The Beautifully Expensive Game

Admission prices have rocketed at Deportivo La Coruña. The average cost for a ticket to see my local team play Real Madrid in the opening game this season was about €55 (₤40). To British fans, and especially those following English Premier League teams, those prices might sound quite reasonable.

Research by the Evening Standard in 2007 claimed that prices to watch football in London have shot up by 200% in a decade. But I don’t live in one of Europe’s most expensive cities. Last season a ticket for the same game against Real Madrid cost around €40, less than ₤30. How can a rise of over 25% be justified in such a short time?

Spiraling wages, which are beyond the comprehension of the average person is one likely factor. Long gone are the days, described by Gary Imlach in My Father and Other Working-Class Football Heroes, when top division professionals took on a second job during the close season.

State-of-the-art stadium facilities are another reason given for price rises. But do our football grounds really need to be like 5-star hotels? Despite it’s spectacular beachfront location, I can assure you that Depor’s stadium isn’t one of these. It hasn’t changed in years and the interior is more like a crumbling hostel with Estrella beer and chorizo sandwiches rather than champagne and canapé.

I recall my first season watching La Liga matches in nearby Vigo ten years ago. Adult tickets were available for 1000 pesetas — about 5 quid — to watch Celta who were then flying high among Spain’s elite.

Football is not the only sporting option here and some friends pointed out that I could have a season ticket for the local basketball team for the entrance fee of the Real Madrid game.

You may be thinking you would be willing to pay a lot more for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Real Madrid. Fair enough, but bear in mind that is not the situation for most Spanish football fans.

However, the locals did turn up in big numbers to see Depor play Madrid so the club’s gamble paid off this time. I wasn’t even tempted at those prices and doubt if I was alone. I didn’t have the dough and could watch on telly for nothing anyway.

This has been going on for a while now, so it’s no revelation. Season ticket prices in La Coruña are still pretty reasonable but one thing that has struck me recently is the total disregard for walk up fans like me. I don’t want to get into debt over football and like to pick and choose my games.

Deportivo were asking for €40 to watch a UEFA Cup first round match against Hajduk Split. At least the Croats are a well established name in European competition, but prices were the same for an Intertoto match against a bunch of unknown Israelis. Unsurprisingly, you could hear a pin drop in the stadium during those games.

Both were shown live on Galician TV. Perhaps the club is making good money from the TV companies and therefore no longer cares about attracting walk up fans to the stadium. If so, it’s a short-sighted outlook. Not to mention the effect the lack of atmosphere may have on the team’s performance.

Recently, Depor defeated Brann Bergen in a thriller to qualify for the UEFA group stages. Again, due to the prices, I stayed away and watched at home. I read a report in the paper the next day bemoaning the fact that the stadium was half empty. The writer thought it was because the tie appeared lost in the first leg (0-2). Did he have to pay to get in? I think not.

The likelihood is that it had more to do with the usual suspects: €45 for the stand where I was paying €25 for league games against the likes of Sevilla and Valencia last season, combined with the fact that the game was being shown live on both satellite and terrestrial TV.

One of the main attractions of the English Premier League is the fact the matches are played in front of large crowds. Anyone who has ever watched a reserve match or a closed door game on TV will know it’s not very exciting, even for the most dedicated of football followers. You might as well be watching a Sunday League game down at your local park. As Jock Stein once said: “Football without fans is nothing.”

The EPL’s televised audience is safe for the time being. However, if tickets prices continue to spiral and a fair percentage of fans eventually say “Enough is enough, I can see it on TV anyway”, where will that leave the beautifully expensive game?

Written by Steve Porter, who also writes here.

This article is a submission for the Soccerlens 2008 Writing Competition; to participate, please read the details here. The competition is sponsored by Subside Sports (premier online store for football shirts) and Icons (official signed football jerseys).

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