BY MARTIN CLOAKE

Manchester City fans who travelled to yesterday’s game against Arsenal received what must have been a welcome Christmas present. City subsidised the costs of the £64 away ticket – the most expensive in the Premier League – by 50%. So for those City fans, it was good news. They saved £32 a head.

But is it such good news in the wider scheme of things? And does it make sense?

Those of us involved in campaigning for ticket price reductions at the football are never going to say any kind of reduction is a bad thing. But moves such as that made by City don’t only not really address the problem, they incentivise high price points. What City effectively did was give Arsenal £92,800 to charge the highest prices in the Premier League. Bayern Munich did similar earlier this season. So it’s hard to see when Arsenal’s financial director is going to feel the need to put prices down. Other clubs, most notably Swansea City, have also subsidised ticket prices for their fans.

The more thought you give this, the more absurd it becomes. Opposition to price reductions has come most strongly not from the Premier League, but from the individual clubs themselves. And let’s remember that’s against a backdrop of a domestic TV deal that means that, from the increase in that deal alone, every club could afford to drop the price of every ticket by £46 and still not suffer any loss in the previous level of income. A willingness to subsidise ticket prices means, logically, that those prices are considered too high. And yet, instead of arguing at a Premier League shareholders’ meeting in favour of price reduction, at least some clubs prefer to pay their competitors to keep their prices high.

Let’s be clear here. If you charge £64 a ticket you want £64. If some of that £64 comes from fans and some from elsewhere, you’re not going to mind. There is no incentive whatsoever to reduce prices.

Clubs stepping in to subsidise prices for the odd game, or across the board for away games, as Swansea City has done, benefits those individual fans at those individual games. But it does very little to address the issue of the rampant price inflation in top class football – inflation that has seen prices rise by over 700% since 1990.

The willingness to subsidise prices means there is at least a sliver of recognition from the people who set the prices that those prices are too high. Otherwise, why subsidise them? If that recognition is there, why not reduce prices? It’s something the Premier League seems to be in favour of, because it recognises what fans add to the value of the product it sells and the damage the debate over perceived greed causes the brand. And price reductions could be implemented without any financial suffering being imposed on clubs, because of the size of the domestic TV deal alone.

So it’s great that a club has stepped in to ease the financial burden on its fans. And it’s great that Sky TV’s commentators waxed so lyrical about it last night. But let’s have more than a token gesture and see an end to the absurd situation where the people who refuse to back price reductions are reducing prices by recycling their own money.

And here’s a final thought. If Manchester City think that £32 is sufficient to pay for an away ticket, why are they charging £56 for away tickets at category A games? Whither that subsidy?

MARTIN CLOAKE – @MartinCloake

http://www.martincloake.com/

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