Premier League the richest in the world but will someone think of the fans?
The Premier League's 5.14 billion pound television deal, which starts in 2016, will reconfirm England's top flight as the world's richest football competition.
It's a collective deal so the top-earning club, the champions, will receive only 1.5 times more than the bottom club. It's as much as 10 times higher in Spain, where the majority of clubs are seeking a model similar to England for the greater good and even threatening to strike if it isn't adopted.
The equal distribution in England makes the league competitive and ensures smaller clubs without a sugar daddy can try to compete. It also means that Burnley will make more money from television than Valencia this season.
Most of the extra money from the new deal will filter through football in the form of higher player wages. Agents and the auxiliary services also will receive a boost, though FIFA's deregulation of agents from April means all their fees must be declared -- the only part of a transfer fee which will have to made public.
Agents suspect it's because FIFA want to turn the public against an already unpopular profession. In Britain, a number of high-profile personalities showed their man of the people credentials by demanding lower ticket prices for British football fans.
The narrative is now a familiar one: Television pumps so much money into football that ticket revenue isn't as important as it was. Nowhere is this more true than at Manchester United, where ticket prices have been held for four consecutive seasons. It's far easier for United to add another sponsor to their roster than impose more price rises and maybe start emptying seats.
"I'd rather get sponsorship in than raise ticket prices," confirmed Ed Woodward when I asked him about this subject.
"I'd rather have a full stadium creating the atmosphere than empty seats."
United do well to sell out 76,000 Old Trafford seats for almost every single game. They could sell 200,000 tickets for the biggest games against Liverpool, City and Chelsea, while tickets for Wednesday's match against Burnley were easy to get hold around Manchester, with lots of spares about. The stadium was still full, though.
I want sensible ticket pricing and grass roots football to benefit as much as possible from this deal. Who doesn't! This is a big issue!- Gary Neville (@GNev2) February 10, 2015
Social media has allowed high-profile public figures to hold forth on the issue of ticket prices, but there were scant few high-profile figures speaking out for supporters in the 1990s and noughties when, unlike now, the cost of tickets really shot up.
Some of the current batch of pro-fan proponents were then contracted to clubs. They could hardly rock the boat by saying their fans were getting ripped off because their stance would lose them a contract or earn them a fine. It was left to fans to protest when United increased ticket prices by as much as 30 percent some seasons in the early '90s.
"Look what we spent the extra money on," countered then United chairman Martin Edwards when I went to his Cheshire home to interview him. "We built the Stretford End. Look at Arsenal now, with a huge debt that they pay off each year. We always built stands out of the profits. The money that fans were paying was going back into the club. The share dividends [from United being a PLC] were actually fairly small."
The surge in demand to watch a successful United, combined with then limited capacity of 44,000, meant Old Trafford remained full. It has been full for games since 1992 and stayed so when the capacity was expanded to 55,000 in 1995; 60,000 in 2000; 67,000 in 2001 and 76,000 in 2006.
That prices carried on rising after the 2005 Glazer takeover was all part of their business plan.
My season ticket behind the goal in K-Stand rose from 22 pounds per game before the 2005 Glazer takeover to 36 pounds five years later. That was more than a similar seat at Chelsea, who held prices for three years. Chelsea also reduced every ticket to 25 pounds for FA Cup games.
United were the only Premier League club to ask all season-ticket holders to pay more for the same seat in 2009-10, but since then -- thankfully -- United's prices have been held and there has been progress on ticket prices.
The club have introduced lower pricing for fans aged between 16-20. A decade ago, a 16-year-old paid the same price as an adult. Now they pay half. More should be done to get more kids to games.
It costs 28 pounds per game for an adult to watch United from the lower tier behind the goal. Is that bad value? It's true, though, that there are only 4,000 of those seats available and most fans pay around 37 pounds for seats higher up. The top-priced non-executive seat in the stadium, bang on the halfway line, is 50 pounds per game. It's cheaper than equivalent seats at all United's main domestic and European rivals, including the German clubs who have very cheap standing tickets.
An equivalent ticket in Barcelona main stand for an unattractive game on Sunday against Levante is 109 euros -- or 81 pounds. It's 196 euros vs. Valencia and over 250 euros against Real Madrid.
Barca's season-ticket holders pay much less. Like their television contract, a fan in the same stadium in Spain can pay 10 times as much. In England ticket prices are much closer together.
It's still expensive. In 1987, I used to deliver the Manchester Evening News for a wage of just over two pounds a week -- twice what it cost to stand on the Stretford End. No such possibilities currently exist and what 14-year-old wants to be applying for tickets six weeks ahead of a game as fans have to do?
Most kids at the match are now taken by adults -- an inherently different experience and passage to adulthood than going with your mates.
Fans of Premier League clubs are now older and wealthier, but to say that Premier League football is the preserve of the middle class and rich is wrong.
The demographics have changed and there are more tourists, but there's also more space in bigger stadiums. But travel to an away game with United fans and those going are no different in class to 20 years ago.
It's away games where ticket prices have been a bigger issue. At several clubs, United fans are penalised with higher prices because they follow one of the biggest teams. Fulham, for example, charged visiting fans 50 pounds. Stoke played there a week later and their fans were charged 30. Just because someone follows United, it doesn't mean they are wealthy.
Manchester City fans were stung in 2013 when Arsenal charged them 62 pounds for a ticket and they returned 900 of their 3,000 allocation. As the status of City rose as a team, so did ticket prices. But United fans had been getting stung for years by the same practice.
Away tickets are the issue that needs to be tackled, with more subsidies to the travelling fans who stoke the atmosphere and help maintain the spectacle that renders the Premier League so attractive, rather than Spain's La Liga, where empty seats are the norm and away fans a rarity -- even if the football is technically superior.
Tickets are already subsided by five pounds each, a positive move. Not every game is priced so highly either. United's next game is at Preston on Monday and tickets in the away end are 21 pounds for adults and just eight pounds for under-16s. A paper round wage could afford that -- if kids did paper rounds anymore.
In light of the new deal, there are even fewer reasons why league games shouldn't be the same price and why the Football Supporters' Federation's "Twenty's Plenty" campaign is a good one.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.