Arsenal's Ticket Scheme Angers Fans

By J.J. Zucal
Emirates Stadium seats about 60,000 for matches. Photo from sugimoto/flickr

Manchester City‘s return of about 900 away tickets for Sunday’s match with Arsenal has led to a backlash from Premier League fans who oppose the club’s ticket-pricing policy.

The return of the tickets, valued at £62 ($100), for City’s 2-0 victory highlighted the policy in which prices are set depending on the opponent at the Emirates Stadium. Tickets against Category A teams, which includes the Manchester clubs, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, average £62.

Against Category B clubs, such as upcoming matches with Swansea, West Ham United, Stoke City and Everton, the average ticket is £35 ($56.35). In Category C, which includes a March match against Reading, the average is £25.50 ($41.05).

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said understood the complaints but noted the higher pricing was a necessary evil.

“Ideally you want ticket prices to be as low as possible, but on the other hand, the only way we can pay the wages and compete without any external help is through the ticket prices because it is our main income,” said Wenger. He added he believed the effect on away fans is minimal: “I am really worried they are high for our supporters. For the visitors, it only happens once per year, so that is less of a concern.”

Fans of the top-level clubs have complained they are being priced out from attending, yet it appears the City match was the first time tickets were returned. It also has led to what may be considered an unusual alliance in a push toward a cap on away ticket prices as Arsenal is not the only club that has a tiered ticket policy.

“We’re looking at working with the arch-enemy Manchester United and others to put a bit of pressure on the clubs to introduce a cap on away tickets,” said a member of the Liverpool supporters group Spirit of Shankly. Liverpool will travel to Arsenal for a Jan. 30 match. In a statement, the group said, “We are trying to get supporters of all clubs around the table. Liverpool fans aren’t going to do it on their own.”

Then, in what Premier League fans may consider a bit of humility, the statement continued: “At the moment, we’re a mid-table club still paying Category A prices.” Arsenal officials have stated the categorizing occurs prior to the season. That determination may have been made for two key reasons: Liverpool qualified for the Europa League (it is in the round of 32 knockout stage) and it is one of the most known clubs in the world.

Premier League officials said they would not force clubs to change their policies, but its leader used the City situation as a message that may also have been intended for other clubs that use a tiered policy.

“I think they (league fans) are sending Arsenal a message,” said Richard Scudamore, the league’s chief executive. “Arsenal, when categorizing games and setting ticket prices next season, will have to take that into account.”

The fans also are using the league’s television rights fees as a basis for reducing prices. Beginning next season, Premier League clubs will receive £38 million each ($61.2 million) annually from Sky Sports for the next three years and another £2.6 million ($4.2 million) from a new 3-year contract for the American rights with NBC Universal.

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