Opinion: Fans bring much more to the game than just money

As Liverpool FC backs down from its plan to introduce £77 tickets, have we reached ‘peak ticket’?

Fair play to Liverpool FC’s owners for backing down on its proposed ticket rise after a quarter of Anfield walked out in protest. There are those who believe – like The Economist – that Liverpool has a right to raise ticket prices, despite huge TV investment.

But that ‘supply and demand’ attitude also assumes that football works along the same economic rules as any other business. We know that’s not the case, either in the era of billionaire foreign ownership or that to create a “product”, as the marketers call it, there needs to be some atmosphere in the theatre. That means bums on seats.

For most clubs, matchday receipts are a tiny fraction of revenues compared to TV deals, but football without fans is nothing: who wants to watch a match with empty seats or populated by keen yet silent and recently out-of-pocket daytrippers, probably draped in a half-scarf?

See how British clubs compare with European ticket prices here [Continues…] 

Nord Kurve Borussia Park

Fans at Borussia Park, Mönchengladbach. The Bundesliga is often held up as an example of fan-centric football.

Communication breakdown

Football blogger Gary Andrews believes the issue goes beyond supply and demand economics.

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“I don’t think the latest developments around ticket prices are quite as simple as supply and demand. In the case of the big clubs (and to a lesser extent, teams with limited capacity like Bournemouth) they will never have a problem filling the stadium. It now goes beyond that,” he told OW.

Gary Andrews

Football blogger Gary Andrews

“Arsenal fans in particular have talked about a lost generation of fans and I think this is a key point,” he continued. “Fans in their late teens and early twenties are being priced out and while they may still choose to follow the Gunners, for example, they’ll do so from the comfort of the pub or the sofa. If they ever reach a ticket-buying wage, they may not be inclined to do so. Or tickets, like house prices, will have risen further out of reach. That will have a knock on effect on atmosphere and in turn will devalue the match going experience for a certain demographic.”

Andrews points out that with the new TV deal, clubs don’t actually need to charge the prices they do and that moves into a different area of economics: one where the price point is such that the target consumers make a decision that the cost is not worth the product.

“That will mark an interesting shift. Of course, it’s more likely that clubs are making concessions to protect their brand as opposed to making steps to placate their audience. The bond between clubs and fans perhaps isn’t quite what the clubs think it is,” he concluded.

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The European viewpoint

You can’t have missed how fans of Borussia Dortmund – the Bundesliga’s only publicly listed club – protested over proposed ticket rises but pelting the pitch with tennis balls this week. And these are the ticket prices at BVB, much cheaper than England with the added bonus of safe standing for extra attendance and atmosphere.

One book worth reading is The Bundesliga Blueprint by Lee Price. It covers the relationship between fans and their football clubs in Germany, and explains how the Bundesliga beats the Premier League for average matchday attendance due to a combination of factors; mainly the 50+1 rule in Germany that gives fans the voting majority and prevents runaway foreign ownership.

Brussels-based Rob Francis watches matches across Europe, and believes English clubs have been “given a very easy ride by their supporters” over ticket prices.

“’Fan-power’ is an ill-defined concept which goes beyond ticket prices, but in England it is clear that there is very little fan power. Fans complain and moan, but still bend to the fixture list and some of the highest prices in Europe,” he told OW. “I remember attending Eintracht Frankfurt v Arminia Bielefeld, when the home support boycotted the entire first half. At half time, they surged in to the sound of a large roar. It was very impressive and sent a much stronger message than the Anfield process (even if the latter could have been a success).”

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What is promising out of all this is that ticket price protests look set to increase and with audiences of millions around the globe watching, clubs, sponsors and TV companies alike will want to avoid the embarrassment that beset Liverpool on a weekly basis. [Continues…]

Bromley FC

Could non-league teams, such as Bromley FC (pictured), benefit from disillusioned fans from higher leagues?

Football fans priced out the top flight could always look to the lower leagues, but as Andrews warns; “As a separate side note, the cost of lower league clubs is often wildly prohibitive and they definitely don’t exist in an economic bubble. There is a lot of competition for the leisure pound for these clubs and that could lead to major issues for those boards who get it wrong.”

The alternative is attending non-league football, or football travel abroad.

Let’s just hope the protests make a difference. As the banner says, football without fans is nothing. 

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