Arsenal's Ticket Prices: A Discussion

Too much? - Ben Hoskins

Manchester City are returning 1/3 of their allocation for their trip to the Emirates, in large part because fans are balking at the £62 ticket price. Should Arsenal care? Should we?

By now I'm sure you've read about Manchester City returning more than 900 tickets to Arsenal for their Sunday visit to the Emirates. If you can't be bothered to do the math, £62 is just a shade under $100 US; I don't know about you, but for me, that's a lot of money for a regular league match (I'd pay a pretty fat premium for a Cup final or semi, though), and would be a deal-breaker as far as my attendance goes.

And those aren't even the most expensive seats in the stadium; for "Category A" matches, against the Manchesters, Chelsea, Spurs, and the like, ticket prices in the lower bowl can easily top £150 and even some upper bowl seats are £125-ish. Now, London is an expensive city, and Premier League football is expensive, and Arsenal are paying off a stadium, so the economics of the ticket prices make some sense; from a customer-service standpoint, though, it's increasingly becoming a tough sell.

Arsenal aren't exactly struggling for attendance, to be sure, but these days there are pockets of empty seats scattered throughout the stadium and it's generally not difficult (if you're a registered member) to get a ticket fairly close to match day, where it used to be impossible as a non-season ticket holder, both at Highbury and in the first several years at the Emirates, to get tickets anywhere but from a scalper.

This brings up two obvious questions. First, are ticket prices too high? Let's look at some data! Arsenal are top of this particular table, with the most expensive season tickets (both at the low and the high ends), and the most expensive (and only three-digit priced) matchday ticket. This of course has to do with the new stadium, but once the stadium is paid down/off, I don't think we'll see a drop in ticket prices, do you? Even putting aside all the snide references to ZOMG NO TROPHEEZ EVAR, I'm not sure I would routinely pay those prices to sit in a stadium often, when I can either watch games at home in HD while sitting on my comfortable couch and watching on my large-screen TV or I can go to a bar and watch them there, all the while eating and drinking far cheaper than the stadium concessions would cost. (raw, sortable data is here)

Obviously, as an American, if I find myself in London and want to go to a game, I don't really care what it costs; it's a special occasion, I'm not in London that often, and it's worth the premium. If I lived in London, though, I'd probably try to go to one game a year, and that's about it - as I mentioned, exceptions would be made for Cup finals and the like, but I can't imagine having the kind of money that going to the Emirates week in and week out would require.

The second question this brings up is: can anything be done about the cost of tickets? We all know about the crazypants economics of the game these days, and obviously ticket sales are a big part of a club's finances, but at what point are non-corporate fans priced out of going to games altogether? Arsenal (and I assume other top/expensive ticket) clubs do offer Capital One Cup games for £10, and youth tickets to Premier League matches at a discount, but there's only so many games against the Bradfords and Wrexhams a fan will want to watch; at some point, they're going to want to see Manchester United, Liverpool, or one of the other big boys, and they'll be in for a huge shock when they do.

So what can be done? There's a few options, listed here in order of least realistic to most:

  • Use the upcoming improved TV deal money to reduce ticket prices. I know, I know. Stop laughing. No, seriously, stop. You'll spit milk out your nose. Some people estimate that top clubs could lop about £32 off the price of tickets by doing this. This would be a mammoth goodwill gesture to fans, it would generate all sorts of positive press, and in general it's the kind of populist move that would endear the league to its fans for years. So of course it'll never happen, and inevitably the money from TV will just keep lining player's pockets.
  • Capping ticket prices, capping annual ticket price rises, etc. Quick. Name me one business in an open market that voluntarily caps the prices of its highly sought-after product. Yep, didn't think so. So that leaves either a league-wide mandate or governmental regulation as the only route to achieve this - it's doable, but not probable. Leagues like money, and governments don't like to overly regulate private businesses.
  • Rein in player salaries. A decent idea for many reasons, but not one that will really have an effect on ticket prices.
  • Nothing. Pat yourself on the back if you chose this option. As much as we can discuss, decry, and bemoan the high price of widgets, until people stop buying widgets the producers have no incentive to stop pricing them as high as possible. Arsenal are a widget; if fans want prices to drop, demand must cease. That's simple economics, and it's also why ticket price drops will almost never happen.

To an extent, for many of us reading, this is an academic argument; we consume the Premier League through television and online, and will only rarely warm a seat at the Emirates. Even still, I think it's an interesting discussion, because it applies to all sports, not just soccer. I'm kinda bummed Arsenal are the entry point for the discussion, but let's discuss. Do you think Arsenal charge too much for tickets?

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