£1000 for an Arsenal ticket: why reducing the price of watching football won’t help anyone.

By Tony Attwood

Every season the media and their allies in the fundamentalist blogs and associated fan support groups make a fuss about ticket prices for matches.  Sometimes Arsenal are singled out, sometimes the whole of the Premier League.

By and large the debate is pretty basic stuff made up of two points:

a) Premier League clubs earn lots of money from TV

b) Therefore they should make it cheaper to go into a game.

While this story gets run over and over again, strongly stoked up by the media who like simplistic tales without any complicated things in them like counter arguments and maths, the reason why the clubs don’t reduce prices are not normally run.

I thought of this particularly this morning after reading the various pieces in the press yesterday about tickets for Arsenal v Chelsea changing hands for £1000.

Now one might feel this is a typical journalistic exaggeration, except that I do remember being offered in all seriousness £750 for my upper tier ticket for Arsenal v Barcelona a few years back.  The ticket cost me £49 (that is to say if I took the price of my season ticket and divided by the number of games, the cost was £49 per match).

Prices have gone up a bit since then and my ticket for Chelsea is about £51, worked out in the same way, but still I am not taking my £949 profit, but undoubtedly some will.  Indeed almost certainly some will have bought a ticket just to sell it on.

So how do we balance these two closely related stories, which the protesting blogs and anti-Arsenal fundamentalists generally fail to bring together?  Prices are too high, but people will pay them.

When I am not running Untold, I work in an advertising agency, and quite often I find myself needing to take my agency’s clients back to the very basics of selling, in order to show them how and why advertising works or fails.  Selling, so the standard definition goes, is about having something people want at a price they are willing to pay.  It’s simple enough, but easy to forget.

Now as far as I know, no football club has ever auctioned its tickets to the highest bidder, but in asking that they might hold their prices down we are asking the clubs to go against all normal market forces.

This argument is put forward on the grounds that whereas I might choose to buy, or not to buy, a Mars bar or a Mercedes sports car, I don’t choose my football club in the same way.  I’m born into it.  It’s emotion and heritage.  And that’s a fair point.

But there is another factor, and it is one that was originally highlighted by Alan Sugar when in 1992 he was the only representative of the then “big five” (Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham) who voted in favour of Sky’s bid for Premier League television rights.

However in so voting he was also very much in favour of setting aside some of the huge amount (by standards of the day) that would be paid for live TV into a trust fund which was not to be paid out to the clubs.  It was to be used for the development of football – what we would today call “grass roots”.

David Pleat recalled later that at the time Sugar said, at a League Club meeting, ‘Gentlemen, it doesn’t matter whether the television company gives us £3m or £33m, we’ll piss it up the wall on wages.’.”

Pleat added some years later, “I believe [Arsène] Wenger runs a football club like a football club should be run. There is a definite balance between what comes in and what comes out,” which was a courteous thing to say, and it makes the same point as Sugar did more recently when it called TV money “prune juice”.  It goes in one end and comes out the other.

Everything stems from that early decision not to set up a major trust fund for the good of the game.  Almost all of the money from TV goes to the clubs to spend how they want.  The clubs and their fans demand not just success but success now (just look at the outpouring of bile against Arsène Wenger by Arsenal’s fundamentalist aaa supporters with their incessant and repetitive “fourth is not a trophy” campaign).

However we know that to win the league you need

a) a brilliant manager

b) a club that has the resources to attract the top players (ie a record of entering the Champions League, a big stadium and modern facilities)

c) money to outbid other clubs when it comes to buying players.

Now of course a) and b) do help reduce c), because a player will accept less in order to play for a club he wants to play for under a manager who he believes will develop his career.  And Arsenal have benefitted from this.

But it is noticeable that the very same people who have criticised Wenger for being mean with Arsenal’s money and failing to bring in top players because he has never been willing to spend enough, are the people who complain about ticket prices.

It seems you can’t have both success and low ticket prices – unless of course you are partly owned (not sponsored by, but owned) by the likes of Adidas and Audi as Bayern Munich is.  Indeed the German model suggests that perhaps, if Sugar’s plan had been accepted at the time we could have kept prices much lower, but that is quite different from reducing prices now.  You’d need everyone to agree, and you’d need to get agreement from the state concerning anti-competition law.

