The FA, fans, pundits, and clubs around the Premier League have spent a great deal of time in the last few years lamenting the state of youth development in England. Handwringing over England's fate at international tournaments is at an all time high as members of their greatest generation age out of call up consideration, and the perceived lack of replacements makes the talent gap between England and countries like Spain and Germany all too real.
But there's another lack of youth development limping along in English stadiums, and it revolves around the decreased number of teens and young adults attending matches. Whether through the difficulty in purchasing tickets on their own or financial barriers imposed by ticket prices, youth attendance at Premier League matches is not what it once was and there is growing concern that the next generation of fans could be lost if it isn't cultivated at this admittedly impressionable time in the lives of young people.
30 years ago, 20% of the attendees at Liverpool matches were under sixteen; today, this percentage has plummeted to a mere 2% of total attendees. The number of youth attendees jumps to 10% during cup matches, when ticket prices are cheaper and the number of youth tickets available is not restricted.
Youth Ticketing Options
The Under-16s Ticket
Liverpool currently offer special tickets for youth under 16, but the challenge with these tickets is that their availability is restricted both in terms of number and location. Parents or other adults wanting to attend a game with their child(ren) must either pay the adult price if sitting in another section or not take them at all if the increased adult price point makes attendance financially unviable. The Supporters' Committee asked that consideration be made to make the under-16s ticket available in all areas of the stadium, not just specially designated areas.
Additionally, any season tickets currently held by lucky under-16s are in the process of being converted into season tickets paid at a junior rate, and that "several hundred" young fans will benefit from this change.
Young Adult Ticket Proposal
Youth aged 17-21 are currently required to pay full adult admission to all matches, which can pose a challenge given that many face the financial restrictions of being students or earning low wages as compared to other adults. The club are looking into introduce a new concession that would allow for reduced ticket prices for young adults in this age range, although it was unclear as to whether this would apply solely to cup matches or league matches as well. No time frame on this initiative was given, but Phil Dutton, Head of Ticketing and Hospitality, said the club would be announcing the ticket scheme "shortly."
A suggestion was made that unused tickets returned for resale by the club should be made available first to youth and young adults, but no commitment was made towards this initiative at this time.
Sponsor Subsidized Tickets
Sponsorship is generally a complicated and sticky issue requiring much negotiation and a very specific set of deliverables on behalf of both the club and the sponsor. The Committee raised the possibility of a sponsor like Dunkin' Donuts subsidizing youth ticket prices, but the American coffee giant already has a contract in place with the club to include (or not include) certain types of things and thus the club can't use this sponsor funding for this purpose.
The club are "happy to engage with any potential sponsor, but the arrangement has to be right for both the Club and partner concerned," whether that partner is a smaller local business or a multinational corporation. What the club prefers, though, is that fans not take matters into their own hands and approach sponsors independently — yes, this has happened — as this undermines the club's ability to negotiate and find mutually beneficial arrangements with potential sponsors.
Stadium Capacity Limitations
Increasing Available Youth Tickets
Anfield, as we all know, is not big enough to adequately house the number of people who clamor for tickets to each match. Besides the challenge in providing more tickets for full-price adults, the club face the same issue in providing an increased number of tickets to youth. Simply put, providing an additional few thousand tickets to young fans means a reduction in adult tickets by that same number.
Unsurprisingly, competing issues make this a challenging prospect. Besides the issue of turning away adult fans paying full price is the issue that many have earned special ticketing privileges through years and even decades of attendance. At this stage, the club can only incrementally make improvements on ticket schemes set up years previous.
Space considerations will likely rectify many of the issues once the Anfield redevelopment is complete, as the club will be able to plan for increased youth-related ticketing options from the get go.
Introducing a "Boys" Pen
The Emirates affords Arsenal the opportunity to include the Young Guns Enclosure as a designated youth-only seating area of the stadium during select matches during the season. Tickets are only £10 for fans aged 12-16 during Category B and C matches.
The Supporters' Committee proposed a similar space for Liverpool's young fans, but again space is the biggest issue. Ian Ayre explained that, for example, devoting 300 seats at the back of the Kop to young fans means displacing 300 adult fans who already occupy those seats regularly. It's simply not feasible at this time, but is something the club can consider during the redevelopment.
Presumably such a seating area would come with a catchier and more inclusive name.
Liverpool may not single handedly solve the problem of low youth attendance across the Premier League, but that the precarious nature of this segment of fans is of concern to both supporters and the club will help to inform ongoing ticketing discussions and future stadium development plans. Football without fans is nothing, of course, and football without an eye to the future of homegrown audience development will do nothing for a club that values its exceedingly loyal fan base above almost all else.