A new year of Primera División action is now well underway, with the usual interminable debates over player form, under-pressure coaches and inadequate referees to boot.
Fans across the Argentine football pyramid also received a depressingly familiar ‘gift’ in 2018: a hefty price hike in ticket prices starting in March that in a context of ever-increasing services and utilities comes as a further blow to the pockets of the faithful.
The Argentine Football Association (AFA), which unilaterally fixes the cost of the cheapest ‘popular’ standing tickets (and in a manner that does not exactly scream transparency or diligence), determined last week that anyone who wishes to take their place on the heaving terraces of La Bombonera, el Monumental or any Primera stadium must pay 350 pesos for the privilege. This represents a jump of 28 percent compared to 2017, outstripping inflation and making it harder and harder for regular families – the demographic that all concerned insist must fill the stands instead of the violent misfits that regularly make the news – to take in the action.
Take a family of four that wished to attend San Lorenzo’s two home games in March in Bajo Flores, for instance. The total cost adds up to a hefty 1,380 pesos, not including parking, food or any other possible outlay. And given that the restriction on visiting supporters still stands, one may also add to the equation an extra 1,000 pesos monthly for an average cable subscription, plus 300 pesos to access Superliga games via Fox Sports or TNT. In a country where the minimum wage is just 9,500 pesos, it is clear that only relatively well-off supporters will be able to afford to attend matches on a regular basis.
Argentina’s historically high inflation, of course, makes such hikes inevitable. But it is interesting to observe how ticket prices have risen out of all recognition.
Journalist Silvio Maverino revealed the disparity on Twitter by comparing the cost of a popular ticket in 2003 to the present day. Fifteen years ago the ticket set fans back 10 pesos, or roughly US$2.50 – a more faithful representation, given the peso’s volatility over the last decade-and-a-half – now, that same piece of paper is worth US$16.
All of which would be excusable if the increase had been invested into making the terraces a comfortable, safe space to watch professional football. Sadly, this is not the case. With several honourable exceptions most Primera stadiums are in a pitiful state, sporting vast pens of bare concrete exposed to the elements and only the most elementary safeguards in place to avoid crushes or other hazards. Worse, the popular continues to be the undisputed territory of the barra bravas, the hooligan groups who have a neat, inflation-busting way of beating the rises: they simply refuse to pay.
The effect of the constant rises has been uneven. The nation’s biggest clubs boast membership figures in the tens of thousands, and have no problem packing out their stadiums, or at least the terrace section, for even the most inconsequential fixtures: this week, for example, Racing Club joined the likes of Boca Juniors and River Plate in restricting popular entry solely to members, the result of a vigorous campaign to increase the club’s socio base.
At the other end of the pyramid, however, Superliga fixtures screened with vast swathes of unoccupied terraces and seats are the norm, as fans are driven away by the cost and general insecurity that going through the turnstiles implies.
It is a dilemma that is made even more complex by the red ink that stains the balance sheets of the vast majority of top-flight clubs. But in a context that demands creative thinking and serious action to entice families back to football the AFA’s only response is a price hike that can only have the opposite effect. ‘Football for all’ has already received its marching orders: the Superliga seems to be for fewer and fewer as the months go by.