Sports without fans are not worth a penny

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On Feb. 6, after 77 minutes of gameplay, over 10,000 Liverpool Football Club (FC) supporters walked out of the team’s match against Sunderland AFC at Anfield, Liverpool’s home ground. Supporters were making a stand against the recent ticket price hikes from Fenway Sports Group (FSG), the club’s American ownership organization. FSG increased standard ticket prices from £45 to £77 (roughly $65 to $111 USD) for the 2016/2017 season.

Sports fans are right to protest ticket prices. When club owners price fans out of games, they are, deliberately or not, alienating them. Alienation of fans creates significant tension between a club and the club’s followers — tension that can cause ticket sales and fan bases to decline.

Soccer is known around the world as the people’s game, but price hikes are destroying the very foundation of the sport. During the 1989/1990 season, Liverpool’s cheapest tickets were sold for as little as £4 ( about $5.72). However, price increases, not including the recent hikes, have inflated the price to £46 — an increase of 1,150%. Further price hikes in addition to the already inflated price level will only further alienate fans and prevent middle- to working-class fans from attending games. The idea that soccer belongs to everyone loses credibility when wealthy owners increase ticket prices as a means to extract additional revenue from loyal fans. Expensive tickets represents a disconnect between wealthy owners and typical fans and serves as an example as to why more fans should be protesting.

High ticket prices also create domestic issues for the surrounding areas. Liverpool is home to eight of the hundred most financially deprived areas in England. However, Liverpool FC is a multi-million dollar organization that exists in the middle of such areas. Price increases not only freeze fans out of game, but also extort revenue from fans who are already paying more than they can just to watch games. Diehard fans treat sports tickets as an essential good, regardless of price, because of the close relationship between a club and its local fans.

FSG justified their actions by saying that price increases are necessary to compensate for the costs of renovating the club’s stadium. The main stand renovation project cost FSG £120 million (about $173 million), all of which came from FSG’s accounts. However, there are methods to cover costs other than increasing revenues — methods that do not take the club’s fans for granted. FSG could increase the price of its merchandise or seek out more lucrative endorsement deals. Increasing ticket prices — and upsetting a loyal fan base in the process — should be the last resort.

Aside from the price increases, Liverpool sells some of the most expensive tickets in the Barclays Premier League, generating revenue that should cover the main stand renovation. With the third most expensive cheapest single game ticket and the fourth most expensive cheapest season ticket, Liverpool collects substantial revenue in comparison to the rest of the Premier League. Additionally, a new television agreement will come into effect next season, bringing millions of pounds in revenue to every Premier League club, Totaling approximately £5 (about $7.26) billion for the league, the agreement gives broadcasting rights from Premier League games to BT Sport and Sky Sports. The Premier League will be compensated close to £5 billion as a result of the agreement. The impending television agreement should provide the club with enough money to cover the renovation, pay its players and staff and generate profits.

FSG’s justification for their actions carries no weight given the different sources of revenue already available. The club is already set to receive millions in revenue from the television deal beginning in August of this year. Additionally, the club is receiving substantial revenue from ticket sales without the price increase. Fan protests in this instance caused a prompt response from FSG that will only begin to fix the systemic problem with English soccer.

Just four days after the walkout in Liverpool, a press release from FSG responded to the walkout with two powerful words: “message received.” Liverpool’s owners issued a statement Feb. 10, just four days after the walkout, saying that ticket prices will be frozen at the 2015/2016 level of £59 for the 2016/2017 season and beyond. It is clear from the statement that the protest worked, and more fans should take the initiative and voice their anger at absurd ticket prices.

Owen Hill is a junior economics and Chinese Studies double major. He can be reached at hillo@oxy.