The Price of Success
There now follows a guest article from one of my away scheme amigos Tim Holborough (aka 'Young Tim') on the pitfalls of tiered ticket pricing. You can follow Tim on twitter @Timbo_Slice1991. (Would have put a link in there, but they don't seem to be working at the moment!) LD.
It is currently the 'in vogue` thing for football clubs in England to use a 'Category Pricing Structure` (CPS) for their match day ticket prices. In this article I will argue that a CPS creates two major problems for away fans. The first is the conflict of interest it presents supporters between their financial status and the success of their team. The second is the division and resentment it causes between fans of different teams. For the purposes of this article the 'away fan` is someone who regularly attends away matches, whose attendance at away matches is unaffected by his teams` performance on the field or the opposition they are playing (basically an 'all-weather` fan).
In the 2011/2012 Premier League season, 17 out of the 20 clubs that took part operated a CPS for their match day tickets. The CPS is based on the sound reasoning that matches involving more successful teams (teams nearer the top of the table) are more desirable to attend, provoke greater demand for tickets, and thus the clubs can make more money from ticket sales on these games, hence the ticket prices will be higher (as well as for games which are considered derbies) than for fixtures against less successful teams. For home fans this works out to an average price per game to watch their team, the only team that should matter to them. In 2011/2012 away supporters of teams consistently in the highest price category (such as Arsenal) were charged roughly £170 more to watch their teams play than the away supporters of teams consistently in the lowest price category (such as Wigan Athletic). Following Arsenal to every away Premier league fixture cost me £800, a Wigan fan following his team to each away will have paid around £630.
The dilemma this presents for the away fan is thus. His attendance is not in any way connected with how well his team is doing on the field. He will attend games regardless of previous results. However the price of his ticket will go up if his side are successful, and vice versa. Thus he is in a situation where fiscally speaking he is better off if his team are not successful. Taking this to an extreme conclusion means he may end up hoping his team don`t win matches, which of course is against the essence of what supporting a team is about. This line of reasoning is similar to the reasoning 'if I am going to attend all away matches regardless of whom or how well we play, I`d rather they were closer to home to cut down travel costs`. Top category prices have risen to extraordinary levels. In 2011/2012 only 2 of the 17 teams employing the CPS charged less than £35 for a top category game. One of those clubs was relegated (Bolton Wanderers). It`s getting to a stage where away fans of successful clubs will be saying 'if we keep on doing well, I won`t be able to afford to go`. Whilst on the other hand away fans of not so successful clubs will be saying 'I hope we don`t do better or I won`t be able to afford to watch us`.
An obvious counter point to this dilemma is that the fan of the successful team will experience more joy as his team will win more often than not, and is more likely to win matches in the future based on past results, and thus the extra cost of his ticket is offset by the fact that his team is more likely to win than another team. However this point falls down for the following reasons. Firstly the amount you pay to watch your team does not affect the probability of your team winning, it works the other way around. Secondly the price you pay is a predictor of the past i.e. it predicts you will do well based on past performance, and past performances make no difference to the outcome of the upcoming game. Thirdly there is also the counter that the final result is not the be all and end all. A fan probably gets more enjoyment from an end-to-end 4-4 draw than a 1-0 win where the goal was scored in the first minute and nothing else happened. The point is paying more on the basis of past good results and perceived enjoyment does not guarantee a good result or more perceived enjoyment from the upcoming game.
CPS also poses the problem of causing divisions between football supporters. Away fans of more successful teams will essentially be subsidising the fans of less successful clubs in order that the home club makes the same amount on tickets as they would if each game were priced equally. This will cause supporters of more successful clubs, who it mustn`t be forgotten are not earning a higher wage because they support a successful team, to become resentful of having to pay more and in turn resentful towards fans of less successful clubs. It also explicitly divides clubs down 'class` lines, which causes problems in itself. Many times on supporters forums I`ve seen people deploying the argument 'you charge us this so we should charge you the same`, a line that inevitably would see all supporters getting charged more which is undesirable. One of the main reasons I think football supporters are treated with such contempt by clubs in England is that there is a lack of supporter unity; fans are too concerned with one- upping each other on trivial nonsense (like when someone gets thrown out for having a laugh with the away fans, the away fans instead of booing the stewards will go 'wheeeey`) to stand together on the issues that matter. CPS aggravates this further by dividing clubs into the 'big` and the 'small`, with all the resentment and delusion that comes with it.
My solution to these problems would be to make it a rule that, if you are competing in a league, you must set a price for the away end that remains the same for every team you play in that league that season. I would scrap the rule that says home and away fans must pay the same for equal category seating, and instead bring in a rule that says there may be a maximum 25% difference in price either way between the away end price and the home end price. This would ensure that the idea that you are fiscally 'unfortunate` to support a successful team is eradicated from the game.