Rising ticket prices have been a Premier League concern for as long as there’s been a Premier League, but in the wake of February’s new television deal, fans are starting to take a stand. Granted, that stand doesn’t yet involve actually skipping games en masse, but on Saturday in North London, supporters came relatively close.
That’s when a number of fans attending the Premier League’s mid-day kickoff delayed their arrival to protest, staying outside the Emirates for the match’s first 10 minutes while demonstrating against escalating costs. Inside, those who didn’t wait the 10 minutes unfurled a large banner highlighting the disparity between those ticket prices and the impending television income. Come kick off, social media had been flooded with images from around the grounds:
It looks modest, but it also looks like a start. The obvious answer to any complaint about ticket prices is “well, just don’t buy them,” but this is the first step toward that end. Let your anger be known, give them a warning, and then, don’t show up. How close we are to that, nobody bothered saying, but if that’s one end of this spectrum, today’s demonstration inched us a little bit closer.
This wasn’t some isolated affair. This was coordinated. It involved fans from both clubs. It targeted the weekend’s highest profile match and was executed at a time when the message was most likely to be noticed. This was more than random dissent from a fraction of supporters.
It also wasn’t enough to keep 60,081 from attending the match, a number that should provide some perspective. A few hundred, or even thousand fans demonstrating outside stadiums matters, but if people keep buying tickets, those totals can also be pushed aside. If the demonstrations boil down to the hardest of hardcores bemoaning the changing nature of their league, this may turn into a wake up call. The Premier League’s customer base goes beyond the stereotyped diehard that’s lazily linked with England’s supporter culture. For better or worse, there is an NFL- and NBA-ification happening here, and just as in our football and basketball leagues, tickets may become both scarce and expensive.
Ultimately, the driving force behind this issue may not be the fans. This may come down to how the Premier League envisions its future. Is the league comfortable having 19 other clubs whose atmospheres morph into what we hear about the Emirates: good but pricey, with long-time fans slowly compromised by the expense of the Emirates experience? Or does the league feel there’s something inherently beneficial (beyond clichéd altruisms) about maintaining the connection between its clubs and their core support?
The league is going to be a juggernaut, regardless. It just depends on what type of juggernaut it wants to be. Perhaps it sees itself as an extension of its communities, but it may also see itself as a glamor endeavor that leaves old fans at home.