Updated: Nov 4
At the heart of every football club there are hundreds, thousands or even millions of loyal fans supporting the team they love so dearly.
However, their commitment has been put to the test over recent years with the spike in ticket prices, especially for elite clubs around the world, none more so than those in the Premier League.
Since late 2021, the UK has experienced a cost of living crisis, which has seen many families struggle for essential items and struggling to make ends meet.
Supporters sweet escape from reality, on a Saturday afternoon, is now being taken away from them due to the inflation of ticket prices, adding to the ever-growing list of economic inequalities in football.
Cost of living crisis
It is not just in football where economic inequalities are taking place. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the inflation rate in the UK was 6.3% in the month of August 2023, which is well over double the 2.81% average since 1989. However, this is still a decline on recent months, such as October 2022 when inflation rates reached a peak of 11.1%.
This anomalous level of inflation has resulted in some people being forced to choose between heating and eating, making it far less likely that they’ll be able to pay extortionate prices to see their local team.
The cost of living crisis has resulted in working-class football fans, of clubs such as Tottenham and Arsenal, struggling to get tickets for games on a weekly basis.
Premier League ticket prices
Inflation has hit ticket prices in British football for some time; a prime example of this being in 2008 when the BBC published an article explaining the rise in football ticket prices. The same message was conveyed in an article from 2014, with Arsenal defending their expensive match-day tickets as a method of increasing the club's transfer budget.
Since the publication of these articles, very little has changed in terms of the clubs’ treatment towards their fanbases in the English top division.
“The fortunes clubs have made through unprecedented TV deals have not been passed down and used to alleviate the pressure on fans’ pockets,” said BBC sports editor, Dan Roan.
“Match-day revenue is used to improve stadia and attract the best playing talent in a competitive market.
“Clubs have made concessions, adopting discount initiatives to help youngsters and away fans. But many supporters will still feel the sport they love is gradually leaving them behind.”
According to Statista, Premier League clubs made a total of £763m in match-day revenue in the 2021/22 season, which is only 14% of the total revenue made in the division. Commercial and broadcasting income was far more profitable, with latter bringing in just under £3bn, a far greater amount than the £1.7bn brought in by commercial revenue.
This season, teams in the Premier League are forecast to have less match-day revenue than last season but overall will be gaining £50m more, as a result of increased income through broadcasting and commercialisation.
Despite the predicted reduction in percentage income from match-days, owners of some of the country’s biggest clubs have still increased season-ticket prices, putting profit before people.
The most expensive non-hospitality season ticket in the Premier League is offered by Fulham for a whopping £3,000. Meanwhile, there are four other teams offering season tickets for over £1,000, in the shape of Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, West Ham United and Manchester City.
After a prolonged period of season ticket price freezes, 17 Premier League clubs increased their season ticket fee apart from Chelsea, Brentford and Tottenham. The latter, however, discredited themselves with a 19% average increase in match-day tickets, with the cheapest tickets experiencing a 25% price hike.
In North London, these ticket price spikes have been received particularly poorly, with Spurs fans voicing their discontent towards the club’s Chairman, Daniel Levy.
Ahead of Spurs’ fixture against Manchester United earlier in the season, fans held a protest outside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, with hundreds in attendance.
The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust released a statement at the start of the 2023/24 season, communicating, “If these rises are not opposed, we believe there will be more to come.
“A corresponding increase in season ticket prices would mean rises of between nine and thirteen per cent for the 2023/24 campaign, and there is no guarantee that match-day ticket prices will not increase further. This is clearly unacceptable so any price increases must be resisted.
“Supporters should be at the heart of every decision the club makes, instead, our loyalty is being exploited. Ticket price increases are not an economic necessity for the ninth richest club in world football.
“[The ticketing fee increase is] a choice the club’s board has chosen to make against the backdrop of a cost-of-living crisis with prices already sky high. We therefore call on all Spurs fans to join us in telling the club: enough is enough."
The protest seemed fairly ineffective in the grand scheme of things, especially with early season chants of ‘Levy out’ dying down following the team’s successful start to the season on the pitch.
