A Review of Football Ticket Prices
The 2017/18 season saw United receive almost £150m in prize and television money. Their 2016/17 accounts show that gate and match day income was £107m, whilst there was a £49m profit after all turnover and costs. There’s more money in football than ever, and the fact that the television deals are more valuable to clubs than tickets shows that there’s room for clubs to consider fans and the rising costs we’re faced with.
Each year the BBC Price of Football Study looks at a various costs for clubs in the UK and Europe, focusing largely on ticket prices. There’s some contrast between the season ticket prices; my own at United works out at £37 a game, though other English teams (predominantly the London teams) have tickets priced much closer to £100. The one constant however, is the away price column, with all teams in the Premier League pricing these at £30 or less following lobbying from the FSF with their Twenty’s Plenty campaign.
Away games are understandably a costly excursion for football fans with travel a huge chunk of it, and so keeping ticket prices low is important to ensure matches are accessible to all supporters. This isn’t quite the case at the moment though, with the increasing prices of some competitions pricing fans out. Many groups are continuing to lobby the Premier League, FA and UEFA to fight for fairer, lower ticket prices, but until then this is the reality of what we have to deal with.
Certain competitions and latter stages of each will try and justify high costs; these are just some of the highest football ticket prices I’ve paid to watch United in recent years:
1. Barcelona vs United, 2011
Ticket Price: £150 [category 3]
Competition: Champions League [Final]
It should be no surprise that the most expensive football match was the biggest game in club football. The Champions League final at Wembley in 2011 saw some eye watering prices; the cheapest (category 4) ticket was £80, I paid £150, whilst the top two bands were priced at £225 and £300. The top teams are enticed by the revenue of the Champions League, whilst UEFA and the FA simply see pound signs at the prospect of any match like this, in one of the most over priced stadiums in Europe too. This was made even clearer with the decision to host the final at Wembley again, just two years later in 2013.
Fans will always pay big prices for finals when there’s a big prize at stake, with some reds forking out over a grand on the day for a ticket. Unfortunately we got another footballing lesson, with Barcelona winning 3-1. The rapid inflation of prices was also pretty staggering considering our 2009 final against the same opponents in Rome was just €70, well under half the price.
2. Chelsea vs United, 2018
Ticket Price: £115 [category 2]
Competition: FA Cup [Final]
Next up, a more recent trip to Wembley for another final. Last season’s FA Cup final was one that received a lot of scrutiny from supporter group; it sits second on this list and was widely criticised because of the huge hike in prices from both the semi at the same stadium, as well as previous years finals. At £115 for the second highest band ticket (which ranged from £45-145) we were faced with a 77% increase to sit in the same seats as the semi final.
After a season where United were miles away from City in the league, a cup win could have helped to compensate, but we ended up empty handed for the first time since 2015. A 1-0 defeat and a fairly underwhelming performance, it wasn’t the greatest trip to Wembley, even if the day out was still great. The one positive was the FA confirming that ticker prices for both the semi and final wouldn’t see an increase “beyond the cost of inflation” through to 2021. We won’t hold our breath on that one…
Ticket Price: £89 (€100) – subsidised by United to £54
Competition: Champions League
Another well publicised ticket scandal from the 2018 season was the Champions League last-16 trip to Seville; the most expensive United away game ever, aside from semis and finals, at £89. After much lobbying by United supporters groups and then failed negotiations between the two clubs, both United and Sevilla ended up subsidising fans down to £54, all a bit needless really. And whilst it was a pleasantly sunny trip for February, a fairly torrid game followed; 0-0 being the best result so far in the top few of the most expensive matches.
Although they weren’t trips I made, United fans have regularly being stung on European trips to Spain, including Real Sociedad in 2013 and Athletic Bilbao in 2012 (which was priced at £77.50/€90). Alongside Germany, it’s the country I’ve visited most and always makes for a great trip. Thankfully the Football Supporters Europe group have helped to put pressure on the Spanish clubs in order to prevent this scenario reoccurring.
Ticket Price: £84 (800 yuan)
Competition: Pre Season Friendly
A bit of an anomaly in the list, but United’s 2016 summer tour to China, to continue to tap into the “100m fans” in the country didn’t exactly go to plan. With games announced against Borussia Dortmund in Shanghai and Manchester City in Beijing, China’s biggest two cities, there was very little success to report. With tickets priced at £84 for both games it was well out of the price range of the locals, which showed with the stadium less than three-quarters full for the 4-1 defeat against Dortmund.
Bad weather meant the big money game in Beijing against City was cancelled, thankfully it was a great trip to a very different country for me, and United refunded the match ticket as well as sending us a signed shirt. United have continued to try and milk new markets, the USA being a current favourite, but extortionate prices and half full grounds have shown that they might need to rethink future preseason plans.
Ticket Price: £77 (€85) – subsidised by United to £55
Competition: Champions League
Whilst there was plenty of publicity of the continued Spanish extortion, a new season brought similar issues as Valencia followed suit and charge United fans £77 for a group stage match. Thankfully UEFA haven’t got their head completely in the sand on this one, and recently (December ’18) admitted that ticket prices in Europe are a problem and may look at capping prices. It would be a welcome move, even if United are helping the case by subsiding and passing costs onto the away team. A 2-1 defeat, and fairly abject performance, didn’t really help our thoughts on this one.
