The True Cost of Supporting a Premier League Football Team

The Barclays Premier League is the best league in the world, where all of the best players flock to for tens of millions of pounds, to play in the very best stadia and compete for the top prizes.

Football is a traditionally working class game, but has the Premier League’s rise to greatness priced out the fans who made it what it is, which team give true value for money, and is there a correlation between ticket prices and club success?

The BBC conduct an annual ‘Price of football‘ survey, in which they gather data from 230 clubs from the United Kingdom and across Europe. The information details the price of season tickets and replica shirts, to the cost of a pie or a cup of tea at the stadium.

Better start saving now

The graph below shows the cheapest season ticket prices of each Premier League team, except for Swansea who declined to submit information this season.

Season ticket price bar chart. Data by BBC, graph by author.
Cheapest season ticket price in £s. Data collected by BBC, graph created and interpreted by author (Joe Difford). [Enlarge]
What immediately stands out, is the range of prices, with Arsenal’s cheapest available season ticket being over three times as expensive as Manchester City’s, and it is obvious who has been the more successful of the two in recent years.

London clubs come out as the most expensive, with four of the top five coming from our capital; West Ham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham. Four teams built on the foundations of working class supporters and originally, players, it is important to mention.

Worth the money?

Those four same teams are in the bottom six when it comes to entertainment value for money, as the cost of a goal at home is far higher than those who offer cheap tickets, but perform well in the league. Sunderland are the exception, as despite cheap tickets, they simply don’t score much.

Cost of goal graph. Data by BBC, graph by author.
Price of a home goal in pound sterling. Data collected by BBC, graph created and interpreted by author (Joe Difford). [Enlarge]
Comparing Premier League teams is all well and good, but it is when you look at the wider picture, considering other top European sides that things become rather ridiculous.

To buy the cheapest possible season ticket for Barcelona and Real Madrid, the top two sides in Spain, you only pay a mere £73.88 and £166.42 respectively. For that, you could only go to a couple of Chelsea games.

The question is however, do the teams who charge more reinvest this money into the club through new signings, and does this lead to success? Or does it instead end up in the owner’s pockets?

Where does your money go?

The below table suggests that the price of a season ticket and subsequent revenue through ticket sales does not always have a direct impact on how much is spent on transfers. The transfer data, collected by Sky Sports, outlines how much each Premier League club spent in the summer of 2015.

Graph to show season ticket price and transfer spend
Price of the cheapest season ticket and the club’s transfer spend in summer 2015. Data by BBC and Sky Sports, graph by author (Joe Difford). [Enlarge]
Arsenal have always been particularly frugal in their transfer dealings, and last summer was no different, with the club only spending £10 million on new recruits, a tiny amount compared to the whopping £153.5 million spent by a club who charge a third of Arsenal’s cheapest season tickets; Manchester City.

In these few extreme examples, there are other factors that can explain the bizarre correlations, such as Manchester City’s huge foreign investments and backing, allowing them to pay more for players up until the recent introduction of the Financial Fair Play rules.

Arsenal on the other hand, are one of the few Premier League sides who are managing their debt, which is far less than most clubs, and the high gate receipts coupled with low spending is to blame for this, so it’s not as negative a chart as it seems.

Ultimately however, it all comes down to silverware in football, and nobody ever remembers the runners up. So, does the cost of seeing your club reflect on their league or cup wins?

Graph to show number of domestic trophies won.
English domestic trophies won in the last 15 seasons. Including Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup. Data by club records, graph by author (Joe Difford). [Enlarge]
Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are three of the most expensive clubs to support, but fans do see glory more often than most. From this data, coupled with the season ticket costs, it appears Tottenham, a London club, are the worst value for money, winning just one trophy in 15 years, but charging at least £765 for a season ticket.

Premier League clubs are charging fans more and more to see their beloved players because, quite simply, they can, and the increase in television rights, advertising and investment means that the whole division is worth more money.

The sad thing is that football has always been a family game, born from working class areas, and an expensive ticket, pie and replica shirt doesn’t always mean success.

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