However, off the pitch Tottenham fans suffer some of the most expensive ticket prices in the Premier League. An example of this being Category A games (matches against the ‘top 6’) being between £10 to £17 more expensive, now costing some supporters an abhorrent £103 to attend fixtures.
The cheapest season tickets the North London club offer are £807, which, compared to their London rivals West Ham United, is extortionate.
The Hammers, who play at the 60,000 capacity London Stadium, charge a significant portion of their fanbase season tickets for £310, according to the Daily Mail. However, according to Statista, the East London club charge some supporters £1,620.
This comparison would suggest the location, in this case London, and the capacity of the stadium can have impact on the price of season tickets but it doesn't have an overriding influence.
Bundesliga ticket prices
It is not just in the Premier League where these prices are seen as ludicrous, but in the context of European football, especially when compared to the top division in Germany, the Bundesliga.
German football is renowned for having the ‘50+1’ ownership rule, which means club members will always have the majority share over external investors. If a club fails to maintain this balance, they will not be allowed to play in the Bundesliga or 2.Bundesliga (the second division).
Bayern Munich’s members, for example, have a 75% share in the football club, with the remainder being shared by corporate giants Adidas, Allianz and Audi.
This ownership model has resulted in Bundesliga ticket prices being reasonable, with all season tickets being valued below €1,000 (£870).
According to Deutsche Welle (DW), FC Köln have the most expensive season ticket for €978 (£847), while newly promoted Heidenheim offer their fans a mere €355 (£308) for any seat in the stadium.
This is the main similarity between both leagues in terms of pricing; the more costly season tickets in the Bundesliga are slightly above the average price of Premier League tickets. It is when you look at the more reasonably priced tickets where the disparity between the two leagues’ pricing stands out the most.
If you attend a Bundesliga fixture but do not have a seat, you may find yourself in the standing terraces, something that helps give German football’s affordability longevity in the top division.
The price of standing for a season in the Bundesliga ranges between €150 (£130) and €256 (£222), making it one of the most value for money tickets in Europe’s top five leagues. This price range is something clubs in the Premier League could only dream of.
Torsten Koar, Ticketing Officer at Hannover 96 believes standing is part of football spectatorship and brings the best out of those who follow their club up and down the country, whilst simultaneously avoiding major financial issues.
“Standing is a tradition, football is standing. In the standing areas there’s atmosphere, people sing, everything is uncomplicated.
“We’ve got loads of fan clubs; all the fans who stand in the stadium, they sing together, they wave their flags, they hang up their banners.
“Standing is simply part of the game. When you’re yelling and your lungs are free, you can roar and drive your team on. I can’t imagine a stadium without standing, that is not football."
The English game has been under a lot of pressure in recent years to introduce safe standing, but it is met with some reluctance from clubs due to the tragic events that unfolded at Hillsborough and Ibrox, on top of the overall cost of having it installed.
“It makes me sad because England is the motherland of football and England needs emotion,” added Koar.
“England have got great fans, very vocal fans; the country is known for singing together and without standing it is half the English football experience.
“At our friendly with Sunderland, the people standing up there were thrilled, that is football. The English style of football in particular needs fans like this."
As Koar acknowledges above, safe standing at football games is still not a common practice across the Premier League with only seven teams having installed rail seating. Brentford, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Wolves are those seven, with Newcastle and Aston Villa planning on introducing safe standing gradually through the 2023/24 season.
Yet despite the advances being made in the English match-day experience with safe standing, tickets still remain at a premium compared to those in German football. So how different are the match-day revenues of Bundesliga clubs compared to those in the Premier League?
Firstly, it is important to note a couple of differences between the Bundesliga and the Premier League match-day experience.
Alcohol can be consumed in the stands in the top tier of German football, which cannot be said for Premier League match-days. However, ‘high-risk’ Bundesliga fixture continue to see zero consumption of alcohol inside the stadium, which reduces the revenue the club will receive on the day.
Furthermore, away fans in England and Germany have the same allocation of 10% stadium capacity which is often split into seated and standing areas. This is not always an accurate allocation, although, as visiting supporters can sit in the home end in their team’s colours and be tolerated (as long as they behave respectfully).
