Should Sporting Events Be Free?

Should Sporting Events Be Free?

How often do you go to sporting events? Do you ever find tickets too expensive? (Not to mention the costs for refreshments, snacks and parking!)

If tickets were free, or a lot cheaper, do you think you would go to more games and be a more devout fan of your local teams?

In “A Soccer Team Stopped Charging for Tickets. Should Others Do the Same?” Rory Smith writes about one club’s experiment with prices and the connection between fans and teams:

Neither Paris F.C. nor St.-Étienne will have much reason to remember the game fondly. There was, really, precious little to remember at all: no goals, few shots, little drama — a drab, rain-sodden stalemate between the French capital’s third-most successful soccer team and the country’s sleepiest giant.

That was on the field. Off it, the 17,000 or so fans in attendance can consider themselves part of a philosophical exercise that might play a role in shaping the future of the world’s most popular sport.

Last November, Paris F.C. became home to an unlikely revolution by announcing that it was doing away with ticket prices for the rest of the season. There were a couple of exceptions: a nominal fee for fans supporting the visiting team, and market rates for those using hospitality suites.

Everyone else, however, could come to the Stade Charléty — the compact stadium that Paris F.C. rents from the city government — free.

In doing so, the club began what amounts to a live-action experiment examining some of the most profound issues affecting sports in the digital age: the relationship between cost and value; the connection between fans and their local teams; and, most important, what it is to attend an event at a time when sports are just another arm of the entertainment industry.

At Paris F.C., the thinking was more pragmatic than high-minded. Parisian soccer is dominated by Paris St.-Germain, nowadays France’s perennial champion. Paris F.C., on the other hand, is an unremarkable second-division side playing in a rented home, its history not even a match for Red Star, traditionally the city’s second team.

By opening its doors, the club believed it might lift attendances, attract families and nurture some long-term loyalty. But it was just as concerned with telling people it was there. “It was a kind of marketing strategy,” Fabrice Herrault, the club’s general manager, said.

“We have to be different to stand out in Greater Paris,” he noted. “It was a good opportunity to talk about Paris F.C.”

Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

  • Should sporting events be free? Would this be good for teams and fans alike?

  • What’s the most memorable sporting event you’ve ever attended? What stands out about the experience?

  • How often do you go to games in person? Do you ever find tickets too expensive? Do high prices scare you away — and even prevent you from being a loyal fan?

  • What’s your reaction to Paris F.C. doing away with ticket prices for the rest of its season? What might be the benefit of making this experiment with free tickets more universal? What might be the downside?

  • What are other ways teams and sports leagues could attract more fans and build long-term loyalty, especially among younger fans?

  • Mr. Smith reflects on the implications of the free-ticket strategy in an age of big television broadcasting contracts:

The more significant question may be how the fans watching a game inside a stadium should be categorized. Are they observers of a spectacle, and therefore required to pay for the privilege? Or is it time to change that categorization: Are fans, the ones watching in the stadium, actually part of the production?

What do you think? How important are the spectators to sporting events? Are they an essential part of the game, providing “the chorus, the texture, the soundtrack, the spectacle”? Should teams consider not just allowing fans in free, but possibly even paying them to attend?

Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.