Fortuna favours the brave: it’s time for the Premier League to fight their addiction and make tickets free

John Nicholson
Fortuna Dusseldorf supporters

Bundesliga club Fortuna Dusseldorf plan to make matches free to attend for fans. It is such an obvious PR win that Premier League sides must consider it.


Would you like to go to watch a Premier League football club for free?

We’re used to the idea that fans are relentlessly milked by clubs for money, usually to pay already massively wealthy players even more money. But in Germany Fortuna Dusseldorf, who have a 55,000-capacity stadium and play in the second tier to an average of 30,000 every home game, are about to challenge this fiscal orthodoxy.

Fans who have registered on a platform to be part of the ticket draw will be offered at least three free home league games next season with the cost covered by sponsors. The plan is that ‘Fortuna For All’ will eventually expand to all home games.

This is a radical idea to keep the club close to their fans and to the city of Düsseldorf. They need long-term hook-ups with advertisers and sponsors and are confident that is very possible because companies want to be associated with something so altruistic.

While this is good news for fans, it’s bad news for the greedy capitalist blood the Premier League has flowing through its veins. Those clubs may soon have to justify why they are demanding so much money from fans when, if they developed a similar model, they wouldn’t have to.

But can they quit their addiction to gate money? While matchday income is crucial further down the pyramid, in the top flight it isn’t massive. The biggest earners are Man Utd who generate around £4m per home game – £76m per league season. That’s a hefty chunk of change, but their total income is around £700m. Shave 10% off that and you can let 75,000 people in for free. If United only generate £630m and give all the tickets away, it’s not like they’ll go bust. Indeed, in 2020/21 they only turned over £558m, so it’s not a big financial hit relatively. Fans will still buy the merch, the food, the duvets and given they’re not paying for a ticket, may buy more than they do now. And anyway, the financial might of United’s brand means it isn’t unlikely they could fund that 10% through other means or, perish the thought, not wasting money on poor transfers.

It’s the same principle for the smaller clubs. Crystal Palace have around half a million quid matchday income from tickets and other sales. To facilitate free entry, they just have to cover nine and a half million quid out of their £157m turnover. Whether this is done by cost-cutting, especially on player and executive wages, or by additional sponsorship deals, or increased media rights income, it is hardly insurmountable.

For Bournemouth to make a season free it wouldn’t even cost them four million out of the £110m of free Premier League money they get.

While it would need planning, in the way Fortuna Düsseldorf have done, it is absolutely fiscally possible for there to be three free games next season and the whole league to let fans in without charge in the medium term.

To the profit and money-obsessed English football mind this might seem unholy, blasphemous, or worse still, socialist, but brighter thinkers should recognise that ‘The Free League’ would be great for business.

Football clubs are not normal companies who are trying to maximise income at every turn; they have a civic, cultural and community role to play and ‘football for all’ is a great message for them to send out. It’s inclusive. Fans want to feel as though the club and the owners care about them. They don’t want to feel, as many currently do, that their loyalty is being exploited and that they are being made poorer by rich people.

If you have owners with terrible human rights records, what better way to normalise their brutal regimes? ‘See? We’re not killers (we are really), we care about underprivileged and poor fans,’ would be the message. Fans are already being bought off with investment into the local area so why not buy off more by letting them in for free? It’s such a no-brainer that I’m surprised Newcastle, for one, have not done it already. You know how much it’d cost them? About £34m per league season. That’s all. £34m is nothing to pay for such good publicity. A cheap way to sportswash your reputation is surely what the owners of many clubs are looking for. This is it.

Newcastle United fans

The Fortuna Düsseldorf model is an altruistic one, but we know the Premier League prefers exploitation to altruism. However, that’s no reason not to make all games free of charge, or at least make three free to begin with. It would disarm so much disgust at the current financial models and owners, it would do something for fans who are paying very high ticket prices, and it would ensure grounds would always be full and give the league even more leverage to abandon the 3pm blackout and in doing so make even more money from media rights.

We have had our cultural, social, economic and political exploitation normalised by 40 years of neo-liberal capitalist orthodoxy, but look where it has led us. It’s not the only way to live and it’s not the only way to run a football club.

If minds can be freed from the notion that the greedy bleeding of fans is somehow good for supporters and invest in a new model for a new era, who would lose? The answer is no-one. To start this with three free games would cost very little. But does anyone have the vision to understand this in England? There are no signs yet that they do; perhaps Fortuna Düsseldorf can change that.