The Truth About Arsenal’s Ticket Prices
Arsenal’s ticket prices; unless you categorically state that they are a rip off and the club is bleeding fans dry you are attempting to defend the indefensible. It’s a parochial way to view a complex situation in a complex world. Human nature is to overcomplicate things yet describe and deal with them in an overly simplified manner. The problem with discussing ticket prices in context is eschewed in favour of the emotional argument which is a strong one and also much easier to process.
I think it’s possible to defend Arsenal whilst also disagreeing with their pricing structure, difficult but possible. I imagine it’s how a solicitor would feel defending the assailant of Piers Morgan. You know it was wrong of your client to punch him in the face but you also know Piers probably deserved it. It’s hard to defend actual bodily harm but you can defend the context in the hope that it leads to a lighter sentence. I shall attempt to defend the context of Arsenal’s prices rather than the prices themselves.
Twitter exploded last week when Henry Winter of the Times, amongst others such as Sky Sports, The Daily Fail, The Telegraph and more, twisted Arsène Wenger’s comments on ticket pricing at Arsenal. Winter particularly seemed to revel in this piece of perfect clickbait by labelling the Arsenal manager as “embarrassing”.
Wenger’s comments were selectively quoted in headlines to incite opprobrium, to wind up the rank and file of match goers of all clubs into ignoring the meaning of the full quote and choosing what best fit their emotions towards pricing. A kind of reverse confirmation bias. I wrote recently about the motivations behind this targeted ‘journalism’ and why it exacerbates the problem. These articles all quoted Wenger in full but not until the pot had been stirred sufficiently. I hope to balance that out.
It is a very complicated subject. How do you decide what is the right level of ticket prices? First of all your attendance. I don’t think we are on the same level ground as foreign clubs. For example, Bayern Munich paid one Euro for their ground whereas we paid £128million for our ground. We pay absolutely everything ourselves so we have to generate more revenue. In France they pay nothing at all for their stadium, they pay nothing at all for their maintenance. We pay absolutely everything ourselves so we have to generate more revenue.
It is true we get more television income, that is down to the audience and success but you know as well that it is down to the pressure of the market to pay for the players with a higher price and our expenses will come up straight away to increase their wages. After that you want the ticket prices to be as comfortable as possible for our fans. I looked at the comparisons, our cheapest prices is cheaper than anywhere in London. Our most expensive price is a fraction higher than the other clubs in London. Our most common ticket price is lower than many places in England. I don’t think that we have a massive problem on that front.
Firstly, let us note that not only did he give a comprehensive answer he also prefaced it with the disclaimer ‘It is a very complicated subject’ – and it is. The fans see it as a simple one but I implore you to ignore the much reported “£200m in the bank” and think what would happen to Arsenal if they reduced prices to what has been suggested by fan group spokesmen like Tim Payton for example. Arsenal’s match day revenue is just over £100m per season and the most common average price paid per match is actually £39 – more on that later – Tim’s assertion that ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ is a fine sentiment and I would love to pay £20 for a ticket but with various revenue streams considered it could lead to as much as a 40% drop in match day revenue which would be £40m to Arsenal. How long would that fabled £200m we can supposedly drop on transfers last us if we took £40m out of our bottom line every season? Rudimentary maths says 5 years but when you factor in loss of revenue, operating costs to pay and ever increasing player wages we’d be lucky to last three years before we had to trim the fat or raise prices again.
The TV deal is a generous one but isn’t guaranteed to last beyond the original term. History suggests it will increase but like all bubbles it will have to burst one day. I’m not advocating price freezes or increases, just a more realistic decrease and more concerted efforts to improve the matchday experience. Again, more on that later.
Secondly, Wenger challenges us to compare apples with apples. The media consistently hold aloft the juicy orange that is Arsenal and compare it to the bananas in Germany and Spain and the much loved British orchard apples in England. We allow this comparison on the basis that fruit is fruit and should all be treated equally. It can’t. Any greengrocer worth their salt will tell you to keep your bananas away from your apples to slow the ripening process. (Don’t say you don’t learn things on this blog)
Clubs in Germany and Spain benefit from incredible levels of state support. Arsenal received no government subsidy and money paid by Arsenal to TFL to upgrade Holloway Road station was spent on Highbury and Islington station, a full 10 minute walk from the stadium. Holloway Road station is exit only after matches and because of this we have huge overcrowding issues after a match. I have no doubt the horrendous public transport options is a key contributor to many Arsenal fans leaving early – which clearly has an effect on the atmosphere as not only do we lose those voices the mass exit impedes the view of many other fans.
