Can campaigning for lower prices ever be a bad thing?

White Hart Lane Martin Hesketh CC

The disparity in wealth is such between top-flight clubs and those lower down the leagues that fans don't always see eye-to-eye when it comes to price campaigns. Martin Cloake and Katrina Law, co-chairs at Tottenham Hotspur Supporters' Trust, outline their experiences below...

When does campaigning for lower prices at the football become a bad thing? Apparently when you are the fan of a Premier League team drawn against lower league opposition.

For the last few seasons, the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust (THST) has successfully lobbied our club to charge lower prices at home cup games. As a result, adults have paid £20, with seniors being charged £10 and kids £5. It’s been very successful. Crowds have been maximised, the number of family groups attending has gone up, and the benefits of accessible pricing have been recognised.

We’ve fought hard for that policy, even challenging the club when it raised prices for last year’s round of 16 Europa League game against Borussia Dortmund. We didn’t succeed in reversing that decision, but we know the furore created did make an impact in the boardroom.

This week, we play Gillingham in the League Cup. It took some time for Spurs to release pricing details. Eight days after the draw, they did. While Spurs wanted to continue with the £20/£10/£5 policy, Gillingham chairman Paul Scally wanted prices to be higher. Negotiations reached stalemate and, with the days ticking away, agreement had to be reached. So prices for the tie will be £25 for adults, £15 for seniors and £10 for kids.

We’re not happy. And we said so. And that led to criticism from some Gillingham fans who said we didn’t realise the tie was a vital payday for their club. Some were angry that we’d just paid £30m for a player but were complaining about a £5 ticket increase.

No benefit for fans

But it wasn’t Tottenham’s fans who had £30m to pay. It was the club. Too often fans of Premier League clubs are seen as indistinguishable from the clubs themselves, but the truth is that while the self-styled elite are benefitting from unprecedented wealth, the fans are not. In fact, there’s a good argument to say that, with prices rising up to 920% since the Taylor Report was published, fans of Premier League clubs are the most exploited in the country.

But this isn’t just about Spurs fans. Gillingham’s fans are going to have to pay those higher prices too – including the 100% increase in kids ticket prices. Some have said they are happy to do so, because their club needs the income. But the logical conclusion of that attitude is that supporter organisations should unite to campaign for higher ticket prices in order to support their clubs. Which would be complete nonsense.

The truth here, as is so often the case, is that this is not a fan v fan issue. At THST, we can see the case some Gillingham fans are putting. We recognise that income at the gate becomes far more significant the further down the pyramid you go. But the answer here is to push for a change in the gate split, and more widely in the way money is allocated within the game.

We don’t pretend it is easy to do that. As some Gills fans said, the Premier League too often wields its power to threaten clubs with financial penalties of it doesn’t get its own way. Remember EPPP, for example. But onus on providing a solution must be laid at the feet of those who run the game, not on the wallets of the fans.

Fans of Premier League clubs are more aware of the issues facing clubs in other leagues than is often acknowledged. And we often hold views very different to the people who run our clubs. There is common cause to be made here, and that’s largely based on the view most fans still hold that football competitiveness should be based more on ability on the pitch and less on financial firepower.

We’d like to see a conversation start between supporter groups about how to address this. Because the campaign to increase prices cannot be the way forward.

Martin Cloake and Katrina Law are co-chairs at THST

The FSF blog is the space to challenge perceived wisdom, entertain readers and inform our members. The views expressed are those of the author and they don't necessarily represent FSF policy and (pay attention journalists) shouldn't be attributed to the FSF.

Thanks to Martin Hesketh for the image reproduced under CC license.