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The rampage against reality and why having a nice stadium matters

By Tony Attwood

Thank goodness – the interlull is just on over.  And what a ghastly interlull it has been.  Daily attacks on Arsenal by the media, the most appalling news on the terrorist front, and my super whizzo car has gone plonk and will not function at more than 20mph (30mph going downhill).

So the long wind down the M1 from Northamptonshire tomorrow will be in a little red Toyota, which from first glance could probably fit under most of the HGVs that normally travel in gangs on the motorway whenever I fancy going somewhere.

The only good news is that I took the little replacement vehicle for a spin to Rugby in Warwickshire last night, to go to a dance, and it handled the drive along the partially upgraded A14 / M1 / M6 interchange quite well.  No one died and no more than six or eight vehicles were forced off the road as I tried to work out how all the latest lane changes (introduced entirely to confuse me) worked.

Anyway, there’s no doubt that the fanatical anti-Arsenal elements in the media will continue their rampage against reality over the weekend, with suggestions that next November 5 instead of burning the pope on bonfires we should be burning Mr W etc etc.

And thus, for a final flurry before football returns from the wilderness we have this in the Guardian: “The reasons for Arsenal’s stagnation are legion and have been discussed at length, from Wenger’s increasing conservatism to the supposed over-niceness of this group of players, but look at the sweep of the past 12 years and it becomes apparent there is also one huge underlying issue.”

Thus “top four is not a trophy” is now “stagnation”.  It is the sort of “stagnation” that Man U and Chelsea would love to have at this moment, and that Tottenham is desperate for, because the chances are that for the eight millionth year in a row Arsenal will be in the Champions League, which means yet more money for the club.

And it is curious to miss that out, for this latest rampage against reality in the newspaper of the political party that no longer exists, is about money.   In essence it seems to argue that Arsenal entered a slough of despond in order to build the New Arsenal Stadium, and it was all a waste of time, because we don’t need the money any more, as we have a new TV deal, and Man C and Chelsea can outbid us on anything any day they want.

Arsenal, the article says, “found themselves on the wrong side of football’s economics.”

Now this very odd and very unclear article does have the grace to point out that Arsenal has the seventh-highest revenues in the world.   “Moving to the Emirates in 2006 was supposed to be Arsenal’s way of closing the economic gap on Manchester United and the European elite. But in 2003 Roman Abramovich arrived and revolutionised the finance landscape of English football.”   Or as I recall Mr Wenger saying at the time, “The Russians have parked their tanks on our pitch and are firing £50 notes at us.”

But the one part of the legacy of Platini that is worth remembering is still there – FFP.   It isn’t talked about much, but it is there – and maybe this is time to consider FFP in the new world of the mega TV deal.

There are two things to remember here.  First, although all the PL clubs are getting loads more dosh, the chances are they will spend it on higher transfer fees and higher wages.  That is what they do.   And since all the clubs are getting more money there won’t be that much difference.   If you spend all your money on ever higher player costs and then spend more, you’ll be as caught by FFP as you were three years ago.  As Lord Sugar so elegantly pointed out when he was running Tottenham Hotspur & Co, “if we get more money all the clubs will do is piss it up against the wall in players’ wages.”  Such a fine turn of phrase.

True, the clubs at the top get more of the new money than clubs at the bottom – which is why finishing higher up the league is always important.   But in a world where you now earn twice as much but everything is twice as expensive, not too much has changed (unless of course the UK votes to leave the EU in which case it will take longer to bring in each European player, and that will make transfers slower and harder.  Why spend two months trying to get a work permit in England when you can just go and play in Germany or Spain?).

So the extra income from the stadium is still worth having – as of course is the extra comfort and the better view.   Hence WHU’s euphoria at receiving the present the UK government has made to it of a lease on the Olympic stadium, hence Tottenham now entering the deep dark hole of building a stadium without sugar daddy funding, hence Chelsea’s long overdue upgrade which is planned to last three years, hence the length Liverpool are going to, just to put in some executive chairs.

Arsenal still has to keep up with Chelsea and Man C and they do it (according to Deloitte) with income from matchday revenue.

Now of course the media turn this into “the most expensive club to watch” and as always, do this without any evidence.  It is just like “Arsenal get more cards than any other club” and “Arsenal get more injuries than any other club” and that one idiot picture over and over again of one guy protesting at a match and claim all Arsenal fans are protesting.

The evidence to back up all these claims is not there.

So when the Guardian proclaims, “broadcast revenues have increased to the point where stadium revenue seems, if not irrelevant, then certainly less significant than it was,” this is completely untrue, because everyone is getting more broadcast revenue.  Only Arsenal have this much income from a matchday, thanks to the massive array of boxes and club level seats.

