fortnight ago, the Premier League unveiled their latest deal for broadcast rights in the United Kingdom. In an increase of a massive (and unexpected) 70%, the deal for 2016-2019 is valued at £5.1 billion. This keeps the Premier League comfortably at the top of the revenue charts of football leagues around the world. In fact, its two nearest rivals for that title – the Bundesliga in Germany and La Liga in Spain – will only receive £1.8 billion and £1.7 billion respectively. Sky, who have again bought the majority of the rights, have agreed to pay more than £11 million per game, while secondary broadcaster BT will fork out £7.76 million, and this deal sells only the rights in the United Kingdom.
The Premier League prides itself on being one of the world’s most marketable sports leagues. In fact, it’s third in the list of most valuable leagues in the world, behind the National Football League and Major League Baseball in America. However, once the international rights are sold, the figure for the Premier League is expected to rise to a humongous £8.8 billion.
When I first heard about the size of the new television rights deal I had two thoughts. The first was that we should be ecstatic that we have a football league that is truly global. It’s a league that the whole world is watching. Most footballers speak of their dream to come and ply their trade in English football – and one would suspect that that’s not just about the money.
The other thought is the ticket prices.
The BBC run a survey every year – The Price of Football – in which they ask every club in the professional leagues of English football questions about their ticket prices, and the prices at their concession stands. It found that the average price of the cheapest adult ticket at a Premier League game was £28.80. The most expensive ticket was at Arsenal at a price of £97.
If we were to compare this to prices in Germany, there is a shocking difference. The BBC surveyed the top four German clubs from the last season, and the results put English football to shame. The average cheapest ticket price of those four clubs is as low as £12.12, with the most expensive ticket priced at £54.82 at Bayern Munich. The prices in France are even cheaper – the average cheapest ticket from the top four clubs is just £9.79.
How does this relate to the latest TV rights deal? It was announced as part of the BBC survey that ticket prices in the Premier League had increased by 13% on average since 2011. That’s almost double the rate that the living wage has increased (6.8% over the same time period). As a Manchester United season ticket holder, I have been pleased that my ticket to the Theatre of Dreams has been at the same price for the last three years, and has not increased in price like at other clubs. But I feel it is now time for clubs to make a gesture. A gesture to fans that have been there for their team through thick and thin. A gesture to fans that want to be there for their team, but simply can’t afford it. A gesture for those who care.
Last season’s bottom club, Cardiff City, was awarded more than £62 million from TV rights and prize money. That’s more than the previous season’s champions, Manchester United, were awarded for their title-winning efforts. Given the numbers involved with TV rights and prize money, it is inconceivable to think that ticket prices have to be increased for clubs to survive.
The Premier League rights deal is split into three parts. 50% is divided equally between clubs, 25% is awarded based on a club’s final position in the table, and the remaining 25% is distributed as a ‘facilities fee’ – effectively a fee per match televised per club. Under the deal, the team finishing last each season will earn at least £99 million, whilst the champions will get £156 million as a minimum.
Those numbers make remarkable reading when put in the same context as ticket prices. It is estimated that the windfall from the new television rights deal could pay for a reduction in each and every Premier League ticket by £40 without decreasing their revenues, when compared to this season. Speaking about this exact scenario, Conservative MEP Dan Dalton summed up my thoughts perfectly. He said: “This may be implausible, but substantial cuts for tickets should be a priority. Put simply, clubs can afford to help their fans and communities at this time.”
It’s obvious that Premier League clubs can’t decrease their ticket prices by such an amount – they have to use some of the money to create an advantage for themselves against Europe’s top clubs (otherwise what’s the point?). By this day two years from now, all twenty Premier League clubs will be amongst the world’s top 30 richest clubs. They will all be members of an elite set of clubs at football’s richest table. But all the other clubs in those top 30 have significantly cheaper tickets and aren’t suffering one bit.
The Premier League will point to attendances (and quite rightly too) to show that the system is working. Premier League attendances are at an all-time high. Despite this, the seeds of discontent are beginning to show through. Manchester United have lost numerous season ticket holders to nearby rebel club, FC United of Manchester, while fans from Arsenal have staged protests against the extortionate prices to see football at the Emirates. Crystal Palace fans unveiled a large banner at Selhurst Park two weeks ago, captioned “£5 billion in the trough yet supporters still exploited. Share the wealth, pigs.” And in June 2013, fans from Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United descended on the Premier League headquarters in London, shouting, “You greedy bastards, enough is enough.” Clubs in the Premier League need to decide whether they’d be comfortable looking into the eyes of their fans as they try to justify increasing prices again in the face of this new deal.
We are at an exciting crossroads in the Premier League. The new deal will bring higher wages and therefore better players.
Let’s just hope the fans don’t get left behind.