John McLellan: Price is not right for sports fans

Is watching Scotland at Murrayfield good value for money? Pic: Jane Barlow
Is watching Scotland at Murrayfield good value for money? Pic: Jane Barlow
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Not for the first time, I left Murrayfield on Saturday over £100 lighter and wondering whether or not international rugby represents good value for money.

Ticket prices have also dominated much of the debate about international football, with a top price of £60 for the England game at Celtic Park on Tuesday, compared to £45 for the Euro qualifier against the Republic of Ireland last Friday.

That compares with a £70 platinum ticket for Murrayfield last Saturday, but also a top price of £40 to watch Tonga this weekend at Kilmarnock.

But these are for rugby friendlies and the prices rise further for the Six Nations – it can cost up to £80 to see the Wales game in February and £75 for the Italy match.

For really bank-busting prices, look no further than the World Cup next September, where the minimum price for an adult at the South Africa v Scotland game at St James’ Park in Newcastle is £50. Anybody who has been to see Newcastle United knows what kind of view you get from the cheap seats. Upgrade to the top price and you need to shell out a ridiculous £175.

I was lucky enough to get along to Celtic Park on Friday for what was a cracking game of end-to-end football – only one goal but drama aplenty and a nail-biting climax. I was also lucky enough to be a guest.

Not so on Saturday when by the time I’d booked tickets the previous week for two dads and their kids to sit together there were only “Gold” tickets left; not the most expensive, but still £90 for a father and son. Add £5 for a programme, another £5 for a ref-link which didn’t work and you’re a ton down. A couple of drinks and a pie and there’s not much change from £120.

It wasn’t a bad match, but Scotland never really looked like getting the better of what was effectively an All Black second-string.

And £120 is a lot to shell out for the privilege of sitting behind an idiot who bawled his way through the entire match in a vain attempt to flirt with Kiwi girls 20 years his junior.

Commercially anyway, both the SRU and the SFA will be happy with the events of the past week, with over 60,000 people at both football internationals and the same at Murrayfield. The SRU will also be reasonably satisfied with the 36,000 who went to the Argentina game the week before.

So how did the two experiences compare? Inside Celtic Park comfortable bars run under the stands, with very little queuing. At Murrayfield lines of thirsty fans snake from marquees some distance and a stair climb away from the seats, but at least you can take your drinks into the ground.

For the game itself, replay screens mean rugby supporters leave the ground pretty much knowing what’s happened, but on Friday night Celtic Park’s big screens showed only the score and the time. Scott Brown’s deft back-heel to set up Sean Maloney’s winner only became apparent afterwards.

And rugby supporters always know exactly how much time is left, whereas football fans are left to guess if injury time is up or not.

Football’s reluctance to embrace technology has been well documented and continues to defy logic, as if having something to talk about afterwards is an acceptable reason for tolerating avoidable and costly mistakes. It also forgets that in their day, the bar and a net were the Victorian equivalent of goal-line technology to prevent arguments.

But what rugby union seems incapable of accepting is that the game is too difficult for even the most seasoned observer to understand. Even when the ref-link works, all around international grounds people look at each other with shrugged shoulders every time the referee’s whistle blows.

It is the true rugby aficionado who says “I haven’t a clue what’s going on, but neither does the referee”.

Only rarely at football do fans not know what is going on – sure, they usually disagree with decisions which go against their team, but they know why they have been given. It’s a simple game.

So often the people who are last to be considered are the fans who have to stump up an increasing amount of money to see top matches Rugby unions – the English and Irish authorities are as guilty as the SRU – treat fans as cash cows to be milked while failing to address fundamental weaknesses in their product.

Football might not be as expensive as rugby, but similarly there is an inexcusable reluctance to make the proceedings as transparent as possible. Given the shambles of the FIFA corruption investigation maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

Herded like cattle, charged exorbitant prices at every turn and one way or another fed a sub-standard product, it’s remarkable so many of us continue to turn up at all.