by Andy Kelly
With a nationwide protest against ticket prices planned for this weekend, we thought we’d update this article that was originally published in March 2014. 18 months ago we were talking about a 3% rise in ticket prices at the Emirates for the 2014-15 season that had just been announced. There was much talk on social media about how expensive it was to watch football but there were all sorts of misrepresented figures being thrown into the pot. This article shows how ticket prices have increased at Arsenal over the last 35 years.
I would also still like to recommend Matthew Bazell’s “Theatre of Silence“, a fantastic book that explains his disillusionment with the game. @RoyalarsenalMRA and myself have felt pretty much the same way as Matthew for a number of years, especially with regards to the enormous sums paid to players. I heartily recommend Matthew’s book, it’s an easy read and only £4.11 on kindle.
With regards to this article, I started at 1980 for two reasons. Firstly, it harks back to an age when football was affordable, especially on the terraces and secondly, I’ve got the club’s accounts going back to this year that include other figures that I felt were relevant.
This article includes a big tables of figures that may seem daunting at first but the figures are fairly easy to understand.
At this point I’d like to say that I don’t have an agenda. I’m not taking the side of a multi-million pound corporation nor fan groups who feel aggrieved at the prices that are charged at the Emirates. All I’m doing is showing what has happened over the last 30+ years. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.
I’ve listed my sources and some explanatory notes at the end of the article but feel it is worth mentioning how I calculated the ticket prices before I launch into the facts and figures. The main problem I had was the move of stadium in 2006 – what seats do I compare at The Emirates to those at Highbury? I went for East Lower at Highbury and Centre Lower at The Emirates. The reason for this is that at both stadiums they offer a similar view and were neither the most expensive nor cheapest seats. I did a similar comparison for East Upper Centre v Centre Upper and East Upper Wing v Upper Wing, and the comparisons were, again, very similar. Also, it was possible to stand at Highbury prior to 1992 which means that the average price for entrance into the ground would have been much cheaper than at The Emirates. However, I had to use something as a comparison and I chose the aforementioned seats. Feel free to leave a comment if you don’t agree.
So, on to the figures. Below is a table that shows the following for each season from 1980/81 to 2014/15:
- Cost for one seat
- Price rise compared to the previous season
- Compounded price rise (i.e. the overall price rise for the seat since 1980/81)
- UK Retail Price Index (RPI) for the year at the end of the season
- Compounded RPI since 1980
- Average UK wage for the year to the end of the season
- Rise in the UK average wage compared to the previous year
- Compounded rise in the UK average wage (i.e. since 1980)
- Percentage of the ticket cost to the UK average wage
- Arsenal’s wage bill for the season
- Rise in Arsenal’s wage bill compared to the previous season
- Compounded rise in Arsenal’s wage bill (i.e. since 1980)
- Arsenal’s gate receipts for the season
- Percentage of Arsenal’s wage bill compared to gate receipts for the season
- Also included are compounded rises since the start of the Premier League
Click on the table to enlarge it.
I’ve put some of the figures into graph form to give a better indication of the figures. The first shows the comparison of compounded rises of ticket prices, RPI and the average UK wage.
It’s plain to see that while wages have risen faster than inflation, ticket prices have gone through the roof.
However, add in the Arsenal wage bill and these figures pale into insignificance.
Here are my observations:
The 38% rise in 1991-92 would have been to help pay for the installation of seats at the Clock End and towards the cost of building the North Bank following the Taylor Report.
The reason for Arsenal’s current high ticket prices are due to the inflation-busting rises between 1995-96 and 2005-06 which were needed to pay for massive wage increases. During this period, ticket prices trebled and the wage bill increased eight-fold. I don’t remember protests back then, or am I mistaken?
It is three times more expensive to watch football at Arsenal in 2015-16 than it was in 1980-81. This is based on the ratio of the ticket price to the average UK wage. But…
Since the move to The Emirates, ticket prices have risen 17.2% (2.5% of which was a VAT rise that the club had no control over), RPI has risen 26.5% and the average UK wage has risen 23.8%. Technically, it is cheaper to watch Arsenal at The Emirates than it was at Highbury.
As a percentage of the average UK wage, it is as cheap to watch Arsenal in 2015-16 as it was in 2004-05.
