Why Liverpool's worrying ticket price trend could spell disaster
Another week, another protest. This time at Anfield, on the 77th minute of their 2-2 draw against Sunderland thousands of Liverpool fans headed for the exits.
They were protesting against new increased prices which could see supporters pay as much as £77 for certain fixtures. Of course this is simply wrong. But as we have seen before, banners and derision of supporters rarely strikes a chord with the game’s elite.
We regularly hear about fans planning boycotts of certain games, fans up and down the country displaying “£20’s plenty” banners and chanting against the ever increasing cost of football. However, there needs to be a revolution in attitudes towards football supporters if ticket prices will ever return to an acceptable level.
With football’s demographic forever evolving, football’s “core support” is being increasingly taken advantage of. Now, customers and football tourists are considered just as, if not more important than the average football supporter who spend a significant proportion of their income following their team. Why would big clubs care if a season ticket holder with thirty season’s service stopped going to the matches, when they can easily be replaced by someone who will turn up, buy a program, a half and half scarf and spend a fortune in the club shop?
As Alexander Shay commented in his article, Against Sanitised Football, “increasingly common today, in which attending a game becomes a form of attending a party. Whether your team wins or loses is of course of concern, but the ultimate ambition is to have a good time, to enjoy.”
Football clubs are now far more concerned with PR and image, that supporters are seen as an inconvenience and almost operate in the same manner as governments of developed nations do.
Forget that your club is on a ten match losing streak and you are paying thousands (hundreds)of pounds a year for the privilege of watching it; as long as you come into the fanzone two hours before kick-off, buy our overpriced refreshments and merchandise everything is okay.
The price of match tickets vs the rate of inflation is always a good way to demonstrate the distancing between modern football and its roots. In 1990, Manchester United supporters paid the current day equivalent of £6.25 to watch their team. In 2011, this figure had risen to £28 for the cheapest seat at Old Trafford. This may not sound extortionate to watch some of the best players England’s top flight has to offer, but this is still an inflation of 700%. Since then, things have got much worse. The average price of the cheapest match-day ticket from the Premier League to League Two is now £21.49. It has increased 13% since 2011, compared to a 6.8% rise in the cost of living. Year-on-year it is up 4.4%, more than treble the 1.2% rate of inflation.
On Saturday, the protests of the Liverpool fans were met with a broadly positive response from the visiting Sunderland support. Initially there mocking chants of “time to go, time to go” as the 77th minute approached, but this is to be expected from opposing football fans and the chants quickly turned to applause and even cries of “scabs, scabs, scabs” to the Liverpool supporters who remained behind.
It is easy to see why Sunderland supporters would have sympathy with the plight of the situation Liverpool supporters find themselves in. Despite Liverpool being the victims of the overly commercialisation of modern football, the City is still predominantly working class and has been let down and neglected by a succession of governments.
The capacity of Anfield also works against Liverpool’s traditional fan base, with the ground holding only 44,000 the club can easily justify their actions financially with simple supply and demand economics.
If thousands of people are on the waiting list waiting to replace current season ticket holders, why will the club care about the existing match-goers?
The answer is perfectly simple, if the commercial Sky bubble does burst football will rely on traditional supporters to pick up the pieces.As society becomes ever more materialistic, football is one of the rare opportunities for thousands of people to indulge in common experiences at the same time.
The power football has to unite people is still as strong as ever, this is rarely more evident than at clubs such as Sunderland. A small city with high levels of unemployment and growing levels of poverty can still attract crowds of over 40,000 people at the majority of home games and sell out almost every away game comfortably. Why? Because it is part of the identity of the area and in a football obsessed region it provides hope and attachment rarely seen in other walks of life. One of the things that makes football the beautiful game is the passing down of fanatical support from generation to generation.
Prices of football tickets are symptomatic of the unacceptable treatment of supporters. Last season Sunderland played four away games within the space of a month, which totalled a combined £175 for tickets alone! This is before cost of travel and other costs that come with a match day are factored in.
How can this be justified? Of course, people will argue that as long as fans pay it then they lose the right to complain and Sunderland did sell out all of the aforementioned games. But why should supporters have to choose between being loyal to their team and making a stand against the authorities? Football needs a root and branch moral reform regarding attitudes towards supporters which ticket prices are just a part of.
Football was once an almost exclusively working class affair. No thrills, no spills, no glamour. Mud bath pitches were once the order of the day, terraces were filled with cigarette smoke and the stench of Bovril and football clubs were ran by local businessmen and were the heartbeat of local communities.
Of course, not everything was better in the good old days. Football is now a far more family friendly experience with numbers of women and children forever increasing and the quality on offer is arguably better than it’s ever been. But the game which once prided itself on being the game of the people is in danger of terminally losing its soul.
As Bayern Munich’s chairman famously commented, “We could charge more than £104. Let’s say we charged £300. We’d get £2m more in income but what’s £2m to us? In a transfer discussion you argue about that sum for five minutes.”
But the difference between £104 and £300 is huge for the fan.
‘We do not think the fans are like cows, who you milk. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.’
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Keith Jones
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