Red Flags: Are Fans Paying The Price For Their Loyalty?

Darren Young


Darren is a director at The Fan  Experience Company.

He has a background in working on customer service excellence projects in the UK and Europe, and an MBA that included studying in the United States. 

A UEFA Mentor and Fan Experience Company consultant, Darren works with clubs across Europe to improve the match-day experience and increase attendance through engagement with fans.

Inflation is falling.

Apparently. Although any trip to a supermarket, petrol station forecourt or coffee shop tells you that prices are continuing to go up in spite of what Rishi Sunak might tell you.

There are some sneaky little practices designed to confuse too. For instance, the other day I saw a 50% sale at a well-known clothing brand that was selling a jumper for £100, down from £200. Except it had NEVER been £200 to begin with. I’d looked at it several times last year and it was £150 maximum, so I hoped it would be put in a half-price sale where I might be tempted to purchase it. In fact, after what they did, I decided I’d avoid that brand again in future.

The same thing happened with Ritter’s Sport chocolates too at Waitrose. They didn’t sell them for £100, but they did tell me that I was getting a massive saving by them only being £1.25 (down from £1.50) after selling them for years at £1.05. Go figure.

Never mind, I abandoned them too.

What’s this got to do with sport, you ask?

Well, there are currently a lot of clubs facing rebellion from fans after large hikes in season ticket prices for 2024/25.

Liverpool have been heavily criticised. So too, Tottenham after an even bigger increase and Brighton have also copped it recently. The latest – Nottingham Forest, coincidentally the club nearest to my house – have the biggest increases of all to date. Their adult ticket in Zone 1 is up 28% and a child’s one up by 111%. Inflation is only, I’m informed, 3.2% although it deep feel like it was 111% not long back.

The Supporters’ Trust have pointed out the ‘totally disproportionate’ nature of that increase. One of their problems, as with the other clubs, is that this is happening in the middle (although who knows when it will end) of a cost-of-living crisis that is hurting ordinary folk right now. So there is a real possibility that the ‘ordinary’ fan will be priced out of being able to attend games at their beloved club.

The club, like other clubs, say their prices are ‘still at the lower end’ and they ‘have to make money’ etc,  but they are amongst the wealthiest clubs in the world by virtue of being in the Premier League and they don’t have to put big prices increases in place. The choose to. Like the phone companies didn’t have to put 15% increases on their bills last year when inflation was over 11%. They chose to do that as well.

They will say it’s still a really good deal. They will try to make fans think they are getting the jumper for half-price but it’s all a lot of spin.

Forest also, quite cruelly in my book, quote the 11,000 wannabe fans on a waiting list. A beautifully put and not-very-subtle ‘if you don’t like it, there’s plenty who’ll take your place’ jibe at the fans who put up with twenty years of football outside of the top flight and handed over hard-earned cash to watch them, for example, fail to beat my club, Walsall, in their last dozen attempts (yes, I know, but I don’t care).

I recall a similar comment made during one of my first working forays into the world of football. A member of staff at Highbury said pretty much the same comment except on that occasion it was 20,000 on the list. A few years later, now at the Emirates, his employer was struggling to fill empty seats.

But I digress. The point I’m making is that clubs forget the part fans play very quickly and way too easily at times, especially in hard times. There is an element of cashing in here (as there is everywhere – Sainsburys put their prices up so Asda do too) on the part of the clubs and also making hay while the sun shines and they are enjoying life at the top. That’s a life where a lot of people suddenly get far more interested in football, and will happily pay ‘tourist’ prices in order to see Premier League games. So the clubs forget the fans who got them there and focus on the highest bidder. Highest bidders who, naturally, will be nowhere to be seen when said club find themselves in the EFL.

It’s a bit like the Chelsea players fighting over a penalty kick when they are 4-0 up. But where were they when it was 3-3 in injury-time and one was awarded?

Some will say it’s market forces – the price increases not the Chelsea players’ immaturity – and they might be right. Clubs will also argue they need to make more money to compete (although ticket sales are about 10% of total revenue on a good day) but do they really need to hit fans in the pocket at a time they can least afford it?

What if fans say no? What if they do what I did with Ritter’s Sports chocolate? I think clubs are banking on the fans making an initial fuss then eventually backing down and getting their wallets out in that gloriously British fashion. The clubs will say the right things. They’ll act like they are collaborating with fans, but are they really?

As Forest’s legendary manager Brian Clough once said when asked about a player dissenting: ‘We’d talk, I’d listen, think about it and then decide I was right’ or words to that effect.

The clubs will no doubt do the same.

Let’s hope – for their sake – they are right.

But the fans who probably will do that aren’t going to be around forever. And Forest, who have one of the largest junior supporter fanbases, might wonder if some of those kids are going to be able to cough up the extra 111%.

Or if parents of a potential next generation of fans might look elsewhere. With a thriving EFL club literally across the river, and a massively-popular ice hockey team, the city isn’t short on sporting options.

And one day from now, maybe sooner than they think, they might just need a bit of that ordinary fan’s goodwill once more.  


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