Join Now  | 
Home About Contact Us Privacy & Security Advertise
Soccer America Daily Soccer World Daily Special Edition Around The Net Soccer Business Insider College Soccer Reporter Youth Soccer Reporter Soccer on TV Soccer America Classifieds Game Report
Paul Gardner: SoccerTalk Soccer America Confidential Youth Soccer Insider World Cup Watch
RSS Feeds Archives Manage Subscriptions Subscribe
Order Current Issue Subscribe Manage My Subscription Renew My Subscription Gift Subscription
My Account Join Now
Tournament Calendar Camps & Academies Soccer Glossary Classifieds
Do luxury stadiums squeeze out the real fans?
by Paul Gardner, April 24th, 2013 12:32PM
Subscribe to SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner

MOST READ
TAGS:  brazil, england, spain

MOST COMMENTED

By Paul Gardner

A brief cameo from a recent English Premier League telecast -- one of those quick cutaways to the fans. Suddenly we see the selected fan -- it's a woman, nothing unusual about that, the TV directors seem quite determined to stress the attractiveness of the EPL's female fans. But maybe there is something slightly different here -- this is not a young lady -- more in the mature range, I’d say, a rather posh lady, dressed up to the nines, with a look of bored upper-class superiority as she pats her hair into place. She is looking to her right, the camera widens, we see an empty seat, then, in the seat beyond that, a young boy fidgeting with a toy or a gadget.

The woman -- the mother? -- speaks to the boy, who pouts and then turns to the empty seat -- which is not empty, I lied about that -- it contains two bulging shopping bags. The boy pulls one of them petulantly toward him, and opens it up ... and that was it, sudden end of the TV cutaway.

All the while, the game was proceeding, but neither the boy nor his mother cast a glance toward the field. These were fans? Supposedly so, yes. It’s difficult to describe them -- or it least it was until last week when we heard from Luis Fernandes, Brazil’s deputy sports minister.

Fernandes was lamenting the possibility that one of the legacies of next year’s World Cup would be a plethora of new or upgraded all-seater stadiums, gentrified to attract more affluent fans. Up would go the admission prices, with the result that the traditional mass of fans would not be able to afford to attend games.

Such a shift, says Fernandes, would change the atmosphere in Brazilian stadiums “from one where what predominates is the so-called D and E class, to one where there will be a heavy predominance of what they call class A and B spectators, who will not only buy the tickets but will also consume in the stadium.”

So the lady who did her shopping in the morning before attending the game -- is a Class A fan. So, too, is her son, this pampered boy so much more intrigued by his toy than the game. Or probably Class B -- with the Class A fans cozily ensconced in their luxury boxes.

Those who will be priced out are tagged as D and E fans, the low-grade numbers clearly indicating their unsuitability. So be it. We have seen this change in Europe -- in England in particular, which, after a period of over 50 years in which no new stadiums were built, has seen an explosion of stadium construction since the start of the Premier League era in 1992. And that has very definitely meant massively increased admission prices. But has it also meant what Fernandes fears might happen in Brazil -- the disappearance of the masses of traditional D & E fans, and a subsequent lack of atmosphere at the games?

Yes and no. Because it is not just soccer crowds that have changed. English society has changed, the so-called “working class” -- the very class from which the pro game sprang in England -- hardly exists any more. England is a wealthier country, and the wealth is more evenly spread. The fans now come mainly from the vastly expanded middle class.

They have money, and they seem happy to spend it on high-priced tickets and over-priced team shirts. Who can say whether this means a new class of devoted fans, or whether these people are simply amusing themselves with a new fashion, to be abandoned as soon as something more trendy shows up?

For the moment, soccer’s star is very much in the ascendancy -- it is now frequently referred to as a multi-billion dollar global business. Just a week ago we were informed that Real Madrid has moved ahead of Manchester United and is now the world’s richest soccer club. I have no idea what that means in any practical sense, but I suppose it’s a good thing to be top of this financial league standings.

The crowds at Spanish games look to be predominantly Class B fans. So Real Madrid is doing fine from monied fans, while Spain itself suffers from a severe financial crisis. And somehow, despite the whittling away of those unwanted D and E fans in England, hooliganism -- always associated with the lower-income fans -- has recently made an unwelcome reappearance on the English scene.

Puzzling anomalies that can be safely left to the sociologists to explain. Possibly correctly. But there is one area that seems to me almost bound to have an adverse effect on the future of the game -- and I don’t think we need sociologists to work this one out for us.

Not so much that Class B lady and her shopping bags, but her Class B son, the boy with the Little Lord Fauntleroy look. In the past in England, there were always substantial numbers of young boys at soccer games. Class E boys, for sure. They came on their own, they got in at a cut-rate price -- sometimes through a special “Boys” turnstile. And of course, in their thousands they grew up to be adult fans, some to be pro players.

