This morning I had the pleasure of reading Bryan Painter’s article on sports ticket prices on the Football Purists website. It was a compelling, well-researched piece that extrapolated on an argument long-touted by executives: increases in ticket prices are necessary to stay competitive in the new sporting landscape. It’s a fair point, and one that Premier League clubs have been pushing for the better part of a decade given it places fans in the middle of an ethical conundrum: if I complain about the prices of tickets, I’m inherently hurting the team I support by making them less financially competitive.
The problem with the argument is that it isn’t grounded in actual data. The article lists Premier League ticket prices and match day revenue figures. But what’s happening outside the British Isles? I’ve listed below the lowest cost single game ticket (with the lowest cost season ticket in parentheses) for the teams that have participated in the last four Champions League Finals.
Real Madrid: £29 (£177)
Atletico Madrid: £25 (£257)
Barcelona: £16 (£172)
Juventus: £30 (£291)
Bayern Munich: £12 (£67)
Borussia Dortmund: £13 (£303)
As a point of comparison, Liverpool, who have hardly kicked a ball in the Champions League over the last four years, have a lowest single game price of £39 with a lowest season ticket price of £725. One interesting detail readers may have noticed while reviewing the above list: no English teams are present.
As ticket prices in the Premier League have risen astronomically over the past half-decade compared to those of the continental leagues, the Premier League can’t even point to on-field success against those teams as a proof of concept. The data inserts doubt as to whether paying higher prices equates to winning trophies. Supporters of Barcelona, the most dominant football club of the past decade, pay one-fourth what Liverpool supporters pay for season tickets. Supporters of the legendary Bavarian club Bayern Munich pay one-tenth and supporters of Sevilla, the club who beat Liverpool 3-1 in last year’s Europa League Final, pay half.
There’s also the fact that match day revenue constitutes a surprisingly small percentage of overall club income, and a reasonable adjustment to prices wouldn’t actually make that large of a dent on the club’s bottom line. Ahead of the ticket price protests at Liverpool last season, Spirit of Shankly (the supporter’s union) presented a proposal to the club that would reduce 70% of the ground’s tickets to £30 or less. This would bring prices closer to (though as shown above still not at the same level as) clubs on the continent.
Spirit of Shankly designed the proposal under a five-year plan that would cost the club £1 million per year. As a point of reference, that figure is only 2.5% of the £40 million cash infusion the club received as a result of the new TV deal struck by the Premier League. As another point of reference, a £1 million loss in ticket revenue would be enough to pay a £20k per week contract for one season. Converted left back James Milner currently earns £120k per week. Second choice goalkeeper Simon Mignolet earns £60k per week to play finger puppets on the bench.
Premier League owners are free to charge what they wish for tickets. They own the clubs and determine the value of the product. Do not be confused though: it is their belief that they can gouge supporters while still packing stadiums that is driving ticket prices upwards, not their desire to be competitive. The likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona are proving each season that ticket prices do not correlate to silverware. Arsenal have lost to one of those two teams five of the last seven years – and their poor fans have had to pay £985 per season to watch it.
This is Part 1 of a three part series on the ticket price debate in the Premier League. Stay tuned for Part 2 which will focus on the need for cultural institutions and value of supporters in sports, and Part 3 which will discuss the impact of fan ownership on the supporter experience.
 All figures in pounds and sourced by the BBC Price of Football report.