SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Opinion
EPL ticket revolt; why MLSE moved on Burke
Published January 21, 2013, Page 18
But rarely have we seen a fan uprising cause a league to respond. That’s why I watched closely when the Premier League got in the middle of a dispute over ticket prices after fans criticized high price points and called for a cap.
Here’s how the story got legs. Fans of Manchester City balked at the $99 (U.S.) price they were being asked to pay to attend an away game against Arsenal. Fans criticized the cost, which they thought was exorbitant, and the tickets were returned to Arsenal. Soon after, Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore may have irked a few teams when he backed the call for cheaper seats, going as far as saying, “I’m absolutely sure that will be dealt with and we’ll not see that again. There should be more affordable ticket prices at one end of the spectrum, and maybe the corporate seats and everything else get priced differently in order to afford that.”
But a day later, the league did a 180, issuing a statement that all but pushed the issue back to the teams and said all pricing was a local issue determined by the clubs. The story got wide pickup across the EPL, and the London Daily Mirror’s John Cross wrote that the pricing is “not just an Arsenal issue” but that it is “expensive being a football fan” and it is “getting out of hand.”
A couple of points on this: The EPL should have a stronger team business services division. Less than a year ago, the EPL set up an attendance and ticketing working group, and you wonder whether they will develop a more formalized, structured team services division, a la the NBA’s TMBO. I am sure the diverse ownership groups of the EPL that currently can’t agree on Financial Fair Play regulation and face more revenue demands than ever are not looking for any mechanisms capping their ticket revenue.
Longtime ticketing consultant Bill Sutton agreed, telling me that the league should “stay above the fray. While they are concerned with image and perception, they obviously don’t want to interfere in a free-market scenario.”
Another interesting point was Scudamore’s response when asked if the “working class” fans have been priced out of the league. He fully acknowledged the EPL has changed. “I can’t argue with the fact there has been a shift in the demographic of the audience,” he told BBC Radio 5’s Sportsweek. “But at 95 percent occupancy, and when you look at the number of females in the grounds, something like 23 percent, black and ethnic minorities, 11 percent — that’s up from a much smaller number 10 years ago. When you look at the under-16s that are in the ground, it’s a myth the entire Premier League audience is aging and white and male, so we must be doing something right.”
A couple of things here stand out: Where pricing seems to be an issue at the EPL at this time, there is far more emphasis on improving the fan experience and premium engagement in the U.S. That issue seems to be less of a concern at the EPL. Scudamore seems pleased with the levels of capacity and the diverse makeup of the EPL’s audience, as he should based on those facts. I get his desire to offer a sound bite on the concern over ticket prices, but I don’t believe EPL team owners would support any call for a cap on ticketing.
|Brian Burke’s dismissal from MLSE was likely about a clash of personalities with new corporate owners.
> T-BALL: Colleague Terry Lefton offers a smart analysis of the much talked-about deal between T-Mobile and MLB/MLBAM, that was valued by industry sources to be worth about $125 million over the three years. One agency veteran I talked to about the deal told me, “The big question is where is the exclusive content and how can it be used to drive business? Historically, MLB has been emphatic that they wanted to be carrier agnostic so they can have their content available to all fans. People will also be watching the collaborative relationship between BAM and MLB closely. If they can really execute, it may really work.” But he also noted the terms, “The three year term speaks to trepidation on both sides.” Sutton also noted the significance of the day to me by saying, “Don’t think T-Mobile would run the risk of a communication breakdown at a critical point in the game unless they were certain they could deliver, same for baseball in assuming the risk.”
Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at email@example.com.