How Do We Fill Those Empty Seats?/Danny Fiszman

Following my Wednesday blog, here are some personal thoughts about filling the empty seats at the Grove.
My working assumption is that the club is being truthful in announcing almost universal sell-outs for our home matches. I can’t see what the benefit would be in telling little porkies, except for a possible long-term effect on season ticket sales. One of the reasons Gooners buy season tickets is how difficult it is to get tickets for the biggest games. If the word got out that tickets were easily obtainable match by match the demand for season tickets might slacken considerably.
It is only in recent times that tickets have been so hard to come by. We only sold out the occasional match right up to the ground going all-seater. During the rebuilding process the capacity was restricted to around 24,000 yet by no means every match was a sell-out, even though we were the reigning champions. When the ground completely re-opened at its final capacity of 38,000 there were a large number of games in the 1994/5 season that didn’t sell out.
We only reached regular full sell-outs in 1997/8.We haven’t looked back since in terms of attendance, reaching heights at the Grove that weren’t even scaled in the post Second World War football attendance boom. As recently as 1985/6 our average was as low as 23,824. We have almost twice that number of season ticket holders now.
Assuming the club is factually correct in announcing sell-outs on tickets sold, then the empty seats by definition are either season tickets not turning up and not passing their seats on informally or via the club Ticket Exchange (TX); or matchday ticket holders who can’t make it and don’t pass their tickets on informally. This will include officially recognised Arsenal supporters’ clubs who don’t sell all the tickets they request for a game.
We can all see that the problem is worse for less important games and/or games against less glamorous opponents. Chief executive Ivan Gazidis recognised the problem in answer to a question at the recent Arsenal Supporters’ Trust meeting. He said he sometimes felt embarrassed when a 60,000 plus crowd is announced when there are clearly a significant number of empty seats.
How can this be addressed? I think in a number of ways. Firstly supporters’ clubs. If they can’t move all their tickets to their members, they should be given a cut-off date by which they can notify the club electronically which seats they have that remain unsold. These can then be offered on the TX with the appropriate supporters’ club getting a refund if they’re sold on.
Those individuals holding matchday tickets also need to have access to the TX opened up to them. It should be easy enough to send the appropriate refund to them electronically. Remember also that not all home League matches in the last season sold out to silver and red members. This number will include a small number of tickets sold on a general sale.
Then there is the problem of those who can’t attend at very short notice for work, family or other reasons like illness. The club needs to do some thinking about how such seats can be effectively and efficiently re-cycled. One thing that would definitely help would be the ability to pass on such seats electronically to a friend or family member without having to pass on and retrieve the entry card. This would probably require the club to issue either a paper ticket or additional entry card(s) that could be electronically activated for particular matches. As a start platinum and gold members should be enabled to pass on their seat if they can’t use it for a particular match to a nominated silver or red member.
To incentivise platinum and gold members to re-cycle their seats when they can’t use them, the club might give some sort of enhanced priority to platinum/gold members for cup final tickets for a perfect attendance record, whether personally or via TX.
The whole issue of empty seats needs to be looked at in fine detail by the club in consultation with the Arsenal Football Supporters’ Club, Arsenal Independent Supporters’ Association and the provincial/overseas supporters’ clubs. I’m sure with a bit of ingenuity and drive we can do better than we are at the moment. What none of us want to do is help the ticket touts in any way so that has to be a consideration.
Memo to Arsenal: let’s talk.
Whilst I’m on the subject of attendances, in North American professional sports it’s pretty standard practice to announce both the tickets sold AND the actual attendance, sometimes by announcing the number of so-called “no shows”. Doing this at Arsenal would be good practice in terms of transparency and held span the current credibility gap.
Finally, Danny Fiszman. Word reaches me that his cancer may be far more life-threatening than was first thought when it was originally diagnosed. This adds another level of uncertainty to the already unclear future ownership of Arsenal. Simply on a human basis I wouldn’t wish cancer on my worst enemy. Whatever my doubts about Danny’s custodianship of the slice of Arsenal that he owns and his future plans for his stake, I wish him a full and speedy recovery.
Keep the faith!

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