We love you Arsenal, but Emirates still has 160,000 empty seats
Fans voice concern as police figures reveal that crowds topped 60,000 only twice last season
25 August, 2016 — By Ella Jessel
Arsenal at home: ‘Thousands would love to attend but can’t get tickets’. PICTURE: RONNIE MacDONALD
WITH some of Europe’s finest players on the field and a wait for season passes stretching back years, a seat at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is meant to be something of a golden ticket for football supporters.
But, despite the apparent desperation of fans struggling to find a way to see a match, newly-released figures reveal how 160,000 tickets that were bought last season actually went unused.
The scale of empty seats has led to new demands for Arsenal to do more to help locked-out fans get to see home games, and an end to the frustration of the sight of red, vacant seats on television coverage of “sold out” matches.
Like several other clubs, Arsenal has switched from recording actual attendances at home matches to a “tickets sold” system of measuring the gate. The actual attendances, however, are recorded by Scotland Yard for policing purposes, and the Met has released the figures for last season following a request under the Freedom for Information Act.
One of the starkest examples of how the two figures are mismatched comes from Arsenal’s home match with West Brom in April, when the attendance was given by the club and in newspaper reports as 59,568. The police recorded only 44,878 people passing through the turnstiles. While the ground’s official capacity is 60,432, an actual crowd of more than 60,000 was only achieved twice, according to the police: at the Champions League glamour tie with Barcelona and the season finale against Aston Villa.
Steve Cooper, secretary of Arsenal Supporters’’ Trust (AST), said it was “disappointing” to see so many tickets unsold when demand was clearly strong.
“If Arsenal are concerned only with making money, then the board won’t be bothered how many ticket holders actually attend,” he said.
“If they’re interested in the atmosphere within the ground and in encouraging the next generation of young fans to become regulars, then some of these figures should be a major concern.”
Mr Cooper said his trust would be using the Met figures to push for other changes such as making it easier for tickets to be passed on to family members.
“The days of ticket income making up the majority of turnover are now gone, but fans in the ground remain the lifeblood of any club, and there are many things Arsenal can do to get more fans attending, which ultimately benefits everyone,” he said.
Arsenal run an exchange system which allows season ticket holders to sell back their seats for matches they can’t attend, but some supporters fear that not everybody is making the effort to do so, leading to empty seats and a poorer atmosphere.
A familiar grumble among longer-serving supporters centres on a suspicion that richer season ticket holders with large disposable incomes buy up a place in the stands to use to entertain friends or business contacts, without ever intending to go to the less mouth-watering league fixtures.
The subject of atmosphere has been constantly reviewed by fans’ groups since Arsenal moved into the stadium in Ashburton Grove 10 years ago.
Paul Matz, founder of Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association (AISA), which was set up in 2000, said: “It’s disappointing to see that there were over 150,000 unfilled seats at the Emirates Stadium during the 2015-16 season.
“There are tens of thousands of Arsenal supporters who would love to attend matches, especially for games that have lower prices, but can’t get hold of tickets. Arsenal operate a successful Ticket Exchange but improvements to the scheme are needed to help ensure that more seats are filled at every game this season.”
An Arsenal spokesman said that last season it posted approximately 70,000 tickets to fans through its ticket exchange service.
“We are clear in all our communication that the attendance figures we announce reflect the number of tickets sold,” he added.
“This is in line with most sports stadia. As a club, we want a full stadium and work hard to ensure this happens through our Ticket Transfer and Ticket Exchange services. This allows fans who have tickets but can’t get to games to offer them to other supporters.”