Ticket prices, Soul-hollowing, and Richard Scudamore

Richard Scudamore doesn’t think that Premier League ticket prices are too high.

Well, there’s a surprise.

Scudamore also believes that “most people can afford to see the occasional game” which inadvertently exposes quite how unsuited he is to being the Chief Executive of the most powerful organisation in the British game.

The problem with him isn’t greed or his one-eyed focus on brand extension, it’s that he doesn’t really understand what it is that he’s supposed to be protecting.  He doesn’t really have an appreciation where football comes from, who it’s supposed to be for, or the role it plays in people’s lives.

The “occasional game” remark is very telling, because it portrays him as someone who believes that sport should be a luxury item; a treat for a special occasion and something that has to be saved-up for.  He understands that the prohibitive pricing structure is locking many people out of grounds and he is fully aware of the income realities behind that - but yet he doesn’t seem to care.

That’s the most troubling aspect of this: Scudamore has been at the vanguard of football’s evolution since 1999, yet he has a rogue perception of what the game should be.  Fandom is about loyalty and regularity, about belonging to something which provides a necessary distraction from the banality of weekday life.  That’s a culture which has being growing and diversifying since the sport’s codification and yet, in just twenty-three years, the Premier League has already been able to take a chisel to a century’s worth of tradition.

Many decades from now, when we’re telling our grandchildren about football’s past, we’ll be narrating tales of matches we watched on television.

“It was an amazing game, box-to-box for ninety minutes - obviously it was Category A and I needed to eat for the rest of the month, so I couldn’t afford to go.” 

What kind of bedtime story is that?

Supporters groups are becoming increasingly militant over this issue. Hand-crafted banners are showing up on Match Of The Day, fans have marched on Gloucester Avenue, and - during the recent Champions League game at the Emirates - even Bayern Munich supporters were shown making a physical protest against the cost of their match ticket.

In 2013, The Football Supporters’ Federation launched their Twenty’s Plenty campaign, with the aim of rewarding the contribution of travelling fans by reducing away tickets to just £20.  It has a lot of momentum and it’s to the organisation’s credit that barely a week goes past without the initiative featuring in a hashtag, an article or outside a ground.

But doesn’t this all seem futile?  At least, doesn’t it seem like an unwinnable war while Richard Scudamore stands  at the top of the pyramid?

He is not susceptible to reason, because he doesn’t understand why these movements exists.  He probably believes that the opposition to escalating prices is purely material and that they’re derived from a desire simply to save money.  But that’s not true, football isn’t just a generic good or service, or a product in a market with viable alternatives - no, in a lot of cases it’s an extension of an individual’s personality and when that happens, when loyalty and routine are involved, price hikes are essentially a tax.

Football fans are being treated like smokers.  Match tickets are bought through habit rather than rational choice and so it’s appropriate to characterise the last two decades of inflations as a cynical excise duty; clubs price their tickets in accordance with what they can get away with, not what they believe is fair.

Is that unusual in a capitalist society?  No. Does football have a moral obligation to a different set of financial ethics? No, not really.

But, at the same time, it must be mindful of what it’s doing to itself and of how it’s engineering its own social composition.  It’s not enough for a football stadium just to be full, because for the game’s texture to survive those grounds have to be full with the right people.

That’s not a division drawn on gender, age, race or even necessarily class.  No, the right people are the ones who were there before football airbrushed itself and who sustained their clubs before the money faucet burst.  To exclude them is an egregious sin and one which is akin to a hollowing of football’s soul.

But so what, right?  So what if those people are forgotten and so what if they’re replaced by day-trippers whose only fan qualification is their ability to afford a ticket?

That will be a viable argument right up to the point where a tipping point is reached and breached.  Today, there are enough pockets of supporters to disguise the mass gentrification, but tomorrow we’ll be waking up in a nightmare world of McFandom.  Big screens will lead chants, Wagamamas will line the concourses, and goals will be met with polite applause.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s unquestionably not what football’s future was supposed to look like.  It isn’t just a game or a way of filling time, it’s a part of many people’s lives and, for better or worse, their teams are tightly bound to their sense of self.

That is what Richard Scudamore doesn’t understand - or, if he does, the value he places in the game’s real-world resonance isn’t sufficient for him to care.