Contrast this to Hansa Rostock in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, one of the poorest states in Germany and below the European Union average in terms of gross domestic product per capita, whose local council swooped in to save them with a financial aid package consisting of a tax debt waiver, property purchase and a grant.
Contrast this once more with the plight of Millwall whose local council, Lewisham, want to use compulsory purchase orders to take land away from Millwall and refuse to entertain their regeneration ideas that put the community first in favour of a property developer who wants to create for profit homes that further gentrifies London. Not only that but this property development company is ultimately held overseas. Where is the support for our clubs?
Bayern and TSV benefited from state financed upgrades to their local transport network. Madrid had its training ground bought by their council and rented back to them for a pittance and benefited from dubious land deals and refunds. Barcelona is backed by the state of Catalonia. French clubs have their stadiums and maintenance paid for. It’s not apple with apples. They are subsidised by the government, our clubs have that financial commitment met by the fans. It’s not ideal but it’s a legitimate reason for why you can’t lament our prices in the face of what they pay overseas.
It’s also worth noting that a lot of these prices are misquoted. Barcelona might have £10 tickets but they’ll be up in the heavens or with a restricted view, not to mention they’re like gold-dust. There have also been many reports of tickets to Barcelona in the Champions League costing as much as €298. For one match.
Lastly, from that quote, Wenger said based on comparisons with other clubs he doesn’t see us as having a massive problem. Call it semantics if you will but he hasn’t categorically said we do not have a problem, just that he doesn’t see it as a massive one when put in context. To the average fan a ticket costing £2013 is tremendously high but you have to remember that not only are these the “premium” standard seats with what is generally considered the best view, they are also limited and not available on general sale (although they can be purchased on the exchange by red and silver members). It’s easy to take this figure out of context and assume the majority of fans in standard seats pay that price when in fact our modal price is our lowest at £1014.
Our upfront costs are higher than any other club and that certainly is painful for our season ticket holders but let’s not forget we get 26 games and 18 other clubs get just the 19 Premier League games – Spurs make up the 2o with 2 cup credits taking their total to 21 games per season. In an average season our price includes a minimum of three Champions League games and at least one game in each domestic cup. Chelsea, both Manchester clubs, Liverpool and Spurs have all featured in the Champions League in the past 5 seasons and their tickets generally do not include access to this elite competition.
This fact is not omitted from media reports, it is just not properly considered or accurately described. Over the course of the season Arsenal’s modal ticket works out at roughly £39 a ticket which is lower than Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham. Three of the most expensive clubs (Arsenal is fourth on the list – plus ça change) are based in London where the median salary is much higher than Liverpool and so is the rate of employment. Liverpool’s modal price per match is just shy of £46 which is way ahead of Spurs in second place with £41.90. Yet it is “greedy Arsenal” who wear the mask of chief villain.
As pointed out to me by Andrew (@PR_WhoRu), Arsenal and Tottenham deserve credit for disclosing their top priced standard tickets as these tickets aren’t available on general sale whereas clubs like Manchester City have a top priced ticket of £1750 which averages at £92 per match but refuse to acknowledge it because it’s in a “premium area” (which didn’t exist last season) not on general sale – and City aren’t the only club not to disclose these high priced tickets. Arsenal’s infamous £2013 ticket works out to an average of £96 per match over the 19 Premier League games (5 Cat A, 9 Cat B, 5 Cat C) or £77 per match over the 26 matches it is valid for. You can choose to look purely at the Premier League games and say it’s still £4 more per game than City but in the context of cost of living, general salaries and disposable incomes in a commutable distance to each stadium Arsenal’s £96 ticket is better monetary value than City’s £92 ticket.
It must also be considered that City charge their non-season ticket holders, the equivalent of our red and silver members, a minimum of £42 for a matchday ticket – Arsenal’s cheapest is £26.
Arsenal is very much in line with their capital rivals and comparable to City, United and Southampton for the average match day ticket and not far ahead of the much applauded West Ham. I also don’t think it’s a huge coincidence that 7 of the 8 most expensive clubs made up the majority of the top half of the table prior to matchday 26 fixtures. Higher income means greater ability to invest in players and wages to push you up the table.