It always seemed important that the boys be there because they were seen as a club’s future. They have gone now. These days, in the TV cutaways of English games, it is rare to see young teenage boys. Is it possible that Little Lord Fauntleroy, who attends with his mother and fiddles with his toys while the game goes on -- is it possible that he and his ilk now embody the future? Maybe it is. But it will be a future to reflect the transition of soccer from a sporting pastime to a commercial activity. One in which the stadiums consist of nothing but luxury boxes and their Class A denizens, and the main achievement will not be winning the European Champions League, but rather finishing on top of the Forbes Magazine richest-club contest.



6 comments
  1. Richard Leonard
    commented on: April 24, 2013 at 1:29 p.m.
    If it's like anything that's happened in the US sports market the beautiful game will only be for the upper crust. In the rush to build new stadiums across the USA. The emphasis is on the Luxury Suite, with the average fan getting priced out. I have season tickets to the Red Bulls (MLS) and N.Y. Jets (American football NFL). The NFL doesn't care about it's "average" fan with PSL and skyrocketing concession costs and parking.Most attendess don't really watch the game anymore their too busy on their cel-/mobile phones texting or telling people where they are. Most of the "atmosphere in the arena now ARE NOT the same.
  1. Spence Millen
    commented on: April 24, 2013 at 2:07 p.m.
    This also goes to show why RFK is always so jammed up/filled, since there ain't any luxury squeezin' going on.
  1. Bill Anderson
    commented on: April 24, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
    Relax, the Luxury Boxes subsidize the regular ticket holders. Good stadium design will incorporate both billionaires and regular joes.
  1. Roger Stamp
    commented on: April 25, 2013 at 7:27 a.m.
    Gardner's blog posts are usually predictable, repetitive horseshit but I have to concede that this post is bang on the money. You can buy a ticket for a game but you can’t buy passion. The commercialisation of some of Europe’s top football clubs by Yankee owners (e.g. Liverpool-Roma-Man Utd) intent on commercialising their ‘assets’ must be monitored and controlled.
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: April 25, 2013 at 11:02 a.m.
    I read that the German teams, which are owned by the fans instead of oligarchs, don't have this problem. Dortmund sell out 80,000 tickets that are (more) reasonably priced. Maybe fan ownership is the key instead of focusing on luxury suites. Yeah, you need a stadium, but what else do billionaires add?
  1. Millwall America
    commented on: April 25, 2013 at 11:36 a.m.
    Great column. In English football, there will always be a place for the D and E fans -- it's just that you have to go down to the Football League or even the Conference to find the atmosphere of old. It's one of the reasons I support Millwall. It's impossible to get a reasonably-priced ticket to the Emirates or White Hart Lane whenever I'm in London, but I can get great seats and atmosphere at the Den for a fair price. For the record, a typical Millwall home game is nothing like the travesty that occurred at Wembley. Those weren't real Lions fans who caused that trouble -- they are drugged up scum and the club has been working very hard to get rid of their kind.

Sign in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join Now




AUTHORS

ARCHIVES
FOLLOW SOCCERAMERICA

Recent SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner
Castillo goes, MLS loses    
The Turkish city of Trabzon holds a cherished place in my thoughts. Not that I've ever ...
Farewell Sigi -- for the moment    
So Sigi Schmid has gone the way of all coaches who don't win games, or don't ...
MLS DisCo makes another dubious diving decision    
The MLS Disciplinary Committee -- the DisCo -- continues its far from satisfactory activities.
Copa America: a lively tournament, a scandalously poor final    
The grand final of Copa America Centenario was simply a disgrace. An ugly, shameful event. It ...
Goalkeeper cheating -- yet again    
Are these guys for real, or what? A penalty kick. A regular occurrence in soccer. Any ...
Imported coaches: A formula for failure in MLS    
This business of foreign coaches in MLS -- why does it drag on? Have we not ...
Soccer's new-look rulebook (Part 2): Making room for the Spirit the Game    
Alongside the changes in the organization and wording that David Elleray and his team have brought ...
Soccer's new-look rulebook (Part 1): Much improved but still a way to go    
No doubt it was asking too much of ex-referee David Elleray and his colleagues to turn ...
Two badly botched PK calls -- but the MLS remedy is misguided    
Well, not that brilliant a weekend for MLS refs. Specifically, a couple of dead-cert penalty kicks ...
Soccer, from the Heart    
A small book, the classic "slim volume" if you like ... but Brian Glanville's "The Man ...
>> SoccerTalk with Paul Gardner Archives