Fans ticket price protest a result of football hyper commercialisation

Ever since fans began to be charged money to watch matches, football has been a commercial product. Yet the past 25 years has seen the game move into a hyper-commercialised state, which has resulted in fans protesting the continuing increase of ticket prices.

Liverpool fans

Liverpool fans hold a banner as they protest against the recently announced rise in ticket prices during the Premier League match against Sunderland at Anfield Source: Getty Images

At first Liverpool’s management may have thought they could ride out the wave of discontent. They even told fans to be "careful what they wished for", insinuating that without high ticket prices, the Reds would fail to produce enough revenue to challenge for titles.

It soon became apparent, however, that in England (and much of Europe), where football and sport generally is seen as a social good, the economic argument just wouldn’t wash.

The high price of tickets for English Premier League matches and Liverpool fans protest that tickets could reach $150 when their new stand is built, even became an issue debated in parliament.

That demonstrates just how ingrained and important going to the stadium to watch football is to English culture and society.

It should be noted that there has always been balancing act between the commercialisation of the game, to make it entertaining and viable, and the social benefit football provides.

In the late 19th century when the popularity of football exploded in England, club bosses clued-in to the idea they could charge fans to watch matches. Whatever the profits were used for, it sparked football's commercialisation.

Stadiums were built close to public transport and in the case of Arsenal, the name of the underground station was even changed to help direct and capture the greatest number of fans.

Until recently this balancing act was vastly in favour of the social benefit, with low ticket prices making watching football easily accessible to everyone.

But English football was marred by violence in the 1970s and 1980s, while the stadiums themselves generally suffered from a lack of investment, making a day out at the football for many a difficult experience.

The introduction of satellite or pay television in the early 1990s, coupled with a governmental desire to improve facilities (and with it security) led to great investment in English football, particularly at the most popular clubs.

This when the tension between the commercialisation of football and the social good provides increased. While there was some resistance to the jump in ticket prices, at the top level it was mostly accepted by fans who continued to attend and saw an improved product on the field as well as a more comfortable one in the stands.

Almost three decades on and European football has entered the , like the Dallas Cowboys or the New York Yankees in economic terms.

A good example of the difference between how Americans and European view sport is that the extremely high price of a Super Bowl ticket was not met with the same criticism as high tickets prices are on the old continent.

Tickets to the NFL spectacle ranged from $1200 to $2500, yet there were no visible protests about the ordinary fan not being able to afford to watch, let alone being brought up in parliament.

Even for a regular season match at the New York Giants, tickets range from about $165 to more than $1000.

This idea that sport clubs need to maximise every available revenue source is now entrenched at English Premier League clubs where owners, CEO’s and other management staff have come from the United States.

This is not to suggest that commercialising sport is evil. Football has benefited greatly from the increased financial resources available. The game is now far more entertaining and enjoyable to watch on TV and from the stadium itself.

But owners of European football clubs must take into account that the game has historically been seen as a social benefit as well as a commercial enterprise and therefore not only consider the financial side of their clubs.

The balance between maximising revenue and social benefit has to be acknowledged or the game could lose its most passionate followers and with it the great atmosphere they provide at the ground.

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4 min read
Published 16 February 2016 at 2:23am
By Vitor Sobral