Despite modal prices being lower than City and Liverpool, two clubs in the north of England and Arsenal being a London club, it is Arsenal that is vilified. It’s hard to get a true reflection of where the majority of fans travel from to watch matches but I think it’s fair to say that Arsenal’s “local” fans tend to come from a wider area than City or Liverpool’s. If we take an average of the disposable incomes of London (minus the ultra wealthy west London), Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertforshire, the disposable income of your average Gooner is £19,821 whereas it is just £14,515 in Greater Manchester and £15,410 in Merseyside. The ONS determines disposable income to be what is left after taxes and rent/mortgage is removed but not including insurances, transport, food and utilities. Liverpool fans spend 5.65% of their post-tax and rent income on their modal season ticket and City fans spend 4.65%. Arsenal fans spend 5.1% but crucially they get those 7 extra games. However, if we work out Arsenal’s modal price based on 19 games (5 Cat A, 9 Cat B and 5 Cat C) the price per match jumps up £1.97 to £40.97 (still less than Liverpool and Spurs) but the true cost of Premier League games transpires to be £778.50 – just 3.93%.
If you are going to look purely at the numerics and not the value then of course Arsenal will always look higher but the evidence with context does not support that theory – or at least doesn’t support it enough to warrant Arsenal being the public face of the ticket scandal.
The facts show that in relative terms, taking prices as a whole across the league into consideration, Arsenal represents good value. They play in a world class, modern stadium and are recently successful. Leicester aside – who are proving to be fantastic value for money this season – Arsenal is better value than a lot of other Premier League clubs and even cheaper than some lower league clubs like Brentford. And they aren’t just good value for Arsenal fans either.
There is a lot of a obstreperous opposition to Arsenal’s away tariffs by fans of other clubs, gleefully reported by the media seeking to further what can only be described as an agenda against Arsenal’s pricing, yet next to nothing is made about the imbalanced reciprocation of prices. Seeing Arsenal as an away fan can actually be cheaper than watching it as a home fan. If you were to attend all 19 Premier League games in the away stand you would fork out less than £780 and would only pay more than you would in the reverse fixture 6 times. This is approximately what Arsenal charges its own fans at the modal price.
An Arsenal fan travelling to all 19 other Premier League grounds could expect to pay £850, which is more than the modal price for 19 home league games at one of the best stadiums in the world. There are hundreds of reports of Liverpool fans paying £64 at Arsenal but what about those Arsenal fans who pay Liverpool £52 for a restricted view? Or the Norwich fans who pay £30 to visit the Emirates whilst Arsenal fans are paying £60 for the reverse fixture. That’s 12% of the modal season ticket price at Carrow Road, for one game.
Categorisation is mooted as a punishment for loyal fans but due to categorisation Leicester fans witnessed an epic clash at the weekend for as little as £26. How must the Liverpool fans feel about their pyrrhic victory in the removal of categorisation that will see their season tickets increase by as much as 9.5%? Season ticket holders shouldn’t look at categories for matches included in their price as it averages out over the season. Categorisation only really affects general sale and by and large it’s a good thing. Certainly it stops a great deal of people from attending the biggest games but it also allows them to see 5 league matches per season for less than £30 a time. Categorisation’s detractors often say they pay to see Arsenal, not the opposition, so surely three Cat C matches is better than one Cat A match?
I think the point is that ticket prices are bad in most of England. Sure, Stoke, Sunderland, West Brom, Leicester, Swansea and Palace fans can all watch their teams for under £25 our fans will have to pay £40-60 to watch Arsenal play at their grounds. High prices is a country wide problem, not an Arsenal problem. Wenger is right to say that given these figures we don’t have a massive problem. There is clearly a problem but it is not ours alone. And Wenger is not blind to our concerns, he wants us to have fair prices too.
I see fans as supporters. Somewhere, I think they feel like [when] you are at home and use electricity, you have no choice. They go to the club, they have no choice. It’s a little bit like their faith. They want a fair price and I agree completely with you, because football started in the street with people building the club and coming from local places. You want people who live around the stadium to be capable to go to the game and watch the games. They are fans basically because they were born there. – Wenger
English football is mired in high prices and working class fans, and crucially the next generation of fans, are being squeezed out. It’s a sad fact but one that won’t be solved with finger pointing at Arsenal or even by mass reductions in prices across the league.