If Arsenal cut their prices dramatically, on their own, they would not increase gate receipts because the ground is always full anyway.

Arsenal earn about £3.5m a match played at Stadium Wenger and cutting prices for tickets could reduce that from £93m a year to about £55m a year I guess, which would mean one or two fewer superstars per season joining the club.

The chances are the other clubs wouldn’t do this, so it would just be Arsenal.

Now since this lack of spending on players is, as I have said, what the fundamentalists complain about, I can’t see them being happy – not least because the move wouldn’t allow people who don’t have tickets now, into the stadium, and this is what I think the people who argue that it is not fair that they can’t afford to go to Arsenal.

If prices were reduced, people like me would still be buying their season tickets, and other people would still be buying tickets and selling them for much higher prices.  I am not an aficionado of ticket touting, and like my pal Black Sheep am annoyed and outraged at the open way ticket touts prowl around Stadium Wenger before the games.  But from what I gather, for most games, tickets from touts cost about two and six times what people like us pay for our tickets.

So let’s think this price reduction through.

Prices go down by half.   The 40,000 season ticket holders get a bonus and just pay less each year.  The silver and red members who buy individual games just pay less each year.  No new people come to the games because of this, for as we know there are waiting lists for season tickets and silver memberships.  So the people who were coming anyway are still coming, but paying less.

The people who benefit are the people who sell their tickets on for higher prices via the criminals who lurk around the ground, and about whom the police do so little.

That’s not really a priority for me.

Arsenal on this day, from the Anniversary Files…

15 April 1912:  George Leavey resigned from the board of Woolwich Arsenal after 14 years with the club.  Quite where his wealth came from (he ran a gentleman’s outfitters shop in Plumstead) has never been clear, but he was a major force in Arsenal’s survival until the arrival of Henry Norris.

15 April 2006: Arsenal nominated the home match v WBA match as “Dennis Bergkamp Day”.  Dennis came on as a sub… and of course scored in the 89th minute! It was his last goal for Arsenal as Arsenal beat WBA 3-1 with the other goals coming from Hleb and Pires.


35 Replies to “£1000 for an Arsenal ticket: why reducing the price of watching football won’t help anyone.”

  1. Good article.
    I was listening to some utter nonsense on the radio about how clubs should be giving out free away tickets and making 20% of the ground for away supporters…

    Truth is, even Arsenal, a well run club financially are just keeping above the water line. A 10% reduction in income for Arsenal means we either go out of business or have to unload players to balance the books.

    Until something is done about player wages and transfer fees – something very significant – then ANY conversation about lowering ticket prices or the price of a half time hot dog are just a complete waste of time.

  2. Tony like you I calculate my season ticket cost as a simple division of the number of games by the cost of the season ticket. In my case in the lower tier it works out at £39 per match this season.
    However what really gets up my nose, and it’s something Arsenal can do, is the A,B,C categorisation of games. As you rightly say if Arsenal reduced the prices we would still sell out in the same way we do now. So why do we have categorisation of games? It certainly isn’t to fill the stadium against so called unpopular teams, so why have it at all?
    It seems to me we only have it because other teams do and we are just following suit. I can understand why some teams do this to encourage attendance at ‘unpopular’ matches. However we don’t need to do this so why do it? This ‘tit-for-tat’ situation is all nonsense at Arsenal.
    When I go to the theatre or cinema I don’t pay more to see the blockbuster so why do we have this archaic system? Arsenal could go some way to encouraging other clubs to drop this nonsense by unilaterally re-introducing standardised pricing. We wouldn’t then be accused by some clubs that we are charging away teams extortionate prices even though they charge our away fans the same extortionate price.

  3. Economists will tell you that a point of equilibrium is where demand and supply meet. Stadium Wenger has a capacity of just above 60k. However the demand for season tickets (including the waiting list) is well over 100k if am not mistaken.

    Therefore, market forces in play suggests that the prices are less than what they should be hence the issue of ticket touts coming into play. Economist will tell you that to stop this occurring, the prices of tickets should be increased. It will also enable a reduction in the waiting list.

