By Tony Attwood
I have been looking at the document put out by a couple of supporters’ groups and supported by various web sites, under the heading “We care do you”.
I’m going to wrap this little sequence of articles up now with one final issue. The statement in the We Care paper that reads, “There are thousands of empty seats blighting almost every game.”
My first thought is that this concept is based on the notion that Arsenal’s ground holding just over 60,000 should be full for every match. But why should it? That thought assumes that there are enough people who want to come and watch Arsenal live – even when the game is available on TV and (for those who don’t have Sky or BT) can be seen for the price of a soft drink or a pint in any one of hundreds of pubs. (I live in a rural area, yet there are six pubs within three miles of my house that show Sky and BT).
As I said in an earlier article, in the days of Highbury, before it was all seater, most of the time the ground was nothing like full – and in some seasons the average crowd dropped down into the 20,000s. Which suggests there is no natural audience for Arsenal of this size.
Of course some people who buy season tickets don’t go to matches and don’t sell their ticket on. I’ve been in that position sometimes – not selling on either because the game doesn’t sell out or because I simply can’t get to an internet connection to sell the ticket on, when ticket exchange clicks in. I’ve also not attended and not sold on because of the weather conditions suddenly making the 100 mile journey to the ground and the return journey several hours later look very dodgy. Or because the train has been cancelled at the last minute. Or the train back late at night means I get home at 2am and have to get up again at 6.30am. Or I’ve been taken ill. Or my companion has been taken ill. Or one of my children. Or… ok maybe it is just me who has a life beyond football, but these things can happen.
But there is another point and I think this one has much broader implications. And that is… the numbers.
How many people don’t show and don’t sell on? Virtually none, anywhere near where I sit – largely because I am fortunate enough to have a superb seat and the demand for those seats is very high. So just because some seats in some parts of the ground are not occupied – that does not mean it is the same everywhere. When I look down to the lower seating which gets wet when it rains, I do see empty spaces on rainy days – but that scenario is not replicated in every part of the stadium.
I dont attend and don’t sell on once or twice a season either because it is a last minute decision, or because the game isn’t sold out, so quite reasonably it seems to me, the club does not invoke ticket exchange. As it happens I can’t go to the Burnley game at the start of the season – but ticket exchange is not offering to take my ticket for me, at the moment I am writing this. If it doesn’t sell out, it will be an empty seat.
If I miss one game a season and can’t sell on, that is a 4% lack of occupancy. Would the plan be forcibly to remove my season ticket because I have not turned up for a match when I can’t sell on? In fact, with the Burnley game already being impossible for me, I can also see coming up a trip to Australia to see my daughter. That can involve me missing up to three games. Chances are one of those will not sell out. So I am at two games or 8% non-occupancy. One more because, I’m unwell, or the train is cancelled or the weather very bad or any other last minute reason and I am on 12% non-occupancy, and I suspect, judging from the tone of WeCare, I’ll be lucky to get away with just a public flogging.
But here’s one more thought. What is it like at other clubs? What percentage of non-occupancy do they have?
That is a relevant question because if it turned out that our level of non-occupancy was actually below the average for the league, would it still be a good idea to start punishing people for non-occupancy?
I ask that question because I noticed that last season, Tottenham had a home attendance level 25% down on the home attendance level the season before. Now we can think of all sorts of reasons for this… people were getting fed up with the delays in opening the new ground. Fans had had enough of Wembley. The new Tottenham ground is smaller than Wembley (although of course that only applied to the last few games).
But something happened. And that’s the point. Things happen. My thought is, be careful before you start punishing your own supporters. And here’s the reason….
I have two hobbies outside of football: going to dances and visiting historic sites. Now either or both might seem utterly naff to you, and that’s fair enough; each to his/her own. But there are a lot of fans who have lives beyond football, and those lives can clash with football games. For a person for whom watching Arsenal is the most important thing in life, it may seem incomprehensible that I might miss a game it clashes with one of my other hobbies. But it happens to me, and when that happens sometimes Arsenal wins out, sometimes not. When not, if I can, I sell my ticket on. But as noted above that is not always possible.
I suspect some of these thoughts have passed through the minds of those running Arsenal’s stadium. They may even know what the “no show” rate is not only at Arsenal but also elsewhere, and find Arsenal is actually far from being the worse. They might even have found that across the stadium the no show rate is far lower than the writers of WeCare suggest.
They might even feel that the atmosphere in the stadium is not blighted at all.
Are there “thousands of empty seats”? Yes at some games – because not all the tickets were sold. At the sold out games? I suspect not. Are we the worst offenders in the league? Has any club come up with a way of reducing the number of empty seats? Is it even feasible within the Sale of Goods legislation? These are the questions I would personally seek to find the answer to, before circulating a document to the press accusing Arsenal of creating a “soulless place”. Because otherwise, it could be thought that the WeCareDoYou document is simply an excuse for knocking Arsenal.
And why would a fan of Arsenal want to knock Arsenal? Ah well, now we move onto some very interesting territory. But perhaps that should be left for another day.
I’d like to thank everyone who was involved with the WeCare document as it has given my Arsenal friends and I a lot of interesting discussions. We don’t agree with you, but they are interesting points which, as I have tried to show, do nbeed discussing, because they often involve issues that are not quite all they seem on the surface.
- Arsenal v Tottenham update, team news and appalling, flagrant media bias
- Arsenal have benefitted by the world cup break: allegedly.
- Arsenal and Tottenham: which has had the easier ride so far this season?
- Arsenal v Tottenham: not exactly a battle of equals.
- Death by 300,000 passes: how the Arsenal transformation started 2 seasons ago.