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.
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.
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.