IS THERE A FIRE DRILL?! Solving the tragedy of the Emirates’ empty seats

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
turning up.

At almost
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.

This is
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.

But this
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

Others find
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
kickoff times.

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.

It is
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. 

Improving the
Ticket Exchange

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 Exchange.

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
ticket owner).  

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.

Tim Payton 

12 Responses to IS THERE A FIRE DRILL?! Solving the tragedy of the Emirates’ empty seats

  1. June 6, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    I like what you say, this season (I’ve been going since ’67) I have opted to share my season ticket with a friend. There’s a thousand reasons why, the cost, unsociable ko times, too many foreign players, lack of atmosphere, the quality of football on display, the wankers that turn up late, go the bar early at half time, win or loose leave early etc etc etc…..and watching over paid players that don’t play for the badge blah blah blah..

  2. Steve⚽Gooner⚽Martin June 6, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Arsenal played 25 home games. Based on every game being sold out! That’s 1.5 million fans based on 60k so 100,000 over 25 games is 2000. I would imagine quite a few of those couldn’t go due to date and time changes. Over all for such a large capacity and the doom and gloom that surrounded the club, that’s not bad.

    • June 6, 2013 at 5:45 pm #

      Um… Actually, Steve – I think 100,000 over 25 games is 4,000.

      4,000 out of 60,000 is 1/15th of the stadium.

      If the stadium was a rugby team, the flyhalf would be missing.

      Anyone knows a rugby team without a fly-half is gonna lose.

      • Steve⚽Gooner⚽Martin June 6, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

        Yes mate it is 4000, great when people are sharp to comment.. I Realised it about a second after I pressed post reply. Thought I’d just live with it. Still point is a lot of tickets are held by people who won’t or cannot pass them on and will not use TX. Games are re-scheduled and making it hard to attend. Season ticket is purchased before fixtures. There is no right or wrong. However I would support a system that says if you use your ST less than 10 times a season, then you lose it. Allowing of course for good reason to do so.

    • June 6, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

      Good Maths, lol

  3. June 6, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

    Really if you only use your season ticket once a season it should be taken off you & sold to someone else who would use it. Supposedly there’s 1000’s of people waiting to get their hands on them.

    Maybe there should be a stipulated minimum number of attendances per a season required to keep your season ticket. These attendances could include the use of your seat by your specified friends & family & if the seat is sold on ticket exchange. And should apply to all levels of tickets including boxes.

    Obviously this would only work if there continues to be a demand for Arsenal season tickets. Which there should be as long as the prices don’t keep rising & the standard of football doesn’t keep on falling.

  4. Sam Meader June 7, 2013 at 8:20 am #

    Certainly agree that if you don’t attend a certain percentage of games, your right to renew should be taken away. The 2 seats directly in front of my seat had someone using them maybe 5 times this season.

  5. June 7, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    i have 4 sons that worship the club, we only have two tickets so someone misses out each week. how about having a pay on the day, 5 mins after kick off? £5.00 to those that bothered to queue. basically if you haven’t turned up 5 mins into the game, your ticket gets reallocated. would get rid of those people who turn up late and would fill the empty seats with those who truly want to see their team.

    • @ColneyCactus August 14, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      An excellent idea in principle, but Tube and train delays, coming from work etc, can mean that some people find it impossible to get there for kick off. I think a better idea is to remove the right to renew season tickets if you fail to attend lots of games and don’t bother to pass on the tickets.

  6. Dale Percival September 20, 2013 at 5:33 am #

    In Australia with the AFL you can purchase a ‘season’ ticket that allows for 5, 10, 15 or all games and comes with associated cost differences and depends on the club. Something else that could be thrown into the mix?

  7. @ColneyCactus August 14, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    In the three years that I’ve had a season ticket, the seat next to me has been empty every single game except for one. I think even then it was occupied by a tourist (they didn’t watch the game, just filmed it and took photos of everything in sight!). I know most people don’t want a single seat season ticket as they always have to go alone, but surely this seat could be filled more than that. It’s sad when I know people are desperate for tickets to games, especially the derbies.


  1. Arsenal’s REAL Attendance Figures: How Many Actually Turn Up To Matches | angryofislington - August 15, 2014

    […] I don’t want to over-dramatise this. It’s not in any sense a tragedy that people who’ve bought tickets don’t turn up, but it is something that can largely be sorted out to the benefit of the team and fans. So why not do it? I haven’t got time to put forward all the solutions, but Le Grove had a few yesterday and, and there are others on Gunners’ Town here. […]

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