As I’m sure you’re aware of by now, almost a thousand tickets allocated for Manchester City fans for the game at Arsenal on Sunday have been returned to the club due to lack of demand. This has been put down to City fans un-impressed with being expected to stump up £62 in order to watch the game, and it’s hard to blame them. That’s an awful lot of money to watch a game of football, especially when added to travel costs and whatever else that would go into your average day out whilst watching football.
Of course, at Arsenal, we’ve been used to paying £62 to watch football for quite a while now. Hell, tickets in some parts of the upper tier are being sold for double that on Sunday. And yet the game is sold-out. So there shouldn’t be anything to worry about, right?
One of the ways that having a 24/7 media cycle can affect the way we follow football, is that the constant stream of information about our club, about any topic they can find, especially news of a financial nature, ends up numbing us to the size of the numbers involved. Take Walcott’s contract as an example. We are offering him SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSANDS POUNDS A WEEK to play football. And yet he can look at that offer and fairly ascertain that he deserves at least 33% more. That’s a pretty good picture of how far finances have gotten out of touch with the real world, when someone can be handed a contract worth nearly four million pounds a year and their first response is to wonder “Is that all?”.
But the most endearing quality that the sport of football possesses is that it is more accessible to the real world than any other sport in the world. It doesn’t matter whether you have goalposts or not, it doesn’t matter if you have eleven a side or not, it doesn’t matter if you play on grass or not, it doesn’t even matter whether you may have a football or not at times, if there are five kids kicking something soft around, they’re playing football.
Then add the community aspect to it. The club that plays up the road becomes “your” club. They become part of your character, your life, your everything. You become as identifiable by the club you support as you are by your name. You start to defend them like you would defend your brother. And when they call on your support every weekend, you make it your calling to be there, standing behind them at every possible opportunity, cost be damned. Except now, the cost cannot be so lightly dismissed.
Fans who have been going to watch The Arsenal all their lives are now starting to look in their wallets on a Friday night and wonder whether the hassle is worth it. That feeling must stink, the constant churning of emotions over having to choose between the things you love and the things you need. Going to watch a football game used to be a simple affair, Saturday would arrive and you’d pay the admission with your beer change from the night before. Now, if you want to watch the game, then it might have to be at the expense of missing a credit card bill, or not bringing the kids out on Sunday, or worse.
So, now that supporting the club is now as much of a financial decision as it is an emotional one, it’s no surprise that fans are starting treating the club like any other financial decision, they’re putting their hard earned money into the club and they want a return on it. It comes as no surprise to this author that the majority of fans calling for a review of Arsene Wenger and the board’s status at the club are fans having to sacrifice a significant portion of their wages to watch them.
I’m not saying that fans who pay to watch Arsenal care more than fans who don’t, my love of Arsenal is just as strong as anyone’s and I get to see two games a year in person if I’m lucky. Emotions are intangible, but having to weigh up whether I can afford to go or not is a tangible that I, or 99.99% of Arsenal fans around the world, never have to deal with, and is an important one to keep in mind. Being annoyed at an Arsenal loss is bad enough, paying for the privilege of watching some of the lacklustre performances that have been served up by our team can only add to that frustration.
Then add in the improving experience of watching a football game at home. Going to a game in the late summer or middle of spring is a wonderful way to spend an evening. Going to a game in the middle of winter, after queuing for a hour in a freezing cold tube station for a train full to the brim, to sit in a stadium where they offer you overpriced food and no phone signal for two hours? Not so much. Especially when the alternative is now having the game in your own living room, on your HD TV or laptop, with a fridge stocked full of refreshments and a sofa to lie on, and that the cost of all those listed items cost less than some of the season tickets available at Arsenal?
With the cost of building a championship winning team spiralling out of control, the easiest way to for a club to increase income is to hike up ticket prices. And for years, fans have swallowed the bitter pill of higher costs due to the promise from the club that money would be invested in the team. But now those prices have reached breaking point, as the return of Man City’s tickets have shown. No longer are fans willing to be a continuous source of easy money for clubs to spend at their own behest, now they want accountability too.
But as long as the stadium is full every week, owners won’t care about who’s filling the seats. And in purely business terms, they shouldn’t. One person’s money is worth just as much as the next person’s, after all. But as fans, we want the club to care about “our” money. It should be important that we’re making sacrifices in order to fund the club’s actions. Yet the constant rise in ticket prices across football is a painful reminder that our club is more worried about the amount of money they get, as opposed to who can afford to come.
Our community club has become a business that sells hope to the world, and despite our best wishes and constant contributions towards turning that hope into reality, every year, the price of hope goes up. And as long as that continues, then more and more fans will be faced with the question Man City fans asked of themselves this week; “Is it worth it?”. And as more and more fans conclude that it isn’t, then we lose more and more of the reasons as to why we all love Arsenal in the first place.