Chelsea FCs recent proposal to buy back the freehold land on which Stamford Bridge sits has ignited a tinderbox of frustration amongst the match-going Blues fraternity which has been smoking away since the end of last season when rumours of a move from our ancestral home coupled with hikes in season ticket prices and the unceremonious sacking of Carlo Ancelotti contributed much to a summer of discontent.
The intriguing and thus-far successful appointment of Andre Villas Boas initially deflected attention away from discussions about the basic economics involved for most of us mere mortals regularly, or perhaps that should read habitually, attending matches at Stamford Bridge, but that soon changed when the controversial pricing policy for Champions League games was announced by the Club.
I have no axe to grind with our munificent owner Mr Abramovich; far from it … Were it not for him, Jesper Gronkjaer, Matthew Harding, Clive Walker and a certain Kenneth William Bates I have no doubt that Chelsea Football Club would have gone to rack and ruin around about the time that Pates went up to lift the Members Cup.
Countless articles have been written lambasting successive regimes at Stamford Bridge for their willful neglect and brazen ignorance in all matters related to pricing, and now, with talk of a move to a new stadium, the question on many True Blue lips is, “at what cost to us?” Well, unless there is a volte-face, the answer is disproportionately more than what could be considered to be equitable and fair … reason being, the myopic mandarins responsible for this year-in-year-out financial treachery are, like the players, in basic salary terms, not living in the real world.
So what is going on in the real world?
A financial crisis of epic proportions … that’s what.
Tune into the BBC news channel at any given hour of the day and the chances are that within a few minutes the screen will be dominated by the beady-eyed, raven-like persona of ‘business editor’ Robert Peston. In a nasal whine reminiscent of Carry On star Kenneth Williams, Peston regularly explains in finite detail the economic machinations of the markets in a ‘glass-half-empty’ manner that leaves the viewer believing we are doomed to a life of penury.
Peston has good cause to be miserable about life because he is an Arsenal supporter! By the time you get to read this article, by my calculations, it will be 6 years, 4 months, 27 days, 19 hours, 55 minutes and 22 seconds since the Gunners last won a trophy … an explanation in itself for Robert having such a wretched, gloomy demeanour.
All joking apart, Peston speaks the truth. From what I can see, a world slump is guaranteed. It is certain. It may as well be written on tablets of stone. The world economy is completely out of kilter. Western consuming nations are terminally over-borrowed, China has geared itself up for a fantasy world of unending increases in the demand for its factories’ output whilst governments and their feeble economists have run out of corrective strategies … all that is left for them are the voodoo economics of money printing. Mark my words, there will be a lengthy epilogue of spin and propaganda suffused with one or two false dawns, but the truth is that we are all going to be properly shafted … no lubrication! It’s going to hurt … a lot … and it will be the end of the decade before we crawl out of the long harsh economic winter that is setting in, by which time Chelsea Football Club will no doubt be charging £5,000 for a season ticket at its state-of-the-art, 60,000 seat, Samsung Stadium adjacent to Battersea Power Station.
As the UK lurches back into belt-tightening recession, the board at Chelsea Football Club should pay heed to what has already happened to the false economy of Greece and its citizens and will surely happen in Italy and Spain. With many people’s finances as brittle as the Arsenal defence, you don’t need to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ascertain that with increasing need for austerity something is going to have to give, and in Chelsea’s case, if due care and attention isn’t taken by those responsible, the effect on the Club, at a time when it releases unsettling news, could be cataclysmic.
95% of match-going Chelsea supporters are proud of the Clubs history and tradition and have a deep-seated emotional attachment to Stamford Bridge.
95% of match-going Chelsea supporters do not have a bottomless pit of money to feed their True Blue addiction.
95% of match-going supporters believe that the Club is financially selfish to its regular patrons in respect of ticket pricing.
95% of match-going supporters are of the opinion that the Club is more interested in marketing itself to a global audience than addressing their many sensible requests and helpful suggestions related to domestic ticketing.
The list goes on … and on … and on!
Ah, but what about the 5% who don’t complain?
Well by my calculations, with the current Stamford Bridge capacity hovering around the 42,000 mark that equates to 2,100 fans that would turn up regardless of personal circumstance and feeling towards the Club. It’s an extreme scenario, but not beyond the realms of possibility that ongoing wilful neglect of match-going supporters could result in a dramatic decay in attendances for those games which are not pre-paid by way of a season ticket and with year-on-year season ticket sales down, who knows where it could end?
Football clubs derive their income from three core elements. Match-day revenue, broadcasting revenue, and revenue from commercial activities. The most recent data available from the Deloitte Football Money League shows that for 2010, Chelsea’s coffers copped for £209.5m (revenues split 32% match-day, 41% broadcasting and 27% commercial). Interestingly enough, the Clubs match-day revenue had fallen by 10% year on year and this was attributed to a poor Champions League campaign. Deloitte’s summary of Chelsea’s fiscal performance …“The limited capacity of Stamford Bridge, and the limitation this places on match-day revenues will make it challenging for Chelsea to return to the top five in the Money League in the near future.” (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Arsenal are the current top five.)
Significantly, it’s worth noting that 42% of the Goons revenue is derived on a match-day whilst Bayern, where admission cost is much lower make just 21% of their income this way. Now ask yourself the question. Which of these two sets of supporters make the most noise in their stadium? It’s not rocket science, or is it?
It’s too early to tell how the Premier League’s £1.7 billion deal with Sky will be affected by the recent European Court of Justice ruling related to the permissible use of non-Sky decoders to broadcast live football. In the most extreme case, monies paid out to the clubs could be reduced as could the number of people clicking through the turnstiles. The knock-on effect could result in football Armageddon with many smaller clubs reliant on income from broadcasting rights being financially choked to a lingering death resulting in administration, expulsion from the League and, ultimately, extinction.
What does it all mean for match-going Blues fans like you and me? Sadly, all I can see is a continued increase in match-day costs that do not reflect the bigger economic picture. A move to a new stadium will not necessarily bring with it any concessions, nor does it guarantee success … just ask Mr Peston and the 60,000 disaffected, wallet-sapped Gooners that inhabit the Stade Jihad at Cashburning Grave.
I’m certain, as match-going Chels, we are as one in respect of a shared opinion on ticket pricing, as for the proposed move away from the Bridge that could prove divisive. My view, for what it’s worth, is that I find it very hard to believe that with all the financial muscle at its disposal, to say nothing of access to some very fine legal brains, the Club has not conceived a workable, executable plan to sufficiently increase the capacity at Stamford Bridge to meet its objectives.
Please remember WE ARE ALL CHELSEA. I’ve been pretty vocal in the past in my criticism of the way certain individuals tasked with running the Club attend to their business, but I believe right now that personal insult and slander will achieve nothing as will fighting each other. For me, there is a window of opportunity open now for Chelsea FC to offer not just an olive branch to match-going supporters but a whole tree … an orchard might be asking too much. A period of supporter consultation, coupled with slide-rule economics and an open-book policy are required if the Club is to win the backing of its real fans in respect of any proposed move away from the Bridge.
I hope that the senior officials at CFC exhibit the wisdom and foresight, that has been missing thus far, to work towards a win-win scenario that unifies all associated with our great Club.
I pray that when the day after tomorrow dawns, it is a Blue one for all the right reasons.
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’, ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’ and ‘One Man Went to Mow’ and the co-author of ‘Chelsea here Chelsea there’. Copies are available to buy with a discount of up to 60% and free postage within the UK at www.gate17.co.uk