Absurd Wenger out of Touch Over Ticket Price Debacle
Arsene Wenger is wrong and out of touch. Ticket prices are too high. Fans deserve better. Protests have highlighted that fact. Now is not the right time to stop.
The Frenchman claimed in this week’s press conference that fans have ‘no choice’ but to go to Premier League games because of the faith that they hold in individual clubs. Kids grow up supporting a tradition, whether it is a religion, dance or pallet, and surely it is unfair to take that away from them because the pricing of the event does not allow those less fortunate financially to participate or watch. So, it was perplexing to see Wenger use the phrase ‘no choice’. There is a choice. At this moment in time, matchday and season ticket prices are sustainable, just. But in the future? Not a chance if another increase occurs.
Just look at Arsenal. The Gunners hold the unwanted record of the club which provides the highest season ticket at £2039. Piers Morgan has to pay £8,000 per year for him and his three sons to watch football at the Emirates, and while he can afford it, a fair few cannot. The cheapest adult season ticket is £1035, and Junior Gunner’s (U16) is £345. Quite expensive, don’t you think?
So how on earth does Wenger have the audacity to say ‘I looked at the comparisons, our cheapest prices are lower than anywhere in London’? It’s a very ambiguous statement. If he thinks, he is talking about the lowest base rate of season ticket he is wrong. Chelsea’s cheapest adult season ticket is £595, Crystal Palace’s is £550, Tottenham Hotspur’s is £765, West Ham United’s is £675, and Watford’s is £445. However, if he is talking about a matchday ticket he does have a point, given the £26 charge for an adult in the family enclosure lower tier, yet the section only holds 4,000 fans. Why not extend that low base rate to the rest of the stadium?
Supporters are no longer fans of their clubs; they are customers. The exploitation of loyal stalwarts has led to the likes of Martin Keown and Jamie Carragher publicly supporting a walk out.
Leicester City fans will turn up five minutes late to their match at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday morning in protest to a late TV switch which has cost them money on travel and accommodation. In response to this Wenger urged spectators ‘not to miss a moment of happiness.’ There is a sense he has lost the plot. The protest will last five minutes, with fans still being able to see at least 85 minutes of the game. Bayern Munich’s fans, ironically at Arsenal, walked in five minutes late to highlight their disgust at being priced at £64 to watch their team play. Arsenal fans applauded them. Their board didn’t.
Premier League clubs have been embarrassed because their European counterparts contain common sense regarding pricing. Bayern Munich’s cheapest season ticket is £104.48 while Barcelona’s is just £73.88. The lowest in England’s top flight? Stoke, at £294. In fact, Barcelona and Bayern Munich’ lowest season ticket prices cost less than every club in England and Scotland’s top division. Incredibly, only two clubs, yes two, in the National League (England’s fifth diversion) have cheapest season tickets which cost £200. Nevertheless, ticket revenue at that level is a significant proportion of club’s net income.
Not in the Premier League. Surprisingly, it is TV revenue which holds that award. In the 2013-2014 season, Arsenal’s revenue from matchday tickets was £100m, while that stood at £121 million from TV. Chelsea’s matchday revenue was £71m, but they received £140m from TV. The same trend continued in every single Premier League club, who need to realise that when they start receiving the £5.136 billion TV deal in the summer, reducing ticket prices is as important as increasing expenditure on the first team squad.
Wenger is a man who has not spent hugely on the first team, with a few Arsenal fans blaming this to the high cost of £350 million to construct the Emirates Stadium. On this issue, the Frenchman claimed, ‘I don’t think we are on the same level ground as foreign clubs. For example, Bayern Munich paid one euro for their ground whereas we paid £120 million. In France, they pay nothing at all for their stadium. We pay absolutely everything ourselves, so we have to generate more revenue.’ What Wenger fails to understand (and if he does he clearly doesn’t show it) is that matchday revenue is dwarfed by that of TV revenue, which can maintain stadium and maintenance costs. Hong Kong’s contribution to this new TV deal (£206 million) could subside every away fan in the Premier League next year, twice over.
Chief Executives know that fans will not leave football grounds, though, even with a further inflation of prices. Protests will increase. Animosity will continue to gather pace. Revolts will continue. But the attendances won’t drop unless the choice for fans was perhaps between an evening meal and a ticket. People who have supported their club for over ten, twenty, thirty years or more, never missed a game, will still travel to watch their beloved team.
And if ‘hard line’ fans stop going to games don’t expect empty grounds. Given the globalisation of football in the last twenty years many tourists, specifically from affluent areas in the Far East such as Tokyo, Hong Kong and Singapore will take those seats. After all, who would not want to miss a Premier League game given the unpredictability and excitement it brings? Traditionalists will argue that this will, therefore, decrease the atmosphere of games with supporters living close to the ground forced to go down to the local pub because they can’t afford a ticket.
Last weekend 10,000 Liverpool fans abruptly left Anfield in the 77th minute in retaliation to the FSG inflating the price of an average matchday adult ticket in the newly developed stand to £77 a ticket, raising the season ticket price from £869 to £1,029. Many lifelong Liverpool fans might have struggled to travel to Anfield next season if the FSG did not back down.
At least, the FSG have relented. In hindsight, a walkout of 10,000 people would not have occurred if Liverpool’s owners’ initial stance contained common sense, but changing their mind is a start. Unfortunately, Wenger has not read the script.