By Tony Attwood
Now here is a surprising statement. “Two-thirds of Arsenal fans are urging the club to take the unprecedented step of rescinding the season tickets of those who regularly fail to attend home matches.”
Surprising because it seems a fairly draconian measure. And surprising to me because none of the people I asked agreed. And surprising because I couldn’t find anyone who had actually been asked the question.
But there is was, bold as brass, in the Telegraph, headline news. “Two-thirds of Arsenal fans are urging the club to take the unprecedented step of rescinding the season tickets of those who regularly fail to attend home matches.”
In fact it is bunkum. There was a survey – it was conducted by Arsenal Supporters Trust – a group that like other supporters groups related to Arsenal has its own particular style and approach to the club, which attracts its own particular type of membership. It says on its web site it has “over 1000 members”.
As it happens I am a committee member of a different Arsenal supporters group: Arsenal Independent Supporters Association. We’ve debated the issue of no-shows but certainly didn’t come up with a finding anything remotely like that of AST.
So can “over 1000 members” be said to represent the views of around 45000 season ticket holders, 44,000 of whom choose not to be members of AST? It seems unlikely.
The point is of course that most Arsenal fans are not members of any of the main UK based supporters groups. Those that are tend to choose the group that represents their views. So any survey conducted just of the membership will reflect their views because of their original stand.
It is a bit like asking Conservative Party members if they support the 100% nationalisation of the railways, or if they want local authorities to be allowed to raise mortgages on their houses they own, in order to build more. The members will generally vote one way – a way that is not necessarily indicative of the public at large.
Of course the Telegraph writers know this, but still they push forward and we get “Asked if Arsenal should remove season tickets from holders who regularly leave their seats empty, a total of 66 per cent were in favour.”
So what does “regularly” mean? I once missed half a season because of a serious back injury. So I regularly left my seat empty for half a season. Do I then lose my ticket?
Every year I go to Australia to see one of my daughters and so miss matches. I try and sell the ticket on ticket exchange but it doesn’t always sell. Do I lose my ticket because of that?
I travel around 100 miles each way to get to a game. And each year I miss one or two games because of the weather, the failure of the train service, or the failure of the road system or illness. Again, do I lose my ticket because of that? Or what about the combination of these effects. Five misses and I am out – is that the plan?
Then in the article there was something very strange. The Telegraph writing about the Europa game last week says, “The official attendance was more than 59,000 but Arsenal publish only a “tickets sold” figure and there are varying estimates of the true number.
“The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust believes that there were fewer than 30,000 at the match – a figure disputed by the club.” I was there and to pass the time of day, looked across to the north bank and counted the empty seats. Multiplying that across the ground I estimated about 10,000 people missing. So how did AST get their number? Sadly we are not told.
But let us assume AST is right – with a figure of only 30,000 then no one who could not attend would have been able to sell their ticket on the ticket exchange – because that only comes into play when all tickets are sold out. If they don’t sell out, season ticket holders can’t sell.
Later in the article the Telegraph does travel some of the distance back to reality by saying, “More than three-quarters of respondents also said that Arsenal did not do enough to support a good atmosphere inside the Emirates and more than 90 per cent called on more resources to be devoted to improving their ticket-exchange scheme.”
At least in those commentaries they said “of respondents”. I am not sure they told us how many respondents there were.
And let us be thankful for another point the Telegraph made. “Arsenal are unusual in having a scheme for reselling unused tickets at face value that does not rely on third parties who may inflate prices, but a further series of initiatives are now being suggested. A “donate” option is wanted – and in the process of being delivered upon – that would allow fans to give up their ticket for nothing.”
Now that is a nice touch – and it is good to see the quality of the current system acknowledged. My friends who support other clubs invariably say “Why don’t we have that?” when they see how Arsenal’s system works. That doesn’t mean we can’t go on improving the system, but let’s at least acknowledge how progressive the club has been, rather than just knocking it.
But AST always blows it, for as Tim Payton for AST is quoted by the Telegraph as saying, “They make supporters pay for seven cup tie credits at the start of the season knowing full well that many do not want the cup games and will not use them.”
This is the second season of football outside the Champions League. Certainly during the CL seasons – and let us remember that Arsenal has been in more consecutive CL seasons than any team in Europe except Real Madrid – those tickets were much prized. I can hardly recall empty seats anywhere for CL games. Likewise very few FA Cup matches are not played in front of full stadia. A few yes, but not many. And League Cup matches are outside the scheme.
And there’s another point. The big problem is with the very expensive tickets – which of course only a tiny number of people can afford. When people use ticket exchange even my ticket in the upper north was took expensive for many people, and I recall a couple of occasions when I tried to sell my ticket against Man U and Tottenham, they simply didn’t sell.
Plus there is this week’s match. My season ticket doesn’t apply for that match so on the day of sale I phoned the club and booked the front row, centre in the upper tier of the west stand. The cost for me as a person aged over 60… £10. OK it’s against Brentford, and we might put out some juniors, but I paid twice as much to get into Coventry for a seat behind the goal for the Checkatrade match involving the Under 21s.
There are, I think, better targets, as well as more accurate ways of fighting a battle.
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