There has always been a romantic ideal behind wanting to own a season-ticket for the team you support.
It isn’t just a piece of paper (or plastic these days) that gives you access to a seat in a stadium, it is a symbol, a symbol of how much you love the club and the extent to which you will go to support it. When asked if they were an Arsenal fan, the response would always be;
“Fan?! Mate, I’m a season-ticket holder!”
It is the trump card for fans wanting to show just how much they care about their team, and to show just how valid their opinions about their team are. They are not just fans, nor are they purely consumers. They’re both. They are people who have willingly added a financial burden onto what is already a heavy emotional investment into their team… sort of.
I say ‘sort of’ because whilst in theory it is our own decision to buy a season-ticket and therefore up to us to decide whether to purchase one, we all know it’s not as simple as a mere financial transaction. There are very few, if any, Arsenal fans who if they had the means to afford a season-ticket, wouldn’t buy one. The prospect of being able to support their team, week in and week out, in person, is just too enticing to turn down. It’s almost as if we feel like we have to validate our support to ourselves by buying the season-ticket.
This is why it’s taken so long for protests over ticket prices to materialise into something as meaningful as fans walking out during games, like Liverpool fans did last weekend. It’s not because those who have forked out thousands of pounds to support their team think that they’re getting value for money, it’s because they think it’s a necessary evil that has to be tolerated in return for always being there for their team. It is emotional blackmail in its most potent form.
We’ve all been there, staring at our computer screens in dismay, wondering just what the hell was wrong with us that we’re about to spend an inordinate amount of money on something that could be viewed from the comfort of our own sofa or a bar stool for a hell of a lot less. We’ll go onto Twitter or Facebook, post how incredibly frustrated we are at having to pay more and more to go and watch a game of football, and that something has to be done about this IMMEDIATELY.
And then, after venting our anger for 10 minutes, we pull our credit card out of our wallet, and pay up. Again. Because as bad an option as being fleeced for a ticket is, we always rationalise it to ourselves by saying that not going at all is out of the question. We care so much about our team that not taking the opportunity to support them feels like a betrayal, that in some way we are letting the club down. It’s absurd, yet this is the dilemma many fans face every time that email comes from the club, asking if you want to do next season what you’ve done this season: watch your team play.
This is why all the protests against the rise in ticket prices are aimed against the wrong targets. It’s the club who are raising prices, so it’s the club who are at fault? No. Arsenal aren’t raising prices because they view fans as an infinite cash cow that can be milked for eternity in order to help the principal owner buy ranches in Texas. Arsenal are raising prices because in order to remain competitive, they need as much money as possible, because their rivals are spending as much of their money as possible in an attempt to distance themselves from Arsenal.
This, of course, isn’t rocket science. In fact, it’s the very reason why some fans don’t protest against high prices, because they don’t want to be the reason that Arsenal become uncompetitive. To them, it is the literal price of hope. But to those who are protesting, it’s a weakness. It is yet another fracture in a fan base that has its fair share of disagreeing factions, yet for once, both sides are in the right.
If you think that football tickets are too expensive, you’re correct, and if you’re in a position to affect change, then you should. But if you think that without the extra revenue a stadium like the Emirates brings in, Arsenal would struggle to afford the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, you’re also correct. So here is a question: If you have the means to help Arsenal afford those players, should you? Whether it’s a thousand pounds or a million?
The answer, is that this question shouldn’t have to be asked in the first place. There should be no need for Arsenal to have a turnover of over £400m, but there is. There should be no need for Arsenal to play in the Emirates Stadium instead of Highbury, but there is. There should be no need to have a Club Level, and a Diamond Level and a Platinum Level and a ‘So Expensive That The Toilet Paper Is Made Out Of Gold Leaf’ Level, but there is.
This isn’t an Arsenal problem, this isn’t a Premier League problem, this isn’t even a UEFA problem. To reduce the price of tickets, you have to reduce the price of football as a whole; transfer fees, wages, agent fees, the lot. It would only take one club in the world to say:
“Screw you, we want to win, we’ll pay whatever it takes to get there.”
And prices would remain high because all the best players would follow the money, in the same way you or I would in our profession.
So to reduce the burden of the average fan, we need everyone who makes money out of football to agree to make a great deal less money. Players, managers, agents, owners, the lot. And we all know what the chances of that happening are: virtually nil. The capitalist ideal of ‘more’ overtook the communist ideal of ‘equal’ in football a long time ago, and that genie isn’t going back into its bottle without a fight.
Will protests against individual clubs provide any relief for fans? In the short-term, yes. But as with Liverpool’s response to the mass walkout and Arsenal’s response to fans’ complaints over being charged extra for the Barcelona game in two weeks, this relief is only temporary as the price increases have not been cancelled, but only postponed.
We won’t see any real progress on ticket prices until football decides as a whole that it needs too much money to operate. This will only happen when fans finally decide that enough is enough, and that the price of a season-ticket is too much to justify. That point hasn’t arrived yet, as the sight of fans protesting inside grounds prove. It’s still too hard for most of them to just walk away from their team.
What should concern clubs isn’t the prospect of fans walking away from expensive tickets, it’s the prospect of convincing them to come back after prices are reduced. Because once fans lose their emotional investment in a team, it’ll be almost impossible to reclaim it, no matter how cheap it becomes.