Friday, August 05, 2011

SPL: The Cost Of Fitba'

The BBC published a survey this week on the cost of watching football in Britain. An interesting exercise, the challenge was to find the cheapest day out at football grounds across the country.

(Note: Twohundredpercent has a cautionary tale about the BBC's methodology and, of course, the survey ignored the Scottish Football League.)

The headline findings included the news that the cheapest day out at Easter Road is more expensive than any other stadium in the country. That price is arrived at after you've bought your ticket, washed an excuse for a pie down with a cup of bad tea and leafed through the adverts in your extravagantly priced programme.

A cheap day of SPL football will now cost over £20. On the other hand, St Mirren offer free beans with every pie.

It's a difficult trick to find a pricing strategy that both attracts the supporter and allows clubs to balance - or come close to balancing - the books. But we really do need a solution.

There is an increasing feeling that those in power at clubs are pricing the ordinary punter out of the game while every summer sees the delivery of apparently randomly drawn fixture lists that many fans are no longer willing to structure their lives around.

As prices rise we don't seem to be seeing the profile of fans changing, not for Scotland the "traditional" punter being replaced by the more cosmetically acceptable and affluent supporter. Instead we're just seeing fans disappear.

A perfect summer's day in July should be a showcase for Scottish football. Instead, just a week or so ago, Hibs and Celtic played in front of stands that had around 10,000 empty seats. That's unhealthy.

The normal rebuttal to this is that when quality returns on the pitch the fans will flock once more to our soccer citadels.

That's a dangerously complacent attitude. People are annoyed. They're annoyed at what they see on the pitch, annoyed at ever increasing costs, annoyed that TV and incompetence rob them of games at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon, annoyed that the comforting repetition of home-away-home-away fixtures seems lost forever.

There's a real risk, not just for Hibs, that when these fans disappear they won't come back. A bond is being broken that won't be easily repaired, a rift that will do long term damage just as much as it gives accountants headaches in the short term.

I started reading Dave Zirin's Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love this week. His focus is America but Scottish football fans might feel a certain empathy:

"The headache come from the idea that we are loving something that simply doesn't love us in return. If sports was once like a playful puppy you would wrestle on the floor, it's now like a house cat demanding to be stroked and giving nothing back. It's the way it gets harder to sit through a full game, or the way you go through a full year without making it to the ball park and fail to even notice. It's the extra commercials tacked on to a broadcast, as companies use the games to 'brand' our sub-conscious. It's when you decide to finally take the trip to the park, look up the ticket prices, and decide immediately to do anything else with your time. It's the way you don't feel the same urgency to watch every second of every game for for fear you might something magical. As economic times get tougher, the question of what to trim out of the budget doesn't become a question at all."

On the same day that Hibs were named the most expensive club in the SPL they launched a consultation exercise to hear the views of the fans.

Strangely walk up ticket prices and match scheduling weren't mentioned. But fans were asked for their feelings on the possibility of selling naming rights to the stadium.

A fairly hollow thing, modern football.