Football-crazy fans paying out pounds 1,300 a year

The rebranding of Britain's national game has not come cheap. Steve Boggan and Duncan Lennard report
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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL-CRAZY Manchester United fans are spending an average of more than pounds 1,300 a year to support their team.

A survey of Premiership clubs shows that all fans are spending over 17 per cent more than they were two years ago on football - but most do not seem to mind.

The survey, by the Sir Norman Chester Centre for Football Research in Leicester, highlights the huge disparities in the amounts charged and spent by clubs and their supporters in the pursuit of soccer pleasure.

Manchester United, currently the country's most successful team, inevitably attract the most support, both financially and spiritually.

With a merchandising shop at Old Trafford that stocks everything from Manchester United bedspreads to Manchester United wallpaper, it is hardly surprising that the spending of the average season-ticketholder amounts to pounds 1,374.

That comprises pounds 1,250 spent on a season ticket (pounds 330 a year for home games), the cost of travelling to matches home and away and the cost of tickets to away games. On top of that, diehard fans are forking out an average of pounds 126 a year on club merchandising.

Despite the fact that the nationwide cost of replica shirts ranges from about pounds 40 to pounds 80, fans are still buying them by the millions.

At Newcastle United, 73 per cent of season-ticketholders reported buying a replica shirt during the 1996/97 season, compared with just 38 per cent of Southampton fans.

The Office of Fair Trading announced this week that it was to investigate allegations of price-fixing among soccer clubs and shirt manufacturers.

Fans' annoyance at teams changing their strip several times a year is well documented, but the survey, conducted for the FA Premier League, shows that while 9 per cent of supporters express disapproval at their club's merchandising policies, only 5 per cent actually oppose it.

In the spending/cost league, Chelsea come runners-up to Manchester United, with season ticket-holders laying out a total of pounds 1,144 on attending matches and in the club shop.

The amount spent by supporters has climbed to an average of pounds 689, with the cost of a season ticket rising on average by pounds 31, to pounds 293. Chelsea and Spurs are the only clubs charging more than pounds 400 - pounds 447 for a Stamford Bridge seat and pounds 413 at White Hart Lane. The cost of a match ticket has risen too, typically from pounds 15 to pounds 17.

John Williams, head of the research team at the Sir Norman Chester Centre, said: "We still can't find much active opposition to merchandising. Only 9 per cent of fans do not approve, while 64 per cent think the level of merchandising is OK."

The survey also studied supporters' views on the reintroduction of terracing (38 per cent were in favour) and stadium approval rates (73.1 per cent liked recent changes).

There were disappointments, however, in continued efforts to increase attendances among women and ethnic minority groups.

The survey found that only one supporter in 12 was female - the same as last year - and only 1 per cent of fans come from ethnic minorities, despite the fact that they comprise 5.5 per cent of the national population.

"Of course this is disappointing, the same as if you are walking down the street and you hear a racist remark," said Peter Leaver, Premier League chief executive.

"Racism is part of life, and will not disappear overnight. We just have to keep working at it."

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