuming that they are not the kind of ‘model’ of customer or supporter that there clubs want to attract any more, which has been the prominent subject of an excellent recent article from a Liverpool fan that has caused much debate (21). As David Mellor himself said in 1997, ‘The Top Clubs have Moved From A Supporter Era Into A Customer Era’(22)

Therefore there has been a push by Politicians, who recently, totaling 100 MP’s, carried an early day motion to have a debate on the standing/all seater issue, to get the Premier League to look at some new ways to bring back the original core support that was part of the game for so long. Standing has become a particular issue in focus, with people like Paul Wilson from The Guardian newspaper doing there upmost to promote the idea to the ruling bodies, feeling it’d be mutually beneficial for all, with more inclusion so it could be enjoyed by all and better atmosphere and cheaper prices “In theory at least, standing areas offer the hope of turning back the clock to a time when the cost of admission to a football ground did not exclude anyone, when you could choose your immediate company, make as much noise as you wanted and feel part of a crowd rather than a member of an audience. All the things that used to distinguish football from a visit to the theatre(23)

Wilson describes the treatment and handling of the modern game by the authorities as far too careless and entrepreneurial, rather than something that is advertised for one and all (24)Football has always been about making money but, It could do with being run less like a business for a while, and more along the lines of a national asset, like a park or a listed building, that should be accessible to all”. It is after all, our game, the peoples game, and without us, the supporters who attend, the game would fall to its knees.

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Many journalists, sports scientists, managers and fans often contend that the German Bundesliga is the ideal utopian model, with its modern, high capacity arena’s there for all to see like Borussia Dortmund or Schalke’s big stadiums, all with large standing sections built in – in the case of Borussia Dortmund, a 25,000 capacity terracing section! The Bundesliga model is attractive to all concerned as German fans enjoy the cheapest ticket prices and have the highest average attendance rate of any league in Europe, with “Adult standing tickets set at 9 Euros, and children getting in for 6 euros – meaning  a parent could take a child for about £10, including travel to and from the ground(24)

The German model, in my opinion, certainly makes the choice, price and methods we encounter in British football quite shameful (25), and only through making a point of seriously sitting down and properly assessing how to make our game more value for money and affordable for the average member of society, and preserving access for future generations, will it retain the mantra of the peoples game rather than just a sport with a mind of its own rocketing off into its own ivory towered stratosphere.

To conclude, it must be said that the main problem is all seater stadia…. There certainly needs to be at least a section in English grounds for people to stand, this would then give people more chance to save up to go to a game with the option to pay on the day, enjoy a better atmosphere as which the posture of standing up promotes, and without seats cheaper ticket prices which will give the average supporter more money in there pocket to go further games and ensure its easier and more affordable for people to attend as a family. This is not just obvious to me, but also to Rugby supporters, people who go to concerts, and lower league supporters, who are all able to enjoy the pleasures of cheap football under a terraced environment, and its not only a pertinent fact to them, but also obvious to prominent intellectuals, including figures of significant standing, such as Mr Pilz , a respected German Sports Scientist who says that

You can’t sing and make a good atmosphere when you are sitting…

…When I spoke to Sepp Blatter about the all-seater rule he said it was a question of security, He then asked me if I knew of any opera venues that had standing areas. I told him that he can’t be very well-educated as every opera venue in Germany has cheap, standing places.

It would seem he wants football spectators to be like people at the opera or theatre, all sitting down. I told him when that happens football will be dead because it will have no atmosphere and no interest(26)

All’s I can say is, if things don’t change very soon, I will be seriously considering relinquishing my season ticket, citing my alienation with a game riddled by money and extortionate pricing, new, unfamiliar sectors of support and player power seriously unrecognisable from what supporters knew in the classic days of the 1960’s/70’s and most definitely not on a parallel with any other sort of labour market your average person is exposed to or has to operate under, working tooth and nail for a measly wage all in the aid of it being eaten up by the end of the week by one game of football. Hippocrates once wrote that “Sport is the preserver of health”, and that may be so; it is something we look forward to at the end of a long week of torture during our stressful lives and often mundane jobs, a place to go to vent our weeks frustrations – with the great George Bernard Shaw even going as far as to suggest “the only way of preventing civilized men from beating and kicking their wives is to organize games in which they can kick and beat balls”.

For these people, “Football Is There Own Metaphor For Religion” (27), but you have to feel that, nobody at all will be devout enough to carry on watching and following a game blindly without considering at all whether its all getting too much, escalating out of all rational proportions.

Finally, from a personal and Everton prospective, you have to applaud the club for remaining reasonably financially proportionate and in check on ticketing with the rest of the Premier League, and not spending beyond its means, and hopefully this will eventually lead to some much rewarded and deserved success, where by hopefully the fans who’ve rode the financial storm and tough economic weather will still be with us, enjoying every minute.
Nil Satis.

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Written By Thomas Butler

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REFERENCES

1.http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/article7039614.ece

2.See Andrew Ward & John Williams Excellent Football Nation’ Bloomsbury Books Uk – Page 218

3. Andrew Ward & John Williams Football Nation’Page 219

4.ibid > A Response To A Letter From Sir Norman Chester To An Unamed Club CEO

5.Ibid, Page 219

6. Andrew Ward & John Williams Excellent Football Nation’ Bloomsbury Books Uk – Page 223

7. Andrew Ward & John Williams Football Nation’ SEE PAGE 326

8. All Fan Comments Come From Interview Section in ‘Football Nation’ – Pages 321-325

9. http://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/news-centre/press-releases/2010/cost-of-football-hits-two-year-low.jsp

10. http://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/news-centre/press-releases/2009/recession-bites-as-football-fans-count-the-cost.jsp

11. http://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/news-centre/press-releases/2010/cost-of-football-hits-two-year-low.jsp

12. Andrew Ward & John Williams Football Nation’Page 219

13. Malcolm Clarke – Football Supporters Federation

14.http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/mattslater/2010/08/premier_league_still_holds_gol.html

15http://www.fsf.org.uk/news/Risingcostshitawaysupportershard.php?id=added|desc|370|

16. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/downloads/theme_labour/ASHE-2009/tab6_1a.xls

17. http://fansurvey.premierleague.com/

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18. http://i52.tinypic.com/2rfpy5v.png

19. http://www.fsf.org.uk/news/Mansfield-Town-let-fans-set-prices.php?id=added|desc|110|

20.SEE http://evertonresults.com/ataglance.htm

21. http://www.liverpoolbanter.co.uk/2010/08/against-modrn-football-a-compl.html

22. Andrew Ward & John Williams Football Nation’Page 326

23.http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2007/feb/24/timetostandupforstanding

24. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/6458843.stm

25. http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2010/apr/11/bundesliga-premier-league

26. Mr Pilz, The Institute Of Sports Science at Hannover University

27. Andrew Ward & John Williams Football Nation’Page 105

28.

29.

30.