The new TV deals bring in £5.1bn meaning the club at the foot of the table gets £100m, and the Champions League sides all get more than £150m.  The overseas rights of over £1bn are even more equally distributed.  So making £100m from the matchday input is still worthwhile if many of your competitors are getting half that.

And of course that is not all.  Arsenal bring through youngsters of quality – players that don’t cost mega fees.  I’ve repeated the list so often that you probably know it all by heart – Coquelin, Bellerin… etc.  And I would not be surprised if we didn’t have two ready for us next season, looking at the list of youngsters we have who are coming through.

So wherever Tottenham and Leicester end up at the end of the season, they will still go into next season with less income than Man U and Arsenal because of the tiny stadia that they have.

And here’s one other thing.  When players are considering which club to join – either as youngsters or as big money transfers, they look at the facilities.  They look at the training and medical support areas, at the changing rooms, at the stadium, at the long-term stability of the club etc etc.

And they look at the attendances….



Graphic courtesy of UK Soccer Shop.

Players like to be seen, like to be talked about.   They like the big numbers.

Of course no one transfers to a club just because of the stadium, but it helps.   That’s why other clubs want bigger grounds.

Anyway, as I said, the interlull is now just about over.  It is almost time for the ref preview for the Watford game.

Thank goodness.

Anniversary of the day (more on the home page)

1 April 1931: Arsenal wrote to the BBC banning all future radio broadcasts from Highbury.  (Exact date uncertain, but certainly within two days either way).  They rather bizarrely failed to let George Allison know – even though he was the BBC’s chief commentator.

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17 comments to The rampage against reality and why having a nice stadium matters

  • Tim Charlesworth

    Great article Tony. Stadiums (stadia?) Really do matter for all the reasons you suggest. I would add the effect of a large crowd intimidating the opposition and the ref to your list, although the intimidation factor does depend on the nature of the crowd as well as its size. I remain very disappointed that we appear not to be making any effort to expand the Ems. I know there are problems but excellent organisations look for solutions to problems. Expansion will expand our fan base, add to atmosphere, make the club more attractive to players and make it easier to get tickets.

  • WalterBroeckx


    I was just thinking the same. I have heard that we could get more people in by changing the seats a bit. They now are amazingly comfortable for a football stadium and just changing that could add a few thousand more supporters in the stadium. But I also heard that there are problems with doing that because of other issues like transport and safety…

    About the atmosphere… getting the moaners out would also be helpful. Maybe the moaners could remove themselves and make their places available for supporters who really want to support…

  • WalterBroeckx

    We will come over for this match with the supporters club and we will have some 12 people who never been to the Emirates before. From my own experience and from others I know that seeing the Emirates for the first time when you come from Holloway road nearing the roundabout is a moment that is very impressive. Entering the field side of the stadium is such another moment I like to be with the newbies…. seeing their mouth fall open is worth making the trip.
    I do admit we come from a country with rather smallish stadiums. I think the whole attendance in the Jupiler league could not even fill the Emirates at some days. Se we are not that used to see big stadiums. But seeing that stadium with all it has to offer (apart from good cappuccino :-p ) and the vision on the pitch you get is something to treasure and be proud of. Well I am.

  • Pete

    Walter – welcome once again to you and your Belgian colleagues! I should be along as well and let’s hope we can continue the progress from Everton.

    I believe that smaller seats are one option. I was also told once upon a time – and can’t guarantee that this is accurate – that the stadium was designed to allow for an increase in size. The problem, as Time alludes to, is the authorities aren’t keen on greater numbers. As the local MP is now more important than he used to be, maybe he can nudge this through and achieve something concrete (pun intended)?

    Interesting that Barca plan to spend a fortune increasing their capacity when they aren’t even close to filling the current stadium….

  • Gooner S

    “The Russians have parked their tanks on our pitch and are firing £50 notes at us.” It was David Dein who said this wasn’t it? Not AW.

  • nicky

    I,too,wanted to make the point about the value intimidation not only from the stadium but also by the quality of the changing rooms.

