Being a football supporter in the Premier League era is no cheap task, as any match going fan will tell you. Fans have little recourse when it comes to protesting against rising ticket prices, and short of speaking with their wallets by refusing to give their clubs any additional money, they resort back to the only real means of protest available to them: banners and atmosphere, or the lack thereof.
In recent weeks, a segment of Liverpool fans have been protesting ticket prices at various matches, even going so far as to threaten to refuse to display flags and banners unless the club met with representatives from the protesting groups to discuss ticket prices. The club agreed to a meeting today, although whether or not this is part of their regular LFC Supporters' Committee meeting is unclear. Suffice it to say, they'll have a chance to speak directly with club staff to have their concerns heard.
In an open letter to club owner John W. Henry, supporters suggested that their concern lies mainly with the future of the club and it's long and storied history:
"[The future of the club] does not just exist on a spreadsheet under profit and loss – it is about the future of our support and ensuring that the things that have made the club famous and successful in the past continue into the future.
"The current generation of support face being priced out, so how can we expect a future generation to take their place? It leaves us asking a worrying question – just what will our support be like in the next five, 10 or 15 years?"
Unfortunately, a large part of ticket pricing does exist on a spreadsheet under profit and loss, and although fans are consistently on message in requesting ticket prices be lowered, there isn't much clarity on what that actually entails. What price is a fair price to pay for a Premier League ticket? Perhaps more importantly, what price is a fair price to pay for a Liverpool FC ticket?
Each fan is going to have a different answer to that question, and we certainly aren't in any kind of position to suggest a number. What we can do, though, is run some numbers and see what ticket price reduction might look like in different situations, and what kind of hit to the club's revenue that might entail.
- Liverpool operate on a tiered pricing system. There are six zones around the stadium that exist at different price points, and prices within those zones are determined by the calibre of the opposition. You might pay £48 in Zone 5 for Category A opposition in a Premier League match, but only £25 for the same seat against a League 1 opponent during the League Cup.
- Only regular priced and season tickets are taken into consideration. Not included are discounted tickets for seniors and children/teens, seats for fans with disabilities, press, directors and guests of the club, corporate boxes, or any price increase above and beyond regular ticket price for hospitality tickets. This is simply to keep the variables easier to manage and not to devalue the tickets purchased by these groups.
- Although Anfield is said to seat 45,400, numbers have been calculated based on a capacity of 44,874 (based on the above limitations and these stand capacities)
- This site is used to calculate inflation rates.
For the rest of this exercise, we're going to assume the following schedule of home matches.
- PREMIER LEAGUE (19)
- 7 vs Cat A opponents
- 7 vs Cat B opponents
- 5 vs Cat C opponents
- DOMESTIC CUPS (4)
- League Cup
- Fourth Round v League 1 opposition
- Semi-final v Premier League opposition
- FA Cup
- Fourth Round v Championship opposition
- Sixth Round v Premier League opposition
- League Cup
- EUROPEAN CUPS (4)
- Champions League
- Group Stage
- Round of 16*
- Champions League
* Too soon, I know, I'm sorry.
Liverpool's current ticket prices for the 2014/15 season are as follows.
So what does that a season like that add up to in total revenue based on current ticket prices? Nearly £56m.
£56m might seem like a high number, but last season without European competition and without getting too far into the domestic cups Liverpool still managed to pull in £45m in ticketing revenue, so the amounts are comparable, if not perfect.
In 1990, a seat on the Kop cost £4. Currently, the most expensive seat on the Kop is £48. Adjusted for inflation, that 1990 seat would cost only £9 in today's money, which is a long way off from £48. If ticket prices had kept in line with inflation, what would the current price points be?
The prices are eminently reasonable, until you realise that to accomplish this feat Liverpool would have to decrease tickets by 82% across the board and take a revenue hit of nearly £46m.
Oh dear. Let's try another price point.
By 2000, the effect of Premier League pricing was clearly being felt by fans across the league. A ticket on the Kop had jumped to £24 in just ten years, which is half of what it is now but which would still only cost £36 in today's money. Again, let's look at the ticket price points had this level of inflation been maintained.
A £14m reduction in revenue from a ticket price decrease of 25% is certainly more palatable than a £46m reduction, although still imperfect in many ways.
By 2010, a seat on the Kop cost £43. In today's money that same ticket would cost £50, a somewhat surprising £2 more than what the seat currently costs at £48. Not all ticket prices went up the same amount — and some even went down — during last year's pricing adjustments, which likely accounts for the price of a Kop ticket not keeping pace with inflation.
It would seem as though the club are missing out on a potential £3m in this scenario, which isn't a huge chunk of change in the grand scheme of their budgets (especially normalized across a season with fewer matches), but does give some indication that the rise in ticket prices isn't as wholly out of touch as pound-by-pound increases might suggest.
The above are just three scenarios laid out based on the prices cited by fans during their protests. There are definitely an infinite number of alternatives to explore, which you can do using the ticket price calculator below. Set new prices by reducing them either by a percentage of the existing price or by a flat £ rate per ticket.
With only a season-and-a-half until the newly renovated Anfield opens to the public in August 2016, a whole slew of other pricing questions comes into play. The expansion of the Main Stand to seat 20,000 fans will increase the stadium's overall capacity to around 54,000, and the club has already stated that they're looking at new pricing strategies for those additional seats that would allow for a mix of price points and fan groups to find a home.
Included in the expansion are plans to double the number of corporate seats from 3500 to 7000, a decision that doesn't sit well with many but one that contributes to the club keeping prices where they currently are and could, potentially, subsidize prices in the future.
It's a question all clubs struggle with to one degree or another. London clubs are famed for being able to charge a premium, but clubs located in the often economically challenged northwest of England haven't been able to follow suit. Even with their great success in recent years, both Manchester United and Manchester City have ticket prices on par with Liverpool's (low: £36 (Utd), £37 (City); high: £58 (both)).
Reductions can and will always come with a trade off somewhere else. The feasibility of various types of reductions is one for the club's number crunchers to contend with, but in doing so they must take into consideration Financial Fair Play regulations, the costs of stadium expansion, and the thing that fans perhaps prize most of all: the transfer kitty.
Which area of the club's business areas takes the hit to compensate for cheaper tickets, and by how much? Reducing the tickets by 25% would make great strides towards repairing any pricing-based damage done between the fans and the club, but it also means a potential reduction in £14m in revenue somewhere. Maybe that means paying a small FFP fine if it brings the club's financials out of compliance; maybe it's the difference between buying or not buying Alberto Moreno.
It's simple enough to ask for a reduction in ticket prices; it's finding a way to be fiscally responsible while remaining competitive on the pitch in order to do this that's the tricky part. There are no easy answers, but having a look at the realities of the financial value of those reductions is a starting point.
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