Another week, another price hike for British soccer fans. This time, British Premier League teams Manchester City and Liverpool are announcing an increase in ticket prices for next season.
Liverpool has announced an average ticket price increase of 6.5 percent, boosting game day rates by £1 ($1.60) to £2 ($3.20) per ticket. This will bring the costliest tickets to £48 for the best seats at the most expensive, Category A games, and the lowest priced to £39 for cheaper seats on a Category C ticket. At the same time, in response to fan complaints and with an eye to the future, Liverpool has lowered prices for their under-16 fans to a flat £15 ($24), a decrease of up to £8 ($13) from last season, when junior prices traditionally varied according to match category. Season tickets for juniors will cost £285 ($459) next year.
Manchester City’s increases for next season stand at 6 percent, though the club is freezing prices for those over 65 and for one family ticket pricing tier. Liverpool breaks down their 6.5 percent price rise into two parts, one being a 4 percent hike by the club itself in response to inflation and generally higher costs of operation, and the remaining being the 2.5 percent increase in the British Value Added Tax (VAT), which came into effect in January. In a new twist, and likely in recognition of the ever-increasing burden on everyday fans’ budgets, Liverpool will now be offering financing options to help fans manage the cost of their season tickets.
These increases follow an already substantial number of price hikes from British soccer clubs in recent weeks. Tottenham Hotspur recently announced a rise of 4 percent for next season’s tickets. Earlier this month, Manchester United announced an increase of £1 per ticket for next season, a 2 to 3.7 percent increase. Last month, Chelsea and Arsenal announced their own ticket price hikes for next season. Arsenal’s tickets will be selling for 6.5 percent more, and Chelsea is creating a new, higher priced tier of matches, against the more popular teams, with the cost of those tickiets going up as much as £12 ($19). In addition, Football Association Challenge (FA) Cup games, the Cup currently held by Chelsea, will increase in price, going from £25.50 ($41) this season to £30 ($48) next, and season tickets will go up a total of £40 ($64.50).
The epidemic nature of these increases suggests some common reason for the moves. January’s increased VAT does help to explain some of the across-the-clubs increase, but there is possibly more to this. Critics have long suggested that player wages and bonuses are sucking these clubs dry, with a recent Guardian story putting the average player payout at 68 percent of a club’s income. A full 16 of the 20 Premier League clubs are logging in annual losses, even those with solid profits like Man U and Liverpool, both of which are suffering the drag of interest payments on the loans their owners used to buy them. Many clubs mitigate their losses through subsidies from their wealthy owners, but the Union of European Football Association’s (UEFA) guidelines set a limit on owner bailout, as well as on losses allowed. If the clubs wish to compete in European games, they must find another way to bring in income. This provides another likely motivation for the widespread price hikes.
Graham Burns, chairman of the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents in Great Britain, has looked at this year’s trend of price boosting and sees a kind of collusion among clubs at work. “The season is over, what does the ordinary fan have to look forward to? Price hikes to their season ticket prices for the next season, that’s what. Offers for children, special membership rates, these hide the facts that the children want their parents to go with them. Manchester City is also increasing their season ticket prices by the same 6 percent. Are we alone in thinking these smack of a cartel? Let us not forget, these prices only apply to Premier League Games! The European Games will be charged extra.”
Burns concludes that these clubs are missing the point, if their interest is in retaining fans: “To add insult to injury, most clubs have demanded the money by June 1. A lot of people who are struggling to make ends meet just can’t afford to renew. We only wish, in these difficult times that other clubs would spare a thought for the fans. Because at the end of the day that is what it is about, the fans!”