    As much as football is an emotional sport and I am in no way suggesting that there should be an increase in ticket prices (before someone shouts me down) those suggesting a reduction in prices should consider the market forces in play and the privilege they have been close to the club they love cos for someone like me living in Nigeria, it will cost well over £6,000 (flight tickets and accommodation inclusive) to go watch Arsenal. In London unless we are privileged to have them visit us during preseason. Then I pull all the stops even if its to see my beloved club train.

  4. Market forces in a free market…nothing wrong with that. I agree with previous comments. Arsenal are first and foremost a business and a successful one. All want to see top players in the shirt and they cost bundles. Arsenal have this pricing policy because they can. They would argue the cost of a ticket is the A game price and that all the rest are discounted. I think we all know Arsenal could have built a 75000 seater and still filled it. Good luck to those season ticket holders who can get a grand for one seat, personally I think its total madness to pay that amount but it goes a long way to paying the season ticket.

  5. First, my work mate got his season ticket 3 years ago in North Bank. When he registered himself for season ticket, he was 60000 on the waiting list. Therefore, club have shifted that number to get to him. Therefore the figure of 100000 waiting list is pie in the sky. Stop this nonsense. Secondly, Tony if you could see yourself from outside, you will see a person equally fundamentalist in his views as others are. No one is saying that solution to high ticket prices come Arsenal only. It has to be joint effort by all. Problem is players wages and price. And I don’t see any solution to this in an open market economy. Therefore, more TV money goes straight in to player’s and agent’s pockets. Very little of this benefits the supporters or grass root football. Grass root football at present survives on local sponsors and parents donatins. Why should supporters not benefit from success of football and extra TV money. You can make all excuses why this isn’t posible. But if you want to do it, then you can find many ways how it is posible. It’s the question of greed at present. Football owners, players, agents are all greedy. I don’t know it but how can club CE is paid millions out of this honey pot but match day staff probably get paid minimum wages. it’s all wrong. Yes fans want success, but it doesn’t have to cost that much. And get over it, Wenger doesn’t run club efficiently. Our wages are about third highest in the country. I would say Sanches at 35 millions is cheaper then Wellback at 15 million. For last five years we needed a defensive midfielder for about 15/20 million to win trophies. Last year we cleared some waste, hopefully will clear more this year. Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Diaby, Padolski, Mertasaker, and replace them with fresh young payers who can help us win trophies.

  6. Tony, I agree with your conclusion. But I really hope the new TV money allows the prices to be held the same for a few years just so other clubs become more expensive and we aren’t named 1st in the press when ticket price are mentioned in future. Although most of the lazy hacks will probably continue naming us first!!!!

  7. @ Sam

    Why don’t you tell us which club to emulate since Wenger according to you doesn’t run the club efficiently

  8. Well Sam how long ago did he apply for a season ticket? And he was 60,000 (handy to have such a rounded figure and easy to remember) so 100,000 would not have been unbelievable, just because it has come round to him who is to say how many have applied since him, your logic doesn’t entirely hold up. And he got his season ticket against the height of our “slump” with the likes of Ozil and Sanchez arriving, and the return of trophies I would imagine that the clamour for season tickets would return.

  9. @Sam
    ‘and replace them with fresh young payers who can help us win trophies.’
    Maybe I imagined it but did we not win a trophy or two in the very recent past?

  10. But Sam I do agree that the people to benefit from money going into the game surely should be grass roots and fans, a bit of mutual respect from fans to the people that run the game would be nice, but we all know it will never happen.

  11. And Sam match day staff get minimum wage because it is unskilled work and there are thousands upon thousands of us that would love to do the job

  12. Nonny. No need to follow others to run our own club efficiently. But I can give you an example of a club running efficiently. SOUTHEMPTON. Cheap doesn’t always mean well run. My point is our declared wages bill in last accounts is £166.4 millions. This doesn’t include £15 millions added to it during last summer transfer . Therefor it is about £181.4 millions. Chelsea’s wages for two years are stable about £176 millions. Some say it’s £190 millions. But Chelsea is winning trophies after trophies in that wages. What do we have to show for this huge wage will. This means that we are paying silly wages to some not so good players. Southampton’s wage bill is about £47 millions. Look where are they in the table. So who is then running their club more efficiently, Southempton, Chelsea or us. It’s all relative. This is my point about wasting resources. Wenger is doing his best, but don’t tell me that he is running the club efficiently. If we had paid £50 millions for Suarez, we would have won title that year and our revenue would have gone up. As a result Suarez won’t be expensive at that price.

