Money And Empty Seats – Online Report

Based on two recent surveys conducted on the internet, British football supporters believe the modern-day pricing at matches is too expensive.  But is it just down to pricing?

Polls on the popular social networking site Facebook and the Rangers supporters’ message board Follow Follow showed that 63% of fans voted that they agree that pricing at matches is excessive, but that they still attend the games.  33% said the over-the-top pricing was the reason they do not attend the games, and a small 4% said they believed it was not but they do not attend regardless.

Fans were asked “Do you think prices at football matches these days are too expensive? (Including tickets, merchandise, catering etc) AND is your answer the reasons you go/don’t go to games?”  One hundred supporters voted in total.

With the boom in television coverage of football from giants BSkyB and to a lesser extent ESPN, comes the decline in attendances at games and therefore a rise in “armchair fans”. Derek Rae, a top ESPN commentator, has noticed a lull in the number of supporters attending throughout Europe.

He said: “We are seeing it in many places. Of course there will always be exceptions but by and large, attendances in many European countries are falling. The lack of sensible pricing would seem to be an important factor.”

“It has become increasingly expensive and many are being priced out of going to football now. I can remember doing a Sunday paper round in my youth and that in itself paying for me to watch football on a Saturday. I’m not so sure that sort of thing would add up today. In most cases it seems to me it has become too expensive.”

A sports reporter from The Sunday Post, Kenny Millar, agrees with Rae on the situation in football, and used Germany as a successful example of cheaper prices and has also noticed the gaps in the stands.  He also points to the decline in the standard of football on offer in Scotland.

“In general, ticket prices for Scottish football are ridiculously inflated given the product on the park. Certain clubs have tried to be inventive with ticket schemes – like Partick Thistle allowing Under-16s in for free – but when you compare it to the Bundesliga in Germany, it doesn’t add up. A lot of supporters no longer have the same disposable income that they might have had in the past. Their loyalty can no longer be taken for granted,” Millar stated.

He added: “The gaps in the stands are there for all to see and it’s only going to get worse. Scottish football, per head of population, is the best supported in Europe but it’s on the slide. When I was growing up my Dad took me and my two younger brothers to every Hibs home game, and as many away fixtures as he could. If we were growing up today that simply wouldn’t be an option given the inflation of ticket prices. But I think pricing is only one factor. The quality of football on offer and the saturation of TV coverage of bigger leagues are also damaging our game.”

Attendances in the SPL are falling season-by-season, with the economic problems facing Britain a likely factor to combine with the pricing.  In season 2006/2007, the league had an overall average attendance of 16,077.  Compare that with last season (2010/11) where the figure was 13,672.   Even at the Old Firm, the average gate has went down, albeit not significantly.  With 57,927 (Celtic) and 50,051 (Rangers) in 2006/07, last season the figures were 48,968 (Celtic) and 45,304 (Rangers).

Commentator Rae believes to get the fans back in through the turnstiles, cheaper prices are needed.

“It surely just makes sense to try schemes like lower prices and student prices. All it needs is for someone to run the numbers. If a club can take in the same amount of money but get more people involved and energised, by reducing prices, it should happen. I don’t see it as that complicated. Once you get people in the door and they think they’re not being ripped off, they’ll come back. Look at Germany, there they have much more considerate pricing and fuller stadia. Coincidence?” commented Rae.

An example of the pricing problems at modern-day British football grounds can be found from the BBC’s investigation into it from August of this year.  The BBC asked every league club in Scotland and England (104 clubs) to give their prices on tickets, pies, tea and match day programmes.  Perhaps the most damning fact to come from the report about British football’s expenses is that only 11 out of the 104 clubs in England and Scotland will offer adults the chance to enjoy a day at the football for less than £20 during the new season.

The cheapest match day ticket in the Scottish Premier League came from Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dundee United who offer £16.00, and St Johnstone offer the cheapest maximum priced ticket at £23.00.  The dearest maximum ticket is at Rangers, with £42.00 being charged for when rivals Celtic come calling at Ibrox.  However, Rae believes this may be the one game that it is acceptable to charge that amount.

He said: “This might be the one case where it’s justifiable. The fact is people want to see that game.  It is a special fixture and Ibrox and Parkhead are always full for an Old Firm game. The same is not always true now when it comes to matches against other teams.”

For the ticket, pie, match-day programme and tea combination that are the cheapest, it is Inverness again at £21.90.  Most would argue that it is a good price, but keep in mind the product on the park at Inverness games. With an average attendance in 2010/11 of 4526, neither the low price (in terms of the whole league) nor standard of football is drawing them in.

Sports writer Millar would like to see Scottish clubs adopt a fixed price for tickets and believes the TV coverage is harming the game.

He said: “Clubs will tell you that they’ve experimented with lowering the price of admission and experimented with basic, cheaper match-day programmes and that it’s proved an expensive failure. But I’d like to see the SPL and SFL set pricing across the board at £15 for adults and £5 for kids, students and OAPS. Clubs might take a financial hit in the short-term but I think it’s imperative that there’s a concerted drive to get people back through the gates.”

He went on: “In the mid to long-term, as the product on the pitch hopefully improves I think crowds would increase again. But I also think we’re too reliant on TV coverage and that it does our game more harm than good. Given the limited amount we make from it, it discourages people from going to the games and the kick-off times do those who do make the effort no favours.”

Many supporters have views on what will bring the fans back and the prices down but it is ultimately down to the hierarchy at the clubs and the governing bodies. Until they reach agreement, it is likely that the crowds will keep falling.

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