Breaking down A-League match-day key costs

In a follow-up article to our fan survey about what fans want from ticket prices, I talked to Danny Townsend, the CEO of Sydney FC and Managing Director at Australian Professional Leagues. He helped us understand what actually goes into making up your ticket price on a game-by-game basis and membership pricing. Exact figures cannot be provided as they are variable.

What are the costs?

The costs associated with games are:

Police presence

Police presence is a factor that is completely outside of the club’s control. This cost is determined by the local police, based on what they consider to be the risk profile of the match, and how much presence is required. This cost is paid by the clubs to the police.

For example, a mid-week home match for Sydney FC against the Perth Glory is going to fall on the lower end of the risk spectrum. When comparing that to a derby game on a Saturday night, the risk profile would be determined to be much higher, and therefore cost the club more.

The cost associated with this is quoted as being “as little as $5000 to as much as $150000.” 

Stadium hire

The clubs do not own any of their own stadiums, and as such, must rent stadiums to play the matches in. These costs are completely variable from stadium to stadium.

For example, Macarthur had a flat rate agreement for the entire inaugural season with Campbelltown Council to hire Campbelltown Stadium.

Other such arrangements could see a fixed rate per game hire fee, or a “per head” hire fee, which sees the hire fee based on tickets sold.

What is or is not included in the hire is also variable from stadium to stadium.

Personnel requirements

This includes people such as security, supporter marshals for active support, and ushers. The number of personnel required is based on predictive crowd numbers and is therefore also a variable cost.

Different clubs and venues may choose to deal with this differently and could vary from game to game. For example, Sydney FC choose to have all sections open at Kogarah for all league matches, regardless of the expected crowd number.

Comparing that to the Wellington Phoenix at WIN Stadium in Wollongong, Wellington only had the section behind one goal and the main grandstand open for most games to reduce costs. Condensing all the fans into two sections when the crowd number is expected to be small will keep the costs down as you will need less staff than if you had that same crowd spread throughout the stadium.

Costs associated with outside the stadium requirements

There are also plenty of costs that are associated with the cost outside of the stadium that fans may not necessarily think about but must be paid by the clubs. This includes things like road closures, safety, and directional signage, as well as personnel to make sure that all these closures and signage are carried out in line with safety and legal requirements. 

As an example, LED message boards which might include safety or directional messages such as “CARPARK FULL”, “PROCEED TO GATE A”, or “ROAD CLOSED, TURN LEFT”, cost between $100-$200 per day, per board to hire from Kennards. Depending on how many are needed, this could add a lot to the total cost of a match day.

Costs associated with inside the stadium requirements

There are also plenty of costs that are associated with the cost inside of the stadium that fans may not necessarily think about but must be paid by the clubs.

This includes things like:

  • Hiring generators for lights (for night games or cloudy day games)
  • Big screens to show the TV broadcast inside the stadium at venues such as Redcliffe, Kogarah Oval, or WIN Stadium, or
  • Costs associated with operating this at a venue that has built in screens, such as AAMI Park or the old Sydney Football Stadium
  • Ticketing fees that must be paid to the ticketing agency used
  • People to operate the ticketing gates
  • Signage inside the stadium, both directional and advertising signage at pitch level

Looking at directional signage inside the stadium, this needs to be printed to meet requirements as well as installed. The cost will vary depending on how much signage needs to be installed. For a multi-use venue such as Kogarah, if the signage is branded with the team logo, it may also need to be taken down and reinstalled between games if there is another hire at the venue in-between match days.

For advertising signage, this includes fixed signage (such as that installed on fencing or an A-frame on a material such as corflute), and LED signage. This all needs to be installed and taken down on match days, with the LED panels removed after each match. There also needs someone to always be on site to assist in case there’s an issue with the signage so it can be fixed immediately, as it could potentially cause a safety issue.

These costs are simply the ones associated with the match day experience, before you even look at other things, such as club staff and player wages.

Why are some games more expensive than others?

The fluctuation in the operational costs on a game-to-game basis is one of the biggest reasons that certain matches have a higher ticket price.

An example of this is if we compare the ADULT ticket prices for two Sydney FC home games:

  • Wednesday May 19 vs Melbourne Victory (7pm kick-off at Jubilee Stadium)
  • Sunday May 23 vs Western Sydney Wanderers (4pm kick-off at the SCG)

Comparing just the adult prices between these games, it is an extra $5 per ticket for the game against the Wanderers (excluding ticket fees).

Breaking down all the extra costs between the two games might help us analyse why there’s a discrepancy between the two prices.

For the SCG compared to Kogarah, the SCG requirements for the Derby game include:

  • A wider range of road closures and detours
  • A bigger venue hire fee (but the SCG does supply a lot of its own staff which could offset the higher fee)
  • A larger police presence
  • More advertising signage around the ground, and different signage compared to what is used at Kogarah, which adds an extra cost

Given all those factors, you can see why there is a higher per ticket price between these two games.

When asked to clarify more as to why this is the case, and if there was a cost recovery factor associated with the higher price for certain games like derbies, Danny had this to say:

“Dynamic pricing is common practice in all sport and entertainment businesses. Prices for tickets go up when the quality of the event you put on goes up. Derbies are a much better match day experience and far more expensive for us to operate so the price elasticity is based on those two levers.”

What can teams do to keep the prices down for fans?

Unfortunately, not a lot. Clubs already do what they can to keep the prices down, but they cannot be expected to run at a loss, otherwise they will cease to exist. We already know the financial situation of Australian football is not great. Cheap tickets seem great on the surface and a “no-brainer” decision, but the reality is that this is not possible in the current landscape.

The biggest reason as to why ticket prices differ from team-to-team, venue-to-venue, and game-to-game is that the associated costs are all variable.

With the prices for these requirements being set by external companies, the costs are out of the Clubs’ control until all A-League clubs can have their own stadium where they can control some of these costs. 

Until clubs can get into a position where this can be realised, we need to accept that prices are going to be where they are and are unlikely to drop outside of a special occasion. Fans need to support their teams as much as they can between now and then to ensure that “then” happens sooner rather than later.

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