At the March structured dialogue meeting with Fulham FC we presented, at the Club’s request, our research, ideas and proposals on ticket pricing for consideration for future seasons. We looked at both season ticket and match pricing and undertook detailed comparisons with other Premier League football clubs.
At the time of the presentation, although we had also undertaken some detailed analysis of teams in the Championship, we all still held out hopes of avoiding relegation. Now that we know for sure that our football will be played in the Championship in 2019-20 we have created some supplementary material focusing on the second tier. This was presented to, and discussed with, members of the Club board and senior team during the April meeting.
Championship season tickets last time around
Our starting point for looking at Championship pricing was to focus on our most recent season at that level – 2017-18 – and to review the season ticket prices. Adult non-early-bird (‘regular’) season tickets ranged in price from £299 in some parts of the Hammersmith End and Riverside Stand up to £839 in the central blocks of the Riverside Stand.
Across a 23 match season this gave average prices in the £13 to £36 range. Young person and over 65 concessions were in the range £11 to £33 per game on average with excellent deals available for juniors in most parts of the ground.
Season ticket prices for the current 2018-19 season were set during the Club’s terrific 23 match unbeaten run but before promotion was confirmed; the prices applied regardless of the division. The phrase ‘early bird’ was replaced by ‘renewal’, with renewal prices being set to match the previous season’s regular prices. For example an adult H4 regular season ticket rose from £449 to £499 but was available during the renewal window for £449.
Season tickets looking forward
At the March structured dialogue meeting we made a recommendation that, given the poor season for the Club on the field in the Premier League this year, a blanket price freeze be applied to all season tickets. This would mean the 2019-20 prices for both the renewal and regular phases of sale would match those of 2018-19. Were this to be the case, the average per match adult price across a 23 game season would be in the range £15-£33 assuming the loss of the Riverside Stand for redevelopment.
Match pricing in 2017-18
For the current Premier League season, the Club announced two pricing categories to cover the top six teams plus West Ham and Newcastle (category A) and the remainder (category B). However for 2017-18 there was no announced policy. By carefully checking the on-sale announcements for each match in 2017-18 we were able to deduce that matches fell into four broad categories. An adult Hammersmith End ticket for these four categories, which we have labelled A, B, C and D, cost £35, £30, £25, and £20 respectively. All other blocks and age categories are shown in the following table.
This complicated table shows the four category prices we have deduced in each block and age range. The red number in the centre of each cell is the average match price based on the number of games that fell into each category. For example, the average match price for a Hammersmith End adult ticket was £28. Note that rows in the same colour have an identical price structure with one small anomaly in junior Johnny Haynes pricing that seems to be an error.
The majority of matches (15) fell into the middle two price categories. Five matches were priced at the highest level and three at the lowest. Additionally there were a number of very good offers throughout the season including £5 and £1 junior tickets and ‘free friends’.
The average Hammersmith End adult match price of £28 in 2017-18 is a useful point of comparison with the results of one of the FST Fan Survey Questions on Championship match pricing. We asked
“What do you think is a reasonable price for an unrestricted view behind the goal adult ticket for a Championship match?”
The majority of respondents suggested a price in the range £20-£30, with smaller numbers suggesting £35 and £40. The weighted average answer was £26. This is remarkably close to the £28 match average in 2017-18, especially given that most people when asked “what is a reasonable price …” tend to err towards lower numbers. The conclusion is that the match pricing in 2017-18 was at a reasonable level, albeit spread into four price categories.
Having already compared Fulham’s season ticket and match prices to those of our Premier League rivals in March, we have now repeated the exercise for the Championship. The following table lists the highest and lowest match price for a Hammersmith End equivalent ticket at all of the current Championship clubs. It also lists the highest and lowest prices for a season ticket for a similar seat.
Where clubs have a range of match prices it is due to a number of match categories and/or variable block pricing. Season ticket price ranges are due to variable block pricing and, in some cases, a number of purchase windows. However early bird pricing has been ignored in order to best correlate the information, as have surcharges for purchase on match day. This table is sorted in order of descending lowest available match price.
Although not a strictly accurate comparison, the Fulham match prices from 2018-19 (Premier League) and 2017-18 (Championship) are also shown along with a small family of similar clubs based on either geography, size or circumstances. In the Premier League we defined the family of similar clubs to be Watford, Crystal Palace and Brighton. It is harder to determine a list of similar clubs in the Championship; we have selected Swansea City, QPR, Reading and West Bromwich Albion.
The table shows that the Fulham match pricing range from 2017-18 would be in the lower third of this season’s Championship when ordered by lowest available price. Unfortunately determining the average match price of each club is not possible without detailed knowledge of the number of games in each match category. It is also important to recognise that often only a few matches are available at the lower prices. Nevertheless Fulham prices were reasonable and competitive.
The same table can also be sorted into descending order of lowest season ticket price, also with the Fulham 2017-18 and 2018-19 prices included for reference.
This table further underlines the point made in last month’s analysis that Fulham season tickets are very fairly priced, with the lowest available price for 2018-19 (which would have applied in the Championship) falling sensibly at the halfway point of this table.
We have already recommended a blanket freeze in season ticket prices for 2019-20, particularly given the generally poor level of on-field performance this season. We feel that any price rise would be counterproductive in the light of relegation.
For match pricing we have identified a set of principles which we would like the club to apply next year, based on the premise that the 2017-18 pricing and the fan survey results are quite close.
The £28 adult match average in the Hammersmith End in 2017-18 was fair and we believe that, allowing for inflation, prices in a similar range would be reasonable for 2019-20. Prices in other stands and in other price categories can then be set accordingly, making sure that concessions are available in all areas.
Although the Putney End may well be largely used to house relocated Riverside stand ticket holders, any tickets that are available on a match basis should be priced similarly to the Hammersmith End.
As a Trust board we have had some discussion as to the merits of multiple match categories over a single price. A single price would seem to be the easiest and clearest model but the Club tend to prefer a range of prices to enable them to maximise attendances and be flexible. This is a reasonable approach.
Press the reset button
Overall, as we stated in March, we encourage the club to ‘press the reset button’ on ticket pricing, be as open and transparent as possible, and fill our temporarily three sided ground every week. We have collected together the key recommendations that we have made over course of the March and April meetings as a suggestions packages moving forward. This list includes reasonable Championship pricing, implementation of fair season ticket exchange and upgrade policies and a focus on preventing ticket abuse without penalising genuine fans.
With this in mind we will all be able to unite and pull together in the same direction.