Yesterday morning I was drinking my usual cup of ‘espresso’, the small one, a strong coffee that helps you opening up your eyes.
However, my eyes could not yet believe in what I was reading: football entrance tickets in Estonian Premium Liiga are expensive!
I looked at the cup of ‘espresso’ with a doubtful face and I tried to think about the last time I bought one away from home.
It was on Saturday afternoon while I was walking around Kristiine with a pot of flowers for my wife (8th of March…) in the interval between the games Flora-Paide and Infonet-Tammeka, both played at Sportland Arena.
I turned to the usual Coffee-In kiosk to taste my daily espresso.
I paid 1,45€ for the small ‘tazzina’ (the Italian traditional cuppa, which actually was a simple carton paper cup, no frills).
Quite expensive habit I have considered that in my home country, a good espresso is no more expensive than 0.90€ with peaks of 1.00€ according to the place.
Obviously, it is not the ‘espresso’ we are talking about here but football.
The ‘espresso’ cup is just the excuse to explain why everything is relative and depends on the point of view we are looking at.
The good Kasper Elissaar from Soccernet.ee tries to make a point in his article aiming at the entrances prices of the Estonian clubs (the original article in Estonian is available here).
I am summarizing his piece: the prices offered by the clubs, are still too high to attract ‘new’ people at the stadium, because the ‘old’ one is not any longer reachable. This ‘new’ people would not be attracted by the idea of paying 5€ (the most expensive price at the entrance excluding Nõmme Kalju new price policy) to follow a game in windy and cold weather between Infonet and Kalev (he took as an example – Infonet entrance is indeed 5€), two clubs they barely know nothing about. In his respectable opinion, the clubs have to reduce the prices. According to his thought, the clubs should even bring the price to 0€ (a free entrance basically) in order to guarantee the stands full. Once the audience will be used to going to the pitch, then it will be the time to think about asking a fare.
There are many concepts in this articulated opinion, which rise more than one doubt in your editor.
I will start from the very last one.
By experience, I know people react very badly when something that is brought to them for free, is later on charged for whatever price.
It is not unusual to already read or hear comments like: ‘why shall pay to go watch this ugly level of football?’ and we are still in a paying regime.
Obviously our football gourmets are spoiled by years of football sat tv. However, explaining them that tv-football is not the real football, it is a topic for another article.
Looking strictly at the entrance fees, we can tell our football gourmet friend that we go from the symbolic price of 1€ demanded by newly promoted Lokomotiv Jõhvi to the 5€ demanded by Levadia and Infonet (Kalju again is a story apart we will explain soon).
How would eventually people accept to pay something after we have given them for free?
If doubtfully a ‘free entrance’ policy will bring anyone to the pitch, I am quite sure asking them to pay on one fine day, will just end up having the opposite effect.
Additionally, I don’t really believe that clubs in Premium Liiga can afford a ‘free for everyone’ policy.
Running a club is pricey.
A while ago, a famous Italian entrepreneur (not Silvio Berlusconi, he owes to football his notoriety) said a few words on how to waste money that have become a well-known aphorism. ‘There are three ways of losing your money’ said Francesco Gaetano Caltagirone upon being asked if he ever pondered the idea of buying a club ‘the sweetest is with women, the quickest is with gambling and the safest is with a football club’. By now you will have a smile on your face, but this is true and everyone knows it: in football, there is little profit. If people with the possibility to buy a football club, do it, it’s for notoriety. In some countries, owning a football club can bring a lot of that. In some others, makes no difference. In Estonia, our dear local businessmen, they are rather thinking about the next car than a football club.
In any case, a football club implies many costs: logistics, salaries, organizational etc.
Coming to our average Estonian top-flight club: how do we think this club is going to cover their costs?
Certainly sponsors and commercial partnerships help a lot (and Kalju is again a ‘band apart’) however, a certain income from stadium entrances is essential, at least to partially cover the expenses coming from the game day.
