The Price Of Football

IT’S THAT time of the year again. The BBC’s annual Price of Football survey… a useful but not always truly representative snapshot of the cost of following “the people’s game” that prompts outrage, nostalgia, sighs of resignation and far fetched utopian alternative costing models from those who would like Premier League football on Northern League.

And here’s my bit on the Boro figures.  That covers all the key prices and gives a rough comparison with our peers across the Championship.  Basically Boro are expensive for walk-up pricing and among the most costly for the cheapest season tickets but fall well short of the top end pricing of a clutch of  clubs. But we knew that.

In fact, there are very few real surprises to anyone with a passing knowledge  of the pricing structure of the game at  grounds across the country. It is a very expensive hobby and has been for decades now. It is a long time since the cost to get onto the terraces was about the same as the price of a pint. Someone has to pay for those Ferraris.

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It is hard to get a grip on whether the figures are representative. Some of the lowest prices claimed by some clubs are only available in limited numbers and/or for certain category games .  Last season Boro’s figures were misleading because they stated the cheapest adult price was £21 – but that was only in the Family Zone when accompanied by an adult and when bought in advance (this season the figures are based on the £27 in the South Stand – and of course you get £2 off with a Pride Card). Other clubs may have similar nuances in their price structure some prices are not necessarily  always available.

The headline is that Boro are the second most expensive club in the Championship when it comes to buying the cheapest adult walk-up ticket. That is a bitter blow in a low wage area ravaged by economic recession and it makes it an outlay that most people would need to seriously think about.  At £27  it is a big chunk out of most people’s disposable income, especially if they have a family when it can be very hard to justify such an indulgence.  Sometimes I wonder where people find the cash. That price is a major disincentive to regular casual attendance when there is a pressing need to grow the crowd. That’s a given. It has been central to most of the pricing debates on here over the years.

But, and it is a big but, the other side of that coin is that the vast majority of Boro fans – over 15,000 – are season ticket holders and most have been for all or the majority of their supporting life and so the pricing in the survey is a world away. For most the reality is that pricing is about a tenner less than the headline figure. The cost per game for a North and South Stand season ticket holder (with an early bird) is £17.26. That’s not bad.

The club – often derided as ruthless profiteers – deserve credit for deliberately and systematically holding the line on those prices for a decade. In business terms that was wrong.  A small regular increase, even in line with inflation,  would have increased revenue and cut the differential  between season tickets and on day pricing… but it may have handed even some of the most committed an excuse to walk away.  And the anecdotal evidence shows that once people give up their season ticket they rarely come back even on a part-time basis – not least because they  a suddenly hit by a tenner surcharge, often for the same seat.

So Boro  have frozen prices through the dark years after relegation when there were plenty of reasons to walk away – and even thrown in a free pint. This year’s rise was the first in nine years. Which is incredibly really.  And it means that for the vast majority of adult Boro fans the actual price is £17 – £21. Minus the price of a beer/ coffee. In reality, that brings it down to Conference prices. At Gateshead the cheapest on day ticket price is £16 and the cheapest season ticket is £280 – only £17 less than Boro. In that context Boro’s pricing is not bad. Especially if the team are providing VFM.

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And the Family Zone has been a great success that deserves credit too. It is very fairly priced: a parent and two kids can go to the match for £20 a game. Or about £6 each. That’s great value.  It is cheaper than going to the pictures. And it is culturally important missionary work. And just short of 4,000 Boro season ticket holders are in that zone so that would skew all the average figures were the survey structured in a different way.

That means the notionally expensive headline figures don’t apply for the vast majority of Boro fans. And it also means that the club’s average take per ticket is actually very low, well below a tenner.  And so the income through the gate is relatively meagre  (about £6m last year, which was a season of rising gates)  and it doesn’t even get anywhere near to half of the £19-20m wage bill at Boro. The sums don’t add up. Hence the urgency for Boro to get promoted very soon before the pressure on the current cost base really tells.

Promotion would be a boon for the club – but it would bring its own problems for fans. The survey gives a frightening glimpse of the future: some of the away prices in the Premier League – where clubs don’t even need the money – are eye-watering.

Replica shirts, pies, club crested beard oil… blah, blah, blah… you don’t have to buy the fripperies. You don’t have to have a pie or a pint. But you do have to stump up for entry. And that really stings.

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18 thoughts on “The Price Of Football

  1. I suppose if you viewed it all in a similar way to steel production at Redcar then basically the price at what the club can realistically charge is way below the cost of producing football at Boro and since it’s deemed strategically important to the people of the area, Steve Gibson as stepped in to make the equivalent of a government subsidy every year to prevent it going out of business.

    However, if Boro are somehow able to gain promotion to the PL then they will be entitled to a hefty slice of the massive income available for producing a top of the range global product that millions of people are willing to pay to watch.

    Championship football is basically a long-term investment strategy to obtain entry into an elite club – I don’t know what the real-world equivalent would be but normally nobody making a similar proposition would be regarded as a sane individual.

