Another year, another season ticket price increase for the richest club in football.
Let’s be clear – that’s what we are right now. For all the hyperbole in the media about “the most lavish project in football history” and “state sponsorship”, it’s fundamentally what we are. It has absolutely no impact on the football we play and the quality of our achievements – for every Manchester City who “buys” a domestic treble there’s a QPR who’s “bought” a ticket to slow financial collapse – but we’re rich. We’ve got lots of money. We have deep pockets. We are financially sound. We are living debt-free.
In a time where there is more money at the top level of the sport than any other time in history, fans of Premier League clubs are slowly becoming more aware of the idea that clubs don’t need our money quite as much as they used to. Clubs in League One and League Two, even clubs in the Championship or maybe, at a stretch, the lower half of the Premier League, those are the clubs which rely on their fans to stay financially safe. They’re the ones whose fans are the lifeblood of the team and whose contributions make a legitimate impact.
When you’re playing in the Champions League every season and in a title race virtually every season for the past six or seven years, the fans are no longer a priority when it comes to club finances. Sure, filling a 60,000-seater stadium every week (if we’re generous and call an average ticket price £35, even though it’s not anymore) brings in £2.1 million for every home game; just under £20 million over the course of the season. Include Champions League games and a couple of generous cup runs and you’re looking to make another £5-10 million on top of that.
This is a fairly decent chunk of change for any club in the world, so to completely dismiss fans as unimportant when it comes to making money is entirely untrue and is definitely not the point I intend to make. We are, ultimately, customers and we are relied upon by the clubs to continue providing revenue for them.
Despite this, rising TV revenue has seen many clubs freeze their ticket prices over the last four or five years to accommodate loyal fans. Many clubs know that they probably could increase prices but choose not to because the potential gain in revenue is being more than made up for with Premier League television rights now providing the vast majority of income for clubs in the league. The noisy neighbours, Manchester United, are one of the more notable examples who have again this summer frozen their ticket prices for the eighth consecutive season.
Manchester City, however, have been incrementally increasing the prices of their tickets over the last four or five years. I’ve been a season ticket holder for as long as I’ve been able to afford one, first starting in 2015/16. Every season since then, my season ticket has increased. On the face of it, the increases are not huge. “It’s only 3%,” City will say, “we’re accounting for general market inflation!” And when you’re paying a direct debit, like myself, they’re kind of right. Going from ten payments of £50 to £51 one season to the next isn’t a huge deal. But that’s how they get you.
I sit in the family stand and when I first got my season ticket in 2015 it cost me £500. Now, after three summers of increases, I’m paying £545. In three more summers, I’ll no doubt be paying £600 at least, then within a decade I’ll probably be paying London prices for games. Of course, on a monthly basis, the sting of this isn’t really felt. I’m only paying an extra £5 per month since I started but that’s not the point. The point is that these increases are totally unnecessary for a club of our stature.
Manchester United are the benchmark for this. Whilst they have unprecedented levels of revenue generated by being able to gain sponsorship from absolutely anything that Ed Woodward can think of, they know that this means they don’t need to fleece fans. United have just come off the back one of their worst seasons in Premier League history and yet their 53,000 season tickets sold out immediately. Is that because their fans are the best and because they stick by their team, no matter what? Well, one look at a video of fans hurling abuse at Paul Pogba on the final day of the season would tell you that obviously isn’t the case. In reality, it’s because their fans are paying the same prices they paid in 2011.
United are an obvious exception to most rules, as they’re such a global brand that they’ve got a fairly long waiting list for their season tickets, even if their stadium isn’t quite as full to the brim as they’d like to think it is on most match days, but the reason why they sell out their season tickets on day one is because 99% of fans who’ve already got one know how much they’re going to be paying and have no trouble squaring it off for another year.
