BBC Price of Football: are clubs dropping the ball when it comes to young fans?

Despite this year’s BBC Price of Football study finding the majority of ticket prices have frozen or fallen for a third year running, young fans still maintain the cost remains a major barrier to attending matches.

This year’s study, the largest of its kind in Europe, asked more than 200 clubs across the UK for information on ticket prices and found almost two thirds of price categories have been reduced or remained the same across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as some of the biggest leagues on the continent.

But despite this, although the study found that 135 clubs out of 190 in England, Scotland and Wales offer reduced prices for teenagers and young adults - separate from any student concessions, 55% of the fans polled said they had stopped going completely or go to fewer games because it was too expensive.  In 2015 the average age of an adult supporter in the Premier League was found to be 41.

Within the same report, a separate online poll of 1,000 18 to 24-year-old fans living in Britain conducted by ComRes, four in five (82%) said they found the cost of tickets an obstacle to them going to more matches. As a result, they were more likely to engage with football by playing games on a console or PC (61%). Only a quarter of fans (26%) said they go to watch football live more than once a month.

This is, of course, a huge worry for the future of football clubs. The fact that so many young fans feel disenfranchised is a clear indication that clubs need to take every step to get them back on board. Football clubs are trying to come up with greater ways to combat this. They know the fans are their lifeblood. Some clubs, like one of our local clubs – Stoke - run cheaper ticket schemes for under-21s. Everton, for example, say one in four of its season ticket holders is under 22.

But while 70% of supporters polled agreed that football clubs did value their fans, more than half (56%) said they felt that professional football is not run with them in mind. So, what does this mean for fan engagement with younger fans? Support for a team is so often a matter of loyalty, so what can clubs do to ensure that fans feel truly rewarded for their loyalty to their club or sport?

And what about relevant offers and rewards helping with cost? While the ticket price of football can seem too much for young fans, offering additional opportunities through loyalty and reward schemes that resonate can bring that cost down, in relative value terms. And as much as responsibility could be said to reside with the clubs, it is a way that switched-on fans can help themselves, too. It’s exactly the premise of our technology platform – it is free for both club and fan to take part and enables fans to use ‘points’ gained from their everyday spending against the price of tickets, to make attending their favourite sport more accessible. It’s like creating a currency for sport, which is really important considering that according to figures from the Premier League, young adult fans bought just 4% of all season tickets this year.

Today’s millennial fans are used to deeply personalised interactions. They want to feel special and prioritised, but they have to be able to afford it in the first place. Once they are engaged, they can then get to value a whole host of other things that we know are important – like unique experiences they can’t access elsewhere. Those clubs that engage on a deeper, more insightful level will gain the long-term loyalty of their fans – of all ages. So long as there are passionate fans who want to save money on their season ticket, membership or club shirt; retailers, sponsors and betting partners who want to gain access to, and incentivise, a bespoke audience to transact with them; and clubs who want to provide their fans with great rewards for their support, our rewards platform and our programmes will remain vital.

At the same time, clubs get an unprecedented insight into individual fan behaviours, enabling clubs to tailor communications and incentive packages to the person based on their activity away from the club. Knowing where their fans spend money away from the sport, and allowing them to connect this data to their sporting habits, would drive greater fan engagement through even more targeted rewards over each fan’s lifetime.

The results of this year’s survey highlight why initiatives like ours are so important. It’s vital that clubs keep the cost of football affordable to as many as possible – particularly those fans of the future. Making the game more affordable through the redemption of loyalty points (gained through a fan’s everyday shopping) could be the tipping point that turns these youngsters into season ticket holders. The long-term impact of young fans feeling priced out is yet to be truly felt, but these latest findings should act as a warning for clubs; and they should ignore it at their peril.

Tom Cowgill, co-founder and director at Rewards4.