If we take the most expensive clubs at the gate, Levadia and Infonet (as I said, I will treat Kalju separately) those 5€ per head will have certainly to cover the rental of Sportland Arena (the facility belongs to the Estonian FA) plus other additional costs (for instance, security and stewards).
I am quite sure, neither of the two clubs could claim a profit from gate’s entrance fees.
Kalev and Flora are asking 4€ at the entrance, with the latter using Sportland Arena (at least until full Spring when A.LeCoq Arena pitch is again available) and the former bringing the crowd to their Kalev complex.
Again, we think we can barely talk about profits from the entrance fees. Additionally, Flora’s marketing effort has increased notably: thick match program (have you got yours for Flora-Paide? It’s a collectors’ item, trust me), cutting-edge matchday videos a-la’ Sky, a more and more of ‘social’ squad on Facebook, radio etc.
If finally we take the prices asked by Loko (1€) Trans (2€) we are really talking about a symbolic price for clubs who have also to travel all over Estonia from Ida-Virumaa.
My famous cuppa was still more expensive than going to watch Lokomotiv-Flora or Lokomotiv-Kalju, the first two home games of the newly promoted.
My disadvantage was that I live in Tallinn and the trip is far more expensive. However, both Kalju and Flora fans organized trips to support their clubs. Certainly it was not the ticket price to prevent them from going to Jõhvi.
However, as Elissaar’s article said, these are the usual people who regularly go to the stadium, so we shall not count them.
Let’s concentrate on the concept of ‘new’ people.
I am not sure who the ‘new’ people are because no target group was identified.
If we exclude elderly people (however I have seen people from any age range in the stands) and very young ones (again, I have seen people with push chairs and their babies, viva l’Estonia) then our target age should basically go from 14 to, at least 54.
What is new in this target group?
Kasper Elissaar refers to people who have never been at a club football game in Estonia. Very hard to quantify how many those could be. I should ask the help of a statistician however, this comment article will end up into a longer survey.
Considering that the average home attendance last season was a little bit above 200 people (Tammeka’s average crowd peaked to 357) we can assume that the ‘new’ people were indeed really little.
Are we really sure we can bring ‘new’ people to the stadium by lowering a very low price already?
The clubs have made enormous efforts to get known on the social networks (Facebook especially) and as a consequence, they have showed a very good will to lower the price if you subscribe to a Facebook list (the scheme is usual: like, share, comment and you will get a discount).
All clubs using the Facebook list (Loko, Trans, and Flora don’t use) give a 50% discount upon subscription to the event. A quite generous approach in a country boasting itself as e-Stonia, where people have smart phones and tablets they can use to quickly participate to an event and get the discount in the same fashion of popular discounted offers websites.
So, where it is this ‘expensive’ at all?
The average of the Facebook ticket cost is 2,75€.
My cuppa was still 1,45€, and it does not last 90 minutes.
If we were to look for ‘new’ people, we will definitely be finding them on the internet where a wide age range spend their time.
Or in shopping centres.
Have you taken a walk in a shopping centre on Saturday afternoon?
They are packed with people, I thought Saturday afternoon while I was eating my slice of pizza in Kristiine’s Italian look-alike pizzeria. While I was chewing the slice, I was thinking: how can we move all this people or even part of it, onto the next game? Is it really roaming around square meters of shops for hours and hours the main and most attractive entertainment the average Estonian consumer is dreaming about when the weekend comes? How can we make the football experience attractive for them?
Kristiine is just a few meters away from Sportland Arena, where on Saturday three games took place: Levadia-Sillamäe, Flora-Paide and Infonet-Tammeka. All the three games in a row offered a proper football marathon. And you cannot say it was boring: 12 goals scored and a clash worth the title.
Average attendance according to the official numbers? 172 people.
Yes, it was a windy and cold day. But I don’t buy it.
When I am cold, Estonians have always been telling me: if you’re cold, then you are not dressed properly.
We cannot blame the weather in a country where the weather is cold for 8-9 months a year. I have learned myself that.
Here is about thinking smartly. Lowering the price might have a momentum (however, I think only for big clashes) but it is not going to last for long.
