By Sam Mathius
It’s a term that’s thrown around liberally: modern football. The combination of technology, sporting affinity, and globalization are its hallmarks. However, so are the egotistical superstar, astronomical transfer fees, and skyrocketing salaries. The game is now a business, like it or not.
That fact is something we’ve become comfortable with because, frankly, we love the spectacle. We thrive on it, for better or for worse in a glorious marriage. Even so, it can be difficult to mesh a bygone era of tradition with a modernity of monetary constructs. It’s the very complex situation Liverpool Football Club finds itself in with the task of increasing revenue. On the frontlines of that battle is the iconic home of the club, Anfield, and how to progress into the future with or without it.
When John Henry and Fenway Sports Group took control of the club just over two years ago, the stadium issue was marked as the task that would define their legacy as owners. That’s still the case. This very task was neglected under the previous owners when it was in dire need of addressing. Years on, the situation is even more dire. In modern football, if you’re not keeping up with the pack, you’re falling behind. With the recent declaration that a £152m renovation of Anfield and the surrounding area is in the works, it appears that forward progress is on the cards. What shape and magnitude the renovations will have is now the primary concern of fans.
With increased investment in any property comes increased value. That escalated value demands a higher return in profits. Add a second bathroom to a house: the value of the property goes up. Add 15,000 seats to a stadium: ticket prices go up. It’s real estate, and common sense, 101. So will the redevelopment of Anfield mean an massive increase in ticket prices? Oddly enough, it may not. In fact, it could provide the club with a chance to make match going more affordable for the majority of fans. Old or young, wealthy or working class, a 60,000 seat Anfield could decrease the price of attending a match for a good portion of the Anfield faithful.
Admittedly, it doesn’t seem logical on the surface. However, when the numbers are analyzed, a disturbingly optimistic trend becomes evident: Liverpool’s ticket pricing structure is incredibly simple and archaic. It’s a deficiency that can easily become a strength given a higher capacity at Anfield.
The following graphs show the difference in the most expensive and least expensive season tickets (top) and the most expensive and least expensive match day tickets (below) for some of the EPL’s biggest clubs:
What these numbers show is that there’s little variety in the ticket pricing structure at Anfield. Now, this doesn’t mean the club should adjust prices in order to simply keep up with a mysterious percentage increase in ticket pricing. However, it does shed light on just how much Anfield devalues itself. It’s a Cathedral of the game that should demand greater variability in ticket pricing, particularly by increasing the price of premium seating.
The average season ticket price at Anfield is £590. The average match day ticket price is £43. When the numbers are crunched, the club averages £1,636,315 in ticket revenue for a Premier League match. When you factor in another 15,000 seats (keeping in mind that about 55% of Anfield’s capacity is season tickets) the average revenue jumps up to £2,182,750 with the same average ticket prices. Over the course of a league season, that only translates to about a £10m increase for league matches.
It’s an improvement, yes, but Anfield can be more efficient in terms of appealing to all fans and increasing the club’s revenue.
The x-factor in this whole largely hypothetical model is Anfield’s corporate and Hospitality Seating. Already a fantastic VIP experience, it will surely see some level of redevelopment when Anfield gets its long awaited facelift. Upon their purchase of the Boston Red Sox, expanding upon that very type of seating at Fenway Park was a point of emphasis for FSG. It enabled the owners to maximize revenue by increasing the price of corporate seating while keeping, and even lowering, the prices of some of the stadium’s cheapest seats.
Now, Anfield’s ticket pricing model isn’t overly expensive compared to other big English clubs. However, there’s evidence that it could still be more affordable. A trip to Anfield offers the second highest price on the Cheapest Day Out table. That factors in the price of the cheapest match day ticket and average concession purchases.
Of the top six clubs in that table, four are in the London-Metro area: a much more affluent and more populated locale. Those prices aren’t ideal for Liverpool, and a much more affordable match day experience should be offered. Even Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium, a new state-of-the-art ground, offers a match day experience for as little as £34.3. That’s a £13 difference. It may not seem like much, but it adds up for a working class father who takes his son to several matches a season.
Although it’s difficult to pin down exact numbers on VIP match day experiences, most would bet on The Emirates having a VIP seating structure that outshines old Highbury in terms of both revenue and capacity. In turn, it makes the price of the cheapest tickets in the ground of little consequence to the club’s bottom line.
Moving forward, Liverpool must bridge the gap that exists between the other big English clubs when it comes to generating revenue through the turnstiles. Of the four English qualifiers for the Champions League, only Manchester City had a lower Annual Match Day Revenue last campaign. However, they also sold the naming rights of their stadium, albeit to themselves, for a cool £400m last year. Fair or not, it happened and shows that Liverpool must generate more capital on match day.
Part of this task is dragging Anfield’s pricing structure from the depths of antiquity. It demands more variety in ticket pricing with a concentration in expanding more expensive seats. Dropping the price of lower end match day tickets by £5 wouldn’t be impossible, nor would increasing the price of the most expensive season tickets by £100. With the addition of 15,000 seats, the pricing structure of Anfield will be rehauled. Hopefully, it will take a much more dynamic form that can cater to the affluent as well as the working class.
The work the club has made on attracting corporate sponsors has been encouraging. From the kit deal with Standard Chartered to the deals with Garuda Airlines and Chevrolet, the club has been proactive at revolutionizing itself financially. Still, this will be for nothing if the stadium project falls flat.
Adapting a tradition can often be met with apprehension and can often be misguided. Anfield is one such tradition in itself. It’s not only possible for the ground to be modernized while maintaining a traditional spirit, it’s pivotal.
Here’s to the prospect of a new Anfield that is, and will always be, the spiritual and physical home of Liverpool Football Club.
Statistics via BBC Sport Price of Football survey 2012.