It hasn’t been a terribly good weekend for Arsenal. Beaten at home by Tottenham Hotspur for the first time in seventeen years yesterday lunchtime, their supporters had the rest of the day to take stock of their recent patchy home form, and the confirmation that they will probably be the first in the Premier League to be charged over £100 for a normal match day ticket seems unlikely to lift their gloom. This landmark moment seems likely to come in January, when VAT rises from 17.5% to 20%, pushing the price of a the most expensive non-corporate seat at the ground from £98.50 (including postage and the inevitable “booking fee”) to over £100. The Arsenal website’s ticket booking page confirms that, “with the VAT increase due in January 2011, our matchday ticket prices will be subject to change”, and there has been nothing from the club to suggest that this will not happen.
Arsenal has long been the most expensive place in English football to watch a match. Although The Emirates Stadium holds more than 60,000 people, ticket and season ticket prices there have shot through the roof, to little protest. Season ticket prices there range from £893 to £1,825, compared to £550 at Chelsea and £224 at the cheapest club in the Premier League, Blackburn Rovers. The reason for these prices is the cost of building The Emirates Stadium itself, but will prices be reduced accordingly when the debt for the construction of the stadium is complete?
This is a question that is well worth asking. Arsenal have yet to bring a trophy to The Emirates Stadium since they moved into it and, although they remain capable of spending freely on players should they wish to, they have been amongst the more prudent clubs in the transfer market in recent years. For those running Arsenal Football Club, it may well prove tempting to continue to charge as much as they can get away with, especially if the club’s supporters continue to pay these prices without complaining. Such a large amount of capital flowing through the club may also make them more appealing to people seeking to take money out of the game.
Alisher Usmanov remains in the shadows at Arsenal, and the appeal of the club is plain to see: large crowds paying big, big money and, broadly speaking, not complaining too much after five trophyless seasons, a debt that is being paid down with the club more than meeting its break-even figure on gate receipts, and all of this happening during a period when their rivals may have to be more austere in the transfer market in order to pay down debts or meet the criteria of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. Investors of his sort seldom become involved in football clubs out of the good of their hearts (Manchester United supporters can attest to this), but the irony is that clubs like Arsenal become interesting to this sort of speculator because of how well run they are, in the same that Manchester United attracted the interest of Rupert Murdoch and the Glazers because of their international commercial success.
None of this is to say that Arsenal will inevitably end up in the same situation as Manchester United, of course. However, the lack of protest over spiralling ticket prices at The Emirates Stadium is perhaps something that we should pause to consider. It echoes the relative lack of anger at the lack of trophies coming into the club. Three or four years ago, it might not have been unreasonable to say that all Arsenal supporters had to do was play the waiting game. Three or four years on, however, they are still waiting and, while the League Cup may end that drought this season (as could, theoretically, the Premier League or the Champions League, although recent home performances would seem to indicate that they may well have to continue to wait for either of these trophies), it may not as well.
It is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that Arsenal supporters should be angrier than they are at the moment. There is a case to be made that ticket prices in Britain have reached a state of being beyond parody, and Arsenal’s being the most expensive in the country is a significant player in this madness. The club has already priced out vast swathes of its local support (the London Borough of Islington isn’t all polenta and wine bars) and, while they are far from the only culprits in doing this, their example remains the most extreme. Perhaps the least that they should expect for their exorbitant ticket prices is a degree of success on the pitch, and it is this that ties the defeat at the hands of Spurs in with the possibility of the £100 match ticket.
It is, perhaps, unfortunate that two such potentially symbolic events should come within a few weeks of each other and it is worth pointing out that the VAT rise that is being introduced in January is obviously not the fault of Arsenal Football Club. It may, however, be prudent for them to consider whether these few extra pennies are worth the possibility of being the trigger for the air of grumpiness that surrounds the Arsenal support at present to become something more tangible. There is a potential “out” for Arsenal supporters, though. The Arsenal Fanshare scheme was launched by the Arsenal Supporters Trust in August as a means to give supporters of the club a say in the running of their club. Those running it might just find an increase in interest in it, should ticket prices at The Emirates rise further.
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