  • Tim Charlesworth

    People are quite right to comment that there is a problem with transport and safety aspects of Ems expansion. However, these problems are clearly not insurmountable. There are many 100,000 stadiums in the world and the Ems exists in the middle of a veritable network of railway lines (that is why Henry Norris moves us there from Woolwich in the first place!). The political, safety and transport problems may take many years to resolve to the satisfaction of all involved. Remember how long the plan or the Ems took from inception to opening! at least half of that time was about overcoming political, transport and safety concerns. My frustration is that, if the club does not start this project now, the conclusion is likely to be over a decade away! I really hope I am wrong and that there is some secret project going on in the ‘Arsenal corporation’. If such a project is in progress it hasn’t got to the stage of addressing political issues yet! I don’t see how it can be sensible decision not to be carrying our feasibility studies on this subject, and that makes me worry about what our board is thinking about.

  • Pete

    Tim- Completely agree with you. I hope background work is going on into the feasibility of expanding the stadium. I suspect, from the Board’s point of view, that they would like to pay down a bit more of the initial debt before they embark on an expensive expansion? And, as has been pointed out, gate revenue seems to be becoming an ever smaller share of clubs’ overall revenue – for Arsenal I believe our gate revenue is just about the highest in the world (but is still significantly under half of overall revenue), TV is done collectively so outside Arsenal’s direct influence, and the commercial side is being (slowly) built out.

    Interesting times!

    And pretty sure it was indeed Dein who made the comment about “Russian tanks on our lawn firing £50 notes at us”.

  • finsbury

    F. Park is being upgraded.
    Next stop The Arsenal (& Holloway Road too!).

    Perhaps Uncle Boris could help out his old school pals in N5 like he has done others if we all promise to provide some wonga for his bid to be the next Great Leader. What do you all think: should we get down with Mr. Not So Slim Shady?

  • Notoverthehill

    From a previous discussion, in 2010. There was another in 2007, but did not have this “knowledge”.

    Samir Nasri Nasri Samir Nasri NA NA NA NA NA (U11698346)

    posted Mar 21, 2010

    Yes an expansion is possible

    I work with one of the architects who helped design and build the new Arsenal stadium and even lived onsite while it was being built, so if anyone knows the facts he does and so will you now!

    (I have bombarded him with questions and the following is what I have been told)

    The stadium can be expanded and will, it is only a matter of time. This was a pre-required specification of the design to allow it to be future-proof. It was originally designed to be an 80,000 seater stadium with a retractable roof, but because of Islington council objection and time to build as well as cost, it is now at 60,000 capacity. Let us be honest, it is a good jump in size from 38,000 as Highbury was.

    The area around the pitch can be utilised for seating if needed and would provide up to 5,000 more seats. For new stadium regulations, this area is required to be free of seating however. This is a good thing as stadiums that will be selected for the 2018 World Cup have to adhere to this rule, eg Wembly as another stadium.

    Regarding expanding the stadium, there are a few simple ways this can be done. Emirates Stadium is a four-tiered design, simply adding an extra tier(just like the overlapping tier between the first and second tier) will add the capacity required or simply to keep adding steps to the original stadium as it is, ie increase the steps from the back row.

    There are approximately 1,000 seats in the last row of the stadium. If you take an extra 10 steps upwards, then that would be 10,000 seats. Another factor to look at is the height of the stadium. Rules in building it were it had to be of a maximum height, which it is below now anyway as the stadium was built below ground level.

    Getting back to the maximum capacity, it would take 40 steps to add 40,000 seats (This is a conservative estimate) and bring the total capacity to over 100,000 if necessary. There are 45,000 or so on the waiting list at the moment…
    Regarding the height, if each step up is about 12 inches, this means it would be forty feet more than it is now. This does not seem excessive.

    The roof will need to be removed and a new roof replacing it, but as you can see it is not a nightmare architectually speaking.

    I can go on and on, with statistics and figures etc.

    The bottom line is that once the underground, overground and road infrastructure is improved in future (Arsenal has to live up to their original promises) then we can see it happening.

    In my view. the local residents and Islington Council. will oppose. David Conn of The Guardian, wrote an article supporting a local resident, at the planning stage!

  • Col

    “So when the Guardian proclaims, “broadcast revenues have increased to the point where stadium revenue seems, if not irrelevant, then certainly less significant than it was,” this is completely untrue, because everyone is getting more broadcast revenue. ”

    I am not sure I follow this argument. Increased broadcast revenue for all means that the matchday revenues at Arsenal are a smaller proportion of Arsenal’s overall revenue than they would otherwise have been, and give a smaller percentage advantage of overall revenue for Arsenal compared to other clubs. This is necessarily (i.e. mathematically) true (i.e. almost the opposite of ‘completely untrue’). It is perhaps hyperbole to say that the matchday revenues are ‘irrelevant’, but the principle holds.

    It might be worth pointing out that Arsenal’s commercial revenue is relatively weak compared with the traditional top 4, further diluting any advantage from matchday revenue.