    So many thanks to Steve Gibson for continuing to be a little crazy!

  2. We have held prices for a decade yet we are the second most expensive in the Championship, something in my mind doesn’t quite sit comfortably with that. If we are truly the second most expensive then you could equally argue that its taken ten years to get prices in line and even now we are still at the top of the price tree.

    I wrote a detailed piece on here some months back about the cost of prohibitive walk up pricing at the Riverside and especially Boro Pride cards no longer representing the same value for money after the price increase this summer. The timing of it after early bird discounts had expired left a bitter taste as well.

    In the end I opted for a Season Card even though with work commitments there is no way I can watch every game but the difference between a Season card and a Boro Pride card made the price differential of the hiked Boro Pride card redundant in my mind. That is a success for the club by gaining increased Season card sales with cash up front instead of drip fed week by week but in terms of meeting the needs or wants of a Customer it fell short for me.

    The myriad of schemes that can be used to arguably bring the price down doesn’t sit well with me either as there are opposing arguments that equally increase it. My Season Card drinks vouchers are still gathering dust in the Ticket office as I’m not interested in getting bladdered at a Football match despite me being stereotyped as a “Typical Teessider” by our esteemed Marketing Department. The cost per game for me is way above the £17 to £21 as I don’t imbibe at matches (I drive there and back) plus I will miss several games over the Season through work. It may in fact depending on unplanned and unknown future work commitments work out much more expensive for me than a Boro Pride Card.

    I fully realise that MFC like all the other 71 league clubs has to be a viable concern and that turnstile money outside of the Premiership along with SG’s ongoing benevolence is now the main source of income for Boro. My passion for Boro overrides my head and my wallet fortunately permits me to have the luxury of choice but the pricing for walk up fans is wrong (and not just at the Riverside).

    Being poor and unemployed on Teesside has sadly become even more commonplace of late. Being poor, unemployed and supporting Boro on Teesside is becoming virtually impossible despite offering the unwashed a free pint.

    With that kind of backdrop I hope the Management and Players appreciate the incredible increased levels of support this season and the hopes that are entrusted upon them.

  3. Throw in the cost of going to away matches and it starts adding up to a lot of money invested in following your club. Or live some distance from your club and add in travel costs, thankfully fuel has come down in cost.

    If I lived in North Yorkshire I would have a season ticket, no doubt about that.

    **AV writes: Or Teesside 😉

  4. AV Indeed 🙂

    On to other matters, as reported in the Gazette Stuani and Albert may be doubts ahead of the weekend game after flying back from International duty. The problem is not only the journeys of 3600 miles for Albert and 6400 for Stunai but the fact they flew the same distance the other way a few days before that. The return trips have the issue of the disruption to sleep patterns, it easier going west than it is east.

    I am sure someone posted the about the likelihood of missing the game on here a few days ago?

    I guess the bench may be the best we will see of the pair.

    **AV writes: They are not back until later today.

  5. Having read your bit on the Boro figures and looked at the BBC tables of data, I’d agree with the introductory point you made in your article that it’s a useful comparison but doesn’t really give a representative view.

    I would have liked to have seen a table that showed (preferable split into season ticket and matchday tickets):

    – Total tickets sold
    – Total Income from ticket sales
    – Mean ticket price
    – Median ticket price
    – Minimum ticket price (and number available)
    – Maximum ticket price (and number available)

    I think just publishing the highest and lowest prices are just headline figures that don’t give the true picture of what each club’s fans are paying as a whole.

    Some statistics are more meaningful than others and I’d like to be able to see the role of how ticket income is represented within total revenue – plus whether the ticket price seems to be set fairly or whether it is being set at what a club thinks is the maximum it can achieve.

    I also think PL clubs should use their vast TV income to keep prices lower than they otherwise would need to charge.

    **AV writes: I also think the key is what price most fans pay: most of Boro fans are ST holders with the biggest chunk of those paying £17 per match. With a free pint. That is a bargain.

    The figures are skewed by gimmick prices. For instance the Reading £10 away tickets are only available for a few seats for a few Category D matches each season. Manchester City “offer” a £299 season ticket which is one of the lowest in the league but it is not available to buy: that entire (small) section has been sold out since day one. The survey is interesting and is a good trigger to discuss wider issues but it isn’t really scientifically accurate.

    1. Yes, the mode ticket price (as statisticians call it) would be a very useful comparison figure – i.e. the ticket price that is the most commonly paid. I also noted that an Arsenal season ticket costs around a grand but apparently their cheapest matchday price of £27 would mean fans could theoretically watch all the home games for around half that.

      If the data is based on a survey, then I’m presuming that the clubs responded to some kind of questionnaire – but whether all the ticket data is available for someone to collate and present as a report is not clear.

      It sounds like the kind of project a post-graduate would love to undertake but perhaps club’s are not obliged to provide such detailed data under the guise of it being commercially sensitive. But given that fans are not customers who would take their business elsewhere if they could get a better deal, there’s probably no reason why this information couldn’t be supplied.

