Clause 10 - State of the game report

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 16 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:15, 16 Mai 2024

I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 10, page 6, line 21, at end insert—

“(ba) an evaluation of the potential impact of ticket pricing and kick off times on fans and make recommendations in accordance with that evaluation.”

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 6, in schedule 4, page 93, line 10, after “issues” insert “including ticket pricing”

Amendment 18, in schedule 4, page 93, line 12, at end insert—

“(f) match ticket prices and kick-off times”.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I welcome clause 10, which we will debate later on. It is an important provision that will require the regulator to conduct a first of its kind evidence-gathering exercise on the football industry, helping to build an objective evidence base to underpin the regulation of the sector.

I will now focus my comments on amendments 11 and 18 in my name, and amendment 6, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The amendments focus on the issue of kick-off times and ticket prices. My amendments advocate for fans to be consulted on those two topics, and for the state of the game review to look at the impact of those topics on fans. I will start with why the inclusion of ticket prices is important in both cases, before speaking briefly on kick-off times.

Ultimately, if someone cannot afford to go to a game, then almost any other matchday issue will no longer be important to them. That is why ticket pricing is so crucial. If someone cannot attend the games of the club they love, many of the other issues around fan engagement will become almost irrelevant. Unfortunately, in recent years the cost of attending a football game has continued to accelerate in a way that has priced many longstanding supporters out. That has not necessarily been due to poor intent on behalf of clubs; as clubs face further financial hardship and fans face the brunt of the cost of living crisis, ticket prices have often been forced to swell at a time when fans have increasingly less to spare.

Not to single out any particular club out, but instead to take an example, Nottingham Forest season tickets for next year have increased on average by 28% for adults and 11% for children. In some price brackets the rise is even bigger. A child’s ticket for next season can be bought for a blanket price of £190, up from the cheapest option of £90 this year—that is an increase of 111%. I do not know the details of Nottingham Forest’s finances, and it is not for politicians to decide whether it is making the right commercial decisions. Indeed, the club said on social media that renewals on season tickets are up 50%, compared with last year, which shows there is still plenty of demand for seats. However, the public response of fan groups has confirmed that there remains a group who feel matches are no longer affordable. Those fans have been attending games week in, week out; they are members of the community that the club is based in. The loss of those people matters, and the regulator and clubs should care about it.

Despite the importance of this issue to fans, Kevin Miles of the FSA told this Committee that supporters were not likely to be consulted on changes to ticket pricing. He said that representative fans of Newcastle were given just three days’ notice of price rises for tickets, Fulham fans were given four hours, and the Nottingham Forest fan advisory board and trust were given no notice whatever.

Some fans are also concerned that there has been limited consultation when concessions have been removed or reduced. For example, the Save Our Seniors group —an informal coalition of Spurs fans that is trying to get the club to reverse its decision to end concessionary pricing for senior citizens—got in touch with me and said that it understands that there has been no consultation with either the club’s fan advisory board or the official supporters trust on the changes.

I understand that it is incredibly important that the scope of the regulator should not stray into areas beyond its remit. I want to be clear that I am not suggesting that the regulator or fans should be able to impose any requirements on clubs or competition organisers to sell tickets at certain prices. That is not for anyone other than the clubs and competition organisers to decide. However, I believe that well-run clubs will want to hear from fans on the issues that matter to them most. I will be interested to see any trends on prices and how they impact fans and attendances.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Llafur, Liverpool, West Derby 3:30, 16 Mai 2024

On the point about supporters not dictating ticket prices, in 2013 the supporters came together and fought for a price cap on away ticket prices, because clubs, left to their own devices, were pricing them out of the game. I think the Arsenal-Liverpool game in 2013 was the tipping point—I think that was £68. It was felt that that was unsustainable, and that was happening right across the football pyramid. Supporters came together, campaigned and got the Premier League to sit down with them in a room and acknowledge that it was getting too expensive, and a £30 price cap was then designated. The atmosphere of games was a unique selling point for the Premier League. It was willing to price supporters out, and it was supporters who brought it to its senses.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

That is a good example that highlights that well-run clubs will want to hear from fans on the issues that matter most to them. Of course, the ability of fans to attend games is incredibly relevant to the financial sustainability of every club. Match-day revenue is a crucial pillar of club finances, and of course getting pricing right will require much more than fan input alone, but I believe that at the very least fans deserve to have their voices heard on the matter, and they have something to offer clubs in return.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

It is true that there is a sense that clubs are starting to treat fans as extras who pay for the privilege in a televised spectacle, but surely the hon. Lady would not want the regulator to interfere with market dynamics and a club’s commercial approach. I am struggling to hear that in her speech. I get that these are important issues, but I am not quite sure why the regulator should get involved.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and we respect the fact that it is a commercial decision. Obviously, like me, he will have heard the evidence sessions. Fan groups said time and again that this is a really important issue and that they are not being consulted meaningfully. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby gave a good example of the benefit to fans; we are simply trying to highlight that point, because we want that meaningful relationship with fans to be as constructive as possible.

