Get Off The Gravy Train
Thursday, 20th Jun 2013 14:49
On the day that the football fixtures were released, supporters of Premier League Clubs got together to show that not everyone is prepared to doff their caps and reach into their pockets indefinately.
Peter Hooton has had enough. The lead singer of the pop band The Farm, is an avid follower of Liverpool. But his lifelong affiliation is in jeopardy. Not because of anything Luis Suárez has recently done. But because he has grown sick of the cost of turning up to support his beloved Reds. A rise of 716 per cent in the price the average fan has been obliged to pay to watch a football match since 1989 is, he says, way beyond all financial reason. It is past a joke.
“As far as I can see I’m still sitting on the same seat I was 20 years ago,” he says. “So how come it’s costing me that much more?”
It was a question being asked among a demonstration outside the Premier League’s headquarters in London yesterday, organised by the Liverpool Spirit of Shankly group. Hooton was one of more than 300 fans of every club in the division, plus a healthy representation from the Football League, who all came together now to register their disquiet at the ever inflating cost of tending to their obsession. And four of them - representing Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United - were invited in to put their complaints to Richard Scudamore, the Premier League’s chief executive.
“It’s a symbolic gesture on the day the new fixtures are released,” says Hooton. “We’re not asking for the earth. We just want a fair deal.”
It is hard to argue with the demonstrators’ assertion that it is the fans who are bearing a disproportionate financial burden in the modern game. These days, supporters pore over the new fixtures not looking to see when they are meeting the neighbours or when they will first get to see Jose Mourinho’s new coat, but prioritising which of the games they will be able to afford to attend.
This assault on the customer may seem entirely counter-intuitive given that football has never been wealthier. More money is pouring into club coffers than ever. From next season, the 20 Premier League members will share an eye-popping £5 billion of television income across three years. So how come, even as the bottom line is swelling, the fan is being squeezed ever tighter? At Arsenal, the cost of a single match ticket has now risen to as much as £123.50. That is not for the hospitality area, with a Michelin-starred meal and a handshake from a former Arsenal hero thrown in. That is just the price of an ungilded admission.Football is now as costly as many an arts performance. And often fails to match up as entertainment. Last Saturday I paid £50 to watch Bruce Springsteen at Wembley. Earlier this year, I paid £49 to watch Manchester United at West Ham for something that went on for about half as long. And was about a tenth as much fun.
The cause of this apparent disconnect is the fact that, despite its gushing income, football’s ability to keep hold of its money grows weaker by the season. Like a reckless lottery winner, any bounty that comes its way it spends, spends and spends. As players’ wages go stratospheric, so do administrators’ salaries; Swansea City’s Huw Jenkins is the only chief executive in the Premier League to earn less than a million pounds a year. And that which is not being wasted is being squandered: if the £71 million spent last year by Premier League clubs on agents was used to subsidise admissions, ticket prices would fall by close to £3 a ticket across the board.
But instead of exercising control over their costs, the clubs expect their followers to underwrite the consequence of all this excess. And according to Hooton, such a policy is undermining the essence of the game.
“The Premier League is sold to its commercial partners on the back of the atmosphere, excitement and passion,” he says. “But anyone who has been a regular at matches will tell you those are disappearing. Away crowds are dwindling. Fans who are scraping together the money for season tickets can’t afford to go away anymore. Without away fans, football is getting ever more soulless.”
Scudamore no doubt pointed out to the demonstrators that overall attendances remain robust. He will have insisted, too, that his organisation has no control over pricing: clubs set their own charges. Yet the demonstrators had some innovative ideas. Why not get one of the Premier League’s commercial partners to target sponsorship at reducing admission prices?
Football needs to do something: regular fans are becoming irregular; supporters are starting to desert the game; the captive market on which it has relied for so long is getting restless.
“They said we’d never get this demo going, never get fans from different clubs together,” says Hooton. “Well a Man United fan got on the Spirit of Shankly coach in Liverpool to come down for this. That tells you something is stirring.”
**With thanks to the Daily Telegraph For The reproduction Of The Article
Photo: Action Images
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