In 1992/3, the first season of the Premier League, matchday ticket sales generated £89 million between the 22 clubs that were then in the competition.
By 2018/19, the last time clubs had a full season of fans attending pre-Covid, this had increased to £680 million, a rise of 664% during an era when inflation over the same period was 108%. So why have clubs been able to generate so much more money from fans over that period?
Matchday income for a club is the number of matches x the average ticket price x average attendance.
Whilst the number of clubs in the Premier League has been 20 for the vast majority of its existence, regular European football for the ‘Sneaky Six’ of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City has increased the number of matches for those clubs. This is due to the creation of group games in the Champions League and Europa League which was not the case in the early 1990’s. In those days there was only one club per country in the Champions League.
Average ticket prices have increased, in 1992/93 Manchester United generated £11 million from matchday, which works out as £12.11 per fan per match. In 2018/19 these two sums had respectively increased to £111 million and £55.09 per fan. Manchester United have not increased season ticket prices for most of the last decade but prices did rise sharply when the Glazers first acquired the club.
The area where prices have increased the highest is in relation to hospitality and non-season tickets. The popularity of some clubs is such that tickets are allocated to those who pay for the privilege of being in a members scheme. Liverpool, for example, have only 27,000 season tickets for a stadium whose capacity is twice that size. This means the club can generate a lot of money via the membership scheme itself which costs a minimum of £35.99 for adults. Being a member does not guarantee a ticket though.
The price of hospitality tickets have increased as the demographics of those attending have changed. The average age of a person at a Premier League match is now 41. Football has moved from being the sport of the working class into something which appeals to the prawn sandwich brigade too, which is why clubs have rushed to appeal to this market with more boxes and ‘premium’ matchday packages.
Average attendances have increased over the lifespan of the Premier League too. In 1992/93 Manchester United averaged 35,000 at Old Trafford, Leeds, who were the reigning champions, 25,000. Whilst there were some constraints due to the implementation of the Taylor Report and the introduction of all seater stadiums following the police lies and incompetence at the Hillsborough disaster which cost 97 lives, there was still spare capacity at many top tier grounds.
These days matches in the Premier League are regularly sold out and more tickets In addition we have seen clubs move to new stadiums (Arsenal, Spurs, Manchester City, Brighton) and others expand their capacity (Liverpool, Manchester United).
With match kick off times being changed regularly too it means that many season ticket holders are unable to attend, and there is therefore a secondary market. Whilst some fans will still pass on their ticket to friends and family, scalpers/touts have realised that for a Manchester United fan, a home match at 12:30 against a small club such as Crystal Palace might not appeal to the regular, but for a football tourist desperate to see United there is still a lot of excitement.
I’m aware of some touts who have access to up to 80 tickets for some home games, and these are sold at high prices, where both the original owner and the tout profits. Anyone who has attended a match as an away fan at the grounds of the Sneaky Six will confirm that there are a lot of people in the regular ‘home’ ends who don’t appear to be locals.
The clubs profit too, as the tourist fan is more likely to buy merchandise at the club store, so it is a win-win deal for all concerned. Clubs are reluctant to investigate too deeply into this market as they still get the season ticket money from fans over the summer months when no matches are taking place, and a cash boost too from merchandise and catering when the tickets are sold on to others.
Whether this system will continue to operate in a new era of e-tickets and increased inspections following Covid is yet to be seen. Even with the recent publication of the Fan Led Review into Football Governance there was no sign of cheaper tickets on the horizon. Fans are seen by some (not all) clubs as people to be patronised, monetised and provide a backdrop to the matches by providing an atmosphere, and little else.