The Match-Day Economics of European Football

Originally published on ‘The Indian Economist’ in February 2012

All die-hard football fans out there sure dream of watching their team play. Though this dream remains unfulfilled for most of us, given that our favourite teams play thousands of miles away in cold and rainy stadiums throughout Europe. But have you ever wondered how much it costs to actually see your team in action. I sure did wonder, and being an Arsenal fan, I researched their prices and came across staggering and mind-numbing statistics about prices in European Leagues and in particular, the English Premier League.

To facilitate the dropping of Indian jaws, I will convert most of the figures to Indian Rupees. You know, figures in Pounds just won’t do the job!

To start with, let us consider the swanky Emirates Stadium. Arsenal FC draws constant flak about their exorbitant ticket prices. It is a common scene to see visiting club fans hold large banners complaining about the ‘loot’. A match day ticket to watch the Gunners can cost you anything from£26 (₹2678) to £126 (₹12978). Giving some relief to their fans, the Gunners seem to justify their prices with a superb form this season.

Old Trafford seems to be a bit more lenient on their fans, charging the most enthusiastic
(read rich) fan with a highest match-day ticket of only £53 (₹5459) and the cheapest can’t-see-anything-without-binoculars ticket of £31 (₹3193). Manchester City and Liverpool also have similar ticket prices. Chelsea, on the other hand makes their fans feel the ‘Blues’ with ticket prices going up to £81 (₹8343). Going by the sheer worth of watching entertaining matches, Manchester City wins the popularity polls. Spending a maximum of £52 (₹5363), you can watch stars like Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Samir Nasri, Vincent Kompany and David Silva tear apart teams given theirs almost frightening goal scoring reputation this season. Also, a season ticket at the Blue side of Manchester is the cheapest in the whole of EPL at only £300 (₹30900). The cheapest match day ticket in England will still cost you around £15 (₹1545) and you’ll have to be content with watching Newcastle United play, sitting in a corner in the St. James Park Stadium.

If you think English clubs are charging way too much, just wait till you take a look their Spanish cousins in the La Liga. Barcelona’s highest ticket makes the fans cough up to £250 (₹25750) and their El Clasico rivals Real Madrid will rake in £500 (₹51500) for a match-day highest ticket. Italian power-houses AC Milan and Inter both charge around £170 (₹17510) for the best view seats in their shared stadium, San Siro. In ‘Deutschland’, the German Bundesliga has always received praise for their affordable football model. For a sum of £60(₹ 6180), you can sit at the best seat in the Allianz Arena and watch Bayern Munich’s starry array of young talent and big names destroy financially weaker German rivals. Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen also follow similar ticket rates.

Now coming to the food and drink. Be sure to weigh your wallets before you go to buy any food and beer inside the stadiums. Fulham holds the dubious distinction of selling the most expensive beer pint in the League. At £4.50 (₹465) per pint, it hardly helps you feel good given that Fulham is currently languishing at the bottom of the table. A cup of lukewarm tea at Old Trafford will cost you around £3 (₹309) and a sandwich at Crystal Palace’s home turf, Selhurst Park will set you back by around £4 (₹412). Food prices in movie theatres seem a bit reasonable now, eh?

Football, now is not just a leisure sport-enthusiasts people will pay to watch. It has now become a multi-billion dollar industry with player buy-out clauses breaching the 1 billion threshold. Over the 2012–2013 Premier League season, Arsenal made over £95million (₹978.5crore) in ticket revenues,£84million (₹865crore) in broadcasting revenues and over £18million (₹185crore) in retail and merchandise revenues. On the other hand, they spent a sum of £100million (₹1030crore) on wages, fees and total employment costs. Jaws dropped? Mine too. Arsenal is being considered here for the sole reason that their accounts are relatively transparent. You can only imagine the amount of money made by clubs like Bayern Munich, PSG, Real Madrid and Manchester City who are known to have excessive amounts of money stuffed in their coffers. The clubs we follow aren’t simple football enthusiast groups but they are huge companies with multi-billion dollar transactions.

With the huge amounts of money involved, there is no surprise that greed comes into the picture every now and them. One of the most covered controversy was the Italian Serie A match-fixing scandal of 2006, in which major teams like Juventus, AC Milan and Fiorentina were found guilty of bribing Serie A officials to selectively choose referees. Deep rooted corruption in lower levels of Italian sports again came into a spectacular spotlight when in a Coppa Sicilia match in February 2014, one team scored 8 own goals in the last 10 minutes, to lose the match 14–3. In Spain, Neymar’s shady transfer deal to Barcelona recently made major headlines leading to a suspiciously hasty resignation by the club president Sandro Rosell. English football too, have not always managed to stay away from accusations of corruption. Incidents like referees being bought, players bribed to play poorly, managers paid to play weak teams and even fans given free food to cause a ruckus inside stadiums — have been exposed often, only to be swept under the rug by powerful clubs and the more powerful individuals that run the game.

But, whatever be the backroom dealings, we fanatics, many thousand miles away, just do not care. And though it is sad, that money will change the face of football one day, till we get our dose of football every weekend, we will just not think about it. All that being said, let us hope that football remains what it was meant to be, a beautiful game. After hope that is all what we fanboys believe in, don’t we?

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