We’re not so lucky in England as the Americans are to have four major sports on offer throughout the year, five if you want to include Nascar. But even then, the fortune of living in a winning market comes with the penalty of inflated ticket prices.
New York is one of the obvious markets, you’re going to pay big to go and see the Knicks, the Rangers or the Yankees. The Toronto Maple Leafs charge the highest prices in the NHL, while season tickets can be bought in Florida for the same price as one ticket to see the Leafs.
In England, it’s football or nothing. I’ve yet to come across a fan who shows as much passion for rugby or cricket as they do for football. And therein lies the problem. Leagues and clubs are not going to waver on prices just because a few don’t fancy paying it. If you’re a student or someone from the local area who struggles to go to at least five games a season, forget it, clubs will look to their foreign audiences and the injection of cash tourists bring. It’s no bother to them if local fans can’t get to games: largely stadiums will fill close to capacity.
I don’t blame Manchester City fans for sending back those tickets for the trip to Arsenal on the weekend. Some might argue that they’re playing with the big boys now and need to pay big prices. Others will argue that London prices warrant the inflated price for going to matches, as Arsene Wenger did in his pre-match press conference. But even then, the Arsenal manager shuffled uncomfortably before answering the question on ticket prices. He eventually did land on the matter that concerts in London are priced higher than those around England and specifically up north. But I’m not totally convinced that argument holds water.
I’ve been to big concerts in London and at arenas like Wembley, the O2 and Earls Court. The price is based on the fact that you pay for what you get, and I’ve rarely been disappointed when going to a big gig in London.
But you get the big stadium atmosphere, you get the impressive stage production, the explosions, the fact that it is a big name on the music scene. Is that always the case for football? With Arsenal, you can certainly argue that you’re not getting what you pay for. I’ll also make the same argument for the New York teams and the Maple Leafs. The Leafs are the wealthiest team in the NHL but haven’t lifted the Stanley Cup since the 1960s – they’ve also failed to make the playoffs for the last eight seasons. New York? Well the Yankees are one of the biggest baseball teams in the MLB, but the Knicks are useless in the postseason and the Rangers haven’t wont the cup since 1994.
With clubs like Arsenal, the production is there with the big stadium, but there are no explosions, no performances that leave you breathless and more than willing to shell out the next time they come to town. And that’s another argument: going to see acts like Bruce Springsteen is totally different from going to watch a sports team every other weekend for nine or 10 months of the year.
Football matches have been lumped into the same entertainment category as going to concerts or the theatre, with the obvious case being that you’re going to pay big for the big names. Well that shouldn’t be the case. Football and sports on the whole is not and should not be seen in the same category as the rest of the entertainment industry, quite simply because it isn’t.
Arsenal have not created the tiered ticketing system themselves, however they surely think of themselves as a club who should be placed in category A. But that doesn’t represent the product many are paying to watch, and it hasn’t done for quite a few years. Yet unlike fan groups in America who are trying to persuade supporters to boycott games (especially in the case of the NHL now that the lockout is over) Premier League fans will never turn their back on the only sport they have. For that, clubs will take their time in attempting to lower prices, they’ll try to justify the reasoning as purely for the health and growth of the club financially or the need to pay wages. It’s nothing other than masked exploitation.
I really can’t look back to days when tickets could be bought on Saturday afternoons and terracing was the norm — I’m too young. But how many of those fans, youngsters especially, grew up believing and knowing they had a club to support, a club which they could readily gain access to? How much of that is the case now?
And people shouldn’t be dismissed as moaning over something which will never change; the point is that ticket prices should never have reached these levels in the first place. Yes there’s inflation and various other factors that would necessitate the rise in ticket prices, but there is absolutely no way a club can justify charging over £100 for 90 minutes of football.