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Chelsea and Arsenal increase ticket prices for UK soccer fans

By Kelly McWilliams

It looks like British football (U.S. soccer) fans will have to dig a bit deeper into their pockets next season to see their favorite teams square off.

Last week, the Chelsea Football Club announced a new tier of matches in next season's schedule, featuring the more popular games against such teams as Liverpool, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester United and Manchester City. In one section of the club's Stamford Bridge Stadium, non-Chelsea members will pay as much as £12 ($19.50) more, up from £75 ($122) to £87 ($141). But, it doesn't end there. Football Association Challenge (FA) Cup games, the Cup currently held by Chelsea, will increase in price, going from £25.50 ($41.50) this season to £30 ($49) next.

Season ticket holders will not be spared the club's price increases, with season admission to the upper tier of the Stadium's West Stand rising from this year's £1,210 ($1,967) to £1,250 ($2,032).

Elsewhere, the Arsenal Football Club has boosted the prices of next season's Corporate Club level tickets by as much as 6.5 percent, the first move by new majority owner American Stan Kroenke, who recently managed to get a majority stake in the club and is aiming for a full takeover.

Kroenke, who also owns the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, joins a small but growing number of American sports franchise owners who are reaching across the Atlantic to add a British football team to their holdings, with often mixed results. The most well-known of these entrepreneurs is Malcolm Glazer, owner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Premier League's Manchester United. Glazer and his family have been the target of boycotts and other actions by fans who have seen their ticket prices nearly doubled since the Glazer takeover. While increasingly straining the wallets of Man U fans, the Glazers have enraged them further by losing at least one player from failure to pay higher salaries, continuing the deep debt in which they had put the club to make the original purchase, and even borrowing as much as £10 million from the club.

But, the clubs aren't alone in hiking the prices. The FA Cup Final has already seen a substantial price bump of 22 percent for this year's event. Last year, the highest priced tickets went for £95 ($154.50), while this year fans, or those who can afford it, will pay £115 ($187) for the same seats.

Many fans are blaming the increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) earlier this year for these widespread price increases. However, FA officials state that prices for the Cup Final are in line with other annual British events, and they deny that the changes in the VAT influenced these price hikes.

In fact, ticket prices for the upcoming Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Finals make these hikes look like child's play. The lowest priced tickets for non-club members start at £150 ($244), with an additional £26 ($42) administration fee. The highest priced finals tickets for neutral fans are selling for £297, or $481. Club members will see some relief in their ticket prices, with prices for their seats at £80 ($130). That makes this year's Finals, to be held at London's Wembley Stadium, nearly twice as expensive to attend than just two years ago.

Graham Burns, Chairman of the UK's Association of Secondary Ticket Agents (ASTA), sees this as the FA's best attempt to maximize profits, often at great cost to fans. Noting the twenty percent hike in Finals prices, he told TicketNews, "Twenty percent is more than the rate of inflation. They are taking advantage of the fact that fans will want to be there. There is a difference between wanting a ticket for the final and actually being able to afford one…Also taking into consideration, is the cost of travelling down to Wembley for both the semi-final and the final. For a lot of families, it comes down to choosing between a Cup final and a holiday.

"Even in these times, fans could put up with a price hike for the final, however unjustified, but to make people travel to Wembley for semi-finals, (especially when ALL four teams come from the North West), then ask them to shell out even more for the final because it is a unique sporting event is the sort of double whammy most businesses would be wary of putting on their customers."

While it is possible that secondary market sales will be impacted by these hikes, only a select few companies are allowed to transact in the system, since resale of tickets to football matches in England and Wales is prohibited for all but authorized sellers. Edward Parkinson, the director of viagogo, Chelsea's authorized resale partner, highlights the potentially transformative role that resale could play in the British football market: "Research undertaken by viagogo highlighted that Premier League football fans waste more than £42m a year on unused season tickets, and this is a number we believe can be reduced dramatically by the clubs offering a ticket exchange facility for its fans.

"Viagogo offers a ticket exchange service for a number of Premier League clubs including Chelsea FC, Manchester Utd., Aston Villa and West Ham where fans are able to legally sell tickets they are unable to use to other loyal football fans and recoup some of the cost back for matches they cannot attend."

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