Ticket Prices, Trophies and The Battle for Chelsea's Soul
Our guest writer, The Score, on Chelsea's announcement to hike ticket prices
- - Guest article via The Score…
In the last week or so Chelsea confirmed that season ticket prices were undergoing a significant increase, some as much as 100%. Season tickets are now priced at between £1500-4000 a season. In contrast, Bayern Munich, who have a 70,000 seater stadium, price their cheapest season ticket (which is standing only) at £104, and their most expensive season tickets as of season 19/20 cost around £642. That’s less than half the cost of the cheapest Chelsea season ticket for next season.
I’ve been a Chelsea fan since 1988 and used to go to a lot of games, but I’ve not been able to afford to go to Chelsea games for a long time. In recent years I’ve still attempted to go once or twice a season, often to cheaper cup games. My last league game was Frank Lampard’s first league game in charge in 2019. As prices go up, going to league games is going to become more and more difficult, not just for me, but for many loyal fans.
For those in the fanbase who still had fresh wounds from the Super League debacle in April and had hoped promises of listening to the fans would bear fruit, this latest price increase is a kick in the teeth. Above all, football is about the fans. Owners of football clubs are custodians of the club, the soul of the club has always belonged to the fans. As Roman Abramovich himself said in a Forbes interview in early 2021, “The club was here before me, and will be here after me, but my job is to ensure we are as successful as we can be today, as well as build for the future”.
This decision on season ticket prices, coupled with the Super League fiasco, has alienated much of the fanbase. It excludes many long-time fans, as it ensures only those on medium-high incomes will be able to afford to go to games, and makes going to watch Chelsea more of a tourist attraction, than a ritual for a devoted fan.
Looking at Roman’s comments, that “but” is significant. It’s as if he’s acknowledging he’s merely a custodian of the club, but alluding to the fact that difficult decisions are required to keep us at the top.
What the decision on tickets brings into focus too is a problem which has lingered in the background for a while and as time goes on is becoming more of an issue. Revenue streams and stadium capacity.
Stamford Bridge’s official capacity is 41,847. Meanwhile Old Trafford holds over 75,000, The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium over 62,000, the Emirates and West Ham stadium 60,000. Man City and Liverpool both hold over 50,000. Liverpool have just had plans approved to increase the capacity of Anfield from 54,000 to 61,000.
According to the 2021 Deloitte rankings, Chelsea are currently 8th richest club in world football, with revenue of €469.7m (£395.6m). In comparison Man City were 6th with €549.2m, Liverpool 5th with €558.6m, Man Utd 4th on €580m. Bayern Munich were 3rd with €634.1m, with the two big Spanish giants Real Madrid & Barcelona well over the €700m mark, despite huge debts.
Interestingly enough given the price of their season tickets, Bayern’s matchday revenue with their 70,000 seater stadium, the Allianz Arena (which all Chelsea fans know well), generates only €83m - approximately the same as Chelsea. However their sponsorships, the historical brand recognition, and continued Champions League participation and success helps keep that high.
On the other hand, Man Utd’s matchday revenue in 2018/2019, the last season with full stadiums before the pandemic, was £111m. In comparison Chelsea’s matchday revenue that season was £66m. Even accounting for Europa League involvement, the previous season 17/18 Chelsea matchday revenue was just £73m.
That’s a £40m per season difference in revenue between Man Utd and Chelsea. In terms of amortisation - dividing a transfer fee over length of contract and breaking into annual costs plus wages - £40m is equal to one £125m player on a 5-year contract, or two £60m players on £7.5m per year. That’s the equivalent in terms of income we are behind other top clubs in terms of revenue, and if we keep the current stadium capacity, whilst others expand, that gap will only increase.
Of course, as we see with Man Utd, more money is also irrelevant if the club is run poorly. But Chelsea are a well run club, with a great scouting system, good recruitment (since 2019), whose priority is winning football matches and trophies. The business is well run and the club rarely makes a loss financially. It’s likely increased revenue would be much better used by Chelsea, than it is by Manchester United.
It’s possible to make an argument we can just be shrewder in the transfer market and promote more academy talent - and it's clear one reason we invest in younger talent is because either they give the club long service so become value for money and amortised costs go down, or if they move on, they can generate profit for the club.
However, it’s going to become more difficult to maintain this as time goes on. In a sense, with the quality and talent in our academy allied with what is already a young squad, we’re buying ourselves some time here to increase revenue.
This has an impact on the football side, in that it increases pressure to achieve Champions League status every single season, as it can cost the club £50m or more if we miss out, which means managers will be under more pressure than ever to deliver it. Frank Lampard’s sacking can be partially attributed to this in many ways. It is this which has arguably led to the significant price increase in season tickets, and may even have had an impact on the original Super League decision.
Roman Abramovich wants Chelsea to be the best. He wants to win trophies. He said in 2003 when he bought the club didn’t buy Chelsea to make a profit, and Chelsea have rarely made big profits under his ownership. He’s never taken a penny out of the club himself, in fact he’s put over £1.2 billion of his own money into the club. His goal in buying Chelsea was, in his own words “fun and trophies”.
He does, however, want Chelsea to be run properly as a business, and be largely financially self-sustaining, not running up external debts nor dependent on his money.
But to do this requires the club to bring in significant external revenue. To invest in elite footballers, elite coaches and staff, continued investment in upgrading and improving the facilities and training ground, and in the academy. Not to mention the pressure to keep up with other big clubs, both domestically and in Europe.
The original plan to increase revenue significantly was to rebuild Stamford Bridge on the current site, into a new 60,000 seater stadium. That could increase revenue by as much as £30m a year, pushing us much closer to the other big PL clubs in terms of revenue. But as of November 2021, the plans are on hold. Roman seems to want to avoid saddling Chelsea with debt, or making a big investment in the current climate. So in the meantime Chelsea are trying to find as many ways as possible to increase revenue outside of a stadium rebuild.
Let’s be really clear here. None of this excuses the decision the club have made as regards ticket prices. They’ve taken the fanbase for granted, and taken advantage of the huge demand for Chelsea tickets. From a pure business perspective, it's likely to be a successful decision, and they have their reasons. But football isn’t just a business. It’s about the fans. We are the heart and soul of the club, and although no fan expects football to be free, or even cheap, we do deserve to be treated with respect by both owner and board.
For Chelsea to be successful we will have to make serious revenue increases. My own hope is that the stadium redevelopment goes ahead eventually, because a bigger stadium will allow for more realistic pricing, whilst also keeping up the level of revenue we need to be competitive.
Chelsea fans have shown what we can achieve when we work together and fight for the soul of the club. The three fan representatives on the board, and supporters groups can at least present our concerns to the club and hopefully get action taken. However, the problem Roman, Marina and the club will continue to have will remain ensuring we can remain competitive on the pitch, and increasing revenue, whilst also maintaining a connection with the fanbase and treating us in the way we deserve.
It’s not a simple issue. All of us want Chelsea to win, to be the best, to give players big contracts or pay big transfer fees.
Marina Granovskaia has done a great job to keep us competitive and make big signings despite being behind in revenue. Credit also goes to Neil Bath and the academy who continue to provide us with quality players who can come into the first team and perform, and be regular starters, which has and will continue to save the club a fortune financially. These will both need to continue, along with an increase in revenue, for Chelsea to stay at the top.
But this cannot, and should not, come at the expense of loyal, committed fans. The fans are the heart and soul of Chelsea, and should be respected and treated better than they have been by the club. The need to raise revenue and profits is clear, and most fans accept this - but there are surely ways to do this which respect and include the real fans, not exclude them.
Written by The Score, follow him on Twitter here.