John Cross took up the cudgels this morning, criticising Arsenal for increasing the price of Club Level season tickets by 6.5% on last season. According to Cross and sections of the support who pay the price for this hospitality-devised seats, it is not fair. Arsenal did not help by employing dubious maths, a core rise of 4% does not increase to 6.5% when you add the increased VAT rate which applies. Unless of course, these seats are bearing the burden of the VAT rise for the whole ground.
It would be of little surprise to see this increase being the only one, or the most significant in terms of percentage. Arsenal may well be testing the water, seeing the response that is received. At the moment, outside of the indignation of these supporters, the best that can be said is that ‘cautious concern’ is in the air about ticket prices. Football as an industry has been relatively recession proof in the past. Attendances may fall in these times but the game still shows extravagance when it comes to wages and transfer prices thanks to the largesse of broadcasters and sponsors.
An ill-conceived notion is becoming more prevalent, namely that this season ticket increase is unacceptable because Arsenal are not making ‘big money’ signings. People need to be careful what they wish for; Jose Antonio Reyes was a big money signing and it is almost impossible to argue that Arsenal got full value. Or even much value. But the concept is understood. Big money equals big name.
The correlation between ticket prices and transfer spending is an utter red herring. There is, and never has been, any link between the two, save for the fact that ticket prices help to fund transfers. Even then that is a dubious and contentious theory, borrowings tend to fund player purchases but that is to leave the main argument at a tangent.
In Arsenal’s case, the link is of no surprise since complaints are regularly made about the lack of big name signings, Arsène’s parsimony and the question of what is happening to the money. The Arsenal shareholders are the main beneficiaries of the lack of money spent by the manager, funds diverted to clear debt instead. That is a logical business decision: if the manager does not require the funds, use them to the benefit of the club in other ways. The shareholders benefit as the value of their holdings increase. Where this becomes an issue is if the Board are deliberately utilising this policy, requiring the manager to take the blame for a lack of spend when the money is already earmarked elsewhere.
Realistically, I do not think that is entirely the case but my belief is that there is an element of truth in it.
Arsenal’s commercial deals need to be re-organised and we are told that they are being reviewed. It is a review that is not bringing in significant results. For a club in its position, commercial revenues are woeful by comparison to their peers. Chelsea in recent times have broken deals, making break payments to compensate but ensuring that subsequent revenues are much higher. Have Arsenal even contemplated this? It would not necessarily be the ‘Arsenal Way’, in keeping with club traditions. Does that matter any more? A beacon of light in some respects over transfer dealings does not necessarily make you commercially astute elsewhere.
The injury situation at Arsenal descended into a farce yesterday, at the same time highlighting a key issue between club and country, perhaps the biggest source of contention. Johan Djourou’s absence for the season derided by the Swiss FA, Arsenal swift to counter and point out surgery was likely within a week. The Swiss, seemingly led by Brian Rix these days, took this as their cue to skidoo, quickly withdrawing their comments.
It highlights a problem though. The Swiss would quite happily have played Djourou and in Fifa’s eyes, have the last say in whether or not a player is fit for international duty. The clubs understandably are not happy with this, Steven Gerrard a recent high profile ‘victim’ of the distrust. The Liverpool player was forced to sit ‘cramped’ in a car, travel to the England team hotel where doctors informed Capello, yes the player is unfit. It must have been a bitch for Gerrard to have to sit a Range Rover from Stamford Bridge to Burnham Beeches – all of thirty minutes. Hard life.
The clubs though, brought this upon themselves. Manchester United regularly withdrew players from international duty in the past. Mysterious injuries emerged at other clubs, ruling players out of midweek clashes but Lazarian recoveries enabled the injured party to perform to the peak of their abilities two or three days later. Fifa acted, as it only knows how, with draconian measures. The national FAs have the final say, the clubs can do nothing about it. Insurance might contribute to the wages but do nothing to help with the loss to the squad.
There is as ever a balance between the two sides. As ever, we wait for it to be struck.