During the 77th minute of Liverpool’s game against Sunderland last week fans staged a walkout protest.
The walkout was the first in the club’s long history and involved some 10,000 fans, close to a quarter of Anfield’s capacity. The reason behind the protest was the proposed increase in the top level ticket prices from £59 to £77 and a £1,000 season ticket for next season.
Liverpool’s owner’s, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), took heed of the fans’ protest. Later that week FSG reversed the increase and froze prices.
The average Premier League attendance for 2014/15 was 36,175, 93% of the average capacity. The upward pressure on ticket prices has been growing for some years. “Fenway Sports Greed” was adorned on one of the banners displayed as fans poured out of the exits with 13 minutes to go. Greed is a simplistic explanation for the hike in some ticket prices. Fans have to realise that when the price is right, the price is right.
It may seem nonsensical that one of the reasons for increasing ticket prices is the gargantuan £5 billion television rights deal for the Premier League. Estimates by Sporting Intelligence (via Bloomberg) put the windfall for the bottom side next season at £99 million, mounting to £150 million for the winners.
Compare this to the £99 million that Chelsea received for winning the league in 2015 and the £65 million that bottom side Queen’s Park Rangers received. The effect this TV deal has is to inflate both wages and transfer fees and increase the purchasing power of all clubs relative to each other.
English clubs, who finish mid-table, now have the purchasing power to outbid major clubs on the continent. This phenomenon is best seen at Mark Hughes’ Stoke City, who now have more Champions League winners in their squad than Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal. As the increase in purchasing power is relative, it does not close the gap between Liverpool and Manchester United.
Anfield is a fine example of another problem causing price increases, not just in Liverpool, but across the Premier League. While the Premier League had the second highest average attendance of the top four leagues in Europe, according to a Daily Mail article in 2014, it has the lowest average capacity. It is the most fundamental force in economics; when supply is constricted and demand is swelling, prices will increase.
Some of the 10,000 protestors will cite that a price increase will exclude many from the market. The reality is that the current ticketing structure already excludes many. The waiting list for Liverpool season tickets is in excess of 25,000 people, meaning the average person will be waiting ten years or more. Fans that live locally have priority over 20,000 tickets, 37% of the total capacity.
Liverpool’s match day revenue of €75 million in 2014 was considerably lower than its competitors such as Manchester United (€114 million) and Arsenal (€132 million). Yet, Liverpool remains competitive with the foremost financial powers in the Premier League in terms of commercial revenue and broadcasting. This means that pursuing stadium redevelopment and thus increasing capacity is the best option.
The issue is that Premier League fans, particularly those who wear red on Merseyside, want it both ways. In order for clubs to become footballing powerhouses they must become financial powerhouses. Liverpool fans malign the club’s collapse in performance over the past 26 years and yearn for a return to the glory days of the 1970s and ’80s.
This will only return when they can compete financially with both Manchester clubs and those based in London. If one pays more then they should expect more. Pay less, expect less.
Dáire O’Driscoll, Pundit Arena