The Real Cost of Watching League One Football

Can you really compare a typical fan paying £380.00 for a season ticket at Swindon Town to someone spending the same amount elsewhere in League One? Writes Ron Smith.

Last week the BBC proudly announced that Sheffield United “provide the cheapest matchday experience in the Football League”. Their survey found £17.20 will buy you a ticket to the game, a programme, a pie and most importantly a cup of tea. Comparing this against other League One clubs, the Blades were found to be over £4 cheaper than nearest rivals Tranmere Rovers at £21.50. Swindon Town were 16th with their cheapest matchday experience coming in at £27.30.

While a Pound is worth…a pound where ever you are, a true comparison of clubs up and down the land should take into account wages, which impact on the level of household disposable income available to spend on leisure activities, including watching football.

Household income differs significantly across the UK. The latest 2010 data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published in July 2012 shows London has the highest household income per head, nearly 30% higher than the UK average. Contrast this with the North East where it is 15% lower than the average. At a more local level, Inner West London has the highest disposable income at £33,323, while Nottingham has the lowest at £10,702 per head.

For this analysis, this data from the ONS has been used as a baseline against which to judge the relative affordability of attending League One matches for the typical supporter of each team.

Using the BBC standard of the ‘cheapest matchday experience’ as the headline measure to rank clubs, Stevenage are the most affordable team to support and watch League One football. Your £23.50 spent on a ticket, programme, pie and most importantly a cup of tea costs you 0.12% of your disposable income; leaving you with more cash to spend elsewhere, or on a second pie. Sheffield United are behind with 0.13% and both Crawley and Tranmere Rovers in third with 0.14%.

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Contrast these with Notts County. Nottingham is the place with the lowest level of disposable income in the UK and is also the most unaffordable place for local supporters to watch League One football, where your £29.20 spent equates to 0.27% of disposable income for the typical fan. The total price for the ticket, programme, pie and cup of tea would need to be reduced to around £19.00 in order for County to offer a deal on a par with the average League One price.

Swindon comes in 11th most affordable in the division, where your £27.30 takes 0.17% of your typical disposable income.

Turning to the relative affordability of a cheapest season ticket available, again Notts County fans have to spend significantly more of their disposable income on watching their team than anyone else in League One. Magpies fans spend 3.18% of their disposable income to purchase a £340.00 ‘cheap’ season ticket, or 3.93% on an ‘expensive’ £420.00 ticket, which is also by far the highest.

The Notts County ‘cheap’ season ticket price costs 0.59% more of disposable income than the next most expensive Doncaster Rovers, where a £339.00 ‘cheap’ season ticket takes 2.59% of your income. In order to meet the division median of 2%, a ticket price of £220.00 would need to be offered.

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The most affordable is Hartlepool where their offer this season of a £155.00 season ticket equates to just 1.15% of the average disposable income in Hartlepool & Stockton. This must certainly please the locals who are within the lower 31% of households with disposable income in the UK.

Swindon Town are again mid-table, ranked 13th in the table with the £320.00 ‘cheap’ season ticket representing 1.99% of your disposable income.

In terms of the full price season ticket, Crewe have the most affordable deal where your £315.00 only takes 1.83% of your disposable income, followed by Leyton Orient where £325.00 takes 2.0% and Brentford in third where £399.00 takes 2.09%.

Looking at the potentially unaffordable deals, behind Notts County and their whopping 3.93% take of your income, Sheffield United take 3.71% with their £479.00 full price season ticket; which makes the Blades not actually that ”cheap’ as reported by the BBC. Also, if you’re a Hartlepool fan, make sure you buy your season ticket early otherwise you’ll be paying the joint 7th highest amount relative to salary.

As for matchday tickets, the below graph shows the wide disparity between Sheffield United’s matchday pricing if buying at the turnstile.

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Most importantly which club has the most expensive cup of tea? That honour falls to Portsmouth with a £2.00 cup costing 0.16% of income.

What this analysis shows is that the costs for the typical fan watching football significantly varies when taking into account regional and local differences in wages and disposable income. This measure more accurately represents the relative value of any ticket deals to supporters. However, it is recognised that not all supporters live within the immediate catchment of their ground, therefore this is only a guide to judge the typical supporter, living locally and with average disposable income.

The folk of Nottingham turn out in good numbers with an average attendance of 6,093, however the ticket prices on offer at Meadow Lane do not take into account the lowest levels of disposable income in the UK. With the typical County supporter having less to spend on the rest of life’s pleasures than the rest of us, could a reduction in ticket prices here have a positive impact on filling more of the 20,229 capacity stadium..?