6. Southampton vs United, 2017
Ticket Price: £72 [category 3]
Competition: League Cup [Final]
The first favourable result in this list, the 3-2 League Cup final victory against Southampton in the relatively successful 2017 season. Whilst this is a much lower profile Wembley fixture, it is a final none the less, and at £72 for the middle of 5 categories (ranging from £40-100) it’s a little bit more reasonable than FA Cup. It still represents a 100% increase on our standard ticket for a home game at Old Trafford though. When your team’s picking up silverware, especially with a late winner, the cost can always be justified; that’s what it’s all about after all.
Ticket Price: £71 (720 kr)
Competition: Europa League
The first real shocker of the list, a last 32 round match against Danish minnows FC Midtjylland. A round earlier and a competition lower than the match in Seville, the £71 ticket really was scandalous, more so because the club even announced that “these are the kind of games that are important for FC Midtjylland to make good business from”. It wasn’t the first nor will it be the last time that United fans get fleeced due to the attractiveness that our club has to opposition teams. It was a freezing cold night and Denmark isn’t the cheapest place to drink. Oh, and we lost 2-1.
8. Real Madrid vs United, 2013
Ticket Price: £65 (€75)
Competition: Champions League
An unsurprising name on the list, Real Madrid are the team that always sit next to United when it comes to financial leaderboards. A last 16 Champions League game at the Bernabéu is appealing to any football fan, and 13 time-winners Madrid know this, making it easy for them to charge £65 for the away fans to sit in the steep third tier. You can just about make out the goals from that vantage point, for us a fair 1-1 and a packed out United end. Given what we’ve seen in Spain in recent years it’s likely Madrid’s prices will have shot up to €100 now, 5 years on. Cue us being drawn in their group for the 2018/19 season.
9. Crystal Palace vs United, 2016
Ticket Price: £65 [category 3]
Competition: FA Cup [Final]
Another FA Cup Final features, with the victorious 2016 game against Palace. United’s second appearance in three seasons, this made the huge increases for the 2018 even more apparent to our fans. Our £65 tickets were only category 3 (the equivalent seat was £70 in 2018) however with the bands at £45-115 there was a stark difference to 2018’s most expensive ticket (£145). It’s clear greed by the FA, there’s no way the increases can be justified, and telling us that we’re “directly investing in the future of the game in this country” means little really to us really. But, a 2-1 win meant another trophy and Louis van Gaal’s finest hour, though it wasn’t enough to save him after a fairly dire 2 years.
10. Spurs vs United, 2018
Ticket Price: £65 [category 2]
Competition: FA Cup
More FA Cup action (spot the trend?) with the semi final against Tottenham, which cost 77% less than the final. A £65 ticket to see your team win at Wembley, only to have to go back a month for the main event, but the fact that the semi’s are played at Wembley is another story. A 2-1 win on the day and an amazing atmosphere, probably helped with some lower priced seats (categories ranging from £30-80) and actually one of the few highlights of the season. So many games at Wembley do take the shine away from it a little, I’ve been there with United a dozen times, but it’s still been the destination for some great days out.
11. Arsenal vs United, 2014
Ticket Price: £62
Competition: Premier League
The Premier League, much criticised for it’s impact on money in the English game, finally makes the list just outside the top 10. Arsenal’s move to the Emirates stadium in 2006 led to the most expensive away tickets in the league, my last visit in 2014 (obviously a 0-0) set us back £62, and this was up to £64 by the 2016 season. Thankfully the work of the FSF meant that all PL away games from the 2016/17 season were priced at £30. Away fans, always the heartbeat of any match, were finally considered and recognised for their support. The timing was great too, with clubs such as Chelsea and City creeping towards £60 tickets before this came into play. Arsenal still have the most expensive home tickets in the league though, with some season tickets priced at well over £1,700.
Ticket Price: £60 (€70) [category 3]
Competition: Europa League [Final]
A further addition to this (initial) top 10 list, the 2017 Europa League final. Despite the growing prestige of this tournament, somewhat boosted by Champions League qualification for the winner, has meant that United have sat amongst Chelsea, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid as recent winners. United’s 2-0 won over Ajax was the biggest high in the post-Fergie era, with thousands of fans there in Stockholm. Whilst prices ranged from €45-150, our £60 (€70) ticket behind the goal was worth it. Considering that was the same price we paid for the 2009 Champions League final in Rome, it’s clear that UEFA haven’t quite tried to monetise the second tier competition in the same way, yet.
Football is a big money business, with sponsor and TV deals dwarfing all other revenue streams. There’s less reliance on ticket money for teams like United, which shows in their decision to freeze season ticket prices for the past seven years. Whilst the Premier League away ticket market has been regulated to some extent, supporters are generally being priced out of the game.
One of the issues of rising prices is demand, with 5 of these 11 matches being finals, the games that fair weather fans will always be willing to pay over the odds for. With UEFA always looking to rake in as much as they can and the FA following suit to pay for Wembley it’s no surprise that teams in Europe, particularly Spain, see games in the Champions League as an opportunity to extort supporters. Continued lobbying will help and hopefully influence policy, like in the PL. The governing bodies and TV companies both need to remember though, that football without fans is nothing.