There has been a lot of talk of and sympathy with the Manchester City fans who decided to boycott the game against Arsenal at the Emirates yesterday in protest at having to fork out £62 for a match day ticket. There is little doubt that such high prices represent a scandalous state of affairs. And Arsenal are certainly the chief suspects when looking for the Premier League side who squeeze the most from the public to watch home games. So let us be clear about one thing – the City fans had every right to protest about the prices, and they should have widespread support for that decision.
Yet to target Arsenal as culprits and seek to lay the blame with them is actually rather misguided, and it is remarkable that analysis of the issue has not gone beyond simplistic statements and empathy and to actual examination of what causes tickets to cost so much. Arsenal may charge higher prices than anyone else, but it is important to look at exactly why they do. Unlike City, Arsenal actually try to break even financially each season. However, Arsenal have been attempting to compete at the top of the Premier League table in recent years, and to do that you have to pay the wages that go with it. Wages are the biggest cost football teams have.
Unless you have someone like Sheikh Mansour or Roman Abramovich, an owner not concerned with the technicalities of actually running a sensible financial operation, you have to generate revenues some other way. For Arsenal, this is through high ticket prices. Of course Arsenal’s prices should be cheaper, but that they are so high is a consequence of the irrational and inflated market that is Premier League football. That market has been distorted and inflated by Manchester City and Chelsea. They have forced transfer fees to rise, and therefore, salaries to increase exponentially.
The reality is that, while fans obviously cannot afford to pay extortionate prices to watch their teams play, there is an element of wanting to have their cake and eat it too about the City fans’ complaints, if what they are asking is for Arsenal to play fair with ticketing prices. Arsenal may justifiably ask them to do the same with regard financial sanity, but we can imagine what City’s response may be to that. And the idea that returning these £62 tickets will achieve anything is economically naïve. Arsenal still sold the tickets, just not to Manchester City fans. If the club have enough demand to justify the £62 ticket prices, why reduce them? This is a secondary, but important point to consider. If people in general are willing to pay what Arsenal are asking them to for a ticket, then why on earth should the club reduce these prices? No one is forced to pay tickets to watch football. It is a silly assumption by most football fans in this country that watching football is a ‘right’. It is not. You can either pay the prices or not. If you don’t, then prices will come down. But in 99% of cases, fans continue to pay the ridiculous sums they are asked for. Until fans turn around and stand up for themselves en masse, rather than in individual cases such as this, then prices won’t come down.
The most likely way that ticket prices will reduce in price for fans is by injecting sanity into the Premier League as a financial market. The financial fair play system being voted on next month by the league’s teams may help to do that, reducing expenditure, which can in turn reduce ticket prices.
So it is City who should ask themselves questions before they pose them to Arsenal and any other club when it comes to ticket prices. It is very easy to have cheap tickets, as City do, when you have a billionaire with unlimited oil wealth propping you up. It is far harder when you’re forced to behave in a rational financial way. It is a bit like George Osborne castigating a member of the working class for charging £20 for a loaf of bread. If people are willing to pay the price, then that’s their problem. There is something fundamentally rather ironic about the team who have done most to inflate prices in English football, Manchester City, complaining about the ticket cost at the club who have arguably done more than any other to try and keep spending down at rational, sensible levels. So whilst the City fans deserve our sympathy, Arsenal do not deserve their ire.