As Arsenal fans nervously took their seats ahead of a crunch Champions League match with Bayern Munich on Tuesday night, the scene at the Emirates Stadium was conspicuous for the hundreds of empty seats in the away end.
Fans of the German champions—who were eventually defeated 2-0 by the Gunners—were staging a protest against ticket prices for the fixture. FC Bayern Worldwide (FCBWW), the supporters’ group that organized the protest, said it was to draw attention to the “excessive” prices of the fixture, which cost Bayern fans a minimum of £64 ($99) to attend.
When the traveling fans trooped in to take their seats five minutes after the match had begun, they unveiled a banner reading, “£64 a ticket, but without fans football is not worth a penny!” They were roundly cheered by the home supporters, who have since said they feel the same sense of aggrievement at being priced out of watching their club.
“Congratulations to the Bayern fans for making such a good effort on that, it was well-received by Arsenal fans because we’re all in the same boat,” says Raymond Herlihy, chairman of Arsenal supporters’ group Red Action Gooners. “£64 to watch a game of football is absolutely criminal as far as I’m concerned.”
The protest highlighted the issue of ticket pricing, a perennial problem for fans of English football. The BBC recently released its annual Price of Football report, which highlighted the disparity between the prices paid by fans of Premier League clubs and their European counterparts.
Arsenal sit at the top of the tree: the most expensive season tickets at the North London club sets fans back £2,013.00 ($3,114), while the cheapest costs £1,014 ($1,569). In contrast, the cheapest season ticket available at Bayern costs £104.48 ($161.64)—less than the price of two Arsenal matches at £64.
Coming from Germany—where clubs are majority-owned by fans as a rule and the average price for cheapest tickets is around £10 ($15)—the disgust of Bayern fans at Tuesday’s match is understandable. When asked previously about why he doesn’t raise ticket prices, Uli Hoeness, the Bayern club president, said, “We do not think the fans are like cows to be milked. Football has got to be for everybody. That’s the biggest difference between us and England.”
It is clear that English fans are not happy with their lot. Earlier in October, fans from all 20 Premier League clubs and 10 Championship clubs staged protests about the exorbitant ticket prices, as part of a campaign run by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF). Deloitte’s2015 annual football finance review found that Premier League clubs generated 737 million euros ($541 million) in matchday revenue, the most of any major European league.
The issue has also been brought into sharp focus by the enormous amounts of broadcast money flowing into English football. In February, the Premier League sold TV rights for the three seasons beginning in 2016 for a record £5.1 billion ($7.9 billion), which equates to around £1.7 billion ($2.6 billion) per season—almost four times as much as the current German Bundesliga TV deal.
According to the FSF, the increase in TV revenues brought by the new mega-deal means that all 20 Premier League clubs could afford to let fans in for free for the next three seasons, without a single club seeing a drop in income compared to the current 2015/16 season.
Michael Brunskill, communications director at the FSF, says that fans have been left behind as the money in English football has stacked up. “Over the past couple of decades, you’ve seen players benefit from huge amounts of money flowing in, you’ve certainly seen agents benefit, managers benefit, executives and owners benefit,” says Brunskill. “I think fans are pretty low down the pecking order on that score and it’s about time fans felt some of the benefit too via reduced ticket costs.”
In January 2013, the FSF launched its ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign, which challenged English football clubs to cap ticket prices for away fans at £20 ($31). Brunskill says the project has so far saved some 70,000 fans a total of around £750,000 ($1.16 million). However, he warns that clubs must listen to fans or face a future of empty stands. “We’ve reached a tipping point in recent years where fans are starting to turn away,” says Brunskill. “Clubs are starting to listen but there’s a lot more to do.”