Football is culturally important to British people and sometimes that makes us lose sight of the fact it is, as a professional sport, a form of entertainment and if ticket prices go down significantly there is a good chance that the entertainment value would also deteriorate. As detailed earlier, we can’t compare ourselves to continental clubs as they receive a great deal of state support which skews the figures. Unless our government begins to support their clubs the way others do any significant decreases in tickets will ultimately affect the playing side.
However, with the recent TV deal I feel there is a lot of room to reduce prices across the board and improve matchday experience without impeding the ability of clubs to attract, pay and retain the best talent. At Arsenal, a modest decrease of around 5% would see our most expensive general sale matchday ticket cost £90 and our cheapest cost less than £25. This would cost Arsenal less than £5million per season but would generate a huge amount of goodwill. It would also give them room to make incremental increases should the value of TV contracts start to fall dramatically.
Reducing ticket prices isn’t the only answer though. I firmly believe a lot of the contention about ticket prices stems from the lack of atmosphere at many games. People only really question the experience if they feel they aren’t getting value and that isn’t always tied to the price. I’d like to see Arsenal playing a leading role in the return of safe standing, drinking in the stands and away caps.
Football has changed. Drinks bans in the stands is a hangover, pun intended, from a dark but long gone era of football. Cricket and rugby fans enjoy alcohol in the stands without trouble. Football fans often pre-load before a match and there is little to no trouble to speak of. In fact, I would suggest that the culture of no drinks in the stands encourages fans to load up during half time which can see binge-level spikes in consumption and still there is little trouble. Allowing drinks in the stands would improve the atmosphere and encourage safe consumption – half-time loading would become unnecessary and it could actually see an increase in sales as I’m sure there are many fans like me who avoid drinks at the stadium because I don’t want to down a beer in under 10 minutes.
More so than drinking in the stands the return of standing is long overdue. The reluctance to bring back the terraces is purely a political one. Safe standing would not only improve the atmosphere in all stadiums but would allow clubs to reduce prices whilst increasing revenue. It’s a win-win.
The Twenty’s Plenty campaign is an admirable one but the catchy strap-line that also acts as the movement’s name is unlikely to garner widespread support from the clubs. £30 is a realistic target and one most clubs would get behind in another vote. The league needs just one changed vote to enforce this and cooperative action might be enough to convince at least one club.
Arsenal cannot do it all alone but there are things they can do alone to help their fans. Other options I would to see introduced is the voluntary addition of cup credits. I think we can find a fair balance where those who only wish to buy a 19 league match season ticket can do so. They would lose a little bit in savings as their average modal price of £39 a ticket would increase by almost £2 per match but that negligible increase could help a lot of strapped fans when renewals come around. I would propose that season ticket holders who opt out of cup credits waive their right to early access for the first seven fixtures which would allow more silver members the chance to attend a Champions League or cup game. They would still have their preferential treatment for the 8th fixture onwards and finals. It might even be possible to sell those credits as a cup-season ticket and something I think a lot of fans would be interested in.
I’d also like to see help for under 21s and transitional support for 21-25 year olds who are the future season ticket holders. One fixture a year could be dedicated to youth fans where 10,000 under 21s can get in for £10. Discounted tickets for the next generation can’t just stop at 21 years old because with many fans only really starting out in their careers the jump to a full priced ticket could see them leave and never return. I’d like to see fans who held a season ticket continuously for three season from the age of 18 to 21 receive at least two seasons transitional support before they are expected to pay full price.
Dedicated singing sections would help reduce the embarrassment of the lone Gooner standing proudly in the East Stand Upper shouting at the top of his lungs “STAND UP, IF YOU HATE TOTTENHAM” before looking around and noticing he’d get a better response in a cemetery. I speak from experience here. There should also be an annual bursary for regular match events like the display against Bayern organised by REDaction.
So there you have it, the truth about ticket prices. Arsenal aren’t the villains we are painted to be and when considered in context offer better value than a lot of other Premier League clubs. Our fans are no more squeezed than Chelsea, City, Spurs or Liverpool fans and in many respects our fans are squeezed more by other clubs than they are by their own.
Arsenal fans need to realise and accept that not only are Arsenal not the worst culprits in this but that attempts to force Arsenal alone to reduce prices is folly. A collective effort is needed to reduced prices and that can only start with educating ourselves on the facts of ticket prices and convincing our friends and rivals at other clubs to stop gazing purely at Arsenal. The longer we blind ourselves in the reflected illumination of the imagined mountain of gold at Arsenal the easier it is for every other club to sneak around in the shadows picking the pockets of all fans.
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