Why has Premier League ticket pricing only just become an issue?

With Arsenal recently under the media spotlight for charging Manchester City fans £62 for an away ticket, Matthew Bazell, author of the book Theatre of Silence: The Lost Soul of Football, asks why ticket pricing hasn’t come under greater scrutiny earlier.

Lately, it would appear that some aspects of the mainstream media finally woke up to the fact that supporters are charged well over the odds just to watch a game of football. They’re right to attack Arsenal (my club) hard regarding admission pricing, but they’re also very selective in their condemnation, considering that every other London Premier League team charges a similar price. And it isn’t just a capital thing, as high ticket pricing for a Premier game is normal regardless of geography. The cost for Arsenal fans at Man City this season was £55.

This debate over ticket prices has come around two decades too late. To use Arsenal as an example, in 1986 a seat in the East Lower at Highbury was £4.50 (with the option of standing in the terraces for around £3). In the space of just twenty years, that same seat went up to £39, which was way above the average growth in wages during that time which did not even triple. In 1995 you could still get in to any game at Highbury for £10.

I mention those facts because it’s important to have a sense of history when discussing this issue. Because what I can see football clubs doing is using the sneaky but smart supermarket tactic of perceived cost reduction. In other words, hike up prices – then put them back down by a fraction and pretend the customer is making a saving. For example, even if Arsenal reduced prices for grade A games by £20, it would still be a rip off at £42 (not that I think they will do that). The current price of £62 for the ‘cheap seat’ is about £50 more than what it should be, when you consider the millions that English clubs generate from television, advertising and merchandise.

I can hear the counter argument, which is that players’ wages have skyrocketed in recent years; therefore the clubs have to charge more. Well yes, that is true, but no consolation. The realisation that some mediocre players earn tens of thousands a week off the back of high admission pricing does not heal the wound. Knowing that’s where the money goes, should make us even less inclined to fork out.

Arsene Wenger’s response to the question of fans paying such a high cost was to imply that if the ground is sold out then the fans must believe it is good value for money. Not only is that arrogant nonsense which makes zero effort to understand the fans’ true feelings, but it also discounts the thousands of us who don’t go anymore – precisely because of the cost.

I was the type of fan who made noise and sung for the team. But I won’t pay that price to follow football and now Wenger wonders why the crowd don’t get behind the team (which he did moan about after the City game).

In any case, Wenger has a conflict of interest in regards to the question of ticket pricing. As someone who earns over £7 million a year off the back of such charges he’s likely to defend the culture of football being expensive to follow.

Maybe it’s not too late for things to change. Nothing’s ever set in stone. German’s have already proven to English fans that economic protest is effective. In 2010 Dortmund away fans boycotted Schalke 04 because the price had gone up from £13.50 to £22.00. They learnt from us that if you do nothing you’ll pay a very heavy price. Now it’s time for us to learn from them.

Matthew Bazell is the author of Theatre of Silence: The Lost Soul of Football, available at Waterstones, online at Amazon, and on Kindle.

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