Damned if they do, Arsenal are damned if they don’t and no matter what the headlines might cry, the writers miss the point whether it be willingly or through lack of thought.
Arsenal stood accused yesterday of not reporting the actual attendance at matches and answered that it was, as ever, tickets sold. I’m not going to get into an argument over that; I always understood, going back forty years, that the stated attendance was always based on tickets sold, including season tickets, plus those who walked through the terrace turnstiles.
The ‘Sold Out’ signs hung over The Emirates doors last year but as The Heil’s table shows, six of last season’s Premier League matches were far from that.
Comparing issued attendances and those counted by the Metropolitan Police is fraught with uneasiness; how do we know the Met figures are right? A couple of times, the police had more people there than the club but for the most part, the figures were close enough to be ‘dismissed’.
But don’t get sucked into arguments about defining methodologies; the real issue remains why those seats are empty and what the club can do to make them full.
As ever, the ‘headline’ figures ask more questions before solutions to the problem can be found.
They don’t, for example, break out in which parts of the ground the seats were empty. It doesn’t seem that much of a stretch to believe that some will have been in the away supporters enclosure. Swansea and Sunderland immediately stand out as candidates for that, being played on a Monday and Wednesday night respectively. Indeed, only West Ham and Liverpool were Saturday kick-offs where the variations are more than 1,000 supporters.
Villa, Liverpool Swansea; I can immediately recall these as televised matches. These numbers won’t bother Sky or BT; it’s a passing storm in their eyes and in any case, more stayaway fans means more eyes on advertising space. They want crowds, they want atmosphere and empty seats are only noticeable when they are clustered together not spread around the stadium.
Television rights dictate the fixture list and even when they don’t, the football fixture computer manages to arrange suitably stupid dates for matches. It doesn’t just affect Arsenal, run through any of the lower division sides and there are questionable arrangements, dates when common sense has been thrown out of the window.
Arsenal supporters groups have all addressed ticketing issues with the club and progress, albeit slow, is being made. Nationally, last weekend saw the campaign for fairer ticket pricing for away fans. Twenty’s Plenty. It is a campaign name which resonates with me not just for the laudable aims but also the sum of money.
£20. That is how much it used to cost me to travel from home, have a few beers, something to eat, buy a programme, stand on the North Bank and have a few more beers on the way home.
Twenty quid. Nowadays, I couldn’t even tell you if the club shops sell anything for less than that because either my kids view it as cheap tat or they have more expensive tastes. I know the answer to that one, by the way.
There are sensible suggestions floated about making tickets available on the website closer to kick-off. That has been the most noticeable change in spectator habits since the Premier League began. No longer can you ‘walk up’ on the day at Arsenal and get buy a ticket at the box office. With seats seemingly available, that seems madness. Surely that ought to be an option?
A dedicated phone number with recorded message advising availability can’t be hard to create, surely? Smartphone apps, there are all manner of improvements suggested. It seems scarcely believable that season ticket holders don’t receive cash when they resell, just a credit off the next season’s bill. There is much more the club could do to help.
Ticket prices generally are a thorny issue. The categorisation of matches means that the bigger games subsidise the more ‘routine’ fixtures. A balance has to be struck; we want the players, the stars and they cost. Whilst the commercial and broadcast revenues increase, making the matchday moneys less important, they are still significant enough to be a major part of Arsenal’s finances. The pricing structure isn’t going to readily change.
Yes, I’ll say it before you do: it would be nice if that money was invested in the squad but honestly whilst one funds the other, they are separate issues. No, they really are.
Whatever they do, ticket prices is such an emotive issue that even when Arsenal do something right, they still get criticised. Damned if they, damned if they don’t indeed.