By Tony Attwood
There is a little bit of a debate going on about the issue of empty seats at the Emirates, and how unfair it all is that some people have season tickets and then don’t show up for games. The suggestion is that such people should have their season tickets forcibly removed by the club.
The fact that the argument has flaws within it can be seen through article reporting it in the Telegraph (a paper regularly willing to use the press releases of organisations that wish to attack Arsenal) has a series of pictures which quite clearly were taken not during a regular match.
If you look at the first picture in the Telegraph you see people looking up, around, left and right, and those that are looking are not particularly focussed. It is a summer’s day – in fact it looks very much like the picture was taken during one of the Emirates Cup games a year or two back in which Arsenal was not playing (ie when two of the visiting teams play each other in the early afternoon before the Arsenal game kicks off at 4pm). Tickets for Ems Cup games cover the whole day – and I know I have often turned up midway through the first game, pausing for a drink before going into catch the end of the preliminary match.
The use of such a picture to illustrate the scene shows how weak that Telegraph’s argument is – had there been a real case to answer a picture from yesterday’s game – or at least another recent game – an actual picture of the “empty seats” mid game would have been used. Instead a highly manipulative image is used to make the point.
The second picture used as “evidence” was one taken at kick off for the last Champs League game, and it shows a lot of empty spaces in the clock end – and that wasn’t a manipulated picture – it was like that. But within ten minutes that part of the ground had filled up dramatically. The issue with that picture was one of late arrivals not of non-use.
Here there are many reasons – some people arrive late for Champs League games because there is no drinking in the ground, so they stay in the pub a bit longer. Some just get delayed by transport events, some are just bad at time keeping. I don’t fully understand that, since by and large I do arrive on time, but I see it game after game – people come to their seats late.
This is an issue I am well aware of, since I sit one seat in from the aisle – and thus have to stand each and every time someone arrives late – or indeed goes out early. People do both. Are we now trying to stop that – on the basis of another highly misleading Telegraph picture? An interesting approach to selling. Yes some theatre’s do it, but theatre’s generally take under 1000 people who just buy that ticket for that performance, not a ticket to attend 25 times a year, so the issue is different.
So on the basis of these misleading pictures we are told that Arsenal are being “urged to consider banning season tickets of fans who fail to show up.”
Of course it is true, people don’t show up sometimes. I like to think I’m as committed a season ticket holder as one can get regarding Arsenal but I don’t think I’ve attended every game in a season at Arsenal for years, and when I have not attended, I often haven’t been able to pass my ticket on.
There are many reasons for both my non-attendance and the not selling on of the ticket. Here’s a few real reasons – not taken from make believe misleading Telegraph pictures.
Why I don’t always turn up
One of the most frustrating and pernicious issues behind non-attendance is TV scheduling. At the start of the season you have no idea when matches are going to be. Games listed as being on a Saturday at 3pm can turn out to be on Friday, Saturday lunchtime, Saturday evening, Sunday lunchtime, Sunday late afternoon, or Monday.
And although we live in a world where spontaneity of arrangement is highly prized, some of us still plan non-football events. Visiting friends, a christening, a grandchild’s party, a few days away, a trip to Australia to visit my daughter who lives there… such things happen in my season.
Then there is transport. If you’ve never driven from the Midlands to London down the M1 on a Saturday you might care to try it sometime. Disruption is the name of the game: not least for the 3 year disruption for the building of the new A1/M1 link – and further north the M1/M6/A14 interchange.
Or take a train. It may seem obvious and ok, but our transport system is never as organised and reliable as some like to suggest. Cancellations, late running… its part of the game.
Then there is the weather. If it’s snowing as we approach my leaving time, doubts set in – because just half an hour’s snow can make the roads in and out of the village where I live impassable. It shouldn’t happen, but we have a government with no commitment at all to keeping local roads open, so they are left, with nature taking its course. I’ve been faced by fallen trees, flooding, roads blocked by broken down cars… you name it.
Meanwhile there are everyday reasons, and my friends who sit around me also don’t show all the time either and we often exchange stories as to why. Getting delayed at work for evening games is a common reason. Major traffic problems too.
Then there are family and friend crises… the list goes on.
Why I don’t always sell
Some of the reasons above make it clear why one doesn’t always sell a ticket – they are last minute events. But there is also the fact that just because a ticket is put on Ticket Exchange doesn’t mean it will sell. After I found that my ticket for a game against Tottenham (a ticket that most of us might expect to sell in a second) failed to sell, I started trying to find people myself who would buy a ticket, and then have them meet with my friends for a handover.
Yes people expressed themselves desperate for a ticket. “If you ever have a spare….” “Do you really sometimes have a ticket available…” these are the common comments. But when it comes to the event suddenly everyone can’t make it on that day, or says yes, but then simply doesn’t turn up for the handover, leaving one’s friends hanging around.
I realised just how hard it could be to move a ticket on when I damaged the ligaments at the base of my spine and was pretty much immobile for four months. For match after match I wanted to move my ticket on, and around half the time I failed to. It really isn’t as easy as you might think. And here’s why. If the tickets have not sold out, the club will not implement the ticket exchange, and even then not every ticket on ticket exchange sells. It’s not a perfect system.
So how many people don’t actually show for a “sold out” match? Figures vary but the Freedom of Information request last season on which the Telegraph bases its whole article quotes “a shortfall of around 1,000 per league game.” So about 1.8% of those attending a game.
Now if you take out all the reasons I give above for having a ticket and not selling it on (it doesn’t sell on ticket exchange through to transport problem, illness arising on the day before the game, the person who says he/she will buy not showing up…) that probably takes you down to a few hundred people per game who have a ticket and simply don’t show.
And on the basis of the actions of a few hundred people, “The board will be asked to consider this issue at the AGM and encouraged to implement both incentives and potential sanctions for ticket holders. Fans also believe that a more accessible digital system could be created to facilitate re-sales and the deadline for buying tickets could be extended.
“The concern is that there are groups of super-rich corporate fans who buy a season ticket each year to be sure of seeing the very highest profile matches but are not then interested during the rest of the season. Arsenal have a huge waiting list for season tickets.”
Yes that is annoying. But now we see – it is the super rich who tend to buy the super expensive seats – the sort of tickets I could not afford to buy. So we might release a few of those for other super rich people to buy. Fair enough. But let’s be clear and not use highly misleading and manipulative pictures. A few hundred of the most expensive season tickets in the ground might be reclaimed because they are not used, and passed on.
Will that help your regular fans to have a few more top-end season tickets on the market? I doubt it very much. But if you do have £3000 or more to spend on a season ticket in one of the more refined parts of the ground, and you are on the waiting list, then the Arsenal Supporters Trust campaign, ably abetted by the Daily Telegraph’s misleading photograph department is obviously for you.
Of course there will be a few cheaper tickets released, but only a few.
The whole issue is a perfect example of people who are desperate to make a protest against Arsenal, allying themselves with a newspaper that makes sales out of stories attacking Arsenal.
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