Monday, April 19News For London

Premier League tickets: too expensive or fair reflection of market value?

With the new TV-deal estimated to be worth around £8billion, Premier League clubs are set for another significant rise in revenue for the next three seasons. The question is whether that should lead to a reduction in ticket prices for fans.

Two weeks ago Liverpool fans walked out of the stadium during a match to protest against the planned ticket price increases. Their action had great effect, as the Liverpool owners withdrew their proposed plans just a few days later. The debate about ticket prices in the Premier League has been around for considerable time, and is also heard at the London clubs. The cost of watching football in the capital is eminent, with Arsenal asking £97 for their most expansive seat, while you can pay up to £87 to see a match at Chelsea. Fans would be clearly happy if prices were going down, but would they stage a similar protest as their counterparts did in Liverpool?

Westwinster World went down to Arsenal-Leicester City last week to gauge opinions regarding entrance fees at the Emirates stadium. Some of them seem to be happy to campaign as well. Rob Houlden, who has been a season ticket holder for ten years, believes that something should be done. “The issue needs to be heard. Liverpool did it, and their owners saw the error in their ways and changed it pretty much straightaway. We have tried before, with 100 or 200 people, but in a 60.000 seat stadium no one notices.”


Arsenal fan Rob Houlden comments on the ticket prices at Arsenal

Houlden, who pays £1100 for his season ticket, considers the prices generally too high for what he gets in return. “I think it is champagne prices for lemonade football. We are being charged the most in the Premier League, most in the world actually. I think if they charge us the most, we should be the best team in the world.” Houlden opts for alternative options, if ticket prices don’t drop. “My savings have gone down and that has got to the point where I can’t afford to shelve out £1100 in one month. Maybe if there is a monthly option, a freeze of prizes or a discount for people who have been here for a decade, then maybe it will be enough for me to renew next year.”

Two Arsenal fans outside the Emirates stadium

This season, BBC conducted a ‘price of football study’. Although overall prices remained the same or even dropped this season, the study showed the average price of the cheapest match-day ticket in the Premier League has passed £30 for the first time. The increase didn’t affect attendances though, as 96% of the stadiums were still full at matches.

With the economic model of supply and demand, you could argue that high prices are inevitable. Iain Murray, another Arsenal fan, says he doesn’t have a problem with the ticket prices. “I’ve seen us move to a new stadium and build a legacy that will last for a long time. I feel we are a balanced self-sufficient club and that they charge a fair amount for what supporters are getting in return and for what is needed to support the club’s ambitions moving forward.”

From a business point of view it makes sense that ticket prices reflect the club’s status. Robert Simmons, Professor of Economics at Lancaster University Management School, is clear when asked whether ticket prices are too high. “The simple answer is ‘no’ unless there is somehow a reduced demand for tickets, which I don’t see happening. Ticket prices should fundamentally reflect demand for stadium attendance – if that is increasing then ticket prices should go up on average.”

Simmons acknowledges, though, that clubs are wise to adapt a certain structure of advantageous pricing to keep attracting fans in the long term. “The season ticketholder pre-commit before the season starts and expect a return to their loyalty. In turn, clubs want the season ticket holder’s loyalty as they know that even if the team has a bad season, the season ticket holders have still bought their tickets and most will probably continue to do so. So there is what I call an implicit contract between clubs and season ticket holders where clubs offer lower ticket prices to season ticket holders to sustain fan loyalty regardless of team performance.”

Perhaps, clubs should strive for the middle way, where business and fan bonding come together. Kirsty Rutherford, fan of West Ham United, thinks both sides are reflected at her club. “We are moving to the Olympic Stadium next season and our tickets have reduced by up to £200. Aside from that they offer cup matches at £20 no matter where you sit and also sell ‘kids for a quid’ games for certain fixtures. Having said that, at some games tickets start at £45 which I still feel adds up to a very expensive day out quite quickly. But at least there are options.”

As long as fans at other clubs feel they have options too, they will probably keep coming. At least, they won’t walk away during matches. Because that’s quite a pity, if you have paid a big sum to see your favourite team.