After Arsenal announced this week that ticket prices will not go up again next year following a 3% increase for the 2014-15 season, season ticket holder and Daily Cannon writer Helen Trantum gives her view on how price freezes alone are not enough.
A COMMON DEBATE
We’ve heard all the arguments before.
For the prosecution: Arsenal have the highest ticket prices in the land. Extra money taken from fans is hoarded in deposit boxes buried deep underneath the Emirates. Matchday revenue is a tiny proportion of the club’s overall income.
For the defence: The club is a business, and demand massively outstrips supply. Prices have been held flat for six out of 10 seasons. There are more games included within an Arsenal ticket than other clubs.
Truth is, if anyone understands that the demand outstrips the supply it’s me.
I have to rent my season ticket from someone who doesn’t want to give it up permanently, because they know they will never be able to get it back again if they do. In doing so, I actively prevent myself from moving up the waiting list, which I signed up for the moment I started gainful employment and have been on ever since.
Arsenal could sell roughly double the number of season tickets again without blinking, so the value of the individual fan is less and less important.
HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?
I can live with the price I pay for my season ticket – it’s roughly half as much again on the amount my boyfriend pays for his season ticket at Tottnumb, but within that I get a much better match day environment with sufficient ladies toilets, a spacious seat and some, albeit not enough, relatively recent success. And seven extra games, most in the Champions League, if you really want me to go there.
At Tottnumb, there is one ladies toilet for the entire East Stand Upper, my knees touch the back of the chair in front*, and they wheel out “legends” from 1961 at halftime. Plus, Spursdays.
(*I’m 5’4 – imagine what it’s like being 6’3!)
In recent seasons, the price increases have been set against a backdrop of selling star players and reducing attendances at the Emirates (whatever the stadium announcers and club reporters tell us). Whatever you think about our levels of pricing, the truth is that if you pay a substantial amount of money for a ticket, there are inevitably a lot of fans who develop a sense of entitlement as to the level of entertainment they deserve for that cost.
So then, it is much more palatable that I now get to watch Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil week in week out compared to the likes of Marouane Chamakh and Craig Eastmond in years gone by, and the 0% is another small step in the right direction.
I’m lucky in that I both know someone willing to rent their ticket out, and I can afford the c.£1,500 it costs to do so.
The 0% means that no further season ticket holders will be priced out of attending this year, and for that I’m grateful. However, there’s a bigger issue at play here. Even in the biggest games this year, there have been swathes of empty seats at the Emirates – the tickets might have been sold, but there certainly weren’t a commensurate number of bums on seats. And this is where my real gripe comes in.
PRICING FOR SUCCESS
It’s hard enough to get a decent atmosphere in a stadium as spread out as the Emirates – chants from the notoriously loud Red Action blocks in lower tier don’t always make their way up into the gods of the North Bank. That doesn’t mean the people around me don’t want to sing – most fans in my block love a chant once they get going – but it’s pretty hard to instigate a chant when it’s mighty unlikely that the empty seat in front of you is going to join in.
No one wants to look like Billy No Mates.
So does the level of fan support matter? Clearly there are other factors at play when a team is at home, notably the quality of the pitch and the way that teams set up to play. However, twice as many of Arsenal’s points this season have come at home as away. Look across town to QPR – no points on the road but 19 at home, is that a coincidence? I doubt many teams set up hugely differently against QPR whether it is home or away. So then, fan support is not a meaningless factor.
It has to raise a question – are we damaging the team’s prospects by pricing out a section of the fan base who could be more vocal, more committed, and fundamentally more present than the fair-weather fans who currently hold a monopoly over season tickets? If nothing else, do our players not deserve a better atmosphere? If so, 0% clearly doesn’t go far enough.
If we assume that the club wanted to gamble on improving the atmosphere, and in the process won a major trophy or two, they could reduce the cost of season tickets by 20% and still be better off, and that’s before we consider the knock on impacts on TV and Commercial income as a result of that success. The trouble is, it’s a huge leap of faith to address something which in the view of the powers that be is at best an intangible contributor to success and at worst a pure revenue stream.
Why not have consequences for people who don’t fill their seats at games, such as a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ approach to non-attendance without offering the ticket up on ticket exchange? (Let’s for the sake of argument pretend that ticket exchange is perfect.) Or how about offering empty seats up after ten minutes of the game? My seat has been filled in every single game of every single season I’ve held a ticket, if only the same could be said for all of them.
Making attendance at home games a factor for obtaining tickets to cup competitions is a step in the right direction, make no mistake, but there’s so much more to be done. Heck, the club could offer to charge people a tenner to get in post kick-off to fill empty seats and that would actually make them more money.
So thanks for the 0%, Arsenal, it’s appreciated by those of us lucky enough to have (and use) a seat at every home game. It’s still a drop in the ocean in what’s achievable if we focus on quality of support rather than quantity of income. Why not put your neck out and really make a difference? There are enough people out there who’d love to have a season ticket but either can’t afford one or can’t get a foot in the door. All you need to do is give them a chance, and you might find it actually improves the atmosphere, and with it your money making schemes… Over to you Mr Gazidis.
You can follow me on twitter @nellypop13.