Imagine Arsenal playing two of their
home games each season in an empty stadium. How dispiriting and ridiculous
would that be? Yet it is exactly what is
happening on a cumulative basis over an entire season.
The sight of
empty seats at the Emirates has been a growing problem for several seasons but
this year has hit an all time low. Well over 100,000 seats sat empty over the
last campaign with some games having more than 10% of those with tickets not
every game this season I could make out the outline shape of the white cannon
depicted on seats in the East lower, an occurrence that hasn’t happened before.
neither good for the team who need a full and noisy stadium getting behind them,
nor is it fair to so many fans who would love the chance to watch their team.
It is also reduces the amount of ancillary revenue the club can generate on
matchday from catering, programmes sales and merchandising.
problem is not directly linked to ticket prices. It is more complicated than
that. They are sold out tickets that their patrons are choosing not to use.
There are a myriad
of reasons for these no-shows. The decline in the team’s performances have led
some to stay away rather than agonise at events in the stadium and witness the vocal
disagreements among fans as to how the manager should best improve things
the additional costs of attending the game (parking/train/tube/food) too great
to make every single game and work/family commitments can clash with re-arranged
Then there are
those who buy a season ticket with no intention of attending every game. For
them owning a season ticket is a convenience with guaranteed no hassle entry to
the big games. It is reported that 600 season tickets were used just once in
the 2011/12 season.
This is an
inevitable and sad consequence of corporate areas and expensive ticket prices.
If you can afford £4,000 for a Club level season ticket then you can probably
afford to let it sit unused a few times a season more than the person who has
scraped together £950 for the cheapest ticket and makes damn sure it is used if
they are unable to attend. If a company has bought the tickets then there is no
real cost or concern to any one person if the seats aren’t taken up for Norwich
City at home.
phenomenal that is not only affecting Arsenal but all of the big clubs and
other entertainment providers and it needs proactive measures to prevent it escalating
as a problem.
At a previous
AST meeting, Ivan Gazidis described every empty seat as a ‘tragedy’. He is
right. It is an opportunity lost to an Arsenal fan who’d love to cheer on their
team. But are Arsenal doing enough to solve the problem? In my opinion from
having raised this with them several times they do understand and they do care.
Improvements and welcome new initiatives have been brought forward such
as the introduction of the friends and family facility whereby people can
reallocate tickets on-line, and from this year immediate refunds will be given
when a ticket is sold. But further and faster change is needed.
Solving the problem of empty seats requires two specific initiatives to
be introduced by Arsenal; firstly significant operational improvements are
needed to the Ticket Exchange scheme and secondly, fans need to be incentivised
for making sure their seat is occupied.
Arsenal’s ticket exchange, whereby fans can sell on their tickets to
other supporters is a clunky and technology limited system.
The most important improvement needed is that it should be switched on
up until the moment turnstiles open two hours before kick-off.
Often it is the night before a game when someone pulls out and you no
longer have anyone in your contacts list who can take a ticket, or the car
won’t start or the kids are ill. A more dynamic and flexible system would see
far more tickets transferred in the final 24 hours before a game. At present
Ticket Exchange is closed in this period.
Fans should also be able to set the price (below face value) they sell
tickets at in the exchange. At the moment if a potential purchaser doesn’t want
to pay the stipulated £50 needed for a ticket to a Monday night game in
February when its sub-zero then why not be able to accept an offer of £25? It
is better than getting nothing and reflects the reality of what happens outside
The scheme should also be far easier to use on-line and should Arsenal build
a Ticket Exchange App so that the process of making a ticket available can be
sorted quickly and easily while on the move.
Fans to attend games
The concept of rewarding fans for their loyalty is well established and
embraced at Arsenal. I have a programme collection from the 1980s full of holes
from the era of cutting out of vouchers to secure a Cup Final ticket. Those who
follow Arsenal away already receive credits that see tickets allocated to those
who are most loyal.
Why not do the same for formula at the Emirates and introduce the
concept of the ‘home credit’. Those whose seat is actually sat in more times in
a season should be rewarded with a greater chance of getting a ticket for Cup
semi finals and finals. Home attendance would be judged on the seat being used
each game and/or the placing of the ticket into Ticket Exchange (not
necessarily whether it is then sold on which is outside the control of the
Arsenal could also reward those with a 100% attendance record with club
discounts on merchandising and giving out prizes. And when there is such high
demand for season tickets, why not strip those who rarely bother to attend of
the right to renew so it can be sold on to a fan who will make the effort for
Arsenal come rain or shine.
So the solutions are there. It needs some modest capital investment in
the technology (and its not as if the club is short of financial reserves) and
as much focus put onto filling the seat as currently goes into selling it. Over
to you Arsenal. Let’s fill the Emirates.
Tim Payton is a Board Member of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, which seeks
to facilitate wider supporter involvement in the club and promotes mutual
supporter ownership of Arsenal through the Arsenal Fanshare scheme.