Why low prices will ruin football
The audiences you see on television don’t pay for tickets to those shows. The reason for that is the vast majority of shows are so bad that nobody would pay to go and watch them.
However, the BBC and ITV are selling a product to a wider audience than that. They want the viewing public at home to be fooled into believing that what they are watching is of some value. So there are websites where the public can apply for free tickets to be herded into shows and told when to laugh and when to cheer and applaud but never to boo or to express any dissatisfaction.
It’s always funny to me when the facade slips and a show cuts back to the audience in silence for a beat, before they’re reminded of their job and start whooping and hollering. Big brother do that better than anyone. 100 people stood silently miserable in a cold damp car pack at half ten on a Friday night suddenly flare up like they all won the lottery. What are they cheering? The end of the adverts? No, that’s the bargain, you get free tickets, you see Davina McCall, you do as you’re told and legitimise the show.
The news that West Ham are slashing season ticket prices in their new stadium tells us that Premier League football is heading the same way. When the new TV deal begins in 2016 their cheapest season ticket will more than half in price from £620 to £289, from £32 a game to £15. What were once supporters are now only fans. The finance they provide a club is no longer of any significance to the club’s survival. Like TV shows, clubs are not beholden to the audience on location, but to the viewers at home.
Newcastle are in the same boat as West Ham and a dozen other clubs. Mike Ashley has made a song and dance about freezing ticket prices for those that commit for 10 years, but in reality those that didn’t commit long-term have rarely seen an increase anyway.
In the Gallowgate and Leazes ends season tickets are already £24 less than they were 3 years ago. Season tickets are slowly following the trend of single tickets and getting cheaper rather than more expensive. Why, if the league is more popular than ever? It’s there for all to see in the TV show model.
Like most TV shows, clubs outside of the top 6 or 7 are not worth watching. They are not looking to thrill, to entertain, to compete, to win. These are clubs jostling with each other just to survive, set up not to lose games primarily and if they scrape the odd win here and there, it’s enough.
Without actually striving to captivate a crowd, other methods have to be used to attract people and have them make some noise. The home audience will not stand for quiet empty stadiums. Some clubs have started to play music after a goal, just like the “laugh” card being held up on the set of a TV show and in lieu of the roar that would have greeted a goal in years gone by.
And like TV shows, clubs can’t attract crowds to this sporting capitulation while charging even reasonable ticket prices. Prices will continue to go down at clubs in line with the quality of product on display. It’s the only way of ensuring seats remain populated on camera to give the appearance of a product worth paying for.
Judging by the West Ham announcement, Premier League football could be cheaper to watch in person than Championship football from 2016. If those in the second tier have to drop their prices further, how much lower can League one and two clubs go while still being able to employ professional players?
As supporters we demand cheaper tickets, but care needs to be taken for the wider good of the game to ensure that the majority of tickets are sold for a fair price, not given away like West Ham are tending towards and not inordinate as visitors to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City have seen for themselves.
The debasement of what it is to be a supporter of a club in the Premier League has ramifications throughout the game in England and will inevitably lead to professional clubs without either TV riches or matchday income becoming unsustainable.
It is vital that we don’t allow ourselves to be bought by TV money like the owners of our clubs already have, we must make our dissatisfaction heard, we must ensure that supporters have representation in the boardroom of every club so that the entire fanbase is not devalued to the point of becoming Saturday Night Takeaway style automatons.
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