I will briefly move on to kick-off times. The FSA says that one of the biggest sources of complaints to its inbox is match-going fans complaining about the scheduling of games. That is not just grumbling about inconvenience; late changes to scheduling can impact on fans’ lives and finances. With good notice for games, fans can book time off work, access advance rail tickets and accommodation, and budget accordingly. Late changes to kick-off times, which are becoming increasingly common, mean that fans are forced to make expensive cancellations or spend large sums on last-minute public transport and hotel bookings.

If the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the game continues to serve the interests of fans and contribute to the wellbeing of local communities, the regulator must at least be taking note of the areas that matter most to fans. To reiterate, I do not believe it would be right for the regulator to take any kind of proactive role in dictating to clubs and competition organisers when matches should be played, but as I have said many times before, Ministers have repeated themselves over and over about how important fans are to football, so if that is the case, both the state of the game report and the clubs, when consulting fans, should be looking at the areas that matter most to those people.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

I absolutely recognise that issues such as ticket pricing are really important to fans. Indeed, match days, as others have said, would not be what they are without the fans. The Government believe it is important that clubs consult fans on key off-pitch issues that impact supporters, including operational and match-day issues. These provisions, and the wider provisions for fan engagement, will ensure that fans have a voice on the issues that are most important to them, but it would not be appropriate—the hon. Member for Barnsley East was alluding to this—for the regulator to be a fix for all of football’s woes. Rather, it will be set up with a tightly focused and defined scope and purpose, to tackle the specific market failures that carry a risk of significant harm to fans and communities.

Photo of Ian Byrne Ian Byrne Llafur, Liverpool, West Derby

I do not think the supporters expect the regulator to fix ticket prices. What they are expecting the regulator to do is to ensure that the clubs go into dialogue with the supporters, so that they can understand the difficulties that supporters may have in relation to affordability. Also, as we heard during the evidence sessions today, many decisions are being made by clubs instantaneously, or within hours, and with zero consultation, which is a cause of massive discomfort. We heard about Arsenal and Tottenham football clubs getting rid of concessions. My own football club, Liverpool, made a decision to increase ticket prices with zero consultation. That is what needs to stop. These are important things. I link this to the heritage element: if we price football supporters out of the game, we lose the heritage of football.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

I absolutely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. It is why, on page 93, the Bill specifically says that the “relevant matters” include

“matters relating to…operational and match-day issues”.

I encourage the clubs to speak to the fans about these very issues.

The Bill is very focused on sustainability in order to protect the long-term future of clubs, in the interests of the fans and the local communities. That means that the regulator will not intervene directly on issues outside this scope—including match scheduling and ticket prices. Issues of that kind are for football to address. It is well within the gift of the leagues and the authorities to intervene if clubs are not getting it right.

The purpose of the state of the game report is to allow the regulator to better understand the finances and economics of the industry and its individual clubs. As industry experts said on Tuesday, the state of the game report will allow the regulator to look forward as well as in the rear-view mirror. In turn, that allows it to deliver on ensuring the sustainability of clubs. To specifically require the regulator to consider ticket pricing and match scheduling as part of the report would detract from that purpose.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

The Minister is saying that this is a job for the leagues and the clubs. One problem with the legislation—it relates to the point made a few minutes ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby—is that clubs consult their own supporters. The real argument in the Premier League a few years ago was about the price of tickets for away supporters. How do clubs consult on that? Why should not the regulator, in looking at the sustainability of the game, consider the impact on the future of the game of pricing out away supporters?

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

Again, the clubs will have that engagement and raise those points with their own individual club—the away clubs can raise the issues within their club. This is actually putting it into legislation. It gives them that opportunity, which does not currently exist.

The Government do not believe that amendments 6 and 18 are necessary, as we expect that

“operational and match-day issues” will already capture ticket pricing, and kick-off times are ultimately a sporting decision. It is not for the regulator to intervene on the sporting calendar, but I do recognise the issues that it causes for fans. It has been raised in Culture, Media and Sport questions with me on a number of occasions, and I have raised it with the authorities. They have promised to come back to me although, in fairness to them, these decisions are sometimes out of their control too. It is quite a challenging area.

The Government would welcome any club that chose to go beyond the relevant matters and consulted fans on kick-off times and everything else. However, as I have just mentioned, it is not always an issue that clubs have enough control over to adequately consult fans and respond to opinions. Therefore, to mandate them to do so could be problematic.

