Football fans hit by big ticket price hike

As sports minister orders inquiry into the spiralling cost of support, psychologists probe the dark Freudian recesses of the golden game
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TONY BANKS, the Sports Minister, yesterday urged the government- appointed Football Task Force to investigate ticket-price increases in response to complaints that the soaring cost of watching football is driving traditional supporters away from the sport.

It followed disclosures that 17 of the 20 Premiership clubs have increased the cost of a ticket for next season by more than the rate of inflation. Mr Banks said yesterday: "They are very, very substantial. My Chelsea ticket has risen from pounds 887 to pounds 1,250. The fact is that I have always paid and they have always gone up. They gradually went up more and more. Paying pounds 2,000 out of my gross income is a lot of money."

Mr Banks has called on David Mellor, head of the task force, to report back by the end of the year. Mr Banks said: "I think we all understand football is not like any other product. If they stuck up prices of refrigerators ... you can switch brands. But you cannot switch from one club to another that is cheaper down the road. It is a drug: people are hooked on it and if they can afford it they will pay the prices."

Adam Brown, of the Football Supporters' Association, said increasing prices could have a devastating long-term effect. "Clubs are riding the crest of a wave at the moment but they could kill the goose that lays the golden egg. It doesn't surprise us. It has been going on for the last eight years. What is worrying is that increased prices were justified in the past for improving stadia, but that isn't the case now.

"It has been calculated that the cost of going to football has gone up by 16 per cent in the last year. The clubs rely on the loyalty of supporters and peculiar nature of the market. They are using brand loyalty to exploit people. It is also bad for the health of the game. Many young can't afford it and that raises questions about the long- term future of the game. People who are 16 are having to pay pounds 18-pounds 20 a game. There is nothing to say that the current fashionable status is going to continue. Football is traditionally a people's game but if you drive supporters away and break that link it is difficult to see them coming back again."

Following concern about the cost of football strips, the Office of Fair Trading has said it will prosecute anyone who tries to push up the prices of soccer merchandise artificially.

Mr Banks has already said the Government could appoint a football watchdog similar to those regulating the privatised gas, water and electricity industries. He told Radio Five Live yesterday: "They [the clubs] are pricing themselves out of reach of a number of people who deserve to be taken into consideration. I get as frustrated as anybody. Being Sports Minister, people say: 'Why doesn't the Government do something?' In theory, the power is there. In practice, it is difficult."

Price increases vary across the Premiership but Aston Villa have been criticised for a 22- per-cent increase in their top season tickets from pounds 306 to pounds 374. Football clubs blame the spiralling salaries demanded by top players for the price increases.

Kev Monks, a Coventry supporter and the FSA's consumer complaints officer, said yesterday: "People are now picking and choosing their matches. Ordinary supporters are being priced out because the clubs want corporate supporters. My seat has almost doubled in price in three seasons."

The FSA believes clubs should offer more flexibility in the way a season ticket is paid for. Mr Brown said: "With football you have to pay up months in advance, so clubs can take all the money and bank it. They don't offer any payment schemes which would make it easier for supporters to pay. It is hard for people who have travelled home and away all season to find this kind of money in a lump sum."