Craig Sloman looks at recent media coverage around the price of football
(This article first appeared in TNT 8: now available in e-reader version - see main picture)
Discussion about the cost of football has been everywhere over the past couple of months, particularly driven by a BBC investigation which uncovered some uncomfortable truths surrounding ticket pricing. Charlton fared well in the investigation, receiving praise for its ticket pricing initiatives but English football as a whole took a bit of a battering.
According to the BBC study (which looked back on ticket pricing increases since 2011) admission pricing across England’s top four divisions is outpacing the rise in the cost of living by a rate of almost 2:1, with growth in ticket prices increasing by 11% over the period compared to 6.8% in living costs for the same timeframe. Average salary increases are even lower meaning those with less disposable income will find it harder and harder to justify attending football, eroding the game’s traditional support base amongst the working class.
At £150 the BBC reported that our club have the most competitively priced adult season ticket in the top four divisions. Indeed only Eastleigh out of all the teams in the Conference have a season ticket priced under £150 for an adult. The Club have stated that “the £150 season ticket was introduced as part of the club’s strategy to make football affordable for fans from all sections of society and to try to boost attendances at The Valley on matchdays”.
In addition Charlton’s matchday tickets are among the most competitive in the division with some games starting at £15 for an adult ticket, surpassed only by Blackburn (£12), Derby (£10) and Sheffield Wednesday (£10) – and you won’t be able to watch football for less than £15 anywhere in Leagues One and Two.
However, if competitive ticket pricing at the Valley is part of a strategy then a cursory glance at this season’s attendances show that the strategy doesn’t seem to be working yet. Despite the cheapest season ticket in 2012/13 costing £300 (double the block A price this term),the first eight home league games of last season yielded a cumulative attendance of 133,096 while only 127,014 have watched our opening eight fixtures this season under the new pricing structure*.
This is even more curious given the undeniably better results this team have achieved in those opening games at home with four wins and four draws compared to two wins, three draws and three losses. So it seems that cheap(er) tickets plus improved results on the pitch haven’t equalled a busier Valley.
Not part of the BBC report was the cost of away ticket prices for travelling supporters. This year an adult Charlton fan would have to have paid a total of £249 for tickets to all nine of our league away games**. The clubs we played in those games cumulatively reported to the BBC that their cheapest matchday ticket was £207, meaning an average premium of 20% for away fans, who often find themselves provided with the worst view and worst facilities in the stadium. This is despite the fact that away fans (for reasons of geography) will on average spend more per head to attend the game in the first place.
Some aspects of the costs of football are always going to be expensive. A replica jersey is alway going to be more expensive than an equivalent quality t-shirt. Pies at the Valley are the second most expensive in the division (£3.50, joint with Bournemouth and our London neighbours Fulham). It’s disappointing, but if you can’t afford the replica jersey or the pie it doesn’t fundamentally undermine the one thing that all football fans should have the right to do – go and watch your team. It seems as though our club are experimenting with ticket prices to try and find a solution which is fair and which encourages a full Valley. That is to be applauded but our attendances suggest that encouragement is falling on deaf ears. The question will be asked in certain quarters of SE7 (and perhaps Belgium) - “Why ? “.
*the first eight home league games of last season included in their numbers two relatively high attendance games against Leeds United and a “football for a fiver” match against Wigan
**these figures don’t take into account clubs who charge a premium for buying tickets on the day