On May 19, around 13,500 Chelsea and Manchester United supporters will pay the highest official ticket price in history to watch a game of English domestic football: £145. Prices for the FA Cup final have been increased almost across the board, in some areas by over ten times the rate of inflation.
Just as obscene is that the price of some seats has increased by £65 from the semi-final to the final. If football without fans is nothing, what is football with an angry, disillusioned audience?
Tickets for May’s final start at £45, but it comes as no surprise that the fewest number are available at this category. It’s also not a coincidence that the biggest jump in price has been introduced at the category level where the most tickets are available.
There’s an obvious retort here, of course: supply and demand. The FA Cup is the showpiece occasion in the Football Association’s domestic calendar, and Chelsea and United supporters are likely to receive around 28,000 tickets each. The number of United supporters alone who will wish to attend the game will surely run to at least treble that number.
Yet that only emphasises the rampant exploitation of football supporters across the board. Add in spending on transport, nourishment and match programme, and watching your team at Wembley will cost a similar amount to a week-long holiday in the sun. Football is knowingly -and therefore deliberately – pricing out its working-class supporter base.
If initiatives such as the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Twenty’s Plenty campaign have succeeded in achieving long overdue reductions for away supporters, why does it always feel like they and others are fighting the tide? It is a game of give-and-take; supporters give and the game takes.
In any case, supply and demand principles should only exist effectively in a competitive market; this is the opposite. Football ticket pricing is a monopoly, and our clubs (and in this case governing body) a monopoly supplier. They are extracting abnormal revenue by exploiting the non-normal addiction of their ‘customers’. This exploitation forms the basis of arguing for external regulation of ticket prices, but how lovely would it be if regulation was not requited? What happened to rewarding fan loyalty?
If that last question sounds far-fetched or out-of-touch in a sport smothered in greed, the Football Association should consider the consequences of their actions. The BBC’s most recent Price of Football study found that 82% of 18-24-year-olds surveyed said that the cost of tickets was an obstacle to them going to the game.
Fan groups were not consulted over the most recent ticket price increase, left to make their latest complaints about a governing body whose decision-makers have given off the impression that self-serving is the priority.
To a generation of supporters, the FA Cup final played an intrinsic part in their footballing education. Being taken by a parent to cheer on your hometown club at Wembley created memories that forged a lifelong love of the sport. The cost of two adults and a child with a side view of the pitch in 2018? Almost £350.
The FA have their standard response, of course. “The Emirates FA Cup semi-final and final are some of the most prestigious events in the sporting calendar and these new prices are in line with many of these events,” said Andy Ambler, the organisation’s director of professional game relations.
“It’s always important to remember that the FA is a not-for-profit organisation where every pound and penny of profit is reinvested back into every level of football in England. If you’re buying a ticket for the semi-final or the final you are directly investing in the future of the game in this country.”
Firstly, the argument fails to stack up. The most expensive tickets for the Coppa Italia and DFB-Pokal finals – Italy and Germany’s equivalent – are more than £30 cheaper than those for the FA Cup final, and a higher proportion of tickets are available at lower pricing categories than at Wembley in May.
But it is the guilt-trip of football supporters that leaves the most unpleasant taste, the insinuation from Ambler that the responsibility for securing the game’s future lies with the proletariat. Don’t want to pay our prices? Fine, but don’t blame us when it all goes to seed.
Even if Ambler’s assertion that all of the FA’s profit is reinvested is true, that profit is impacted by the FA continuing to pay off the debts of building Wembley Stadium. That debt will reportedly finally be settled in 2024, 17 years after opening. Why should supporters pay for over extravagance?
Meanwhile, the FA will also double the amount of FA Cup prize money from the start of next season, which currently stands at £15.1m. Given that the winners currently receive £1.8m (0.3% of Manchester United’s latest reported annual revenue), will a minimal increase of that figure really make a difference? Why not take the chance to give something back instead?
As ever with the Football Association, we are left with a PR clusterf*ck that was entirely avoidable. The total increase in ticket revenue from the increased prices for May’s final will be around £600,000, assuming all tickets are sold. In 2016, the FA agreed a new non-domestic six-year broadcasting deal worth in the region of £820m. This is a comparative drop in the ocean. It is a bizarre display of rapacity, with negative press coverage the inevitable result.
“It underlines the global popularity of The Emirates FA Cup,” said FA chief executive Martin Glenn when that broadcasting deal was announced. “With its history and tradition, it has the remarkable ability to create fantastic stories and inspire fans, players and clubs to believe anything is possible.”
‘The FA Cup: Where anything is possible (apart from taking your child to the final on an average UK wage)’. The clumsy slogan our governing body truly deserves.
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