Where next for Away ticket prices?
It may be something that is firmly stored at the back of some supporters minds or it may come as a surprise, but 2018/19 is the final season of an initial three-year agreement to implement a £30 away ticket price cap across the Premier League. After campaigning from many supporters groups, including Spirit of Shankly and a widespread campaign – “Twenty’s Plenty” by the Football Supporters Federation, an announcement was made by the Premier League in March 2016 that a ticket cap would be implemented for the 2016/17, 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons.
This followed on from a previous incentive – The Away Supporters’ Initiative, introduced in 2013, where Premier League clubs received a £200,000 annual allocation that could be used to support away supporters. It was implemented in many ways across the division with free travel costs covered, or as was the case for Liverpool, a subsidy towards the cost of an away match ticket with the discount varying between matches. With the increased revenues from the rising TV rights packages being injected into the league and clubs still increasing ticket prices, as well as the small matter of categorization, the league had to act. Liverpool fans, for example, would pay £60 to see their team play West Ham away, yet a team such as Stoke could play down there a week before and their supporters would only pay £25. The cap to some degree alleviated this where supporters of the so called ‘bigger’ teams would be effectively charged a premium because of whom they were following.
An article published by BBC in August 2018 revealed that 11 Premier League teams in 2016/17 could have made a profit without charging supporters a single penny to attend a match. This did not include Liverpool, but it did include our local rivals Everton.
Liverpool Echo reports that plans are already in place for a discussion on whether the cap will be extended into further seasons, but also that no discussion will be held until the conclusion of deals for international broadcast rights. They have also quoted a spokesperson from the Football Supporters’ Federation, who has reportedly indicated the latest meeting they held with the Premier League gave positive news about the cap being extended beyond the current campaign, with the final word being made by Premier League clubs.
With TV revenue expected to increase again, would maintaining it at £30 be a positive step, or should the cap finally be lowered to match what was campaigned for many years ago? But surely, the biggest question of all that will be asked is why are only away supporters benefiting from the cap. Is now the time to consider extending the cap across Premier League supporters irrespective of whether they support the home or away team? The practicalities, of course, make such a decision extremely unlikely to be mooted or voted in by clubs, especially as you would also need to factor in the subsequent effect on not just the fan going to one or two games, but also those who are season ticket holders. Surely, the wider fanbase attending the games needs to be considered, if not now then sometime in the future. The overall cost of football is a major issue and not one to be discussed in great detail within this article.
Liverpool supporters attending a match at Anfield can be asked to pay up to double that of the away fans if sitting in the Main Stand, where general admission prices reach £59. Whilst travelling supporters do have additional costs, such as travel and possibly accommodation, the fact that in recent years there were supporters leaving Anfield in protest against the possible increase of the most expensive seats in the stadium to £77.
Without dwelling on exact allocations and the selling criteria over the last four or five seasons, it certainly feels, for me and other supporters who either do attend or wish to attend away matches, that getting away tickets is even harder now that the cap is fully embedded. This can’t be looked at as the overall deciding factor, as the wider football world includes the performance of the team, timing of the match, possible television coverage, and ultimately, the opponent and what allocation may be taken by sponsors, or any other parties who may have priority as part of a ticket package they currently buy from the club. Before the cap, I always felt that if I had the money and was able to go to an away game, I could get a ticket. Not always directly from the club but there would always be a number of tickets available from people unable to go either due to cost or for personal reasons, always at face value. That definitely seems to be lacking this season more than before, even more prominently to the point where I see regulars at the away games asking for tickets who I have never seen need to ask before.
Whilst other clubs may not have as much of a closed shop on their supporters who attend away games, it is in Liverpool’s case, a small minority of supporters who see the benefits of this cap. At the very least, the cap must be maintained. It is probably a pipe dream to see the league make any major changes, such as lowering the price cap to £20 or extending it to all supporters where the current system has been largely welcomed. What will be interesting is how clubs vote when it reaches that stage, and until the new year, we must hope that we will see positive news. With more and more TV money reaching the league and the clubs within it, hopefully the wider ticket pricing issue can be addressed. Whether that is at club or league level and within the near future, however, remains to be seen.