Manchester City fans, however, are finding themselves having an internal battle every summer. City are, “traditionally”, a working class club. I know every club is probably a working class club “traditionally”, as football is “traditionally” a working class sport, but City especially, certainly in the grand scheme of the top clubs in Europe, have a fan-base which isn’t quite as glamorous or as well-off as the club it supports. There also aren’t many of us, realistically. For all the jokes about empty seats, which are utterly tedious, we don’t have a long line of foreign tourists willing to fill the gaps which fans who’ve decided they don’t fancy the price increase leave behind.
So why the increases? Even on a literal level, it makes little to no sense. A 3% increase on City’s 40,000 season tickets will probably see the club make (again, if we’re generous and assume that the average season ticket is probably around £650) about £800,000 more this year than they did last year. Enough money to pay Kevin De Bruyne’s wages for one month. Why this money has to be harvested from the fans rather than the sale of a mediocre academy player or the £170 million we made in Premier League TV money last season is beyond me.
This isn’t anything new, however. We’ve all been banging the same drum for years, even Vincent Kompany has openly acknowledged, very publicly, that ticket prices are a determining factor when it comes to atmosphere at football grounds. Quite embarrassing that the club’s captain is willing to stand by the fans in public when the very club he’s captaining is going entirely against everything he says. This is just the way things are now, part of being a “big club” is making big money and you can’t make big money with cheap tickets prices, apparently.
Part of me honestly believes that the club looked at Spurs moving into their new stadium, charging £1,000+ for season tickets and kicked themselves for not getting a new stadium of their own built. You can guarantee that, should we ever build a new stadium, that’ll see a similarly shocking increase in ticket prices, if we haven’t already passed the £1,000 level for average tickets by then.
The 1894 group responded to this and, whilst the MEN did a fine job of completely bottling the headline in the corresponding news article, they did make some weird defences for the club which I absolutely don’t agree with.
“There has not been too much dissent this time around about season ticket prices – even though there have been some small rises.“1894 Group
This isn’t to the credit of Manchester City, nor the fans, this is just because we’re used to this by now. Everybody expected it. What’s the point in making a huge fuss about the issue when nothing in the last five years has given any indication that the club has got any plans to change their strategy?
A couple of years ago, when every club in the league (with a couple of exceptions) was freezing prices in solidarity for the new influx of TV cash, it was a legitimate shock to see the richest club in the league with by far the most resources refuse to take a similar stance. Now, a couple of years and a couple of price increases later, it’s simply not noteworthy for fans anymore. I’m even questioning the purpose of this article as I write this paragraph because it’s nothing that hasn’t been said before. We’re exasperated at this point, not angry.
“The club have FFP to deal with and there’s an understanding amongst the support about this now and the fans are very much backing the owners as they have delivered what they promised years ago – to bring sustained success to the club.”1894 Group
Is the implication here that somehow FFP is relevant to the club getting an extra £800,000 per season out of fans? Again, I’d point the club in the direction of the sale of academy players or maybe passing up on buying an Argentine 15-year-old who we know will never make it into the first team squad if £800,000 is really the number stopping us from passing Financial Fair Play. I fully understand, as all fans do, that we have to contend with this and it’s something which needs to be factored into the club’s plans but not at our expense. We shouldn’t be forced to foot the bill for poor financial planning on the club’s behalf if they really need that relatively insignificant amount of cash in order to comply with FFP.
The 1894 Group kicked up a bit of a fuss about how the MEN misrepresented their statement and the headline absolutely did – the group in no way is “backing ticket price increases”. However, it doesn’t read like something which has been written on behalf of fans, it reads like the statement from a group which is trying to be a halfway house in an attempt to please both the club and fans. It makes the point that there shouldn’t really be increases (though not very strongly) to appease the fans, before giving the club the benefit of the doubt because we play good football and we’re under investigation for FFP, so therefore it’s okay if they take a bit more money from us.
The increases are ludicrously pointless but, ultimately, it won’t make a difference. The club will sell out its season ticket allocation, myself included, because we love the club and if we have to pay an extra £20 per season to watch our team win the league again then so be it. But another couple of £20 increases down the line, I’ll have to start questioning whether it’s an expense I’m willing to pay, as numerous fans already have.
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