There are some clubs which provide very good deals to their supporters. Leyton Orient must be credited for reducing the financial burden on their supporters who buy a season ticket with their cheap option ranked 2nd (1.23%) and their expensive option ranked 2nd best (2.0%). Crewe, offering the 8th cheapest matchday experience, the 6th cheapest season ticket deal, 1st for the most expensive and 3rd cheapest cup of tea. Also, Tranmere, who are consistently in the low rankings of the affordable deals.

Stevenage offer the cheapest matchday experience deal relative to income. With the town located within the 4th highest area of disposable income in the UK, perhaps it could be said that they offer too cheap a deal relative to the typical income of their supporters. However that may be missing differences within each of the ONS regional areas, particularly with Hertfordshire assessed on a county-wide basis.

As for Swindon, we are middle ranking in all of these measurements, yet again proving Swindon is the ‘most average place in the UK’

The cost of watching football is always rising and takes a chunk of our disposable income, however increasingly that cost is becoming unaffordable to many. Something needs to change…

Key definitions:

Data: All price data is as published by the BBC in the BBC Sport Price of Football Survey 2012

Components of disposable income: The ONS calculate household disposable income as primary income plus secondary income. Primary income shows the income received by individuals for their role in the production process (wages and salaries) and also rent, dividends and interest received and paid. Secondary income shows how primary income is redistributed by receipts of benefits and payments of taxes and social contributions, for example national insurance.

Disposable income by area: The ONS defines the area by the relevant Unitary Authority, or by the subdivision of the major metropolitan areas of London and Manchester.


  • Brilliant work Ron. Clearly what journalists should be doing – not just recycling the BBC’s press release but actually adding something – in this case depth.


  • I like the way in which you used the data to present a more balanced view taking into account the differences in income across the country.
    Whilst providing a more accurate view, it does not take into account the cost of living and other necessities that have to be paid for (rent / mortgage, food, utility bills and other living necessities). As the average price of (renting) a place in Nottingham is quite different than in Notting Hill, the ‘discretionary income’ measure, income left after taxes, rent, utilities, food etc have been paid for. This directly impacts the amount of money left for an individual to spend on as they wish (hobby, luxury items, leisure activities etc).

    For instance, the average discretionary weekly income in London (£278) is more than twice that in Yorkshire (£126) as compared to the UK average of (£150). If only the pies in London tasted twice as good……

    source: Cebr for Asda

    Click to access 18_18_26_745_Asda_Income_Tracker_Oct_2012.pdf


    • You are right to point this out, however any regional differences in the costs of living will be broadly reflected in the level of wages offered.


      • That is a fair assumption for most areas in the UK, but it does have an impact on some regions.

        Unless you spend money what should go to rent or utility bills, you can only spend what’s left each month after those fixed costs have been accounted for, the discretionary income.
        Comparing the discretionary income for each region with the disposable income figures you used (same period 2010), not much changes for the North-East, East Midlands and West Midland. In the North-West, the deficit compared to the national average is halved from 10% to 5% below the average, whilst in the East of England, the South East and London, the difference compared to the national average are 14%, 24% and 80% above the average respectively; and increase of 10,12 and 51 percentage points.
        In contrast, whilst in the South West, the disposable income was at national average, it sees a deterioration of discretionary income compared to the national average of 10%, whilst in Yorkshire & Humber the reduction is less severe, but still a decrease of 3 percentage points to 16% lower than the national average.
        Looking at the 2012 and 2010 discretionary incomes in the regions compared to the national average, not much changes except in East of England and London where the gap widens with +2 and +5 percentage points each.
        This means that the cost of a ticket compared to discretionary income would be more favourable in the North-West (but still below the national average), East of England, South-East and in London, whereas the impact would be more severe in Yorkshire & Humber and the South-West.


  • This is great analysis Ron, it deserves a much wider audience.
    My only issue is that I would put the pie first, then the cup of tea.


  • Hi Ron. Really interesting analysis and a fair overall point.
    But on the Notts County front, did you just use the Nottingham figure for disposable income? Or Nottingham AND Nottinghamshire? “Nottingham, the authority”, is a fair bit smaller than what most people would think of as “Nottingham, the place”, and excludes the richest parts of the city.


    • The figure used is based upon Nottingham City Council, which is where the ground is located. I understand Nottingham is served by a fair few local authorities so this could have an effect. However it was only fair to judge on the basis of the ONS administrative area in which each ground is located.


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