Is away ticket pricing discriminatory?

Home and away Peter OConnor

With away fans having little to no access to many of the deals that home fans enjoy, researcher Christopher Kirkland asks, is away ticket pricing discriminatory?

Much has been mooted about the high prices charged to football fans.

Existing studies focus on prices of home fans and the comparative cost of watching football in the UK against other top European leagues. However some of these studies, such as the BBCs flagship 'Price of Football' have been accused of being methodologically weak and thus underestimating the cost of attending football matches.

Campaigns such as the FSFs Twenty’s Plenty have called for lower ticket prices across the board, and whilst this is to be welcomed more needs to be done on the inequalities which exit within the ticketing structures at football matches.

Such campaigns whilst admirable in their goals of trying to reduce ticket prices across the board overlook a more fundamental problem which exists within the beautiful game, that of institutionalised discriminatory ticketing pricing.

Away fans can be charged higher prices than home fans to watch the same match, despite often having worst seats/views of the ground – and in some cases despite other areas of the ground being largely empty on match days. Sometimes this is achieved through simply charging away fans more to enter the stadium or through different ticketing structures/incentives to supporters.

The classification of fans as students or concessions is at the discretion of the home team. This can mean that some home fans can enter the ground taking advantage of these cheaper tickets, whilst those sitting in the away ends may be disproportionately categorised as adults.

One-off incentives, such as 'Kids for a Quid' or 'Bring a Mate for a Reduced Rate' further exaggerate the different costs of attending football matches – the vast majority of these initiatives are aimed at increasing the number of home fans attending games and thus not made available to fans of the travelling team. 

This doesn't happen in other sports such as cricke and rugby. Indeed unless a fan is wearing merchandised clothing or in possession of other branded items staff on the turnstiles often have no idea of which team(s) the fan entering support,  let alone have a mechanism in place for charging different sets of supporters different amounts. Such sports, who do not impose segregated areas for fans have better records of safety/ lower numbers of fans being ejected from grounds.

Discrimination can then be seen to be institutionalised by (certain) football clubs, those that charge differential prices, which when taking into account promotional tickets equates to virtually every club in the football league.

Teams have the ability to set their own prices for league games (there are different rules for cup competitions, though these are not without their own issues), thus meaning they could opt to equalise their prices should they desire. Such inaction can be set against football clubs and the wider league's support for other anti-discrimination campaigns such as the anti-racism Kick It Out campaign.

Alongside the issue of discrimination there also exists a health and safety aspect. The logic of segregation is based upon health and safety advice.

Football fans attending games will be familiar with PA announcements stating that any away fans found to be sitting in the home end will face ejection from the ground and further penalties.

Whilst instances of fans sitting in the wrong end remain low, clubs should think twice about offering financial incentives for 'away' fans to sit in areas designated for home fans. Such actions cannot be excused, but you can understand why this may be a tempting offer when faced with potential savings of £20+ per person.

Some clubs are working towards a fairer system. The most notable being Premier league Swansea City, who have capped away ticket prices for their travelling supporters. Such a system is welcomed, however sceptics might suggest that clubs doing this unilaterally risk other teams in the division taking advantage of the scheme to try and increase prices, knowing that the extra cost is born by the club and unlikely to affect individuals choices as to whether attend of not (thus maintaining attendance figures).

Through undertaking research for this blog I have been alerted to a number of teams in league one; Bradford, Coventry, Doncaster who have a system of mutual pricing for away fans, so that fans at away games between these clubs pay the same amount.

Such moves are positive steps in the right direction, but fail to ensure parity between home and away fans. More needs to be done across the league(s), and changes to institutional behaviour instigated, hence the need for this petition.

Such an issue is one for all fans, it is in every fans interest to both rid football of all forms of discrimination and to promote safer football grounds wherever possible.

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 Peter O'Connor for the image used in this article. Reproduced here under CC license.