We’re poised to embark on another exciting Premier League season. Our clubs are working hard to secure players in the transfer market, at the same time we lay down cash to keep our season tickets. For those that can’t make a season ticket viable, a quick look to the fixture list highlights months where savings are required in order to attend games. Financial Fair Play was all about making sure football was healthy. My disdain for the system has been duly noted before; today I take a glance at the cost for those attending games this season. Unsurprisingly it makes for disappointing reading. FFP hasn’t protected the game’s most important commodity: the fans. Nor has it managed fairness in FFP’s execution.
The Premier League’s latest television deal has been well documented. Dreams that the £5.5 billion would convert to cheaper tickets for fans was always folly. As we are so often reminded, football is big business now. For most it was a way to bridge a gap to the top guns whilst getting closer to FFP conformity. I won’t argue against large TV deals, if the product is worth that price – or more importantly, someone is willingly to part with that amount of cash – then the Premier League clubs should lap it up. I do take umbrage with the idea UEFA is trying to introduce a soft cap on wages by limiting loss and expenditure, but fails to introduce universal limits on tickets and merchandise prices.
This failure from UEFA allows some clubs to penalise fans without ever facing the wrath of FFP restrictions. The grey area of different countries having to pay more to players each month for tax purposes (a player in England is taxed higher than one plying his trade in La Liga, thus, to match his wage a Premier League club has to pay a higher basic) is one area UEFA have failed to address directly. I suppose arguments over tax havens are best left to Starbucks, Amazon, or Jimmy Carr. But a failure to impose sanctions on clubs overinflating ticket prices would be easy to amend.
I’m not naïve enough to suggest a newly promoted club should be charging the same as a regular top four side. Clearly the established top teams are providing a constantly higher standard of product. In tandem with this their facilities exceed expectations. However, should Arsenal be allowed to set their cheapest season ticket at £1,014 when Manchester City manages to offer one at £299? This is the same club that argued City received too much sponsorship money from Etihad, missing the point that a value is only what someone is willingly to pay, then counterargument there is a market for high valued tickets in London. It’s unfair to the loyal fans and makes an uneven playing field. All clubs are punished by the same quotas if they fail FFP but allowed to run wild in other areas.
The disparity between ticket prices is now alarming. Arsenal’s most expensive match day ticket will be £127 this year. That’s just for ninety minutes of football. Crazy. Liverpool also play in the Champions League, are a club with a loyal fan base and extensive support, but they will charge no higher than £75 for a match day ticket this season, £19 being their lowest match day offering. You can argue that if fans of the Gunners are willing to pay it the club should cash in, but that misses the point. Other clubs can generate funds from their resources but aren’t allowed because of FFP. Yet UEFA aren’t stopping clubs from raiding the pockets of the most vulnerable first.
Understandably, it’s two of the newly promoted teams that see the largest percentage increase in ticket prices, as they meet the higher wage demands and chase players better equipped for top flight football. Burnley and QPR see an increase of 37% and 38% respectively on their highest priced season tickets (this takes Burnley’s price to £685; QPR’s to a whooping £949), both their cheapest offerings come in at £499. A tip of the cap to the other new boys, Leicester City. They have only made a 3% increase to the lowest priced season ticket (now £365) and a 2% one to the highest priced (£730). It’s worth noting Hull’s increased prices. For a club that has been very vocal – almost, overly proud – regarding their pricing structure, they have jumped prices by 25%. However, there is only a seventy quid difference between their cheapest and most expensive offering. Nobody is paying more than £572 to watch The Tigers this season.
I paid £675 for my season ticket this year. Would I have liked it cheaper? Of course, wouldn’t we all? But I could afford it, and would rather choose my seat than take the £299 offer. The highest priced at the Etihad this season was £860. Sounds a lot, I suppose, but it is the home of the champions, and a club that has failed FFP, so is clearly on the limit when it comes to breaking even. All clubs can squeeze a bit more. For some, any rise will be a deal breaker, but I dare say the 10% rise seen on City’s highest priced season ticket could have been pushed to 15% and the uptake would have been the same. The club won’t win any awards for keeping prices reasonable but others won’t be chastised for the ludicrously high bars that have been set. Arsenal, who haven’t been champions of England since 2004, sell their highest-priced season ticket at £2,013. A mere 3% rise, showing that prices have been inflated for a long time there.
So clubs are free to inflate and flog the fans all they want. No governing body will step in and protect the working man. What adds a touch of humour to this is how the FFP fines are going to be redistributed among other clubs. To appease teams that have competed domestically with clubs that “cheated” FFP, any fines they incur will be spread out amongst the teams that played in the league during the season in question. So Arsenal is set to receive some money from Manchester City’s FFP fine, topping the coffers that are overflowing from exorbitant ticket prices. No consideration is given to making clubs redistribute this cash to ticket buyers. Nor is the spreading of this cash fair when you consider some clubs – like Liverpool, for example – also would have failed Financial Fair Play last season had they been competing in Europe. UEFA only audited the clubs that competed in the Champions League or Europa League, so not only have some teams dodged a bullet, they’ll get a cash reward from those as guilty as they are.
If UEFA don’t act now the ticket prices will continue to rise. The working class man at top flight games will become a thing of the past. Short of introducing a cap on prices – something impossible to implement without a hard cap on a salaries – then a system should be in place to reduce a percentage of final turnover in FFP workings if ticket prices exceed an agreed market value. If sponsorship deals have to be justified then so should the cash received from fans.
FFP hasn’t protected clubs from themselves; it’s just made them the most dangerous predators to the fans’ wallets.