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  • Writer's pictureSuzy Lycett

Cancelled tickets and autograph alley: Growing pains for Arsenal and women’s football

Updated: Apr 26

This past week, Arsenal fans were met with the unwelcome news that some of their tickets for the Everton away game were cancelled. Why? Because many had followed the pattern of last year and booked tickets through the Everton site to attend at the ground which has no segregated area for away fans.


Arsenal had organised an away allocation of 250 tickets, the largest number given to the away fan base for an Everton game this season.


But these were released late and, in light of the exponential explosion in popularity for Arsenal tickets this season, those tickets were simply not enough to match demand. 


This is one example in a long line of growing pains for Arsenal and for the other clubs affected by its growth.


Arsenal shoulders the glory of a record breaking season for attendances (I know, I know, we don’t get trophies for that), yet also bears the consequences of that popularity. ‘Victim of its own success’ springs to mind.  


Demand last season was high. Now, it’s too high.


I, of course, want the game to grow - and it still has room to do so.


Despite selling out or coming close on different occasions this season, it’s relatively easy to get tickets to Emirates stadium. Plenty of space and at affordable rates (in comparison to the men’s games). 


Meadow Park is another matter. 


From a stadium of 60,000 to the grounds of 4,500, getting tickets to those Borehamwood matches is like the Hunger Games. We even broke the ticketing system for the first City home game of the year.


That demand obviously extends to away games. 


Some clubs take advantage of the Arsenal travelling support, knowing that they can make money by selling tickets to the away crowd, especially at the bigger grounds.


But that’s another issue.  Not all teams play at their main club stadium - at least, not for all games. So, that availability of tickets will continue to fluctuate on a game by game basis.


At the bigger grounds, Arsenal has been treated well, for now. 


For the Chelsea away leg in the WSL this season, we had 6,000 tickets - double the normal Premier League allocation for such a fixture. The noise we made was testament to that.



And yet, long term, is this the right answer? 


Chelsea are working hard to build support for their team. The Champions League second leg vs. Barcelona is this weekend, and they’re aiming for their first sellout. 


If they go to home games with louder support from the away fans because of the overly large allocation, is that going to be an enjoyable experience for the Chelsea fans?


If away fans are allowed to buy in the home section, outnumbering the home fans and sitting rivals shoulder to shoulder, is that an incentive for the home fans to go back?

 

These are questions that clubs will start to ask themselves, as they should. 


Arsenal got a head start on attendances. And now other clubs will have to play catch up. 


Even if Arsenal’s demand is there, it’s not sustainable to keep upping the number of tickets we get or allowing fans to buy in the home end. I suspect that Everton was the first club to crack with its out-of-the-blue reaction, and others will follow suit.


Other areas show further evidence of clubs reacting to this developing demand. 


Manchester City has created ‘autograph alley’ - a space where fans can apply to meet and greet the players post game. 


At Arsenal, we’ve set up no such measures to redirect that end-of-game, fan attention. At Emirates, we have a message saying the players can’t meet everyone (which shouldn’t need saying, but that’s another blog…). At Meadow Park, it's another story.


With so many fans and limited space, screaming and running ensues at the final whistle to reach the front of the barriers.


At the games, this is allowed. And yet that behaviour was considered disruptive enough to the players on arrival at Meadow Park that the normal fan route alongside the staff car park was redirected for the last game. 


Not everyone wanting to meet the players acts like this. And yet it happens, because nothing has been done to dissuade fans of the notion that they will meet them. In fact, the players encourage it. 


They want that interaction with the youngsters that they inspire. But there must be a middle ground which allows for that, and doesn’t create a potential safety concern or difficulties for stewards too. If the expectation wasn't there, it would be a non-issue.


Medical emergencies are another sore point (pardon the pun).


Twice in my experience, a medic was urgently required in the stands. Twice, the fans had to rely on the team medics who reacted more quickly than the stewards. 


I'm sure they've put things in place since, but there’s a mismatch between the staffing and the growing numbers in the crowds. It wasn’t planned for, and so training or understanding how to deal with those larger crowds has had to play catch up as new and unexpected situations arise.


That extends to the handling of the rush to the barriers at the ends of games. At Meadow Park, they’re a little more used to the onslaught and handle it well. At away games, the stewards simply don't know how to handle the surge of people.


And now, let’s turn to the impact on the players. 


For the players, the growth means being viewed as celebrities, and dealing with those screaming masses. It also means visibility of the game has increased. 


The pressures of external viewpoints are becoming abundant - and social media is their harshest critic.


Many players will have someone handling their socials for them. Yet, not all of them will. And we know that the players see everything. 


I’m not going to have the debate over the players being adults, professionals, and able to handle criticism of a bad game. What I am going to say is that social media conflates any negativity into an uproarious cacophony. And that noise must be increasingly difficult to drown out.


So, how can we resolve these growing pains?


First, balancing out the demand across the league will help. Chelsea are on the hunt for their first sellout. Other teams have little consistency in their attendances - with many of their record crowds when playing Arsenal. 


Balanced attendances will mean more consistency in how many away tickets are allocated, and likely in the rules for away supporters in home ends too. 


Clubs are building their marketing strategies, and Arsenal offers a perfect case study in how to create lightning in a bottle.


And, on that point, learnings on how to cope with this growth will undoubtedly be shared between clubs - whether coming to some common ground over how to handle fan engagement or how to create the perfect fan experience. 


They know that they all benefit by raising the standards across the board. 


Even the CCO for Arsenal promoted tickets for the Chelsea game this week. ‘The rising tide lifts all boats’ said Juliet Slot, emphasising that improving conditions for everyone will make sure the game succeeds. 


Social media is too big a topic for a blog to handle. On that point, I simply say, be kind. 


I’m sure there are a plethora of other teething problems. The transition to ‘NewCo’ will undoubtedly start to look into some of these issues as the governing body for the women’s game starts to address the specifics of the game, its audience, and this growth. 


Next season, I’ll of course be back to watch the football. But I’ll also keep an eye on the changing approach to handling the growing crowds and everything it brings with interest. 


Arsenal fans need to dissuade themselves of the notion that they’ll be able to get tickets for every game - and that they'll be able to easily meet the players. Based on this season, this will no longer be realistic.


So, let’s wait and see what the future of the women’s game holds once it reaches adulthood. 


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