The numerous controversies surrounding the 2022 Qatar World Cup may have tested some fans’ dedication to football.
Concerns over the host country’s egregious human rights record, which includes the brutal repression of LGTBQ+ people, as well as the exploitation of migrant workers historically and in preparation for the tournament, have led to well-known individuals from Prince William to Rod Stewart boycotting the World Cup. Yet not everybody has followed through, and despite many reports of patchy attendances at matches, on 30 November Fifa, the sport’s global governing body, reported average match attendance of 94 per cent for the first round.
Closer to home in the UK, which is experiencing the highest inflation rate in the G7, football fans are struggling to afford to enjoy their beloved sport.
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Almost without fail when ticket prices are announced for each men’s World Cup, headlines proclaim that this year has seen the greatest rise in ticket prices. And with good reason. The price of World Cup tickets has exceeded pre-tax wage growth over the years. New Statesman analysis of World Cup ticket prices relative to average weekly earnings reveals a steady growth in ticket costs since the early Nineties.
Fifa has set the most expensive rate of tickets (category one tickets) for the 2022 final at 5,850 Qatari riyal, which, as per the exchange rate in January this year, amounted to roughly £1,187.
During the same month the regular average UK weekly wage was £556, meaning the most expensive final ticket cost just over two weeks’ worth of earnings. For the Russia 2018 tournament, the category one final ticket price in September 2017 was £829, 1.7 weeks of average wages at the time.
In response to this year’s high prices, industry associations expressed concerns that regular fans would be priced out. Ronan Evain, chief executive of Football Supporters Europe, told the Daily Mail: “Ahead of a World Cup which will most likely outprice the majority of usual match-going fans, it’s astonishing to see Fifa deciding to hammer them.”
Yet eye-wateringly high prices don’t appear to have dented ticket sales, nor have they prevented guests from splurging in Qatar, where there are reportedly high costs for things such as beer (up to £11.60 a pint). On 7 December, for example, Bloomberg reported that fans have already spent more money during this World Cup than they did when Brazil hosted in 2014.
Back in the UK fans are feeling the pinch as rising energy costs push prices up, and the first winter World Cup ever means people are having to make difficult decisions about how to follow the tournament within their means. Some consumer sites have suggested that it would be cheaper to watch the football in a pub than at home, to save money on bills. Indeed, as the chart below shows, the cost of watching two hours of football on television or on a laptop had risen by up to 62 per cent in October 2022 compared with the previous year.
Equally, the cost of boiling a kettle for five minutes during half-time has now risen from an average of 3p in October 2021 to up to 5p this winter.
Punters at your average British pub may be perturbed by the high cost of pints, which has also outpaced wage growth. While in 2000, during the Brazil world cup, two hours of average weekly wages (assuming a 37-hour working week) could buy you eight pints during a two-hour football match, by September 2022 that had fallen to seven and a half pints.
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Without the flow of cash from football fans pubs will struggle to make it through the winter. A report published this week by the British Beer and Pub Association found that rising energy bills were the biggest threat to pubs’ viability, and if the government fails to extend the energy price cap beyond March 2023, pubs and brewers could face revenue losses of as much as 20 per cent.
As a result of the turbulent economic climate, industry forecasts for 2022 World Cup sales are bleak. One analysis published in November by GlobalData for Vouchercodes, based on the assumption that England would make it to the quarter finals, predicted total UK sales in retail and hospitality from the World Cup would be just under £2bn – 43 per cent lower than during the 2021 European Championship and 17 per cent lower than the 2018 World Cup.
The most recent figures for alcohol sales since the World Cup provide some optimism: a recent analysis by the Oxford Partnership, a market intelligence provider, found that 9.2 million pints were sold on 29 November when England played Wales, which is a rise of 84 per cent compared with the previous four Tuesdays.
Margot West, chief operating officer at the Oxford Partnership told the New Statesman that there was “no question” the World Cup is having a positive effect on sales. She described how many pubs are making serious cutbacks as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, such as partly shutting down their kitchens, or only serving food at certain times a day. “There’s no doubt that in the run-up to Christmas, without the World Cup, pubs would be really struggling. So it makes a big difference.”
[See also: Qatar's World Cup is gaslighting LGBTQ+ people]