This weekend, I paid £28.00 to sit in cramped sub-zero temperatures to watch football that wasn’t very good for 70 minutes and exciting for 20. Typical football. By any normal standards, this was terrible value for money.
Football is overpriced for what it offers and for the conditions it offers it in. High prices have been normalised and a massive generational-long price hike has happened on the back of marketing football as a product that has been getting better and better. But has it?
Given the age range of our readership, we’ve all been watching football for anything from 5-50 years. However long, here’s a question for you; do you think football has generally got better in that period of time? Or rather, do you enjoy it more than before?
It’s easy, as an older person, to think the past was always better and just as easy for a young person to think the now always has primacy. But where does the truth lie?
If football had got measurably worse over the years, why would we pay more and more in real terms to watch it? That would be idiotic of us. And yet is there really a widespread feeling that football is better today? I’m not sure there is. My concern is that we’ve all subconsciously been co-opted by powerful marketing into thinking modern football is worth paying a lot more to see.
To justify endless price hikes, we’ve constantly been sold the idea that everything has been getting better and better. And because better products and better experiences usually command higher prices, prices have gone up in real terms. That would seem fair, if it was true. But how true is it?
This was brought into sharp focus for me on Sunday. I was at Easter Road to see Hibernian play Celtic with Mr Alan Tyers, formerly of this parish. If you’d watched this game in 1973, a ticket for a seat would have cost you 55p, which this inflation calculator suggests is £6.67 in 2017 money. On Sunday it cost a whopping £28.00. As a result, it was noticeable that the vast majority in our section of the stand were over 40 years old, many over 55. Why? Because they’re the only ones who can afford a purchase of such limited value for money. You can have a night out and buy five bottles of wine at Wetherspoons for that spend.
The previous day we’d gone to watch Spartans in the fifth tier of Scottish football. The price? £7.00. In real terms, more than it would have cost to watch Hibs in 1973. Wow.
On a freezing cold day at Easter Road, not even warmed by the radioactive glow from Brendan’s iridescent tan, it was a patchy first half with a lot of sideways passing by the Glasgow side and poor quality attacking from the home team. The second half was much better, Celtic scored twice and in a thrilling last 20 minutes, Hibs pulled back both goals. There was a last-minute clearance off the line that would have won it for the Hibees.
Looking at the goals from the 1973 game, won 3-0 by Celtic, the crowd was over double the 20,000 there on Sunday, but a glimpse the football played does not look worse or better entertainment than what we watched. But it was much better value for money.
I’m certain the quality of the entertainment on display in 2017 was not worth nearly five times the money to witness. But we paid it, all the same. We’re used to doing so.
Just to give you a further idea of football’s ticket price inflation, you could have bought a ticket to watch England at Wembley in the 1966 cup final for 10 shillings. This is a little under £9.00 in today’s money. I can only imagine how many hundreds of pounds that would cost should it ever happen again.
A ticket to see Manchester United play Leeds United in 1976 would have cost you 70p – £5.40 in today’s money.
In 1987, it cost you £7 to see Arsenal play Liverpool – about £19.00.
By 1997 it was £21 to see Newcastle play Arsenal – £36 in today’s money.
With the Premier League now proudly boasting that 50% of tickets for top-flight games are under £30 (they seem to think that’s cheap) you don’t need a degree in maths to realise that the cost has gone up massively, especially since the inception of the Premier League.
If it still cost you a fiver to watch top-division football, whether it was getting better or not would be totally irrelevant. It’d be a cheap bit of fun, which is what football used to be. But since prices are high, we should really try and identify what we’re getting for so much extra money.
Firstly, and possibly most importantly, we do get much more safety, but the actual seats are no more comfortable than any ever were. Leg room cramped. Most of us would rather have been able to stand, if only to keep moving and stop getting hypothermia in sub-zero temperatures.
Trying to judge quality of actual football product is very hard because teams ebb and flow in quality, great players come and go, teams rise and fall. So our experiences of watching our own club are not always representative of the broad trend, but some themes do commonly come up when discussing football the present day against the football more than 10 years ago.
The players are more fit and athletic. They’re faster. Great players from all over the world now ply their trade here. The pitches are fantastic and allow for a passing game. The laws of the game have changed to protect skilful players.
All of these things are true. But do any of them make you enjoy football so much more that it’s worth the price inflation that has become endemic to the game? I’d argue it hasn’t. That’s not to say that the football now is worse than it once was. Or that it isn’t capable of being brilliant fun. It is. It always has been.
That was what hit me at the Hibs game. For all that it was 2017, it really could have been at any time in my life, in terms of the action on the pitch. So little has changed fundamentally. Brutal tackling has gone and you can’t pass it back for the keeper to pick it up, but apart from that, it’s the same mix of glory and heartache, joking and mockery, that it ever was. So why is it SO much more expensive? We’re largely buying the same product we’ve ever bought. We haven’t gone from buying Primark to buying Armani in quality, but we have in price.
The FSF’s ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign was only targeted at ticket prices for away fans. I’d like to see it revised and updated to apply to all ticket prices across the board, home and away. 20 is not plenty. Let’s stop being hypnotised. Let’s go back to the 70s prices when everyone could afford to go. A price which reflects value for money for seeing 90 minutes of association football. That price is £7.00. It sounds incredibly low, I know, but that’s only because we’ve had 25 years or more of marketing to bend our brain to think expensive is the new value for money.
Football used to be cheap. Let’s make it cheap again.
A new hashtag?