Gate receipts have not covered the wage bill since 1994-95. It is not just the fans who attend games that are paying the players’ wages. Between 2001-02 and 2003-04 those attending games contributed less than half the wage bill.
Arsenal’s top paid player in 1980-81 earned £50k per annum – 11 times the UK average wage. Arsenal’s top paid player in 2015-16 earned approximately £7m per annum – 290 times the UK average wage.
Thanks to Phil Wall for providing some missing figures.
- Ticket prices are general sale figures and do not include membership fees.
- Where matches are graded (e.g. A, B and C) the overall ticket price is based on the average price of attending all League games.
- The club does not break out the wages of the playing and coaching staff from the admin staff. However, it is safe to assume that the playing and coaching staff make up the vast majority of the wage bill (A player on £50k/week = 86 admin staff on £30k per annum).
- Some increases have been due to rises in VAT.
- It looks like there was some financial jiggery-pokery going on during 2009-10 & 2010-11 which can be seen with the gate receipt figures (or matchday revenue as it had become by then). The following footnote was included in the accounts:
- Ticket prices – Arsenal handbooks
- RPI – http://swanlowpark.co.uk/rpiannual.jsp
- Average UK wage – http://www.measuringworth.com/ukearncpi/ & Office of National Statistics
- Arsenal wages – Arsenal year end accounts
As I said, feel free to leave comments if you dispute any of these figures.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog (top right). You know it makes sense.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal – crowd behaviour at the early matches
Thanks for all of the comments, chaps.
Andrew, I’ll drop you an email if that’s OK.
it is done mr K.
Escalating admission prices over the years can be compared to the price of a pint .
When I first went to Highbury in 1958 the price of a pint was 7 1/2 p the same as my entry . By 1971 a pint cost 17p , by 1979 it had risen to 47 p and in 1989 it was £1.40 all equatable to admission to Highbury .
And we complain about the price of a drink today !
Andy, well researched!
A caveat, no jiggery-pokery in 2009-2010 et seq. financials.
The season ticket sales belong to the Bondholders, as a security. As the season winds down in March, April and May, a further £30 millions is added as a further security.
Read the small print properly, and the accounts of the subsidiary companies and all will be explained.
As always an excellent piece of work Andy well done mate keep it up. I have to say I find some of the figures quoted incredible, when gate receipts only just cover half your wage bill it shows how football is changing and TV money must be making up the majority of the running costs of such a great club especially when certain individuals can take a couple of million here and there for “consultancy” fees. But hey ho i digress, As has been said earlier when you add the costs of travel, food tickets etc together I’d be looking at well into three figures just to watch one game, not something I could get past the wife to often if at all. But somebody will always pay these extortionate prices so I don’t see them coming down soon. By the by whatever happened to financial fair play and all that?
An tremendous and illuminating effort as a person who spends too much time torturing figures to get what I need to know out of them, or sometimes the truth, I salute you. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Just one hiccup in your data it ‘may’ be helpful to point out. You provide in 1981 figures for average earnings at £4542 pag.
In 1980/1981 the ONS did not publish average annual earnings but income data was collected in an yearly publication called the New Earnings Survey, a series that ran from 1970 onwards until it was replaced by the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings in the early 00s..
I checked the 1981 NES figure and the average weekly earnings for men over 21 ( which is the group whose figures were collected in the first week of April each year was £140.5, and for females over 18 £91.4.
Now even if you assume a 50/50 split of M-F which would be doubtful as far fewer women worked 34 years ago, those weekly figures X52 would give would give an annual average of £6029, well above the £4542 start point you rely on.
The New Earnings Survey can be accessed if you are registered on the UK Data Services website or if you can be arsed e mail me and I will send you the 1938 to 1991 spreadsheet in excel.
With kronke juicing Arsenal’s turnover prices will dramatically rise each year
There has been very little evidence to suggest this so far.
Some industrious work there Andy, well done for the hours you put in there.
It makes interesting reading and illustrates just how players wages have rocketed in recent years. The percentage of Arsenals wages compared to gate receipts is actually quite frightening. I will say that one factor in determining whether the Emirates match day experience is cheaper or dearer than Highbury is the cost of actually getting there. Train travel has rocketed for those like me that live over 2 hours away. Also, as you mentioned, Highbury had terracing and I clearly remember paying a respectable £2.50 to enter in the early eighties. Great days!