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Greedy or Good Business?

In the wake of Spurs’ price rise, how can football justify upping fans’ bills when profits have never been higher?



In March, Tottenham Hotspur announced that the club would be increasing season ticket costs by six per cent for the 2024/25 season, while additionally removing concession discounts the following year. Understandably, the decision has been met with outrage and a vociferous backlash. Tottenham already have some of the most expensive season tickets available from any of the 92 clubs in the English Football League, with prices ranging from £856 to £2,367 for an adult seat, the most expensive being second only to Fulham’s Riverside stand which tops out at over £3,000. Spurs’ price hike comes a year after an almost universal rise in season ticket costs prior to the current season in which the North London club did not partake. They instead chose to freeze costs, alongside fellow London sides Chelsea and Brentford, in the face of the present global cost of living crisis. However, this month’s decision to bump up costs for the team’s most loyal supporters is a worrying backwards step that, rather than being an outlier, is merely symptomatic of the problematic cliff off of which the game is about to careen. 

 

The club has publicly justified their decision. Citing a “significant increase in matchday costs” in conjunction with only one 1.5 per cent price rise since moving to the billion-pound Tottenham Hotspur stadium, Spurs say they are “[continuing] to look at all options while absorbing the vast majority of costs.” The club has also justified the removal of senior concessions by arguing that the yearly increase in senior ticket purchases, which have increased fourfold since leaving White Hart Lane, is “clearly not sustainable.” The statements have not been well received, least of all by the “hugely disappointed” Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust, who, after meeting with the board, said that “neither justification holds water.”

 

The THST’s vocal disappointment with the club is as clear as it is reasonable. Last season, the Lilywhites overtook Chelsea as London’s wealthiest football club, raking in £105m per season in matchday revenue. This figure is expected to rise by up to three million pounds per home game in the coming season thanks to the spike solely from ticket sales. It is not as if this is Tottenham’s only source of income either, the new stadium is a multi-purpose venue that has already played host to eight regular season NFL matches, with a deal in place until 2030, alongside a multitude of other events ranging from boxing to live music. The organisation is already in talks with Haringey Council to increase the number of non-football events permitted from sixteen to thirty. 

 

In short, then, Spurs aren’t short of cash. A club that can afford to give its chairman a pay rise (boss Daniel Levy earned over three million pounds in 2022/23) would struggle to argue that it is. Levy himself even admitted that had they agreed to a naming rights deal for the stadium, this rise could have been avoided. Instead, the move has been seen as “exploiting fan loyalty under the guise of inflation.” It smacks of the barely-disguised greed that is permeating football at all levels, with more and more clubs making decisions that put fans in a chokehold while they themselves see only minimal benefits, choosing to increase their income rather than cutting controllable costs.

 

This move is just the latest chapter in the story of football trying to price out its own fans. Thomas Concannon, the Premier League network manager of the Football Supporters Association has commented that “we have seen a common trend of prices going up, some into the double digits, which immediately raises concerns.” Nottingham Forest’s season tickets went up an average of 20 per cent last season, in addition to eliminating concessions. Seven Premier League sides now charge over £1,000 for a season ticket. This past month, Newcastle United announced they would be tightening regulations on the transfer of away tickets for travelling fans, threatening those whose names don’t match their tickets with two strikes before a season ticket ban, an overly punitive measure that restricts the normal flow of tickets.

 

It is not as if punters are getting a better bang for their buck either. Season ticket costs only cover nineteen regular season home games, with cup or European fixtures still priced at a premium. One Aston Villa fan argued that if the club was saving money on staffing costs, the increased ticket cost could at the very least equate to discounts elsewhere, yet no such amendments have been forthcoming. It appears as though every decision that clubs take is intended to seek as much money out of those who have the least to give in order to sign the bonus cheques of board members. 

 

This epidemic of fleecing customers is hardly limited to the clubs themselves. The Radio Times estimated that for a regular fan to have access to every Premier League match this season it could cost up to £1,019.88 a year, the equivalent of four to six regular TV Licence fees, over three separate streaming platforms. 

 

For all intents and purposes, it looks as though the upper echelons of the footballing world are becoming further and further removed from those who make the game what it is: the fans. Yet, though many involved in that murkiest of worlds will argue that outside investment from conglomerates and nation states is what’s best for global football, supporters on the receiving end of this ‘taxation without representation’ are seeing little to no proof. 

 

It is here where football could, and should, look to Germany’s Bundesliga and its Fifty (Plus One) rule, where majority control of the club lies with its supporters. In return for slightly weakened European performances, the Bundesliga enjoys a vibrant fan culture, a competitive league and the best example of democratisation football has seen since Sócrates’ days at Corinthians. It’s little wonder Newcastle fans hung banners during the Magpies’ Champions League clash with Borussia Dortmund that read “Change from £20. Thank You BVB.” English football has taken a few too many wrong turns if fans can fly to Dortmund and back for less than a trip down A1.

 

No one is asking for a return to the crumbling infrastructure of the pre-Taylor Report days, but if top clubs continue alienating their most dedicated followers, the Premier League’s time at the top will be agonisingly short.



Image: Wikimedia Commons

 

 


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