  6. I would reckon that they didn’t fly cattle class which makes a huge difference in the level of fatigue and comfort. Albert in particular should be OK to play, Stuani has done a much longer trek and may be feeling out of sorts. The big conundrum is who will play left wing if Albert isn’t up to playing, Stewey or de Pena?

    Even worse will be who will play on the right, Albert isn’t allowed to as its been reserved for Stuani so perhaps its just as well AA is jet lagged otherwise it could have created a selection dilemma for he who must be obeyed. Its unlikely that Stuani will feature in any case for the same Jet lagged reason. So that leaves Nsue wide right with Kalas behind which is more Mike and Bernie Winters than Morecambe and Wise for me (or Ant & Dec for our younger readers who haven’t worked out where the Geordie duo get their hilarious original ideas and material from). In other words that pairing doesn’t seem a natural fit for me and looks a bit forced.

    With Fernando ineligible its likely Big Ben will be reinstated alongside Ayala having an opportunity to claim his place back caveat being hamstring permitting. George, Clayts and Leadbelter are probably nailed on as is Dimi. I’m guessing Nugent is definite to start (mystery strains and pulls aside) with Downing being wide left or in at No. 10 (or wide right?).

    I suspect though that Albert will be on the bench alongside de Pena with Kike being Striker back up and Stuani in the Stands. Fabbrini like as not will get the No.10 role with Stewey wide left and Nsue getting the nod wide right servicing Nugent.

    Stephens will probably be back up for Ayala and Ben with Forshaw taking up his reserved seat in the dug out. I doubt Woody will be anywhere near fitness required so I’m going with Mejias plus one additional mystery guest on the bench (Fry?).

  7. “It is a long time since the cost to get onto the terraces was about the same as the price of a pint”

    This was the key sentence for me. It seems the biggest argument is that on a social scale the traditional fan is being excluded, and being replaced by a more affluent customer.

    I would be very interested to find out how the cost of a ticket “compares with the price of a pint” these days plus indeed, how it compares with other staples of the traditional footy fans diet.

    **AV writes: I think we are up to six-seven pints now (town prices, not CIU)

  8. I’ve said in the past there should be a levy on all transfers and that money should be shared equally amongst the lower league clubs. How much was spent in this window, about £1.5b? Just 2% would help matters all over.

    I know grass roots get so much from prem income but its money paid up front from the fans

  9. Just reading the article on Bamford struggling to adapt to the pace of the Premier league, and this was the quote from Kieth Millen
    “Early on he found it quite a step up as far as the tempo and demands of the Premier League plus the way we play and train. He had to adapt,”

    There has been a lot of talk how the Boro style is to play games at high tempo and the high intensity training regime. This sounds like something is amiss for me, especially since Bamford has only managed 2 league games. It would be very concerning to me IF our training is so far different and lower intensity to teams like Palace.

    Maybe I’m just reading between lines that aren’t there.

    **AV writes: I suppose a lot depends on how much of pre-season he missed with his injury. Sometimes it takes a while to catch up – especially if you’re not playing. Then if morale dips as well it can be very easy for a coach to think you are not giving it everything in training. I think the move to Palace has been a right royal cock-up for Bamford.

    1. AV, I agree with your comment, when it was news my first thought was ‘Why?’ I think there are probably more forces at work than we know about but either way not a good career move at all.

      UTB,

      John

  10. Be careful the game tomorrow is not a gimme. Fulham have some quality and if they are up for it, it could be a long day. The fact that a few players have been away might create an issue. I’ve a feeling Woody might play in this one, just a hunch. I also think if we struggle to score in the next two, we will bring another striker in. I don’t think we could afford David Villa, but Defoe could be available.

    COB

  11. Rossi –

    I suspect there is an element of covering backs, a bit like a new manager coming and saying players are not fit.

    There is also the fact many on here wondered how he would do in the top flight, he is a bit of luxury and it could take time for him to settle in to that level of football. The difficulty is that at clubs like Palace, and us should we go up, there isn’t time to gradually feed players in if they are on loan. It is easier to get relegated so less patience.

  12. On the issue of Bamford, I think his moment at Boro has passed.

    For a young man at the start of his career professional football is obviously fraught with risk, I hope his Championship Player of the Season award isn’t his career high water mark.

  13. I’ve said it on here a couple of times: Bamford is a decent player and, at Championship level, he showed himself to be very good. However a regular for Chelsea? Nah.

    He’s a competent all-rounder: combative, fairly quick, decent in the air, has a trick or two, is a reliable finisher, links up effectively and can hold the ball or run with it. Given a full season, he’s good for 20 Championship goals most seasons.

    But PL standard is a world away from that and Bamford just isn’t good enough at any one attribute to excel – as he would have to in order to secure a place with Chelsea.

    I rate him good enough to be a starter in one of the bottom half PL teams and, given a fair crack in the right team, he should be good enough for goals into double figures. Palace just doesn’t seem to be that team.

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