Friday, 17 October 2014

Football Pricing Should be Addressed ... But Not By Politicians

As per normal, the BBC's Price of Football report has stirred up a hornet's nest of debate. In straitened times, the general findings of the study makes for many days' content and debate, not just for the BBC but for the media industry as a whole, particularly as this year it announced that the average cost of the cheapest matchday ticket was up 4.4% on last year.

Aside from the fact that 2013's report found that prices had fallen 3.4% versus the previous season, football's position as a lightning rod for wider social concerns remains undiminished. It didn't take the Labour Party long (two days) to announce a wide-ranging set of proposals that - if elected - they would seek to implement, labelling it "the biggest legislative shake-up in the governance of English and Welsh football clubs since the advent of the game".

More than anything else, it probably demonstrates that Labour are well and truly on the back foot, seven months ahead of a General Election, an election in which sizeable swathes of their traditional heartland is under attack from the new kids on the political block - UKIP - who are unashamedly talking up their blokey credentials to attract those disaffected by the traditional political choices. What could be more blokey than the cost of football?

The electorate should have no time for policymaking on the hoof, regardless of how populist it may be. The proposals - which include guaranteeing fan representatives on the board and some ownership (precise details to be dreamt up presumably after May 2015) of the club - are wholly unworkable, whether from governance, financial or common sense perspectives. It sounds like a really lovely idea in principle but it's just not rooted in the practicalities of the real, modern world.

Yes, football needs to take a long, hard look at its financing. It's just like any other business: overpricing and/or not providing value (see various other posts on this blog) will have disastrous long-term consequences and there should be massive concerns about football's generally complacent approach to future generations' relationship with the sport.

What we don't see is politicians wading in over the cost of other leisure pursuits or dictating who sits on the board of theatre companies, music venues or other sports clubs. The logical endgame in Labour's argument would lead to users of Sure deodorant sitting on the board of Unilever. We all know that's not going to happen as it would be unworkable and to be honest, bonkers. Football in general does require comprehensive introspection on its long-term approach to its customers but that process (which is underway in some cases) should be driven by a combination of market forces and common sense, not politicians more interested in marginal constituencies than actually addressing the issue.