Fans of the biggest Premier League clubs are being asked to pay £200 more than followers of some of the top flight's other teams to attend their club's away fixtures – with Manchester United supporters facing the biggest total over the course of the season.
Research conducted by FourFourTwo into the cheapest available away tickets for each fixture shows that over the 2012/13 Premier League season, fans of Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal will be forced to pay far more than supporters of the Premier League's other sides.
The six 'big' clubs are generally considered to be worthy of 'Category A’ ticket pricing, meaning fans rarely get a cheap day out. There is a considerable drop-off after sixth-placed Arsenal (£819) to Everton (£732.50).
Manchester City returned 900 unsold tickets for this weekend's Premier League match at Arsenal to the North London club, with fans groups reasoning that the £62 they were being asked to pay was an unreasonable amount.
City Supporters' Group spokesman Kevin Parker said: "In 2009 a ticket to Arsenal was £32.50, so in under four years they have gone up by almost £30 and now they're the most expensive in English football. It seems a ridiculous amount of money. Some fans are saying, 'I'm not paying £62 whether I can afford it or not because I've got to draw a line somewhere'.”
Manchester City fans are not the only ones facing a hefty bill – in fact, followers of Manchester United and Liverpool are being asked to fork out more across the season when travelling the country to support their side, albeit only just.
Fans of City are just £3 behind those of United over 19 matches, at £837 to the Red Devils' £830. Fans of Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal would also face a bill of more than £800 if they wanted to attend all of their team's Premier League away fixtures – excluding the cost of travel.
By the end of the current campaign, travelling fans of Manchester United will have been forced to pay at least £216.50 more than fans of newly-promoted Reading to visit every other Premier League ground – this equates to over £11 more per match.
PRICES UNDER SCRUTINY
Arsenal's ticket prices have already come under scrutiny this season, with under-fire chief executive Ivan Gazidis forced to defend the club’s pricing policy during October’s heated AGM.
Naturally, these high prices are reflected in the away end, but although fans of ‘Category A’ sides such as Manchester City have been asked to hand over £62, fans of teams in ‘Category C’ are being charged just £25.50, a decrease on the equivalent fixtures last season.
This means that, on average, the Gunners are not charging as much for away tickets as London rivals Chelsea. The average cost of the cheapest available adult ticket in the away end at Stamford Bridge is £50.68, far more than the £39.32 of Emirates Stadium. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cheapest away end is Wigan Athletic's rarely-full DW Stadium, where the average cheapest available adult ticket is just £23.84.
DW Stadium: Perhaps unsurprisingly the cheapest away end in top flight
Football Supporters' Federation chairman Malcolm Clarke has this week spoke out against the ever-increasing cost of attending Premier League matches, suggesting clubs use the increased revenue from the new £3 billion domestic television broadcast deal – set to start next season – to ease the financial burden on the fans.
"We estimate clubs could cut £32 off the cost of every single ticket purely from the increase in the TV pot this time around," Clarke said.
"There are many ways of measuring what is the best league. But if you look at the Bundesliga, where fans can attend matches for €15, stand up, have a pint if they wish, and even get a ticket for the metrolink, it seems the Premier League is short-changing its own supporters.
"This business of categorising matches is blatantly unfair. Just because Manchester City have a lot of money doesn't mean their supporters have, and the same is true of the other teams who get charged the highest prices every time they play."
However, the Premier League have suggested they will not force their member clubs to alter the ticket pricing policies, as long as attendances remain high.
"Ticket pricing is a matter for individual clubs, many of which work hard to fill their stadiums with offers at different points during a season that make top-flight football accessible to large numbers of fans,” a Premier League spokesman told The Guardian.
"We have always encouraged stretch pricing to help accessibility, and it is against Premier League rules to charge away fans more than home fans for the same standard of seats.
"Fans clearly enjoy the environment in which they watch Premier League matches and the football on offer, with occupancy rates at grounds tracking at 95 percent for this season and having been 90 percent-plus for the last 15 seasons in a row."
Indeed, the Arsenal tickets returned by Manchester City were put on sale to home supporters, and quickly sold out, which suggests it may take a few more fan boycotts before clubs sit up and take notice.
By James Mawcomments