Arsenal Ticket Price Rise Endemic of the Football Business

The expected ticket price increase was announced yesterday, much to the annoyance of many loyal Gooners. Whilst I don’t like the idea of having to find yet more money to support the club I happened to be born into, I do think it’s a complicated issue. As I argued last week, this is symptomatic of the way Football is going, it’s not purely Arsenal’s fault.

The rise is 4% from the club and 2.5% imposed by the Government in its recent VAT rise. Whilst the club can do little about the VAT, it still represents a hike that many of us could do without. On this increase the fans with the cheapest tickets will need to find £50-£60 extra to fund their seat. Some might argue that if you can get together somewhere in the region of £900 up front, you can probably stretch to an extra £60. Whether the price goes up or stays the same, it’s tough for anyone to find that sort of money at just over a month’s notice.

In his letter to the AST and AISA, Ivan Gaizidis noted that he was looking at a ticket credit scheme for next season with partner Zebra Finance. This is still a credit deal whereby fans have to pay an extra 15.9% over 10 months for the privilege of spreading payments. This isn’t really a help as I would imagine most ordinary fans already fund season tickets with credit cards or loans of some description.

I appreciate that the club needs the capital up front but could they not forewarn fans that tickets are up for renewal and that we have a period, let’s say 3 months, to settle our accounts, in chunks if that helps? It’s not the greatest concession but it is something. I appreciate that it’s probably not the simplest thing to implement but Gazidis already acknowledges that fair ticketing doesn’t have easy solutions.

One of the key sources of irritation is the fact that the ticket prices are up yet we still haven’t spent significantly in the transfer market; at least not on City or Chelsea terms. This is where I disagree slightly and inevitably sound like a bit of a broken record. It’s an unavoidable fact that the new stadium has cost a lot of money and the fact that it is close to having been paid for is a result of the hastily arranged corporate deals, high ticket prices and relatively small transfer budgets.

Ultimately, this situation doesn’t upset me too much. There are good reasons on both a financial and a Football level that support having built a youthful squad with a team ethic and not being drawn into bidding auctions we could never win. That decision will not diminish over the coming years. We have remained competitive and have unearthed top young talent. Now that prices have increased, revenue streams are being expanded and the stadium is nearly paid for we should rightfully expect increased investment in the team. If we again fail to address the remaining problems that the youth policy can’t fix then I’ll get angry but at the moment, I remain circumspect.

It complicates the matter further when you think that we seem to pay such high wages for inexperienced players. Again, I think this is a long-term strategic decision. By paying high wages we secure the longer term services of our key assets. This means that we have less to spend on transfers but it also means that in coming seasons we will not need to undertake a wholesale restructuring like Chelsea or even United might have to. That would command high transfer fees and high wages, at the same time. It’s generally agreed that we only need a few signings in the summer. Had we taken a different path we could have been faced with having to foot the bill for a raft of new signings or, if we couldn’t afford that, revert to playing loads of kids who’d never been given the chance to play together.

I fully support the AST on asking for assurances that this increase is not going towards funding the takeover. Gazidis noted in his letter that he couldn’t say anything explicitly at this stage but asked us to look at the terms of the initial statement from Kroenke. We should all hope that this is a reference to KSE’s assertion that no financial leverage would be placed on the club.

As Arsenal supporters we are right to be angry at another increase, however I still rely broadly on what I argued last week (in hindsight, some of those arguments weren’t made very well and I came across as a bit of a free-market capitalist – I can assure you I’m not one of those!).

I do still hold the opinion that much of this is down to the fact that Football has been allowed to grow out of control by The Premier League, Fifa, Uefa and the Government – David Conn warned us of this in The Football Business. As it stands, the biggest and best clubs grow exponentially and their power to bleed more money from consumers grows with it.

The problem is that Football is a massive money making enterprise yet it is not like any other business. Supporting Football clubs isn’t usually a matter of cold and rational choice. People are born into clubs because of geography or family allegiance. You can’t just change your mind. If I realise that my shopping bill at Waitrose is too high, I can go to Asda or Lidl. As an Arsenal supporter, I can’t just decide to find another club who I can afford.

Arsenal Football Club has a duty to its fans and I agree entirely that it shouldn’t just keep loading extra charges on us. If Football keeps growing as it is off the pitch, and fans demand success on it, something has to give. On the face of it, taking into account the dire economic situation most of the world is in at present, the future for the game as it is looks a bit grim. Arsenal must recognise this and look after its fans but equally, the game’s governing bodies must get together to recognise that Football is a special case and can’t be allowed to spiral out of reach of ordinary fans.