So far in the battle of the season tickets, two clubs have announced price cuts, while one has announced price hikes.
Blackburn today joined Bolton in the moral crusade against high ticket prices led by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun newspaper. Lined up against them are Arsenal, who have set a March deadline for season ticket renewals, price rises included.
The arguments are well rehearsed. The Premiership is beset by falling attendances, boring football, more TV coverage, and new television rights money. So the moral case for helping the poor downtrodden hard working supporter of old is seemingly clear. After all, these are not the scummy, Neanderthal, racist, hooligans that the same Sun exposed ‘The Truth’ about all those years ago.
So what could possibly have possessed the snarling, cup-final wrecking, petulant young Arsenal to rip off their fans following another trophy-less season.
Well part of the answer to that can be found in the deliberately phrased question. This is probably a trophy-less season for Arsenal, just as it is likely to be for anyone other than Chelsea, Manchester United, and maybe Tottenham if they sneak a Uefa Cup home while no one is watching.
And fundamentally, that’s not good enough for Arsenal. It isn’t good enough for their fans. It isn’t good enough for their players. It isn’t good enough for their owners. And it isn’t good enough for their manager.
It is therefore safe to assume a degree of consensus at the Emirates that things need to improve. That consensus will also be found at Stamford Bridge when Manchester United claim the title a few weeks from now. And I expect it will be found at Anfield, White Hart Lane, and Parks Goodison, Villa and St James’.
So if Arsenal feel they need to improve, how will they set about it. The only way, if we rule out gambling on a new manager, will be to buy new players while keeping their best existing players.
That costs money.
Now some might say that boosted funds from the new TV deal should provide enough money and more. But that money does not all go to Arsenal. Indeed more of it will go to Manchester United and Chelsea – the very teams that the Gunners wish to catch.
Arsenal therefore need more cash to make up that difference and overcome it. Sure shrewd buys rather than wasteful spending can make a difference. But Arsenal and Manchester United have broadly similar records on such things. Both have managed some stunning signings for reasonable or sometimes very high fees. And both have wasted fortunes on flops.
So if Arsenal want to make up the difference, more money must be found. And that can only come from the fans. Expect Spurs, Newcastle, Liverpool and Everton to arrive at the same conclusion when their season ticket renewals take place at a more dignified time… such as the end of the season.
So do Blackburn and Bolton simply not want to compete? Well no. But far from a magnanimous gesture their price cutting is about money too.
Unlike the North London or Liverpool based clubs mentioned, both cost cutting clubs are beset by falling crowds and empty seats. Higher prices would probably yield no more money for them. Just more empty seats.
However, a cut in prices should raise attendances and improve shirt, pie and programme sales. These price cuts are about milking fans too. It’s just that both clubs are blessed with grounds far too big for their support, and so look kind hearted in their business.
Pity for fans who pay high prices is misplaced. Save it for those who can’t get a ticket, and those whose clubs don’t want to compete.