The Price is Wrong? (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of a three part series on the ticket price debate in the Premier League. Part 1 focused on the need for match day revenue to stay competitive in the global football landscape. Stay tuned for Part 3, which will discuss the impact of fan ownership on the supporter experience.

In an issue fraught with passion, it’s often difficult to separate the emotional arguments from those grounded in data. In Part 1 of our three part series on ticket prices in the Premier League, we attempted to stay grounded in the facts to answer the question: are higher match day revenues required to compete at the highest level of European football? We left our argument with the following:

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.

But what about the piece in bold, though? Where does responsibility to the community end and profiteering begin in modern football? In this article, we delve into the more emotional component, exploring the responsibility of clubs to their supporters. If your belief is that these clubs are mere profit machines whose main responsibility is to generate yield for the investors, it’s easy to argue tickets prices could be double, triple, quadruple their current levels simply because the worldwide fanaticism of a club like Liverpool could support that change in price. Fans from around the globe would be willing to pay £400 per ticket, simply because they’ve already traveled across thousands of miles to see a match at Anfield.

The other side of the argument, however, is considering that football clubs need to be viewed as more than piggy banks. There are certain establishments across the globe: churches, museums, meeting houses, that receive special treatment by their operators simply because of their historical importance in fostering community and creating a space where like-minded people can meet and experience cultural expression. For most English fans, football clubs are part of this category.

Understanding this component of the argument means taking a deeper look into the importance of sporting institutions in fostering of community. While the USA has had its own sports “franchises” for many years, perhaps the most like-for-like comparison we have to the cultural depth of European football is college athletics. Between college basketball and college football, we have a set of sporting institutions where what happens on the field is almost secondary to the cultural expression that happens off it.

Each autumn Saturday, college students across the country pack into stadiums (for free or for a reduced price) to cheer on their classmates. Traditions are passed from upperclassman to freshman: fight songs, push-ups after touchdowns, and even rushing the field. Bonds are built and communities are formed, and as fans watching on television or at the stadium can attest, you can feel the intensity. College games are among the only sporting events in the United States that have managed to hold onto that feeling of the game as a religious experience. Perhaps its because we still allow the most raucous fans to enter at a reasonable price.

The Kop once had that same heritage. Kids who grew up in Liverpool attended matches at Liverpool Football Club to learn what it meant to be a Scouser, to learn passion for the reds, and hatred of the Mancs. They woke up on Saturday mornings and walked down to the stadium to buy their tickets and joined their mates in the stands for a singsong. The songs were passed down; the traditions of sitting on the Kop were passed down. The City and the Football Club became synonymous as a communal town bred a fan-base that became known for its passion for togetherness and dry sense of humour.

Fans from around the world traveled to Anfield to witness that famous atmosphere. But as the years have passed and ticket prices have soared, it’s slowly started to disappear. A “touristier” experience and a staggering increase in the average age of the matchgoer (nearly double in the last twenty years) have meant a breakdown in the passage of tradition. There are a plethora of pieces across the Internet complaining about the slowly dying Anfield atmosphere. What will happen when Anfield is 100% full of people there to take a tour of the supposed “Liverpool experience” rather than participate in it? That will be a sad day, and ultimately the club will suffer from it.

Part of Liverpool’s calling card as a club is its community and the famous Anfield atmosphere. If that disappears, it’s difficult to calculate how the value of the club will change. The treatment of these clubs as investments will lead them down the same path as that of American sports – where only college athletics generate the kind of atmosphere even comparable to what occurs across the pond. There is another way, however, and the English only need to look to the Continent to see it. Fan ownership is the lifeblood of continental football. Tune in to Part 3 for how fan ownership can save the soul of the Premier League.