Saturday, 11 December 2010

Standing Room Only?

To stand or not to stand? That is the question that has resurfaced after Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster tabled a private member's Bill aimed at giving clubs in the top two divisions of the country the right to have safe standing areas back. This is both Liberal Democrat party policy and something which is supported by the Football Supporter's Federation (FSF). The top two divisions of the country were stripped of their right to have standing areas after the Hillsborough Disaster which saw 96 Liverpool supporters killed. The Taylor Report, which was set up to investigate and advise for the future safety of football fans, advised that standing terraces should be abolished to avoid anything like Hillsborough happening ever again.

Since the Taylor Report, clubs have had to spend millions of pounds converting standing areas to seated areas. In that time there has been a marked decrease in hooligan instances within the game of football (although I should point out that hooliganism had absolutely nothing to do with Hillsborough), which is generally put down to stadiums being all-seater. However, this decrease is not necessarily linked to the removal of terracing. The FSF argue that clubs should be able to provide safe standing areas to their supporters if they so wish, just like is the case in Germany, where high profile clubs have state of the art standing areas. These terraces have been speifically designed to cater for any safety fears; as well as the concern that those parts of the stadium that are designated standing areas will have to close during Europa League and Champions League games, due to UEFA rules stating that all stadiums must be all seater during the competition. They have managed this by several ingenious methods, some of which can be seen here-

But do supporter's want to be able to stand? According to an FSF poll they really, really do. 90% of fans asked agreed with the proposal to re-introduce terracing. There are several reasons for this emphatic endorsment of bringing terracing back to the top two divisions in the country: standing's cheaper, it allows more fans to see the game live which helps creates a better atmosphere, some fans stand up just in front of their seats anyway- forcing those behind to stand- why not have a specific area for those who really want to stand? There are also more abstract reasons such as; why is it the first two divisions that must be all-seater? It's perfectly plausable for a League One or Two team to have a large following, why does the rule on terracing not apply to them?

What about clubs though? Do they want to re-introduce terracing? Well arguably not. Putting to one side the debate surrounding whether the FA and the government will actually want to change the rules, and supposing that clubs in the English and Scottish top two divisions were allowed to build safe-standing areas for supporters, I am going to try a hypothetical experiment. Please forgive me if my assumtions, German and maths are wrong in this experiment; it is based mostly on supposition after all!

Ok. Aston Villa and Hamburger SV are two clubs that, in broad terms, are very similar. Both are upper mid-table teams that occasionally qualify for Europe. Aston Villa's Villa Park has a capacity of, roughly, 42,800, whilst Hamburg's AOL Arena has a capacity of 55,000 of which 10,000 is standing. Now let us suppose that Aston Villa's current 'conceptual' plans to redevelop the North Stand decide that introducing a standing area would be a good idea. What would this mean?

Currently the plans are to increase the capacity of the ground to 50,000, an increase of 7,200 seats. If they instead made this increase all standing it would add extra capacity without changing the amount of room needed to hold it in the plans. So in the same amount of space they could previously hold 7,200 seated supporters, they will now be able to hold more; let's say 2,000 extra. This brings the total capacity up to 52,000 and the standing capacity to 9,200. Very similar to that in Hamburg's stadium.

So the capacity has increased, but what would this mean for the club's finances? Currently the cheapest adult seat in Villa Park is £20, whilst in the AOL Arena it's (rougly) £21. Hamburg's adult standing ticket is priced at (roughly) £13, an £8 saving on sitting down. This would mean that if Villa applied the same pricing to their new standing section the price for an adult standing in Villa Park would be £12.

If we suppose that Villa would have charged £20 for the original 7,200 seats, we can work out that they would receive £144,000 per match for their brand new development. If they went down the standing route, charging £12 for 9,200 places to stand they would receive £110,400 per match. This equates to a £33,600 loss per match for allowing their supporter's to stand. Wow. That's quite a lot...

Surely no club in their right mind would introduce a standing areas if they're set to lose this amount of money per game? So why have Hamburg? There is the idea that they're being alturistic to their support. Providing a standing area to allow more people in, but I don't think this argument is the whole story, even though it may be a part of it. Allow me to elaborate.

Hamburg's most expensive adult seat is (roughly) £53, whilst Aston Villa's is £45. This means that from Hamburg's cheapest to most expensive adult tickets (from adult standing to adult sitting in a really good seat) there is a 300% difference. For Aston Villa supporter's the difference is a mere 125%. The huge variety in prices for Hamburg's games shows how they still manage to maximise revenue whilst being able to provide supporters with standing terraces. If we apply this to Aston Villa, we can see how they can cover the £33,600 'loss' which is created by allowing supporters to stand, by having greater diversity in their pricing.

Now, this may seem unfair on those who want to sit down or cannot get a ticket for the standing area. But for those in the 'best' seats paying £45, raising the price to £50 probably won't have much of an effect. That kind of consumer clearly has quite a bit of disposable income already, so parting with an extra £5 will probably not be a great wrench for them. It's effectively a kind of income tax in the football stadium. It's the same principle at least, and this country in general seems to think that redistributive taxation is a good idea, so why not apply this to the football stadium?

I must confess, I am extremely unsure about how well this suggestion would work, but it does seem to work for Hamburg. What I have been trying to do in this essay (yes it's an essay) is try to recreate some of the concerns that a football club would have whilst considering whether or not to introduce terracing, if the option was available to them. I hope you have enjoyed my attempts rather crude attempts at doing this.

Thanks for reading!


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