  13. @Mickess

    The ABC categorisation was in response to pressure from fan groups.

    This made it more expensive for season ticket holders when exceeding the maxium number of games the ST covers in a season. Additional games used to be charged at pro rota cost. Now they are calculated according to the category. Winners & losers!

  14. Ob 1977. Agree skill factor does come in to pay scale, but I made the point purely on the basis that success should be shared more equally. If a company makes lots of profit then it’s only fair that it is shared in a fairer way among all stake holders. Present system is fair.

  15. But we have to acknowledge Arsenal are a business, like any business they will try and pay the minimum they can get away with, I like a lot of things that we do as a club with charities and foundations, but rightly or wrongly when it comes to match day employees I am not surprised by any scrimping and scraping, would be of interest to me to hear what it is like to have Arsenal as an employer.

  16. Sam – I’m an old impatient git so why don’t you just get the fcuk out of Arsenal because you dumb fcuker called our captain(s) & game changers ‘waste’!!! You want trophies – go & buy some on the high street.

    I enjoy watching Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Diaby, Padolski, Mertasaker & all when they pull on the Arsenal shirt. Your ilk is typical of knowing better than Wenger. Show some respect for our players.

  17. Thanks very much for the article now I can put forward this kind of argument when the AST asks for feedback regarding ticket prices.

  18. menace, perhaps sam is a clear example of how the media have brain wash them to believe that the above mention players to be a ‘waste’. Its a pity that time and time again, people like him appear to make such a controversial comment. He was misled by the media to believe all those players have no value, when mert have pretty much played almost all the games in our recent winning run, when rosicky provide much dynamism whenever called upon, when arteta always provide us a fluency in our game, when flamini does all the dirty work, when pod smashes in the rockets… and diaby doesnt take pay when he is injured…

    so do forgive these misled little lamp… do not angst over those pitiful souls~

  19. Looks like I missed a trick or two when I surrendered my season ticket a few years ago (after moving miles & miles from London ) before the exchange system was fully implemented. I could’ve made a fortune and still managed to get to occasional matches.

  20. Well said Mick and Menace……

    @ Sam, Chelsea may have won trophies when we had our barren run but buying Ozil showed we’ve overcome the past and ready to compete with the other big spenders. If you do a like for like comparison and judge Arsenal from when they started spending big, you will find we haven’t done badly. If I recall, since we signed Ozil and retained our core players, Arsenal won an FA cup and community shield (I know the community shield only counts when Man U or Chelsea wins it), while Chelsea has only got a League cup. I don’t know how the season will end but it seems to me Arsenal are close to adding another trophy if all goes to plan.

    Look to the future and not the past. Your take on how Arsenal is run ruins your argument on ticket prices as already pointed out in the article. I also think you should re-visit your flawed argument on Arsenal needing £15/20m defensive midfielder to win trophies. Arsenal won the FA cup last year and nearly there this year without one. Unless, as I can see, you don’t consider the FA cup a trophy.

    I was once a match day steward and I don’t think you can compare that to the work the club CEO does.

  21. @Sam

    I hate to point out the blindingly obvious but buying a player doesn’t guarantee success in terms of winning things. Those of us of a certain age many recall Rodney MArsh moving to MAnchester City when they were top of the league.

    I dont know where your stats are coming from (wages etc). But I found this.. http://www.totalsportek.com/money/english-premier-league-wage-bills-club-by-club/

    Lord knows if its right. Take it with a pinch of salt.

    Arsenal are above Man United and City in the real league. Who is getting Value for money then? We’re punching above our weight.

  22. I love the way the aaa refer to the wages but ignore the purchase price.
    I haven’t done the figures but I’d guess if we pay 160m odd in wages and they pay 190m odd that sounds bad but in the big picture I’d guess we paid an average of less than 15m per player (probably much less) for the squad but they paid an average of closer to 30m per player.That outlay takes some years to catch up with and we didn’t have the money, now we are slowly getting it. We could just as easily compare with $iteh or ManUre instead but we’re moving in the right direction, are they?

  23. ob1977 (@11.32am),

    Your comment reminds of when I used to work as stadium security when I first arrived the UK. I worked Wembley, Fulham (Craven Cottage), Millwall (Lion’s Den) etc but never got the chance to work at the Emirates.

