The Growing Cost of Scottish Football

Last week brought into sharp focus the way in which the game of the people in this country has become more commercialised than ever before.  There were two flashpoints in this enduring theme: the BBC’s publication of their annual Price of Football report and the release of Scotland tickets for both the Euro 2016 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland and the glamour friendly against the Auld Enemy of England.  Both of these highlighted how much it now costs for fans to fully get behind their team.

The BBC Price of Football survey has shown that the average cost of a day out at a football match in Scotland’s top flight has increased 7% since the survey began in 2011, roughly 3% above the natural inflation you would expect.  This may only be £2 per game, but when tallied up for fans and families across an entire season the costs soon begin to escalate.  Add in the cost of a shirt, around £40 across the whole of Scottish football, and it becomes apparent that following your club is becoming an increasingly expensive endeavour.

Here’s a full comparison table of the average costs in each division year-on-year (with years where each league includes Rangers in bold, as there is a noticeable difference in prices, although the club has refused to supply the BBC with figures of its own for 2014 & 2013):

Season Tickets Match-day Tickets
Cheapest Most expensive Cheapest Most expensive
2014 £293 £385 £20 £26
2013 £285 £394 £20 £27
2012 £289 £397 £19 £26
2011     £19 £29
Cheapest day out Programme Pie Tea Adult shirt
2014 £26.94 £2.50 £2.08 £1.95 £43
2013 £26.34 £2.50 £2.08 £1.93
2012 £25.56 £2.45 £1.98 £1.87
2011 £25.14 £2.58 £1.88 £1.75
Season Tickets Match-day Tickets
Cheapest Most expensive Cheapest Most expensive
2014 £245 £286 £18 £21
2013 £218 £241 £16 £17
2012 £212 £243 £16 £17
Cheapest day out Programme Pie Tea Adult shirt
2014 £23.51 £2.44 £1.95 £1.56 £41
2013 £21.47 £2.15 £1.66 £1.36
2012 £21.56 £2.25 £1.63 £1.38
League One
Season Tickets Match-day Tickets
  Cheapest Most expensive Cheapest Most expensive
2014 £190 £210 £14 £14
2013 £187 £203 £13 £15
2012 £175 £185 £13 £13
Cheapest day out Programme Pie Tea Adult shirt
2014 £17.69 £2.25 £1.62 £1.20 £39
2013 £17.93 £1.94 £1.63 £1.13
2012 £16.90 £1.95 £1.28 £0.87
League Two
Season Tickets Match-day Tickets
Cheapest Most expensive Cheapest Most expensive
2014 £151 £169 £12 £12
2013 £139 £163 £11 £12
2012 £146 £187 £11 £12
Cheapest day out Programme Pie Tea Adult shirt
2014 £16.20 £1.94 £1.64 £1.11 £37
2013 £15.59 £2.17 £1.81 £1.23
2012 £16.00 £2.25 £1.68 £1.27

Sources: 2014 BBC Price of Football, 2013 BBC Price of Football, 2012 BBC Price of Football, 2011 BBC Price of Football – SPL

Scotland tickets have rocketed in price even compared to the average cost of a day at a game.  For the latest Euro qualifying campaign, prices have been set markedly above what they were for our last round of qualifiers.  A season ticket for our five home qualifiers this time cost £250 compared to just £150 for our last set of fixtures (although that included one less game).  Individual tickets for qualifiers cost as much as £45 while tickets for the England friendly were set at a minimum of £50 for adults.  Here’s a comparison of ticket prices from our last campaign (taken from our October 2013 match with Croatia) and the our current one:

 Stand WC 2014 EURO 16 % Change
North £35 £45 29%
South Lower £35 £45 29%
South Upper £32 £42 31%
West £25 £35 40%
East Adult £25 £35 40%
East Child £10 £15 50%
Average  £27 £36 34%

Sources: Scotland v Croatia – World Cup 2014 qualifier ticket prices, Euro 2016 qualification ticket prices

The official SFA line regarding the price increases is:

Ticket prices have now increased for a number of reasons, including the calibre of opposition (World Champions Germany, and our old rivals England), current market trends and inflation, current cost of printing, fulfilment and match operations.

Tartan Army groups have widely condemned the price increases as a money-grabbing tactic from the SFA, taking advantage of the national team’s new found success to line their pockets.  Scotland internationals are routinely among the highest attended in all of Europe, and the SFA should not need to hold their fans to ransom to pick up decent revenues from their games.

The attendance at our recent qualifier against Georgia was proof enough that Scotland fans will grudgingly not attend games if they are priced too high.  We had our lowest attendance of any home qualifier since a meaningless tie against Latvia in October 2001 at last Saturday’s game at Ibrox, with only 34,000 turning out to cheer on Gordon Strachan’s team.  Although the attendance figure for our two matches next month will undoubtedly be higher, there will be little in the way of support for the SFA’s pricing structure on show around Celtic Park even if the stadium is packed to the rafters.

Money and football are inextricably linked now, and will be for the foreseeable future.  It’s creating a big squeeze on fans, who despite having less disposable income are being asked to stump up more to get their football fix.  While matchday costs have gone up 7% since 2011 and the cost to see a Scotland match going up 34% on average, the average salary has only grown by 3% over the same time period.

The effect on clubs may be a trickling down from the ludicrous TV deals being struck in England.  More money pours down to the lower leagues there and attracts more talent that would otherwise play in Scotland.  Scottish Premiership clubs have had to increase the wages they pay their players in an effort to keep them, and they’ve helped fund this by raising matchday costs for fans.  The lower leagues are dragged along with the Premiership, as they too try to keep players satisfied, but also as they can justify the higher costs by comparing themselves to more expensive days out in the top divisions.

An added factor is that clubs now see their TV incomes as their primary source of income, so the traditional emphasis on getting punters through the turnstiles has been abandoned in favour of buying better players in the hope of getting on telly more.  Undoubtedly fans still want to get out and see their team play, even if there is more football available to watch on TV than there ever has been before, but clubs aren’t catching on to the fact that higher costs will eventually mean that some will desert their Saturday rituals in favour of watching from home.

Something needs to be done to break this trickle-down effect, or at least incentivise football clubs to offer lower ticket prices.  Doing so is a minefield, as any policy at either a football association or government level would be mired in debate as different clubs would be affected differently, but I do think that there needs to be a concerted effort from those in charge of the game to make sure it remains within the reach of the ordinary fans.

A suggestion I’d make is for the SPFL to introduce a top-up fund for gate receipts.  Clubs would be invited to lower their prices and if their revenues drop, as they don’t bring in more fans to make up for the lower income per ticket, then the SPFL would match the revenue up to the amount they took in the season before.  Finding the money for such a policy might be tricky, but I believe it’s a solution that could certainly prove effective in the lower leagues at convincing clubs that the benefits of cutting costs for their fans wouldn’t hurt them financially.

The cost of football in this country is growing considerably, and if the game of the people wants to stay that way then clubs and the SFA are going to have to take some steps that might hurt them financially in the short-term, but will help secure the status of football in Scotland for decades to come.

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