During a recent lively social media exchange, with a friend, the claim was made that, in 1968, it was possible to see the league champions for a small sum of what previous generations called “old money”.
This claim was used as a stick with which to berate the devil that is modern football, specifically The Premier League. Being a glass is half full type of guy, while suspecting that my friend suffers from “jumpers for goalposts” syndrome, I thought that this was worth a little investigation.
So is the Premier League the devil? Have things changed that much? If so, is it peculiar to The Premier League or football in general. A look at the price of the lowest & highest season ticket prices at a successful club over that period together with a general look at peoples wages should give us an idea.
In the fabled year of my friends recollection, 1968, the average wage, as claimed by the Financial Times, was around £1500 per year. The cost of the lowest season ticket at our anonymous club was £9.50 and the most expensive was £13.50. For the average wage one hundred and eleven of the more expensive or a hundred and fifty eight of the cheapest tickets could be bought.
Fast forward a decade to 1978, average wages had increased to £5,500 per year and season tickets had risen to thirty and thirty six pounds respectively. Thus a bumper time, in terms of average salary quadrupling, saw ticket prices basically trebled in the same period. You could now buy one hundred and eighty of the lowest price seasons tickets. The dramatic increase in average wages slowed little over the next decade, £15,000 was now the reported figure not quite treble the 1968 figure. Again ticket prices increased heavily, this time the lower price had more than trebled to £100 but the highest priced tickets had increased had not quite reached the £138 price, that would have meant a three fold increase, weighing on at £114.
The forth decade, following the our 1968 starting point, 1988-98 sees wages rise to £25,000 whilst tickets are now £247 or £361. Here the reverse of the previous decade happens the highest price ticket has more than trebled, whilst the lower end ticket at £247 has not quite made two and a half times its previous cost. Only 101 of the lower priced ticket and 59 of the higher option could be purchased with the average salary. The 1988-98 decade can be seen as a 40-60% split between the old football league and the new Premier League. At the starting point of the premier league in 1992 both tickets both tickets had risen to £190. A very large percentage of the increase in the lower priced ticket and a much smaller one in the case of the higher priced version. This reverses over the Premier league period where the higher price ticket rises sharply and the lower one very slowly indeed. In 1992 at the start of the Premier League matters had slipped to 105 tickets being afforded in exchange for the average annual wage.
From 1998 – 2008 the entire period was within Premier League and Sky TV influence and tickets increased to £475 & £798. Wages were now stated at £37,000. By now only 78 of the cheaper price tickets or 46 of the higher price ones could be purchased for this annual wage estimate.
The final period up to the present day is only 7 years long and should be treated accordingly. Wages are stated at £45,000 and prices are now £532 & £950. This represents something of a reverse with 85 and 47 tickets available for the national average annual wage. An increase for the first time since the 68-78 decade.
It appears then that my friends rose tinted view of the past, and black view of the Premier League monster, although having merit in places is somewhat simplistic. The best period in terms of value for money would appear to be 1975-85. Fans had seen a large increase in the average wage vs ticket price equation and the difference between highest and lowest ticket price was not yet the huge margin it was to become.
The worst period for fan value overall was the four years before the founding of the premier league. The wage verses ticket ratio fell by a third in that short time. During the initial period of the premier league this was slowed to almost nothing for the lower price ticket. Since that time the equation is pretty simple wages are rising by approx. £10,000 each decade, low price tickets have stabled to a £16 per year increase. High price tickets remain disproportionate in as much as they are nearly double the cheapest ticket cost. However they are rising slower in terms of percentages over 10 year periods than at any time since the late 60’s.
The best way to sum up this, rather unscientific, study, would be to say that the average football fan has been subject to ever rising costs for at least 50 years. The costs have risen less in tougher times and sometimes fall slightly. The real change, from those times referred to by my friend, is purely in who benefits. During the 50’s and 60’s players were subject to maximum wage rules and very restrictive contracts. In effect they were owned by their club. Chairmen and other owners were the direct beneficiary of the fans money with very little going to those who actually played, managed or were otherwise actually involved in playing the game!
This is the area that has changed with player now receiving a far higher % of the money that their skills and effort bring into the game. In addition there freedom of movement and control of their image rights, and other income sources, demonstrates the reversal of previous situation.
The Premier League then is no more the devil than were previous organisations or the owners, directors and chairmen of old. Brian Clough once stated that there “were a lot of villians in football, 92 League chairmen for a start”, It would appear, as always, he was correct.