Ultimately, this makes very little difference in terms of the Bundesliga making significantly less match-day revenue than the Premier League as the English game’s demand is greater.
According to Statista, German giants Borussia Dortmund made €38m (£33m) in match-day revenue during the 2021/22 season, which is under half the €82m (£72m) Chelsea made. The gaps between both of these clubs’ revenue during this campaign was significant once you add commercial and broadcast revenue on top of it, a total difference of €211m (£183m).
This would suggest the fans that attend Bundesliga matches are satisfied with their match-day expenditure, however, Borussia Dortmund fans held a banner across their infamous ‘Yellow Wall’ stating, “Here stands the most expensive ticket in the Bundesliga."
This has since been overtaken by Darmstadt, who have a standing terrace ticket that is €6 more than Dortmund’s, but their point is still valid.
Clubs in Germany have also been affected by inflation, with some still fully recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting it may not just be an issue in England.
Borussia Dortmund released a club statement that communicated, “As in previous years, we have liaised with supporter representatives to combat the economic challenges posed by almost 7% inflation and significantly increased stadium operating costs."
This is the same vein in which Premier League clubs wrote their statements regarding recent ticket price increases.
Liverpool noted their price hike was due to rising costs across the club with no mention of the cost of living crisis. Meanwhile, their local rivals Everton boasted their season tickets being one of the cheapest in the league (between £600 and £690), simultaneously addressing inflation rates.
The potential takeover of Everton, by 777 Partners, could result in a further rise in ticket prices depending on how they approach ownership in Merseyside, amid the Toffees' potential point deduction.
Ultimately this is the key contributor to the economic inequality loyal football fans around the world are facing more than ever; the owners of football clubs, in particular the elite, can take advantage of supporters with little to no consequences.
This exploitation is now being realised by fans, with action being taken against those at the very top, with protests against ticket price inflation and ownership now commonplace in the Premier League.
A prime example of supporters expressing their disapproval is Fulham fans' protests against their record-breaking ticket price inflation during their November 4th fixture versus Manchester United.
The Cottagers’ fans displayed yellow cards in the eighteenth minute of their lunchtime kick-off to reflect the "typical 18 per cent price increase."
Fulham manager Marco Silva showed empathy to the Fulham fans' situation, believing every supporter should be able to afford a ticket, whilst simultaneously hoping the price hike doesn't negatively impact his team's performances.
This won't be the first time Fulham fans have been involved in protests this season, with their recent encounter with Tottenham seeing both sets of supporters coming together to try and reduce their season ticket prices.
In a statement released by Fulham Lilies, fan media outlets and the Fulham Supporters’ Trust (FST), it was made clear that the club are “making tickets unaffordable."
The statement went on to address the need for supporters to come together now to prevent even more deep-rooted issues in the long term.
“We believe that now is the time for all sections of our Fulham family to come together again to make sure that future generations of Fulham fans can create and experience their own highs (and lows) at Craven Cottage."
Fulham Supporters’ Trust went on to say, “The problem is a completely misguided ticket pricing policy that fundamentally misunderstands what it means to be a fan.
“It’s a policy which, piece by piece, is alienating a large part of our core fan base to the extent that the increasing numbers just can’t afford to come to a game or bring their friends and family to help create that next generation."
Going to watch football is like going to watch live music; it provides an escape from reality with fans at the heart of the entire operation.
If bands started to charge their followers extortionate prices for tickets, they would begin to form a somewhat toxic relationship with the people they are aiming to please. It would also indicate they’re losing touch with reality and failing to achieve the ultimate objective of bringing people together to create lasting memories. The same applies to football.
The increased cost for supporters attending matches, serves a cocktail of greed and apathy to lifelong fans who can no longer afford to follow their team home and away.
Clubs' income in top divisions around the world is only increasing in unison with their ticket prices, creating glaring economic inequality within the beautiful game, putting profit before people.
It is yet to be seen if any definitive action will be taken on the never-ending inflation of Premier League tickets but, for the sake of football, let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.