With the news that Manchester City have returned almost a third of the tickets allocated to their traveling fans for this Sunday’s fixture against Arsenal at the Emirates, questions must surely be raised about the origin of the problem.
£62 is the price that 2,300 City supporters have paid to attend the game this weekend, whilst 900 tickets were returned after City’s Supporter Group described the ‘ridiculous amount of money’ as reason enough to boycott the match.
Recently Arsenal’s home fixture against Chelsea this season back in September became the most expensive Premier League game in history with £62 the minimum for both home and away supporters’ tickets.
However, which came first – the chicken or the egg? The debate over money in football – money spent on transfers, money spent on wages, money spent on stadiums, money spent on television rights and advertising and airfares and agents and merchandise and tickets – can all be boiled down, right down, into capitalism.
Manchester City fans may have baulked at the price of a ticket at the Emirates but they probably didn’t complain when owner Sheikh Mansour spent the best part of £500 million on player transfers alone in the 5 years since his arrival at the Etihad.
That kind of investment is not pure speculation – no doubt he intends to profit from his ownership of a Premier League football club and, why not, he is a businessman after all?
Stan Kroenke is also a business man at Arsenal, where the legacy of a new stadium is currently tainted by a formerly top football club being brought to its knees by players who want to earn upwards of £200,000 a week in wages like their mates up in Manchester or over the road down at Stamford Bridge.
In 2007, when Mansour took over at City, Arsenal’s wage expenditure was £89.7 million. In 2012 it was £143.4 million and Arsenal are still having squabbles with players and their representatives as I write over wages that are half that of City’s top stars – Theo Walcott wants £100,000 a week to stay, where Samir Nasri now at City earns nearly double that.
Those are the same players who are also starting to recognize that money can buy you trophies and, thus, those clubs that don’t have as much money tend not to win as many.
It may be just co-incidence but in the 7 years since the Gunners last won a trophy, they have tended to make a profit in the transfer market, whether by accident or by design is unclear. Those years also correspond to the opening of their new stadium.
Nonetheless, they have to find some way of matching or, nowadays, mending and making do with what they have and what they can generate themselves – through outgoing transfers, strict wage structures, new sponsorship deals and…expensive match tickets.
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis recently conceded that Arsenal simply ‘cannot compete’ with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in the transfer market. It’s become an impossibility, as has genuinely competing for the Premier League title.
Does it make Arsenal fans happy? I highly doubt it. They are the ones paying to watch Arsenal’s gradual elimination from the top four, they are the ones paying for shirts with the names of players who will be gone next summer on their back, they are the ones opening the papers every day this month hoping the manager has bought someone they’ve vaguely heard of.
Stan Kroenke is happy whether Arsenal win or lose – as long as there are bums on seats and shirts on fans’ backs, he’s a happy businessman. But should Arsenal find themselves out of the top four come May and lose out on that lucrative Champion’s League spot, they might find fewer fans are willing to spend that ‘ridiculous amount of money’ and the club will be in far deeper a financial fiasco than they are now.
But that won’t much concern the fans of Manchester City who, quite rightly, believe £62 to be ‘ridiculous’, yet you’d be hard to find one who’d bat an eyelid £500 million. The two sums are inextricably linked – whether it was the chicken or the egg that came first, the farmers are laughing all the way to the bank.