There has been a lot of talk about whether football offers good value for money following the publication of the BBC survey ‘The Price of Football’. In line with the publication of this survey, BBC Radio 5 Live Afternoon Edition, presented by Dan Walker and Sarah Brett, sought to delve deeper into the issue with a panel of guests which included former Premier League football Kevin Kilbane, Danny Wilson, Manchester City’s Chief Executive of Sales and Operations and Lee Price, author of the book ‘Turning My Back on the Premier League’ as well as an invited audience to discuss the issue live on air. One of Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust ‘s own board members, Ciaran Donaghy, was invited along to the show at the Etihad Stadium to offer his views from a Newcastle United perspective. Here are his thoughts on how the day went :
“On Wednesday 17th October 2014, I attended the BBC Radio 5 Live programme entitled ‘The Price of Football’. The premise of the programme was, as you can imagine, to determine whether football offers value for money from the upper echelons of the Premier League right down to the lower leagues. There were various representatives in attendance such as supporters from Manchester City, Notts County, Eastleigh, Arsenal and of course myself, a Newcastle United supporter. Following opening comments made by Malcolm Clarke, the Chair of the Football Supporters Federation, that the modern game, being as awash with money as it now is, needs to start reflecting this with affordable ticket pricing for the average fans, the discussion then opened up into which clubs demonstrated a more affordable pricing structure and which clubs did not. Manchester City’s owners have taken the tactic of subsidising ticket prices for their fans and have demonstrated this by having the cheapest season ticket in the Premier League, coming in at £229, while Arsenal’s cheapest season ticket comes in at over £1000, showing the severe disparity that faces some football fans across the country. When one considers that Newcastle United’s cheapest season ticket comes in at £525, you could argue whether or not this represents value for money, but what is certain is that a game that was once dubbed the ‘people’s game’ is becoming increasingly more unaffordable for the average working class man whose support built the game into what it is today.
Of course, the issue of value for money is not only relevant to clubs which are playing in the top leagues of their countries, but also throughout the football world. There was a representative from Eastleigh who discussed the particular model in operation at his club where the owner has taken a vested interest in pursuing great match-day experiences and affordable season tickets for their fans and as such has seen a swell in attendances. There were also contributions from directors of various clubs, most notably the commercial director from Albion Rovers whose strategy of selling season tickets on a ‘pay what you can’ basis has saw attendances rise in the short term, but hopes to create long term interest in the club going forward. What was apparent is that clubs in the lower leagues need to be more inventive, and offer considerably more in terms of concessions, such as letting younger fans in for free or a considerable discount, while it is apparent that clubs in the Premier League do not feel they need to take this approach due to the high demand for tickets.
The discussion moved around the room as individual fans were asked whether they felt they got value for money, and unsurprisingly the Manchester City fans unanimously agreed that the deal they got from their club represented great value for money. A perfect example where the model of private ownership works for a club and their fan base, but unfortunately not all clubs are so lucky as I began to point out. When asked whether I felt disenfranchised from my club, there was only one thing I could say – Yes. When asked why this was the case, the reality of my answer was less to do with the price of going to watch Newcastle United, as the sheer futility of spending that money to do so. While I can only speak on a personal level, I mentioned that Mike Ashley was a large reason for feeling so disenfranchised due to having a football club more concerned with financial gain than it was with sporting achievement. If Ashley owns the club for his own self-interests, the interests and value for money concerns of the wider fan base are going to be a secondary concern.
The conversation moved on and what was interesting to note is that while Manchester City’s season tickets represent the best value for money at £229, the cheapest season ticket for Bayern Munich comes in at little over £100 and the same is true of clubs like Borussia Dortmund, Benfica, Porto and Barcelona, which begs the question – how can these clubs offer such value for money for their fans and still operate at such a high level? A point that was mooted was that it could possibly be due to the respective governing structures of the clubs in question, with particular attention paid to the licensing structure in Germany which means that by law, the fans have to own 50%+1vote of their clubs, giving them a majority stake-hold in the club. With fan ownership comes an attention and desire to push a fan-based agenda, with ticketing obviously high on that agenda.
There was considerable discussion placed on this point, as there were some dissenting views, particularly from the Manchester City fans, who claimed that it wasn’t a perfect model. It is understandable why fans of a club who have benefited so greatly from a private owner willing to subsidise ticket prices thus offering them a great deal while challenging for titles and silverware feel this way but not every club is so lucky. So the question becomes one of what model is both sustainable for clubs, while providing fans with the best deal possible? While no one is claiming the German governance model is a perfect one, I particularly think that the evidence is there to show that a strategy geared from a fan-based agenda not only will provide better value for money but also greater sustainability going forward, however, our time on the radio show lapsed before I was able to make this final point.
Needless to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and as a board member of the Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust I think it is important that we are involved in these national discussions representing Newcastle United and our fans.”
Appointment to NUST Board
Newcastle United Supporters’ Trust are delighted to welcome our new Board Member Councillor Sophie White.
Councillor White represents South Heaton Ward for Labour on Newcastle City Council and is Deputy Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure, Libraries and Customer Service.
Councillor White replaces Councillor Ged Bell who has stepped down and we would like to thank Councillor Bell for his contribution to NUST.