The UEFA Champions League Final: Are Fans Getting Most Of The Seats?

 

“I’m going to say it, it’s written in the stars…” – Gary Neville

Whether it is Cristiano giving the most visible exhale of his Manchester United career, a cancer free Eric Abidal lifting old ‘big ears’, Jerzy Dudek’s Istanbul miracle, or a certain Ivorian fulfilling destiny, as fans of the beautiful game we all have distinct memories of Champions League finals come and gone, though many with a commentator in the back ground.

UEFA’s Champions League final topped Super Bowl viewership in 2010 and was the most watched sporting event in 2011/12 at 360 million viewers.  Many, in fact most fans watch Europe’s elite compete on television, but for every fan with a commentator track in the background of their memories, there are surely fans to be found with nothing but yelling, jumping and raucous cheering from inside the stadium as the ambiance to their own memories.

The lucky few who are able to attend the Champions League final are envied by every fan regardless of the teams competing in the final and they get to experience an occasion in the sport that are topped by few other events.

As a result it is not surprising that tickets for UEFA’s elite club competition final are highly sought after year after year. Despite the constant popularity of the event, in recent years the rising prices of ticket created widespread discussion of the topic resulting in UEFA announcing a reduction in prices.  In addition to the price issue, more recently, a Reuters report headline blatantly stated that only 37,000 tickets to the final this year are going to fans, almost insinuating that fans are being hard-done by the small number of tickets available.

The title is certainly an eye-brow raiser but it needs to be paired with the understanding that this year’s UCL final venue, Benfica’s Estadio Da Luz, has the lowest capacity for a final since 2004, and using the exact number of tickets available to fans is somewhat misleading since every year the number changes depending on the host stadium’s capacity.

Despite this caveat, the headline’s number did seem a bit low and seemed to warrant a closer look into UEFA’s ticketing allocation and pricing history for the prestigious club competition to get a better idea of the actual pricing trends and whether or not Reuters’ headline is right to suggest that this is an unusually low number for fan ticket allocations.

**The 2013 Final was hosted in London at Wembley Stadium with various ticket pricing tiers only found in GBP instead of Euros requiring currency conversion based on the average annual conversion rate for consistency**

Strictly looking at the numbers, two trends immediately stand out in the four categories.  The first is that since 2009, the prices for Category 1 and 2 has increased consistently year to year.  Category 3, and 4 show somewhat of a plateau in terms of pricing for this year and the two years prior.

2012 CL Final Seating Chart - Photo Courtesy of ChelseaFC.com

2012 CL Final Seating Chart – Photo Courtesy of ChelseaFC.com

The drop and corresponding consistency in price for Category 3 and 4 are due to UEFA responding to widespread complaints of rising and inflated ticket prices.  Another thing to note, prior to 2011, Category 4 tickets were exclusively for fans of the participating teams.  The tickets allocated for ‘worldwide fans’ were category 3 and above before UEFA’s 2011 changes were introduced opening up Category 4 to worldwide fans looking to attend the game.

No explicit explanation could be found regarding whether each ticket category had any specific benefits beyond what most wold assume is simple differentiation in seating placement around the stadium.  This photo found on Chelsea FC’s website specifically referencing 2012 Champions League final between Chelsea FC and Bayern Munich hosted at Munich’s Allianz Arena seems to back that statement up.

The seating pricing history back to 2009 does show consistently rising costs to attend this premier sporting event and would surely be more consistent had the pricing strategy not been protested as vehemently as it was resulting in opening up of a lower tier to general public purchase and what looks like a relative freeze on pricing.

Pricing however is not the only consideration when looking at attendance of the UCL final.  UEFA, for every final, dictates the division of tickets, according to venue capacity, between the participating clubs, global non partisan fans, and what UEFA calls the “European Football Family” which includes members of national associations, local organizing committee members, broadcast partners as well as commercial partners.

Every ticket announcement explaining the pricing breakdown for fans UEFA includes a breakdown of the allocation amounts for each division of the net stadium capacity which is where the Reuters report cited above came from.

The data above creates an interesting viewpoint into the breakdown of where tickets go and how big each share is in regards to the net capacity of each stadium as reported by UEFA in their ticketing media releases.

With each capacity being distinctly different in capcity (except for 2011 & 2013 which were both at Wembley Stadium in London) its difficult to simply look at the values and determine a trend across the 09′-14′ spectrum, some smaller comparisons can be made though.  One such comparison is between the Wembley finals, with both capacities being consistent its interesting to point out that the worldwide fan ticket allocation dropped by 2000 tickets and the corporate, commercial and association partners allocation increased by that amount.

Furthermore while the net stadium capacity decreased by 25,000, roughly 30%, from 2013 to 2014, the worldwide fan allocation dropped by 6000 for 2014, a 66% decrease from the 9000 allocation in 2013.

Keeping on the trend of inconsistency in change in world wide fan allocation, despite a 10% and 15% increase in stadium capacity from 09′ to 10′ and from 10′ to 11′ respectively, the worldwide fan ticket allocation remained the same with the ticket allocation increases going to the participating team fan bases and the corporate and association partners.  For those changes, participating team allocations increased on average 12.5% while the corporate and association allocations on average increased by 21.5%.

In each media release UEFA always mentions that fans get the larger portion of the overall ticket allocation.  In  2009 they cited exact percentages, but in following years used rough proportions and recently they simply stating that fans have the majority. Though the net stadium capacities make determining a trend difficult, one way to remove that variable is to look at the allocations in proportion to their respective capacities.

This data combines the allocations to participating teams and worldwide fans and compares that amount to the corporate and association allocation amounts in proportion to each years’ net venue capacity.

While UEFA is telling the truth about fans getting the majority, the reason for the steady shift in diction is explained by the simultaneous shift in corporate and association allocation proportion.  From 2009, fans have seen a 15% decrease in their proportion of tickets as compared to the venue’s capacity.

From the pricing perspective UEFA and UEFA President Michel Platini have admitted that the price hikes were a mistake and seem to have reached somewhat of a plateau for pricing though it remains to be seen if the 2015 UCL final will see an increase.  Overall though, the pricing changes are a mixed bag of positive and negative.  On the other hand the allocation data is fairly negative image-wsie for UEFA.

There are many unknown variables such as whether clubs are consulted on what allocation levels they feel they can fill, not to mention differences in venue location and the contribution that has on the likelihood of long-distance travel by non-partisan fans.  Beyond this, with increases in prize money, overall revenue increases, and the constant development of commercial ties there is an obligation from UEFA to make sure their corporate partners are taken care of.

The Champions League Final will never have an unsold seat, nor will anyone in those seats say that the experience isn’t incredible.  Surely the pinnacle of European club competition will remain a source of unforgettable memories whether fans are there in person or viewing through a television or stream but sport is for the fans and it should always be ensured that the largest events are accessible to those fans both in availability of tickets and the cost at which they are purchased

 

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.