Blaming Arsenal Keeps Ticket Prices High
Arsenal scored the biggest own goal of all this season when yesterday they sent an email to Gold Members to informing them they would face a surcharge for the Barcelona game due to categorisation. The money raised from this move will total less than a million pounds and I’m pretty certain the club would readily spend more than that trying to reverse this PR nightmare.
We know all too well about the vast sums being pumped into the game with record breaking TV deals signed every few years yet prices at the stalls continue to rise. A more factually correct description of these increases is they are going up numerically as clubs are keen to stress that due to inflation these price bumps are technically reductive increases (yeah, I know). However, this isn’t what the fans see. Inflation may be low and may have been high in the past but wages have been stagnating, irrespective of what the government wants you to believe and the cost of living has been soaring. Even price freezes feel like increases to the average attending fan because a larger percentage of their ‘disposable income’ (what is that?) is going on tickets.
High prices isn’t just forcing many loyal and lengthy holders, and therefore significant individual contributors to Arsenal’s bottom line, to abandon the game they love and have spent decades of weekends supporting. It also gentrifies the stadium and freezes out the next generation of low and median income supporters – the historic backbone of British football.
I’m not going to argue against the gentrification of football because it’s a complex issue. Many ‘working-class’ fans from the 80s and 90s would now be deemed middle-class. Should they be named as part of the so-called problem of gentrification because they’ve worked hard to improve their financial standing or education? I don’t believe they should. We also have to remember that football has a much wider appeal and the eradication of the blight of widespread hooliganism has made football accessible and safe for families and the ‘upper-classes’. This isn’t a bad thing.
The issue of affordability is often inextricably linked with class but the large majority of supporters want to see price decreases and we shouldn’t make this about class factions or financial diversity in the crowd because it dilutes the issue. The issue isn’t just about affordability but also of fairness and justification. Is it justifiable that football clubs continue to charge what they do when TV rights are so lucrative?
The only justification of current prices is that it’s typical of football in the UK and that is a pretty tame argument. Sadly, it’s also a strong one. If they don’t why should we? One of the big clubs has to consciously weaken themselves in the hope others follow suit. It’s a fantasy. City could reduce prices and not be any the weaker but if Arsenal and Spurs (who actually have similar prices to Arsenal but aren’t demonised, more on that soon) do it they could easily fall behind as their ability to rival benefactor clubs in fees and wages is lessened. It’s a vicious circle and one of the reasons I’m against clubs being dubiously funded by their benefactors. Although, I’m sure I wouldn’t complain if Usmanov came in and spent £1b and we won the Champions League.
The fans are angry at ticket prices but right now I’m more angry with the media’s portrayal of Arsenal and presentation of the facts. Arsenal is demonised by the media as the main or sole perpetrator of ‘criminal ticket prices’. We have become a pantomime villain and every time the media shouts, and incites fans of every club including Arsenal itself to chant with them, “He’s behind you” they allow tens of other clubs to carry out their own villainous agendas with impunity.
As long as the finger is pointed at one club, or more ferociously than others, the issue will never be addressed. Tottenham can keep their prices at a similar average to ours when cup credits are factored in (even with this farcical surcharge) because their fans would be up in arms if they deliberately put themselves at a disadvantage to us having toiled for years to catch up – and let’s be honest here, the gulf between the two clubs is no longer a ravine but a crack in the wall from subsidence.
Liverpool, who based on average incomes and cost of living for local fans, can get away with charging prices that makes them more expensive than Arsenal’s in relative terms (% of disposable income used on buying a season ticket).
These are just two examples and there are many more such as Liverpool and City fans berating Arsenal for charging them £62 to visit a world-class stadium and witness a blockbuster match (on paper) and the media going to town on it but hypocritically dedicating barely a column inch to Fulham fans being charged the same to go to Loftus Road, many with a restricted view. Or Norwich charging our fans more than their fans were charged to visit us.
Yes, Arsenal have high tickets and yes, they are often vastly higher than other clubs but only numerically. Context and nuance is thrown out of the window because it makes a good story. The cost of football sells papers and gets clicks. The media couldn’t give a toss about price reductions because that would sell papers for a few weeks whilst they publish self-congratulatory articles about how it was ‘The Sun wot done it’. However, bi-annual ‘cost of football’ events guarantee traffic and the issue can be kept alive with a few articles in between about how much Arsenal is charging for a certain match.
This deliberate journalistic interpretation of the facts and characterisation of Arsenal as the big baddie makes it solely our problem. It is a get out of jail free card for every other club that overcharges their supporters. Just last night the Daily Mail published an article about the Premier League rejecting price caps for away fans and despite it not reaching the necessary 14 vote threshold meaning at least 7 clubs voted against it they called Arsenal greedy and claimed they led the charge to stop capping. Where is their proof? There is none because it was a secret ballot and they don’t know how Arsenal voted. There is also no proof Arsenal was the ringleader either. They just say it because they know it will be shared widely by those who agree it’s Arsenal’s fault and those incensed by it – I’ve fallen for it myself.
Fans need to put aside their differences, stop pointing fingers at individual clubs and challenge the league as a whole. West Ham fans, who are looking at price reductions at their new stadium, need to support their fellow supporters and not give up the fight once their prices go down. We can only challenge the establishment as one. We will never get clubs to the negotiating table with any intent to offer concessions as long as we are partite. A house united cannot fall.
Have you ever noticed how superhero movies always show the protagonist beating up bank robbers and muggers at the start but as soon as the supervillain is introduced it becomes all about them? It makes for a good movie but what about the bank robbers, muggers and other street criminals? They’re left to it because there’s a big baddie to focus on. They’re still criminals though and they’re getting away with it. In a roundabout way that is what is happening with tickets. Arsenal has become the villain and the crusade is against them, not crime in general and the bank robbers are gleefully counting their haul safe in the knowledge no-one is looking for them.
We want prices to fall so we must address it as the widespread problem it is. However, if we continue to allow Arsenal to be blamed or considered the main perpetrator, and contribute to it, prices will continue to rise.
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