NOTE: This article may primarily be of interest to our English readers, in particular those of you that attend Arsenal matches. If this is you and you don't comment much, please feel free to weigh in, we'd love to hear from people that this actually impacts.
ALSO NOTE: I am not a season ticket holder for Arsenal, nor are any of our writers, but this is a Thing That Has Been Happening in the world of Arsenal, so we figured we should write something.)
Arsenal, like most top level sports teams in major metropolitan areas, charge a lot for their tickets. Like, a crippling amount, for a lot of people - the cheapest season ticket to the Emirates for an adult person is £1035 ($1500), while the most expensive non-club level season ticket is - hang on to your hat - £2039 ($2956). For one ticket.
That is, by any realistic measure, a lot of money. A shit ton of money. An amount of money that, for most people of moderate means, has probably forever priced them out of getting a season ticket - which is an entirely separate issue from what I want to talk about today, even though it's related on some level.
What I want to talk about today is what happened this week. Arsenal, unlike most elite-level Premier League clubs, include a certain number of non-league games in with the 19 Premier League games included in the season ticket price - typically the first seven home non-Premier League games are included in the annual cost, regardless of competition.
Most years, this works out neutrally - the club plays the amount of games in the amount of competitions that it thought it would, and there's no impact to fans at all. And last year, there were actually fewer games played than were intended to be included in the ticket, so season ticket holders actually got a refund, applied to this year's season ticket cost.
Well, this year, things were reversed - the home tie against Barcelona was not, according to the club, accounted for correctly in the season ticket price, so they announced this week that season ticket holders would see a surcharge of anywhere from £7-20 applied to next year's renewal to make up the difference.
You can imagine how well this went over.
Any time there's an unexpected increase in ticket costs, fans are going to get mad, and that's to be expected - and in this case, Arsenal seem to have put several PR feet wrong here, namely:
1. The club had already announced that 2016/17 season ticket prices would be frozen at this year's level
2. The club has also pulled back on other season ticket holder benefits, like an annual season ticket holder holiday party that was cancelled this year
3. The club have opposed a fan-led initiative to cap ticket prices for visiting fans at £30 per ticket, no matter the ground
So, with all that as background, their decision to charge season ticket holders extra for games they're already committed to going to is definitely a bad PR move, if not completely tone-deaf.
I am, and have been for six years, a season ticket holder to my local club, the 2015 MLS Champion Portland Timbers (Nope. Writing that never gets old.). In my life, I have also been a season ticket holder for one minor league hockey team, two professional baseball teams, and, well, let's just say I am, in a very monetary sense, Invested In Sports. And when one spends enough time invested in sports, one learns a single, fundamental, very important lesson:
For teams, sports is about money.
Everything a sports team does for a fan in person at their stadium is done with the understanding that that fan is an ATM. Want a beer? Sure! That single beverage will be approximately the cost of a six pack of the same thing at the grocery store. Want some food? Great! Prepare to skimp on a couple other things this week, because you just spent three days' lunch money on a mediocre burger and fries. Bringing a kid - or kids - to the game? Better have your mortgage broker on speed dial, because you're gonna need a second mortgage.
But by and large, this is the deal we as attending fans make - we know it's going to be usuriously expensive, and we know that expense will ramp up every single year. Why? Because it can, that's why. Back to my local team again - the Timbers play in a stadium that seats just a shade over 20,000 people. Portland is a soccer-crazy city, always has been; when the Timbers went MLS, after 35 years in various minor leagues, season tickets (originally capped at 12,000 but I believe the cap is now 14,000) sold out in less than a week.
They established a waiting list for new season ticket holders, and that list is currently, if reports are to be believed, over 15,000 people deep. With a season ticket holder renewal rate of about 98%, if you're on the waiting list, you may as well put that spot on the list in your will, because you ain't seeing the inside of Providence Park regularly any time soon.
To bring this back to Arsenal, I told you that story to illustrate a point. Arsenal raise ticket prices, and do things like the ticket surcharge - which they, to give them some credit, did walk back earlier today - for one simple reason: because they can.
London, as we all well know, is one of the most expensive cities in the world - land is expensive, labor is expensive, goods are expensive. All that expense was poured into building a stadium; the club is recouping that expense in part, fan by fan, through ticket prices and merch. This should be a surprise to no one, because that's how things always work.
But, I mean, the anger - I kinda get it. Every year, ticket prices go up, concessions go up, and we as fans feel like things are out of our control, largely because - spoiler alert! - they are. But the thing is, fans are entitled to be angry about that, right? They're not supposed to just be sheep, accepting their lot in life?
Well, yeah. But then we start hearing the protests take the form of "WE WANT OUR ARSENAL BACK" and hearing how much better things were "back when Arsenal was Arsenal", and hearing people demanding that ticket prices be frozen forever, or that the club has, as Liverpool fans phrased it when protesting the imminent rise in Anfield ticket prices, imposed a "morally unjustifiable" ticket price increase on its fans, and I start to lose patience with the protests just a little bit.
The people who protest in these terms seem to believe that their club:
1. Is a community trust that does not need to make money to survive
2. Has a duty to provide its product to its consumers at a reasonable price
3. Should resist any moves to raise ticket prices without consulting the fans first, and not raise them if the fans say no
4. Are obligated to make tickets affordable to more people
5. Put the interests of its fans over that of its business welfare
And, as cynical and defeatist as I know this will sound, absolutely none of those things are even remotely true. Arsenal have no obligation except one: to put the best possible team it can assemble in the best possible position it can to win the league championship, FA Cup, and Champions League. Unfortunately, that obligation, in this day and age, is exorbitantly expensive.
And also: supply and demand says that more people will want to see Arsenal play Barcelona than will want to see Arsenal play Smithfield Hamlet Town United FC in the early rounds of the League Cup, so that Arsenal/Barca game is always, always going to be more expensive. Always.
If you're a season ticket holder unhappy with Arsenal's ticket price shenanigans - as you are well within your rights to be - stop paying them. Stop giving the club money. If enough people do that, the tickets will become reasonably priced again, and the club will be more responsive to the needs of its fans, because it will do whatever it can to encourage those fans to return to their paying-for-things ways.
Short of that, though? If people don't stop paying those exorbitant ticket prices, whatever they are, and if teams don't play in half empty stadia regularly because nobody's paying those exorbitant prices? Nothing will change, because we will have given Arsenal no incentive to change things.