The pricing of football tickets

by George Hatjoullis

There has been something of a supporter response to exorbitant ticket prices which resurrects some interesting aspects of the business of football. I gave up regular attendance at the White Hart Lane a few years ago when I noticed that a ticket to a match was the same price as the opera. This is not right I thought! My visits to opera, ballet and theatre are rare. There are 19 home games in the English Premier League and assorted cup matches. Then there is the expensive but low quality tat that one is expected to buy as a show of support. A tee shirt with ‘Shakespeare Rocks’ does not cost very much and no one thinks less of you if you wear a plain sweatshirt or an expensive Ralph Lauren (probably bought in a sale) that at least is of good quality. Football clubs rip off the supporters. Does this matter?

Economics will tell you that the demand curve for football tickets and supporter insignia is inelastic and so it makes sense, in a free market system, to charge what the market will bear. If by charging higher prices the net revenue increases then it is good business. Well up to a point. If maximum revenue is achieved with the stadium half empty then you have a problem. The supporters are not just customers, they are part of the production and you may have just damaged your product.

If you sing along at the opera you will get unceremoniously turfed out. If you do not sing along at a football match others may think your sympathies lie with the opposition and again you may get turfed out. If you have ever watched a football match on TV played behind closed doors or with the sound turned down (to escape the interminable and inane commentary) or just any Arsenal match, you will realise it is not the same without the supporter noise. Something vital is added by the supporter noise. It is an essential part of the football experience. You may be able to raise revenue by pushing up ticket prices until the stadium is half empty but you will also damage your product, especially as, in my experience, those that can afford higher ticket prices are typically somewhat less animated at matches.

BT and Sky are paying a pretty penny for TV broadcasting rights. They want the whole package and this includes stadium atmosphere. This gives the fans an excellent opportunity to exercise some leverage. They could turn up, pay the price and stand there in silence as a protest at the prices (which I assume is what has been going on at the Emirates since it was built). Or they could simply not turn up en masse and watch it on TV. It will not be long before BT and Sky intervene and put pressure on the clubs to ensure the stadia are full of the right kind of supporters as part of their generous deals. At the very least they might insist that televised games sell discounted tickets. Just a thought lads.