Published on January 22, 2013 | by Samuel Rowntree

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A high price to pay for a football fix

ALN Sport Supplement Editor, Samuel Rowntree

I can live comfortably on £62 a week. My student loan accommodates me nicely and I live a comfortable-ish life.

If I was asked to pay that much to watch a 90-minute game, hemmed in by stewards at the Emirates Stadium – where people who I share a common interest in football with resent me – I would laugh that proposition away.

That precise sum, £62, was the amount that Manchester City fans paid to watch their team beat Arsenal 2-0 last weekend. When ticketing for Premier League football matches, clubs set the prices based on the attractiveness of the contest – so Arsenal versus City is a category one game, meaning it is in the top band of fixtures to be played this season.

A game not to be missed then, you might think. A sell-out. But City handed back a third of their allocation. How can fans continue to shell out that amount of money for the pleasure of watching their team play football?

Last week I attended a lecture by David Conn, a Guardian journalist and the author of, among other titles, the acclaimed Richer than God – an insight into Manchester City’s fortunes over the past 40 years. Conn writes about the business side of the football industry. And that was his main point. We now refer to a football industry.

Vulgar money

The Premier League has become such big business that clubs now have owners – read oligarchs – who pour money into a club, or relentlessly drain money out of them in what is a basic form of asset stripping. Vulgar wages and stupid transfer fees must be paid in the pursuit of success, either through the owners’ folly, to pay off debts run up to buy the club or to ‘build the brand’ or ‘breach new markets’ as the suits would put it.

Why should fans expect courtesy from someone who has ownership over a product that they simply cannot give up? A product as addictive as cigarettes, as fulfilling as alcohol, which they come back to every week – drinking in the lunacy of the league, talking, speculating and well, mainly arguing about the game.

“Why should fans expect courtesy from someone who has ownership over a product that they simply cannot give up?” Samuel Rowntree

While I scoff at the idea of paying silly money to go and watch a game, it is people of my age that Conn worries about. He speaks about the lack of young faces at football grounds, and being priced out of their own stadiums just pushes them into watching easily-obtainable illegal streams – even though they might have to put up with FOX commentary.

After candidly describing the romanticism of his first forays into football fandom, I wonder how my spectatorship compares. I enjoy watching from home, and I know plenty of others who do. You only have to check the inane ‘banter’ and musings of the millions of football fans on Twitter to see they are having a good time from home as well.

Stay-at-home generation

I wonder if it worries the hierarchy inside the Football Association that younger fans might prefer to stay at home, a generation that extols the virtues of having Gary Neville’s on-point analysis over a £5 burger.

There will be plenty who still rave about the atmosphere of a game, and that is understandable. But considering the fact that 2012 saw ticket prices increase at more than five times the rate of inflation – and that we could be about to go into a triple-dip recession – we could see empty stadiums in the not too distant future.

Premier League teams are set to land the highest windfall from any TV deal in its history next year. I would bet that entire windfall that ticket prices do not come down.

 

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