There is a harsh reality installed in the public mindset that football is a rich man’s game, both on and off the pitch. Clubs are unlikely to see success without significant investment in the same way fans can no longer watch their club without a significant bank balance.
The prawn sandwich brigade, as Roy Keane so eloquently dubbed them, are no longer confined to the director’s box, having filtered out across the ground simply because they are the only ones who can afford the rising costs. The BBC’s Price of Football Survey 2012 revealed ticket prices have increased at five times the rate of inflation in the last 12 months, but would a decrease in the price of admission really have a significant impact on attendances?
The obvious answer is yes, who among us wouldn’t relish the opportunity to keep a few extra quid remaining in our pocket and yet, I am struggling to believe that the collective decision to attend matches rests solely on how much money you hand over at the turnstiles.
Aside from inflated season ticket prices, the real threat is the soaring price tag attached to a seat in the away end of Premier League stadia. Fans often voice their disapproval of spending somewhere north of £50 to watch their club away from home but that still doesn’t prevent allocations from quickly selling out.
Your wallet may feel painfully lighter, but the thought of your team suffering a diluted form of support in your absence is an unwelcome alternative. Likewise, the host club will strive to ensure a limited travelling capacity by any means necessary so not to give the visiting team any distinct advantage.
In the wake of rising ticket prices, Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron has urged supporters to watch their local non-league teams as a sign of protest.
“I’m not asking people to dump their club (…) what I’m saying is, perhaps in response to the report last week that demonstrated the expensive nature of football today, we should do a positive thing. We should decide instead we’re going to go and watch our local non-league side.” (Daily Mail)
However, this is easier said than done, especially for Farron who follows Blackburn Rovers, a set of supporters that need no motivation to steer clear of Ewood Park. It strikes me as just another example of a government official failing to understand and indeed appreciate the mentality of the average football fan.
Every single devoted supporter harbours an unwavering allegiance with their club. It’s an unconventional marriage that means you remain committed through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. For richer and for poorer. Yes, clubs have ruthlessly exploited this wonderful human trait and offered little in return but it cannot simply be ‘switched off’ at the drop of a hat.
The truth of the matter is that ticket prices form a small part of the overall matchday expenditure. The BBC survey failed to take into account how fans commute to games, with both fuel and public transport prices sky-rocketing over the past year. It’s no use admission fees tumbling if fans are still forking out £3 for a questionable burger and while £4 for a pint of beer is parallel to most modern establishments, it’s incredibly depressing when it arrives lukewarm in a rapidly disintegrating plastic cup.
The nature of modern football is a far cry from the ‘good old days’; the sport has evolved for better and for worse. Clubs are trying desperately to cling on to the family atmosphere to ensure future generations of support but the romance of standing arm in arm with your fellow man is fading fast. If ticket prices are to fall, so must every other financial aspect of football across all the board, which cannot be expected to happen overnight.
Players and even the clubs themselves are traded regularly as if commodities. Once the likes of John Terry, Ryan Giggs and Steven Gerrard hang up their boots, will we wave goodbye to the last of the one-club wonders? I refuse to decorate my replica shirt with a name on the back, simply because it is inevitable they will be lured away by a more lucrative offer. For many the beautiful game is simply an ugly representation of greed and arrogance.
Supporters are also becoming increasingly disillusioned with foreign ownership, despite both Chelsea and Manchester city owing all of their recent success to the investment of oversees owners. The likes of Blackburn, Manchester United and even Arsenal’s plethora of majority shareholders have come under fire, as they seemingly ignore the best interest of the club and focus on personal gain.
The improved broadcasting deal in the Premier League means clubs, “could knock around £30 off each single ticket next season and still have as much money as they have now” (Deloitte). However, wages are destined to increase in correlation with new forms of investment, with players fully aware that teams have more money at their disposal. Costs will inevitably increase across all aspects of the game, including ticket prices, which leaves fans bearing the brunt as per usual.
A wage cap is a wonderful idea in theory but the truth is players will merely escape to a country that will meet their demands. Let’s face it; the likes of Sergio Aguero and Luis Suarez are hardly likely to stick around for the English weather. With the departure of world-class stars, English football will become a far less entertaining spectacle and that will surely drive down attendances even further.
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