One of the biggest complaints about Modern Football is that it has been taken over by sponsors. And it has! But those exorbitant wage bills aren’t going to pay for themselves, and everyone wants a piece of the footballing pie, so that’s the world in which we live - a world in which every stadium is covered in advertisements, every element of the game has a name sponsor, and where as a fan you’re barraged on all sides with advertisements when sometimes all you want to do is watch a game.
One of the things about sponsors is that they suck up tickets to events. They always get a block of tickets, and companies generally use them as perks - usually for the C-suite people that work at a company, but occasionally some filter down to the regulars as well. It’s a nice junket for these folks, albeit one that takes a seat away from a fan of a team and gives it to someone who may or may not care all that much, which inevitably changes the atmosphere of a final from one of fierce partisanship to one of a fun day out with no particular stakes.
The atmosphere of the 2019 Europa League final, though, is verging on becoming funereal at this point. We’ve already heard that both Arsenal and Chelsea returned half their allocation of tickets due to travel and cost issues, and today, we hear that many of the event’s sponsors - again, companies that paid to be there, are doing the same thing.
Main sponsors were given 2,000 seats each for the final, and according to The Times (registration required to read entire article, but it’s free), “several sponsors” are giving back a “large proportion” of their allocations, because a lot of them can’t even give their tickets away, thanks to those same travel and cost issues.
All of the returned tickets will be sold to Azerbaijani locals, but there have already been 23,000 tickets sold in the local market, so there’s probably not another 10,000 or so that need or want tickets. Which raises the very real possibility that a European championship final (even if it is their secondary championship) will be far from a sellout, which has to be viewed as an embarrassment in the halls of UEFA oh no you’re right I can’t even type that sentence with a straight face because UEFA.
There are an increasing number of voices saying that Arsenal should boycott this game, because Henrikh Mkhitaryan wouldn’t be safe in Baku, and honestly, I wouldn’t be too bothered if they did. They never will, of course, because actual human rights issues will never surpass the siren song of short term moneymaking in sports.
We live in a world where “Baku isn’t a safe place for Mkhitaryan to travel” is seen as less of an issue than “If Arsenal boycott they won’t have any chance of getting to the Champions League and drinking from its gilded firehose of money”, and that’s really sad. How sad? As sad as a half-full stadium for a Europa League final.