It’s a complaint we’ve been hearing increasingly over the past few years; ticket prices for watching a match are too high. But how high is too high – are high prices in the Premier League having an impact on attendances as fans are literally priced out of the game?
When it comes to attendances the equation seems, on the face of it, to be remarkably simple; In Germany tickets for Bundesliga matches are lower – according to some research carried out by the Guardian newspaper the average price for the cheapest ticket in the Premier League and Bundesliga is £20.30 to £10.33 respectively- whilst attendances are higher, with average attendances in the two leagues at around 35 000 for the Premier League and 45 000 for the Bundesliga.
If we invoke the laws of supply and demand then it would seem that the lower prices in the Bundesliga are directly related to clubs in Germany selling more tickets than their Premier League counterparts, but what the other part of the equation, that of supply, how is that having an effect on ticket prices and attendances?
The issue with match tickets is there is not an unlimited supply of tickets, the number available being determined by the capacities of the competing teams stadia. Whilst German stadia are, on average bigger, despite their higher prices – according to the Stadium Guide blog – it is Premier League clubs whose tickets sell out on a more consistent basis – with around half selling out regularly, compared to a third of Bundesliga clubs.
What this tells us is that although lower prices may be a factor behind higher overall attendances in the Bundesliga they are not acting as a constraint on Premier League attendances, here the bigger problem is a lack of supply. Indeed with a capacity utilisation of 95% there is little growing room in the Premier League even were prices to be lowered to a level which would attract more fans and with games regularly selling out being an indicator that demand is exceeding supply it is no surprise that ticket prices have risen as clubs seek to maximise the revenue they have coming through their turnstiles. The cold hard fact is that clubs do not care who pays the admission charge, whether it’s a life-long fan, or a glory hunter in search of a prawn sandwich, what matters is that someone is prepared to pay.
The best remedy for this is to increase capacities, but developing a ground is a complex business. Not withstanding issues around finding a suitable site in the clubs catchment area and obtaining planning permission, in an ultra-competitive league where 70% of revenue is spent on wages diverting significant sums of money away from this area can be very risky. Bundesliga clubs on the other hand benefited here from the 1.4 billion euros worth of public money spent on stadia prior to hosting the World Cup 2006.
The current situation, at least in the Premier League, is one of impasse. Rising attendances since the mid 1980s have now come up against the buffer of ground capacity, however due to the difficulties in re-developing grounds (with complications increasing in step with the size of the plans) along with a lack of either compulsion – such as that which existed when the Taylor report imposed new standards on clubs – or assistance in the way of public funds most clubs have chosen instead to sit tight and to convert the the upward pressure on attendances into an upward pressure on prices.