One Owner, Two Systems: Sox and Liverpool Tickets

Anfield Stadium, Liverpool

Anfield Stadium, Liverpool

It sort of blows your mind, but there are people who’ve been paying well over $500 per ticket to sit out in the rain all week and watch the Red Sox plod through nasty May night after nasty May night. Meanwhile, there are also people in the bleachers who have been paying just $12 a pop to watch the exact same games, albeit from much farther away. It’s long been the Red Sox’ strategy — really the strategy of just about every American professional sports team — to soak the rich on their luxury boxes and front row tickets in order to subsidize cheaper (though definitely not always cheap) seats for the rest of us.

That’s all sort of obvious and the only reason I bring it up is because it’s completely different from the way John Henry’s other team, Liverpool FC, prices their seats. Liverpool just announced ticket prices for their upcoming 2011-2012 season, and while the cheapest adult ticket comes in at a rather pricey £39 (or roughly $63), the most expensive seat is just nine pounds more at £48 (about $78).

In fact, when I was in Liverpool a few months ago and got a tour of Anfield, the team’s stadium, one of the things that most surprised me was how little variation there is between the cost of good seats and those farther away from the action. Front row, back row, mid-field, back-corner — it doesn’t matter, they’re all priced about the same. Like I said, there’s only $15 difference between the best and worst seats in the house.

It’s a system with both virtue and vice: it seems unfair to the folks stuck in back that they’re paying almost the same as fans with front row views. On the other hand, it makes those prime field-side ducats affordable for many more people.

Perhaps the most salient issue with this pricing model, though, is that it leaves money on the table. And that really is the key point, isn’t it? Liverpool could charge an awful lot more than £48 for their best seats and, no doubt, people would pay it. American sports have shown that wealthy fans are willing to pay absurdly high amounts for the best seats, not just because they afford a nice view, but because of the status that comes with them. It’s hard to believe that Henry and Tom Werner, who’ve been so effective at squeezing every last nickel out of Fenway Park, would put up with a sub-optimal pricing system like Liverpool’s for too long.

But who knows, maybe they will. I emailed Ian Cotton, Liverpool’s director of communications, to ask him about it. “We are comfortable with the model we currently have in place,” he replied. So breathe easy Liverpool fans, your cheap front row seats aren’t going anywhere. For now, at least.