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The Price of Substandard Football & an Inferior Product

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In its heyday Scottish Football was at the pinnacle of the world game, with the likes of John Greig, Billy McNeill, Jim Baxter and Jimmy Johnstone donning not only the jerseys of their respective clubs, but also for the Dark Blue jersey of Scotland. Value for Money was never on the breaths of the hundreds of thousands of fans who went through the turnstiles in those days, sadly present day Scottish Football is a shadow of its former self.

Clubs outwith the Old Firm are lucky to attract at most 10,000 fans per game, yet 30-40 years ago there were four times that amount in our grounds. The legislation imposing all-seater stadiums have had a significant part to play in crowds dropping dramatically, but what has had the biggest impact is the cost of going to games for fans now.

On average a fan could spend £50 per game from the ticket price to a pie & bovril to a match programme, not to mention travelling expenses. Football as we know is a business, fans are the customers – but if there was a Watchdog for Football clubs they would be inundated with complaints from the fans not only for the product on the pitch, but with the cost to watch a substandard product, while their cousins on the continent are going to games in greater numbers and watching football at a higher level. With the German Bundesliga the perfect example.

After Hillsborough in 1989, Scottish and English top divisions went all-seater in a bid to prevent such a horrendous disaster from happening again. The German FA at the time were flirting with the same thought, but after pressure, they negotiated with the clubs and fans to guarantee at least 10% of tickets at Bundesliga games to be for standing sections.

Bundesliga

In Germany, the fans are King. The Bundesliga has the highest average attendances of the major leagues in European Football, as well as the lowest ticket prices. The German clubs limit the number of season tickets to ensure that everyone has a chance to see games. A novel idea is that the Match ticket doubles as a free rail pass for those supporter travelling to games, could you imagine Scotrail doing that? German football fans are treated in a positive manner by the clubs are Scottish football fans?

Bundesliga Chief Executive, Christian Seifert told the Observer Sport: “The Bundesliga as a brand, a competition, is in good shape. We have a very, very interesting competition, a stable and sustainable business model that relies on three revenue sources. A holy trinity comprising match-day revenue (€424m), sponsorship receipts (€573m) and broadcast income (€594m) is the main contributor to the Bundesliga’s €1.7bn turnover.”

Scottish Football look on with envy at their neighbours across the border as numerous sponsors through hundreds of millions of pound to the English Premier League, while the SPL have to be satisfied with the ‘loose change’ that they are given by the ESPN and SKY Sports.

The Deloitte report for Season 2009/10 saw both Celtic and Rangers in the Top 20 of matchday revenue generating clubs in Europe. Celtic generated £43.4 million, while Rangers generated £31.5 million. Compare that to Bayern Munich who generated £66.7 million and Hamburg who brought in £49.3 million for matchday revenue alone. Despite their numbers on matchdays – the Old Firm dropped out of the Top 20 in other revenue generating issues such as sponsorship and TV revenue etc.

Prices in German Football are at a much lower level than in the SPL, and for standing areas prices are around €12-14 (£10.50-£12.20). The MINIMUM ticket price in the Scottish Premier League is £16.

For one of the biggest games in German Football, their equivalent to the Old Firm Derby, a standing ticket for the Borussia Dortmund and Schalke game comes in at €22, or around £19. For the Old Firm derby ticket prices are between £40-42.

Despite what is, in our opinion, excellent value for money for one of German football’s version of the Old Firm game, 1,500 Dortmund fans protested over Schalke hiking ticket prices up by 50% claiming a ‘top-game surcharge’. Ticket prices for the same fixture, the year before the ticket price was only €14.30. Oh how Scottish Football fans would love that.

Average Attendances in Bundesliga

  • Borussia Dortmund 79,250
  • Bayern Munich 69,000
  • Hamburger SV 54,445
  • FC Köln 47,752
  • Eintracht Frankfurt 47,335
  • FC Kaiserslautern 46,378
  • Hertha Berlin 45,761
  • Borussia Mönchengladbach 45,676
  • 1899 Hoffenheim 29,858

Given the numbers listed above in the Deloitte report in relation to Bayern Munich and Hamburg, along with the average attendances and the lower ticket prices – the question must be asked how can clubs in the Scottish Premier League charge double, if not treble the amount for SPL games than Bundesliga games?

Scottish Football

In Scottish Football our fans are treated like cattle, watched over by an army of illuminious-vest wearing jobsworths with no training in the role they hold for that weekend. Clubs in Scottish Football care more about the numbers in the financial reports at the end of the tax year, Pound Sterling means more to Club Chairmen than bums on seats. Evidence? The continued flirtation with four games a season against the same club in the league alone. The fans don’t want it, but the club chairmen do. The reason – four games against the Old Firm and with 10 out of the 12 clubs in the SPL seeing their highest attendances against both sides of the Old Firm [Attendance figures 2010/12]. The two exceptions – Hearts and Hibs whose highest attendances are against one another.

The recent Henry McLeish report into the Scottish game was publicised with much fan fare and while work behind the scenes is taking place, the act of asking fans their opinions of the game initially were more or less ignored. The fans don’t want a 12 team league, and they certainly don’t want a 10 team league. The fans don’t want to play four times against the same club, they want a maximum of two league games per club. But again that familiarity which breeds contempt as well as boredom is just part of the problem with the attendances in Scotland;s top flight.

