In the 2012-13 season Arsenal decided that following the ticketing review, all FA Cup matches would be classed as 'Category B' in terms of pricing, no matter the opponent. So when Championship strugglers Blackburn came to town, fans had to pay a minimum of £35.50 for their seat. The same happened when Swansea visited in the previous round, despite the league fixture against the same team being Category C which meant fans paid at least a tenner less.
The prices for last season's FA Cup fixtures were determined as Category B because if they were any cheaper, it would have meant that if you bought match tickets on a game by game basis, you'd have paid less than a season ticket holder over the course of the season. An odd situation for the club to find itself in, especially when you consider that in years gone by, the one major benefit of buying a season ticket was that your loyalty and up front cash payment to the club was rewarded with a tidy discount. The overall price of a season ticket was a fair bit cheaper than if you paid game to game.
Of course in recent years that discount had more or less vanished. What you paid for your season ticket was roughly the same as what you'd pay if you bought single tickets for every home match. Where's the reward for your loyalty there? Some would argue that the 'privilege' of having a season ticket is your reward... but then those people wouldn't have had to shell out upwards of a grand every year on 1 June.
This season Arsenal quietly slipped in that "UEFA Champions League and FA Cup fixtures will be based on 'A' and 'B' pricing". Therefore, any of the 'glamour' teams turn up to play us in the FA Cup, the club would stand to make a shedload more money - and so when the draw was made for the 3rd round of the cup, the bean counters within Highbury House will have been doing The Macarena (or is it The Mertesacker?) in celebration. Along came Spurs, along came Category A prices, along came a hefty old wedge of cash, and out went Spurs. Let's ignore the fact there were record numbers of spare tickets still floating around right up until kick off.
The draw for the 4th round pitted us against Coventry City; the once-proud top flight team (who beat Spurs in the 1987 cup final) but now find themselves just above mid-table in the 3rd tier of English football. As it stands, 'small' opposition but the pricing strategy already declared by Arsenal would mean it's classed as Category B. Right? Wrong.
Today Arsenal have announced "Arsenal v Coventry City... This is a Category C priced fixture". Erm, eh?!
Now don't get me wrong this is great for fans who want to get tickets as cheap as possible. Not so great for Coventry City, however, considering they're in desperate need of cash and now stand to make a lot less from gate receipts. Not so great for season ticket holders at Arsenal where the cheapest seat averages out at £38 whereas the same seat will cost a day tripper £25.50? Not so sure on that one, as I think the Spurs match price balanced it out and the price of the season ticket still won't be too much different from the overall price had you bought a single ticket for every home game.
What it does do of course is throw more confusion on Arsenal's ticket pricing strategy. All FA Cup games A or B? Coventry come to Emirates? Category C. A serious case of making it up as they go.
As a supporters' group that pays attention to the prices that our fans have to pay, naturally we'll be seeking some feedback from Arsenal as to why they've changed tack for this game and if the 'finger in the air' approach is something they'll be using from now on. I recognise that there's a balancing act in terms of revenue coming into the club from ticket sales, but curve balls over prices and categories only serve to stir up suspicion among supporters as to why the club employ such tactics.
Personally I'm of the view that prices at Arsenal on the whole are still too expensive. Will they come down? Of course they won't; if the club gives with one hand, they'll more than take back with the other. Category C seats with a tenner off? Blinding, except that the same seat increases by £27 when a 'glamour' opponent visits. In the upper tier, have £21.50 off of the seat price for Category C. Category A? That'll be an extra £52 please.
90,000 cheaper tickets? Superb... but hold on, there are 90,000 tickets where prices are a lot higher.
At the BSM we've always said we disagreed with the introduction of Category C tickets because while some stood to benefit, plenty more would get absolutely clobbered. We understand two of the groups involved in the discussions with Arsenal at that time fully backed it, and that's their call, but we'd say the bigger picture was missed. A lot of our fans have suffered financially as a result.
My own view? Get rid of price categorisation. Yes I understand this means people will have to pay an extra tenner for a certain match, but it means that the same person would benefit from a seat that's £27 less for another match... or a staggering £52 less for the seat if you're upstairs. No price categories? Everything even, one price band across the board. It'd also mean there's a lot less confusion with season ticket holders worrying that the club aren't recognising and rewarding their loyalty (and the tens of thousands of pounds they've shelled out over the years). Finally, it'd save Arsenal major headaches as well as admin time (and that equals money!) trying to work out how they can price matches effectively.
Up The Gunners.