Sponsors Could Solve The Premier League’s Biggest Problem
In which we take two long term trends in football, mash them together to produce a brilliant idea that nobody has ever thought of before.
Trend 1: Ticket price inflation
Sean Ingle listed some numbers, which show what we already know, that demand for football is inelastic.
Between 1983-84 and 1988-89, as Britain boomed, top-flight attendances averaged under 20,000 for four out of six seasons – yet from 2009 to 2012, with an economy mired in stagnation, average Premier League attendances for each season bobbed gently between 34,215 and 35,363.
These figures seem jumbled up, twisted. They are not. And seat occupancy rates – perhaps a better indicator – have barely changed either: 92.4% in 2009-10, 92.2% in 2010-11 and 92.6% last season. They may even be rising. According to a league spokesman, seat occupancy is 95% for the 2012-13 season.
Those statistics are even more remarkable when you consider how much ticket prices have gone up. A 2011 study by Dave Boyle for the High Pay Centre found the cheapest ticket to see Manchester United in 1989 cost £3.50 – with Liverpool £4 and Arsenal £5. Adjusted for inflation, those tickets would still have been under £10 in 2011. Instead they went up between 700 and 1,025%.
As Sean notes in his piece, football fans pay a high price for loyalty ‘a cocker spaniel would admire’.
Trend 2: Football has become ‘too corporate’.
The business of sport has matured. The result is that fandom has been industrialised. Football clubs now behave more like supermarkets than the friendly local butchers they once were (or at least were in the minds of romantics). Clubs now identify demand and ruthlessly exploit it for profit. That’s what mature markets do.
Running parallel to 2) is the regular feedback from brands and their agencies that the contribution of sponsors is under appreciated or their motives misunderstood, aka the ‘necessary evil’ position. They are perceived to be part of the problem, lent further weight by the logofest on perimeter boards and interview backdrops.
Fuelling this lack of love is a good point made by Ben Wells in his blog: that the concerns of local fans are of little consequence to the global brands funding the top clubs eg Chevrolet using its Man United and Liverpool deals to target China’s middle class car buyers.
Put simply, the presence of sponsors does little (nothing) to alleviate the pain for fans.
As Rob Walker put it to me, what is it that sponsors have brought to the party over the past thirty years or so?
One reason (for the lack of love) is that they don’t get much back. Why is it that given the amount of money fans spend, we have to pay so much for a beer, and for a ticket, then on top it all, we have to be bombarded with advertising. Advertising and sponsorship hasn’t resulted in lower ticket prices. In fact the reverse has happened. The model used to be that the ads paid for the content. We watched the TV for free and the advertisers footed the bill. A fair trade off, that has underpinned the consumer-media relationship. Now, we pay for the content, via subscription or tickets for the game, AND we are bombarded with commercial messages. What happened?
A sponsor who took the pain away – made a big, obvious statement of using their marketing budget to lower ticket prices for example – would presumably garner a whole lot of love.
I’ll take the obvious criticism of naivety as to the club’s stance on this issue. But, move beyond that and ask, why doesn’t it happen?
Image Credit: toksuede