    The other thing massive broadcasting revenue means is that relative to the rest of the world, all PL clubs are wealthy, and therefore able to pick and choose between the rest of the world’s players. Yes the prices go up, but non-PL clubs get completely priced out of the market, so there is more choice. It is of course to Wenger’s credit that he manages the club without spending the wealth he has at his disposal – I am sure Kroenke is very happy.

  • Jerry

    Excellent article debunking the myths of the media! Not sure how they can believe having a higher matchday revenue

    Your position would be appropriate if the broadcast revenue was equally split, but the math for the broadcast revenue split is actually more complicated than the media usually reports:

    50% of UK broadcast revenue is split equally between all 20 clubs
    25% of UK broadcast revenue is paid in Merit Payments (prize money per place in table)
    25% of UK broadcast revenue is paid in Facility Fees when a club’s match is broadcast on UK tv
    100% of international broadcast and commercial revenue is split equally among all 20 clubs

    Here is the info for last season:

    Last season there was a 30-35 million difference in broadcast revenue between the Top 4 sides and the relegation sides, but only about a 3 million difference between 1st and 4th place.

    So with more money on the table next, that gap can only be expected to increase between the tradition top teams (who will be broadcast more) and the other teams.

    So, what’s going to separate the teams that are grouped near each other in broadcast revenue (i.e. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, United, Liverpool, & Tottenham)?

    Gate/Matchday Income and Commercial Income.

    Our matchday income is high, and our commercial income is slowly starting to improve as well.

  • Jerry


    sorry, in the beginning, meant to say “Not sure how they can believe having a higher matchday revenue is not an advantage”.

  • hrishi

    Not every article is a cynical take on Arsenal’s state of affairs.

    The point of the article was that our matchday revenues mattered much more under the old TV deal than the new. Given the size of the new TV deal, which is a 71% increase over the old one, that is not too far off the mark.

    It certainly isn’t completely untrue or a rampage against reality.

  • Col

    Obviously having a higher matchday revenue is an advantage, but the relative advantage of this is diluted by the massive broadcasting revenues available. I am not sure why this is so difficult to understand!

    Jerry, you cite the percentage splits of broadcasting revenue as somehow invalidating my point, but (1) for the 50% of UK revenue and 100% international revenue which are split equally, this unarguably dilutes the advantage of matchday revenue, so I am not sure what your point is here
    (2) matchday revenue or size of stadium has no direct effect on league position or likelihood of being broadcast. This year Leicester will have quite a few live broadcasts and will do well out of their positioning – they don’t have enormous matchday revenues. They, and perhaps West Ham and Southampton, are by their actions challenging the relative advantage of matchday revenue. West Ham and Tottenham will also be able to directly challenge it by virtue of increased stadium size in the near future.

    Matchday revenue is obviously a good thing, but its overall importance in the scheme of things is less than it was – this is blindingly obvious, not treacherously anti-Arsenal or ‘completely untrue’. The league table this year makes this point more eloquently than I can.

  • Jerry

    You focus on the 50% of the UK revenue and the 100% international revenue that are equally split. But have you considered the other 50% that is based on how many times they are selected for UK television and merit?

    If you looked at the link, you’ll see a big difference (high correlation) between the place finished and amount of money received. Difference in 2014/15 in merit payments was about 1.2m per place.

    For example, compare Arsenal finishing 3rd making 96.5m total off broadcast revenue to Aston Villa who finished 17th making only 68.6m. Now with more money in the next tv deal, do you think this gap is going to be bigger or smaller?

    I’ll help you out, it’ll be much bigger, the top of the table is projected to get around 150m and the bottom of the table around 99m.

    As a result it will be much more difficult for clubs at the bottom to move up the table. And then what do you think will help separate the clubs that will get similar broadcast revenues?

    The extra advantage of the matchday revenue with hopeful improvements on the commercial side will allow Arsenal to spend more and continue to purchase more quality players with all things equal.

  • austinpaul

    Glad attention has shifted to oda issues wich I consider very important to d continued existence of our club nd her ability to compete in all ramifications wit contmporaries nd progress above dem,wich to me are much more important dan all d vernom nd negativities of d past 2 months;now d real Arsenal fans are discussing d real issues nd future of Arsenal,an encouraging fresh breath;no doubt we shall win d tittle sooner dan most critics wish nd under d watch of AW inspite of d angst nd unreasonable abuses frm sum quarters;I salute all U faithfuls living in UK I wish I were amongst U,even den ,my prayer,zeal nd zest for anytin Arsenal will always burn wit unquenchable passion;welldone folks!!!