A recent BBC report into the costs in the SPL, showed that Hibernian were the most expensive club to watch football in Scotland’s top league. The Easter Road side charge their fans a total of £29.20 for their cheapest match ticket, a pie, programme and a tea/bovril. While Inverness were the best value for money at £21.90. Rangers were second after Hibs with a total of £29.00, while Celtic were third at £28.50.

How can Rod Petrie justify charging MORE than both of the Old Firm when the product on the pitch finished 10th last season, some 56 points behind champions Rangers. That is certainly not value for money in my book.

One blatant case of ‘ripping off’ one set of supporters came in 2009 from Motherwell Football Club. Before the lawyers at the Fir Park side foam at the mouth, I am just quoting then-Chairman John Boyle.

In 2009, Boyle launched a much-publicised campaign to ‘hand football back to the fans’ as he dropped admission prices for Rangers and Celtic matches from £25 to £15.

Boyle told the BBC: “We and other SPL teams have been abusing the fierce loyalty Old Firm fans have for their club by always charging premium prices. I’ve been very worried over a number of years about the price of football to the average fan.”

However the initiative was a disaster, as the game against Rangers in November saw Motherwell loose around £25,000 in ticket sales and they reverted back to their previous price of £25, much to the anger of Celtic fans who saw them pay £10 more than their rivals. Other initiatives announced by Motherwell at the same time were also dropped quietly, all because of the lost revenue.

Average Attendances in the SPL

  • Celtic 48,968
  • Rangers 45,305
  • Hearts 14,185
  • Hibs 11,756
  • Aberdeen 9,129
  • Dundee United 7,389
  • Kilmarnock 6,427
  • Motherwell 5,255
  • Inverness CT 4,526
  • St.Mirren 4,450
  • St.Johnstone 3,841
  • Hamilton 2,898

The ticket prices throughout the Scottish Premier League are pushing the ordinary fans out of the game, but it’s not just about the tickets.

The product on offer is wide varying in quality and price also. Take for example Pies sold at our football grounds some are great, some are average while some are oil-filled bricks. St.Mirren and Kilmarnock in my opinion have the best Pies in the SPL, the Buddies even provide free beans along with their pies. The clubs charge £1.80 and £1.60 respectively. In fact Killie Pies are renowned for their quality not only with the home fans, but also the away fans. Possibly the best part of travelling down the M77 to Kilmarnock and taking in a game at Rugby Park is looking forward to that half time Killie pie. Or in my case the pre-match pie as well as the half time pie. So the best Pie in the SPL is the second cheapest pie, with St.Johnstone selling their pie for 10p cheaper at £1.50. At the other end of the spectrum, Celtic’s Pies are atrocious. Scalding hot on the outside, burning oil soaked mutton in the middle and brick hard casing around the edges and along the base is the result of mass cooked Pies done in a hurry for over 50,000 fans. At £2.00 a pop you expect much better sadly Celtic Hospitality disappoints.

The upcoming Europa League games will see the reigning champions Rangers charge £25 for general sale tickets, Celtic charge £25 while Hearts are charging £29 for their public sale – although Hearts opponents are Tottenham. Despite that price it was announced this weekend that Hearts have sold out their general sale allocation, however given the team they are facing it is a major draw. Would the general sale have been sold out if it had been the likes of Maribor or FC Sion? Of course it wouldn’t have. Look at the attendance figures for the Jambos game against Paksi at Tynecastle. 12,611 fans were in attendance in a stadium that holds up to 17,420. Ticket prices for that game were sold up to £28 for a General sale. Season ticket holders were charged from £18 onwards for their European ticket for the Paksi game. Why not drop the price by a few quid to have more bums on seats? Or offer deals to entice the fans through the door? 12,000 fans for such a game is still good, but when you have just under 5,000 seats empty that is still a major loss. At £28 that is a loss of £140,000 in ticket revenue alone – and that is not taking into consideration the programmes, pies and bovril that would have been sold in the process.

Scotzine conducted a survey of its readers over the summer into the reasons for attendances dropping in Scottish Football. 75.61% of those taking the poll stated that the ticket prices were not value for money. 78.05% stated that ticket prices were too high and 68.29% stated that the level of football on show was poor. 60.98% said that the overall cost of going to games was too expensive.

After last season’s attendances, ticket prices once more have went up as clubs tackle with increased costs – mainly player wages, transfer fees and significant amounts of bank debt. The fans are once again being pushed out of the game and all the while the clubs boards look to squeeze more money out of every orifice possible. This modern-day ‘gold rush’ is not only pushing today’s generation of football fan out of the game, but those future generations will be lost also turning their attentions to other pursuits, other sports.

Jock Stein was quoted as saying ‘Football without fans is nothing’ – nobody said that he was clairvoyant. But his statement is gradually coming true. The obvious question is how can we stop the slide? The answer is that the football authorities, the powers that be, must listen to the fans.

What is the point of opening up a shop in a Shopping centre full of stuff that you would want to buy, when no one else does? If the clubs want to treat fans as customers then start running your business to attract them, otherwise the fans will go elsewhere.

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About Author

scotzine

Andy Muirhead is the Editor of Scotzine and the Scottish Football fanzine FITBA. He is the Scottish Football columnist for The Morning Star and has written for a number of other publications including ESPN, Huffington Post UK, BT Life's a Pitch and has had his work featured in the Daily Record, The Scotsman and the Daily Mail.

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