The gulf in TV money between the Premier League and the Football League is no excuse for high ticket prices, according to the organisation running a campaign striving to reduce ticket prices for away supporters. Cory Varney investigates and talks to some of the clubs involved…
One club out of the 92 in the English footballing pyramid has agreed to cap prices for visiting supporters, and it’s not who you might expect.
Coventry City – formerly of the Premier League, now battling for promotion in League One – are the only club to ensure that away fans will pay no more than £20 when visiting the Ricoh Arena.
The Sky Blues made the move ahead of the start of the 2015/16 season, with club chief executive, Steve Waggott, stressing it was all part of Coventry’s commitment to making football more affordable – especially to families.
It marked the first big success for the Football Supporter’s Federation’s (FSF) Twenty’s Plenty initiative, encouraging clubs across the Premier League and Football League to cap ticket prices for travelling fans at £20.
A stark contrast
Coventry’s decision to fully embrace the campaign is a world away from Premier League ticket prices.
Travelling Peterborough and Barnsley fans would have paid a combined maximum price of £40 on October 31 and November 3 respectively.
Whereas, on the same weekend, Norwich City fans had to pay £44 to visit the Etihad Stadium for their match against Manchester City.
18 of the 20 Premier League clubs were approached with questions regarding the initiative and matchday ticket prices.
Of that number, 13 chose not to reply at all, whilst five clubs, including Chelsea and Liverpool, replied only to refuse the chance to comment.
20 of the Championship clubs were also approached, and only three clubs responded with one team, Preston North End, answering the questions directly.
According to the FSF, Liam Thompson said this was not unexpected: “In our experience we’ve found that football clubs do not like to do their bidding or negotiation in the media. But that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening.”
Follow our lead
After visiting Sky Blues Talk, an internet forum for Coventry City fans, we found many supporters to be full of praise for their club’s stance.
“Twenty’s plenty is a great initiative and more clubs should follow our lead,” one user, ‘lifeskyblue’, told us.
“I think it makes a statement about the need to have an atmosphere in a ground and away fans are part of that. Football without a crowd is, well… us at Northampton.”
For the 2013/14 season, Coventry played their home matches at Northampton’s Sixfields Stadium due to a rent row between City and Arena Coventry Limited, managers of the Ricoh Arena.
Another user, ‘matesx’, explained, “Football should be affordable to the ordinary man. An added bonus is that a bigger away crowd makes for a better matchday atmosphere.”
It’s not just away supporters benefitting as they visit the Ricoh, ticket prices for home fans have also been made affordable.
Another poster, ‘Joy Division’, remarked on how they’ve been able to make every home match this season due to the prices – after previously being unsure on getting a season ticket.
“True, being as we are playing good football and doing well may have some influence, but anything higher than £20 then I would normally pick and choose my games. This way the club is retaining my regular support.
“I’ve also noticed a lot more younger fans attending games, most notably teenagers, who probably are already City supporters but possibly finding attending games a lot easier.”
On the continent
Germany’s top division, the Bundesliga, is often cited by fans as an example to follow in terms of affordable matchdays.
Jan Tölva, a sociologist and member of the Bündnis Aktiver Fußball Fans (BAFF) expressed dismay at ticket prices in England.
“I have just been to London and attended a fourth tier match between Leyton Orient and AFC Wimbledon. It cost me more than a Bundesliga match in Germany.
“I honestly cannot fathom how people can afford these prices on a regular basis and why the hell they are willing to pay them.”
Tölva feels that if football in the UK wants to remain ‘a sport of the people’ and not just mere entertainment for the most well-off, then ticket prices must go down significantly echoing the thoughts of the FSF.
“Football needs fans in order to be a marketable product. Have you ever watched an Under-21 qualification match on TV? It might be good football but without the stadium atmosphere it is like watching a rock band perform in an empty opera house.”
Ill thought through
Despite Coventry’s approach, some clubs feel that the gulf in television money means the Twenty’s Plenty campaign and the FSF does not consider all angles.
With the Premier League television deal set to rise dramatically next season, the current Football League deal spanning three divisions represents a 26% reduction on previous rights.
A statement on behalf of Preston North End of the Championship explained that although they understand the campaign to reduce away match ticket prices, they are against it.
“The campaign is based upon the presumption that central TV revenues are at an all-time high, but of course this only applies to the Premier League.
“Not only is ticket income a fundamental part of our total revenue, but of course we are competing against at least nine clubs this season who are still benefitting from the Premier League parachute payments.”
QPR, Burnley and Hull, all relegated last season, will receive £65m over four seasons – unless one of them achieves promotion back to the Premier League.
Cardiff City, Fulham and Reading are some of the others who are still benefitting from parachute payments from their time in the Premier League.
Preston continued; “If the campaign were to make Premier League football even cheaper to attend then those of us who are geographically competing with Premier League teams will find it even harder to compete to attract supporters.”
Preston are situated near Premier League heavyweights Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Everton in the North West.
“With reduced ticket income we will find it even harder to remain financially competitive. However well-intentioned the current campaign is, it is ill thought through and has not taken into account the impact on football clubs outside of the Premier League.”
Not an excuse
Despite Preston’s doubts over the Twenty’s Plenty campaign, the FSF does not feel that they can be an excuse for not reducing ticket prices.
“Preston are right to point to the disparity in broadcasting revenue,” said Liam Thompson of the FSF. “We agree with them that TV wealth should be shared more equitably throughout the football pyramid and grassroots.”
Thompson added, “However, we don’t believe this can be used as an excuse to maintain high ticket prices.”
The FSF cited Coventry and the reciprocal deals in League One as an example that Twenty’s Plenty is achievable outside the top-flight.
Unfortunately, it has not proven to be a universal thing in the lower divisions with Coventry fans stating they’d been charged £25 for a Tuesday night match at Bradford City.
The FSF knows there’s still work to be done but are happy with current progress, “Awareness of the ticket price problem has never been higher and we’re pleased that the actions of fans keeps it in the spotlight.”
Another of the users on Sky Blues Talk, Paxman II, earmarked the role that a big crowd can play in the lower leagues.
“Frankly in the lower leagues (as we are) all the promotion we can do pays dividends in the long run with better attendance breeding better ‘on site’ spend on concession stands. A crowd breeds atmosphere and everything emanates from that.”
Tölva of the BAFF feels keeping football affordable is key to the sport’s future, “If young people cannot afford football they will look for a pastime elsewhere and once the older folks die away football will run out of people who give a damn about it.
“There will simply be no more customers who are willing to pay for watching football in a stadium because they never learnt that this might be something worth doing.”