By Tim Todd, Tout-in-Chief
Watching the FA Cup semi-final on television this weekend I was struck by a camera shot just after kickoff. It was a scene from the half way line which showed a huge swath of empty seats. These were the best seats in the house; lower tier, center line, directly behind the player’s entrance tunnel and yet there were a ton of empty seats. It only took me a moment to remember that, at Wembley where this match was being played, the Football Association takes control of over 40% of the ticket allocations and gives them away to their corporate sponsors and partners. It was those seats which were empty.
Many of those seats remained empty throughout the match. And in the match the next day between Liverpool and Villa the exact same scene played out: empty seats in the FA allocation. This wasn’t a case of a few corporate sponsors lingering over a cocktail after half-time, many of these ticket holders simply didn’t sit in the stands or didn’t even attend the match. And so, there on international television was a glaring example of corporate cronyism, greed, and a pure indifference to the sport.
Clearly unperturbed that their semi-final allocations weren’t used, the FA announced ticket allocations for the final; Arsenal will get 25,000 tickets, Villa will get 25,000 tickets, the FA will give away 20,000 to their “football family”, and the FA will allocate 17,000 to Club Wembley members.
The FA did something similar last year and their actions prompted Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis to write a letter pleading with them to get the balance right. And that’s, unfortunately, what we are really talking about here, getting the balance right. Changing the numbers just a little bit in favor of the fans.
No one expects the FA to take tickets away from the Club Wembley partners. Those are the super-rich, the corporations, the lard which greases the pig that is modern football. Without them at the match, the FA officials wouldn’t have rich folks to rub elbows with. They need those tickets to give away to the mega-rich so that FA officials can bask in the glow of their power.
And the FA need corporate sponsors because they need money to pay the salaries of guys like Martin Glenn. Martin Glenn, former chief of United Biscuits, is apparently a marketing genius or at least that is how the FA sold his appointment, calling him “a veteran of industry”. That is exactly what the football association needed in order to improve the quality of their international football program, a great new marketing campaign. That way the fans can sing, “We are lions hear us roar!” as England crashes out of group stages of the World Cup, again.
The other 20,000 tickets will be given away to the FA’s football family. This means, practically, that clubs who hate Arsenal and Aston Villa will get an allocation. And it’s all done on a very fair basis as well: last year, volunteers distributed the 20,000 tickets. Arsenal and Villa are going to use complicated arithmetic to figure out who get their paltry allocations, meanwhile the Football Association are using “volunteers.”
And there you have it, 55% of the tickets for the FA Cup final go to the real fans and 45% go to everyone else. That 55% will be divided by lottery and will hopefully be going to the fans who travel week in and week out to see their team play across the country.
It’s a shame that the allocation couldn’t be 90% of the tickets for the clubs and 10% for the corporations and associations. It would be nice for once to be able to give every season ticket holder a seat at the final and make the corporate sponsors and friends of the FA have to enter into a lottery.
But this… this is modern sports. They renovated Wembley in order to build more corporate box seats. And it’s not like the FA are doing anything unusual, they are simply becoming more American in the way they allocate tickets.
The NFL’s signature game, the Superbowl, is divided in a similar way that the FA did their ticket allocation. The NFL give each team 17.5% of the total seats and a further 5% goes to the host team. After that, 35% are divided equally among all the other teams in the NFL and the organization takes the remaining 25% for themselves. In terms of percentages, the FA actually give a much bigger chunk to the two clubs in the finals, doling out nearly 28% of the tickets to each team.
The result of the NFL allocations is that an infinitely small number of real fans go to the Superbowl. With online ticket resell sites run rampant in the United States, combined with the rarity of obtaining a ticket, the average fan can pay for his season tickets many times over with the profits from the sale of a single Super Bowl seat. How many “real” fans attend the Superbowl is unknown but I’ve only ever known one.
This last bit could be misconstrued as me saying “hey it could be worse, you should quit complaining” but it’s actually just the opposite: “hey, it could be worse, you don’t want it to be worse, COMPLAIN LOUDER!”
Those empty seats in semi-finals were just a symbol. They are a symbol of how English Football is changing, is becoming more Americanized. And if that continues, the average fans might not even be able to go to the games.
But hey, if you’re really lucky you’ll get Katy Perry and Left Shark as your half-time entertainment for the Football Association Sponsored by Doritos Budweiser Cup Final presented in Sony Humorphic 3D.
It will almost be like being there.