What we have seen in recent years is an increase in promotions, offers, buy this and get that. Like it or not, the marketing way (in the most positive meaning the word can have) is the only way to bring people to the stadium.
The reason is simple: not all clubs are deeply tied with the communities, only few are. In order to build a strong identity, clubs need to look for customers first.
Paradoxically, in Estonia, the process is different from the rest of Europe.
If in big football countries they are trying to transform fans into customers, here we need customers first and probably we will get the fans later.
I am obviously referring to the ‘new’ category of people.
The old core of fans will stay no matter what (all the supporters group and usual pitch-goers and local football followers).
Another useful tool of building loyalty first and making eventually a community, it is definitely through the academies.
Each child comes from a family where at least one of the two parents are actively following the kid to the football pitch for the training. Given that, we agree on the fact that parents should be parents and not think of themselves as coaches, at the same time clubs should seriously think about them as a tool of proselytism. If I bring my child to the XYZ football club, it is because I find certain conditions there, which I deem acceptable. As a parent, I would not want those conditions to get worse. Proselytism of a supported word of mouth ('bring another family, you get a discount on training fees') it is one of the strongest tools possible and it helps the club where my son is growing as a footballer.
Back to the shopping centre.
How many times they have they offered us a free copy of a newspaper if we buy over a certain amount of food stuff?
How many times they have they offered us a free coupon for something if we buy shoes/clothes/books etc?
The clubs have one task only, and it’s not lowering the prices.
They have to keep being creative in finding commercial solutions to attract people to stadium.
Narva Trans have brought the ‘FAMA keskus’ (a popular shopping centre in Narva) logo on their shirts. They have presented their club at the shopping centre itself.
The same are going to do Tammeka on Thursday at the ‘Tasku keskus’.
Like it or not, football in Estonia, it is a product we have to sell to potential crowd.
When comes to being creative, Kalju, as usual, has been showing the road ahead.
One could have risen the eyebrow when seeing their entrance fee at the gate: 10€!
Oh gosh, that’s indeed a lot! Say I want to turn up at the stadium last-minute, the bill is indeed quite dear for an Estonian top-flight club football game, the dearest in Estonia.
However, how likely would someone would turn up in the last 30 minutes before the game at Hiiu stadium? The ‘new’ fan would find rather difficult to find Hiiu stadium itself probably. Even a new fan would need to get his ‘education’ first before turning up at the gate. Going to the stadium it's not a compulsory purchase as much as it's not going to the theater, the cinema or to the opera.
Additionally, after all, let’s be honest: Estonians are weekend planners.
Skiing weekend, relax weekend, sport weekend. I am probably the only one who would wake up at 11am on Saturday and think: ‘alright, what am I gonna do today?’
Kalju are giving a 2,5€ entrance fee to people who will buy the ticket from the Piletilevi online system.
Piletilevi. One of the 10 reasons to love e-Stonia.
Have you ever tried to buy a ticket online for any event in Italy? If yes, then you must love Piletilevi and wish they had one also in Italy.
And if you don’t make it to Piletilevi, then it’s 3,5€ on Facebook.
Nõmme Kalju have certainly landed on Piletilevi following a commercial partnership therefore, they are promoting the new tool as the main way to a quite discounted ticket. They are certainly trying to change the way fans buy their tickets without charging excessively. However, there is little to change as Piletilevi is a quite familiar tool among the Estonian average consumers.
I personally would not be surprised if in few years most of the Estonian top-flight clubs would land on Piletilevi offering a flat price for each game.
This is probably more foreseeable than seeing the clubs opening their gates for free.
On a side note, football it is not the most expensive entertainment on offer in Estonia.
Thanks to Piletilevi, I gave a look around (full prices), to other categories of past-times:
- full ticket for a Tartu Rock game (basket): 7€
- Koit Toome Women’s Day concert (pop-music): 14€
- Julius Caesar at the Estonia (opera): 20€
- KGB Theater (comedy): 30€
Are these institutions thinking of bringing more people by giving free entrance?