    To buttress your point, I would have done it not just for the minimum wage (I was earning £10/hour due to having SIA badge when the minimum wage was £5+) but for FREE!

    Of course I am an Arsenal fan and not all the workers are but for largely unskilled temporary jobs, I don’t get the righteous indignation usually lobbed at Arsenal for not paying more.

    Having said that, I will be very pleased if Arsenal pay the temp workers more.

  24. @ Menace

    Sam is another fan who seems to know how to run the club more than the coach. A player that gave his best to the club is toss out into the bin simply because he is not part ot the first team. Mert is no good and but has over 100 caps for Germany with his crap play. This goes to show how much you know about football. Name 6 CB that are better than Mert in the whole of the PL and tell me he will not get a place.

    Meanwhile, you do not have to be abusive to make you point.

  25. Nonny, these are the people whose whinging broke Big Phils confidence and after he left they moaned that our defence was too short…..

  26. Tony, in the first years of the professional football era, it was the local business man/men, who kept the clubs solvent.

    Reading Herbert Chapman’s book, tells how the supporters who paid through the turnstiles, kept most clubs solvent.

    Southampton, have a soft “loan” from the owner, which keeps the club solvent!

    A willing seller and willing buyer, is the crux of the matter?

  27. Well Sam all I know is I went on to the season waiting list this year at 67589 now this I know is a fact I can prove it.
    What about you can you prove your statement.

  28. When looking at ticket prices Arsenal are held up as the most expensive in the universe, but as has been pointed out on many occasion when evened out over 26 games Spurs & Chelsea tickets are higher per season.
    Arsenal are run as a business up to a few years ago running on a very tight budget, now things have changed but the rule is still not to overspend and live within their means. Chelsea and Manchester City live outside of these rules or have done for the previous years (especially Chelsea) so my question about ticket prices is –
    Why when Abramovich first came in to Chelsea did he not drop ticket prices to £10 why did he when he has been happy to spend over a billion pounds on the club did not think “I will drop ticket prices”? Manchester City charge their own fans more money the closer they are to the away fans because of a better atmosphere. Why? Why do they need to charge more with their wealth? Manchester United make season ticket holders take the cup games other wise their tickets are void for the next game. Why when they are the biggest club in the world with huge sponsorship deals?

    The way around this for Arsenal especially for away fans coming to Arsenal is to charge them what they charge us. It would be nice to have a moveable away area so away fans are put in similar positions in the ground to the ones Arsenal fans have to endure, But that is a different subject.

    Season ticket holders at Arsenal I feel get a good deal from the club, I will pay £42 per game next season for 26 games. Would I like it to be less yes of course I would, who wouldn’t. The tickets for sale at high prices are those on general sale to silver, red and occasionally general sale at those prices do come down to market forces. As soon as the tickets do not sell consistently then the prices will drop but at this moment the tickets are not, not selling.

    Back in 1998 I was offered £1000 for my cup final ticket, a sum that I turned down without hesitation. So even back then tickets for big games were being sort after at silly prices (I turned it down, woke up the next morning being sick and gave my ticket to my brother and spent the day in bed and missed most of the game on the TV as well)

    The other thing that annoys me is back in the early 2000’s Arsenal put up their season ticket prices by over £100 in one season. Was their a murmur about this from fan groups and demonstrations organised around the stadium. Now Arsenal put their prices up by 3% and it is the end of the world, the media and fans groups are calling for the head of Stan. Of course the difference between then and now is trophies back then we were winning one nearly every season and fans were happy with their lot. While I am on the subject of Stan do these fan groups who want Stan gone and the rather hefty Russian in charge do they think he will come in and reduce ticket prices with a slice of his sickle. Of course he will not he will want as much money out of the club as he can he sees it as a business just as much if not more than Stan does.

    So will ticket prices fall, maybe a tad. I can see many clubs holding their prices steady for the next few seasons. I can see away ticket prices being reduced to placate the demonstrators but as always this is not just an Arsenal problem and the media also need to look at clubs like Newcastle, Liverpool and QPR who put away fans in positions with incredibly bad views or seats with restricted views. The media and these fan groups need to look at the bigger picture in all this and not just ££££’s

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