Big-spending City 'best value for money'

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Football is often a balancing act between entertaining the fans and winning matches - and it just so happens that Manchester City are best at both.

Obviously these two goals are not mutually exclusive, in fact, they are probably mutually reinforcing. Winning matches is more likely to lead to happy fans while happy fans are more likely to cheer on their team, inspiring them to victory. But not every team can win, and yet some fans still pay to watch their side in spite of relegation battles and dispiriting nil-nil draws.

This is mainly due to fan loyalty, and while fans may grumble on the terraces, in truth it would take major shock to stop them for following their team because they enjoy watching football. Club boardrooms and embattled chief executives continue to remind us that football is a business these days, so it's useful to remind them that it's still equally about enjoyment. Football is a sport after all and fans pay money to be entertained.

The bank ING Direct recently revealed its 'best value for fans' table, charting which club's offer the best value for money to their fans by tracking on-pitch performance and comparing it to season ticket prices.

ING measures team performance and entertainment value and compares that with season ticket cost to calculate which fans are getting most points for their pound.

The formula also takes into account the number of goals scored - as more goals equals higher fan enjoyment.

Manchester City, fresh from their Premier League title parade, find themselves atop the Value table as well. A combination of the most goals scored, the most points and low season ticket costs, saw Mancini's men take top spot.

City's season ticket was actually the second cheapest in the Premier League last year, the lowest Etihad Stadium ticket priced at £260. Only Blackburn was cheaper at £225, although cheap seats surely do not compensate for some of the performances Rovers fans' were forced to sit through.

Somewhat surprisingly, Wigan, who survived relegation by the skin of their teeth, are second in the 'value for money' table, followed by West Bromwich Albion, who finished tenth. Rounding out the top five are Manchester United and Norwich City.

Second bottom of the table are Liverpool, whose eighth-place Premier League finish combined with the second most expensive season ticket to result in poor value for money.

But what is really worrying for teams is that poor value is translating into fan discontent. ING found that more than half of fans felt they didn't receive value for money last year, with a majority saying they are considering against renewing their season ticket next year.

Blackburn's fans, despite the cheap ticket, were the most disgruntled, with 56% of fans saying their wouldn't renew after a season of fan protest and boardroom troubles.

However, clubs are responding to the fans. Only four teams froze their prices for new season ticket holders last season, Stoke, Everton, Bolton and Wolves. For the next campaign, 12 of the 20 Premier League clubs have pledged to freeze or lower their prices.

Such a concession is recognition that fans represent the most reliable revenue stream for clubs, and teams are beginning to realise retaining their fanbase will be crucial to their long-term financial stability.

The advent of Financial Fair Play makes a stable income even more important, as top club's balance sheets will no longer be able to receive the life support offered by rich benefactors.

Stadium capacity obviously plays an important role in dictating price and Arsenal's Emirates Stadium success has led others - namely Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs - to explore the possibility of a new ground.

The Gunners have capitalised on their new 60,000-seater capacity and have the highest priced season ticket at almost £1000. But Arsenal also have a 40,000-strong season ticket waiting list, and a high demand allows the club to charge a higher price, although Newcastle's fans are no less passionate and their ticket costs only £345.

But even Arsenal have recognised the prevailing mood of discontent among fans, especially considering many find their finances tested in the difficult economic conditions, and the north London club is one of the 12 to freeze prices for their next campaign.

While the rising costs of watching football have reflected the rising costs for clubs, it is reassuring to see clubs recognise the importance of offering value for money.

The ING table is instructive in this regard. Fans' anger, or delight, is often directly related to whether they see themselves getting value for money. Only that can explain why Wigan sit second despite a shaky season, and Manchester United and Norwich's tickets are among the more expensive but they still place high up the table.

Ultimately, the fans of these clubs don't view themselves as being ripped off. Conversely, Liverpool's poor performances on the pitch don't warrant fans paying the second most expensive season tickets in the league. Similarly, Wolves cheapest ticket last year was £522, double Manchester City's cheapest price.

Such a disconnect between on-pitch performance and price is bound to lead some to reconsider when season tickets come up for renewal. Their love for the club will most likely lead many fans to renew regardless, but Premier League teams have been warned. Households are cutting back in these austere times and season tickets are not immune from economic pressures.

Fans are the lifeblood of your club, and it might be a good idea to keep them onside. Offering value for money is as good a place as any to start.

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