A story that has gained a lot of momentum in the last week is Manchester City returning 900 of their unsold ticket allocation from yesterday’s fixture at Arsenal.
Before the game all parties seemed to join in condemning Manchester City’s visiting fans having to pay £62 to watch their 2-0 victory. This even included the Premier League CEO Richard Scudimore, a most unlikely ally of the common man.
The story intensified after the game, with Manchester City fans protesting with banners and chants, creating great content for the likes of The Daily Mail and The Daily Star. Even the linesman had his say on the issue.
Without getting involved in a discussion on the merits and failings of a free-market economy (to any reader’s relief), it is worth remembering that City fan’s were only paying what a significant percentage of Arsenal home fans and visiting fans will do most weeks. It is hardly Arsenal’s fault that petro-dollars (and buying half the Arsenal team) have catapulted them into being considered a category A fixture, as opposed the previous relative irrelevance ensured by decades of sky-blue mediocrity and under-achievement. Although prices at Arsenal are shockingly high, demand seems to continue to meet supply, despite the travails of the current team, and the club are merely meeting their long-term business plan to pay off a £390m stadium in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
In my view, Manchester City fans complaining about ticketing for this match are being rather hypocritical, or at best one-eyed. Given that balancing the books at Man City would lead to tickets comfortably in excess of £100 each, their ‘shock’ at encountering a world without sugar-daddy subsidies rings hollow. It is particularly galling considering the incredible scam their club pulled getting Manchester City council to give them a 250 year lease on a brand new 47,000 capacity, £150m stadium for merely a percentage of the attendances over 35,000. In order to rubber stamp their sponsors extension of the naming rights, Man City agreed to increase the annual rent to £3m, or 30% of the stadium naming rights deal. Or in other words, Man City got a free, state of the art stadium and £7m a year in stadium sponsorship for agreeing to play in it.
Any club’s annual accounts will show that playing staff salaries are by far the largest expenditure, and that these are increasing annually at about 11.5% across the industry, four or five times the rate of inflation. This increase in salary costs are also proven to be the largest single impact on ticket prices. And Manchester City have had the single greatest inflationary effect on players salaries in a short time in world football, with reserve players routinely on between £75,000 and £120,000 per week, and with top earners hovering about the £200,000 a week mark (or 3,250 x £62 tickets). Another way of looking at it is that Man City could sell every ticket every week at £62 and still not cover their weekly playing and coaching staff bill.
I have long held an affection for Man City fans as supporters, but their club has become an anathema to me, a distasteful vanity project legitimising things I find morally repugnant – albeit an incredibly successful one.
Perhaps City fans should question how much of their tickets are being subsidised by hereditary autocrats with far from exemplary human rights records, including: Suppression of information, prohibition of homosexuality, legitimising sexual abuse of female servants, acceptance of indentured slavery, state sponsored racism and the criminalisation of religious freedom.
On the wider issue, so many of those publicly denouncing these ticket prices in the media are staunch defenders of players right to maximise incomes. I would like to ask reactionary types like Martin Samuel (railing against financial fair play again) how to square that circle. Unless people are willing to introduce wage caps and accept a league of inferior quality to our international rivals, or encourage state sponsored football duopolies like in Spain, its high ticket prices for all clubs without rich benefactors. And as some of the giants of Serie A are finding out, that game is only fun when you have the richest benefactors.
The bottom line is while tickets continue to sell so well, the £62 ticket will become the norm rather than the exception, and unless you see football attendance as a right or having inherent social benefit one that is hard to argue with.
And I say that as a fan who has been priced out of the game, having started watching football for £4 a ticket.