For those reasons, I am not able to accept the amendments and I hope the hon. Member for Barnsley East’s will therefore withdraw them.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I appreciate the Minister’s comments. I am happy not to move amendment 18 but I would like to proceed to a vote on amendment 11.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 2 Football Governance Bill — Clause 10 - State of the game report

Ie: 6 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 10, page 6, line 24, at end insert—

“(2A) A state of the game report must, notwithstanding whether any women’s football competitions have been specified, consider the state of women’s football in England.”

This amendment would include the women’s game in the scope of the State of the Game report.

Amendment 10 will ensure the women’s game is another area that is explicitly required to fall in the scope of the state of the game report. The Secretary of State will have ultimate discretion over which competitions are covered by the regulator but, as my new clause 1 implies, I believe when it comes to the women’s game they should have the ability to review this after the appropriate time has passed.

To make that decision, it is important that Ministers have just as clear a picture of the women’s professional game as they do the men’s. The state of the game of the report seems like the natural place for this picture to be built. Not only will the regulator be able to build a comprehensive and objective evidence base regarding the women’s game, without the influence of vested interests, but, given it is to be repeated at regular intervals, the reviews will also be able to show how the women’s game is changing over time and cross-reference this with the comparative picture in the men’s game.

Without the women’s game being included in the state of the game report, it is unclear how Ministers will be able to make informed decisions on its inclusion within the scope of the regulator in years to come. Likewise, as financial sustainability rightly becomes a focus in the men’s game, we must ensure this has no negative consequences for the growth of the women’s game. Indeed, it would not be the first time that women’s teams have been asked to make sacrifices in order to ensure a men’s side has enough funding. When both men’s and women’s teams at Reading were relegated last year, it was the women’s team who were forced to go part-time as part of a decision that the CEO said was a “difficult but necessary financial” solution. We must avoid this happening on a systemic level as a result of what otherwise would have been a positive change to the men’s game.

Including women’s professional football in the state of the game report will enable a level of transparency over issues like this which, in turn, will breed accountability. As I have spoken to previously, the women’s game is at a formative and delicate part of its growth cycle. It has huge potential. Stadium attendance and broadcast audience records continue to be broken. Two consecutive Lionesses have won Sports Personality of the Year and UEFA estimates that European women’s football could see a sixfold increase in commercial value over the next decade. For this growth to be sustainable and beneficial, we must ensure standards are set in the right place at the right time. A comprehensive overview of the state of the game should help to achieve this. Of course, the regulator may choose to cover this issue anyway, but I believe that this is an important enough aspect of football that there is significant risk if it is not included in the general scope. I hope Members will support me and I am very interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities) 3:45, 16 Mai 2024

The purpose of the state of the game report is to allow the regulator to better understand the finances and economics of English football, and is currently intended to include the top five tiers of men’s professional football. That, in turn, informs the regulator’s approach to the exercise of its functions and decision making across the regulatory framework.

The amendment would require the regulator to, in addition, consider the state of women’s football in England in the state of the game report, but we have been clear that that is not the intended scope of the regulator’s functions. As we set out in the White Paper, consultation response, and the Bill’s accompanying explanatory notes, we intend this to be for the top five tiers of the men’s professional game. That reflects the fact that the regulator’s scope has been carefully targeted at addressing harm where industry has failed to reform.

That said, where appropriate, the regulator has the ability to share relevant information, guidance and best practice with relevant industry bodies to deliver an effective framework of regulation. Indeed, the Government expects that that could include sharing information with NewCo, the independent entity responsible for managing the women’s professional game. The women’s game is at an exciting and pivotal stage, and should be afforded the opportunity to self-regulate in the first instance. That is why it is not part of the regulator’s intended scope, nor would it therefore be appropriate for it to be within the scope of the state of the game report.

But, even without an explicit statutory requirement, there is nothing to stop the Government or industry looking into women’s football and the unique challenges that it faces. Indeed, this Government have remained committed to supporting women’s football at every opportunity, including with the review that I mentioned a moment ago. In our Government response to that review, we demonstrated our support for all 10 strategic recommendations, and we believe that those need to be acted on to lift minimum standards and deliver bold and sustainable growth for women’s football at both elite and grassroots levels.

If, in future, the women’s game was brought into the scope of the regulator, it would then fall within the matters to be covered as part of the state of the game report. I would like to reassure Members that the future of women’s football, and addressing the challenges that it faces, is hugely important. However, we think that considering that as part of the state of the game report would not be appropriate, given that the report is focused on matters within the scope of the regulator. For those reasons, I am not able to accept the amendment from the hon. Member for Barnsley East, and I therefore hope that she will withdraw it.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the Minister for his explanation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.