Despite fan protest, Premier League has little incentive to change ticket prices

Here’s a tear-jerking vision of Premier League fandom as propagated by the league’s main sponsor, Barclays Bank.

Here’s another, less romanticized, image: fans protesting about ticket prices outside a Premier League meeting in London.

For while the bank says #YouAreFootball, these fans say #YouAreTreatingUsLikeAnATM.

Their main beef is the price of away tickets, especially now that the Premier League has signed a $7.1 billion TV rights deal for the three seasons from 2016-17.

Half-empty away sections have become common sights in recent years, and even the more attractive matches can have trouble selling out to away supporters, given the high price of tickets, gas and public transport, as well as the fact that TV-mandated kick-off times are often inconvenient for fans traveling long distances.

While you might assume the Premier League is so rich that it doesn’t need to care about whether Stoke have filled their away section for a game against Spurs on a Wednesday night, large swaths of empty seats give out the wrong impression to viewers in Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, and the bilious back-and-forth between rival sets of fans helps create the atmosphere that sounds so lively on surround-sound speakers in Los Angeles.

As the BBC reports, among the fans’ demands are for away tickets to be capped at 20 pounds ($30), every club to set aside $1.5m per season to pay for subsidized away tickets, and for clubs to stop charging different prices depending on the attractiveness of the match. In practice, that means Chelsea and Manchester United fans pay far more each season on the road than would a Burnley or Southampton supporter visiting the same stadiums.

The Football Supporters’ Federation estimates it’d cost the clubs a combined 20 million pounds per season to reduce ticket prices to 20 pounds. Just a look at Hull’s forthcoming fixtures shows that would be a massive price cut. Swansea v Hull – adult away tickets are 35 pounds; Southampton v Hull, 34 pounds; Crystal Palace v Hull, 32 pounds.

That 20 million pounds is peanuts given how much money is flowing into the league. This proposal to benefit hundreds of thousands of ordinary supporters would cost about twice what Wayne Rooney earns in a season.

But despite complaints for years that prices are too high, and despite clubs continuing to ratchet them up, attendances are robust, to say the least. Most clubs sell out, or get close to selling out, without any problems. 70 matches into the current season, the league’s stadiums were 95.3% full.

So to really effect substantial change, fans will have to not only protest in significant numbers, but stop going to matches in significant numbers. Right now, it’s hard to see much of a financial incentive for the clubs to agree to slash prices; and so the only appeal is to their sense of fairness and morality. Good luck with that.

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