Well, PGMOL did exactly what I said they’d do… 10 days after the Newcastle game, they planned their counter-attack on Mikel Arteta and they totally botched it.
Michael Owen was calling the media ‘scumbags’ after the show went out and went full Donald Trump on the perception of the interview when he said ‘most people thought the show was insightful and educational.’
The show was not.
They cut the output to suit Howard Webb, they chose a docile host who’d already signaled his obedience with tweets before the show, and they managed to botch the offside rule in front of the country.
Needless to say, the reaction from all corners of Premier League fandom was absolutely brutal, this was a total failure of process, and a PR disaster for Howard Webb.
I cannot say it enough times: Your big idea as CEO of PGMOL cannot be ‘cozy up with the big pundits and gaslight the fans.’
G-Nev, Carragher, and Owen all thought they had the celebrity might to pull one over the fans… and no one is having it. Those guys like being liked, they’ll come crawling back to the middle on this in no time and correct their erroneous ways. Then what does Howard Webb have? Nothing.
PGMOL can only win hearts and minds with big ideas, cutting change, and consistent results on the pitch.
Howard Webb can’t deliver that. He’s part of the furniture. He cannot be an ideas man because he’s too deep in the trenches with incapable talent he would probably class as family.
No one is ever honest with family. Hard truths are glossed over. We accept mediocrity, character flaws, and incompetence in those we love. That’s why Mike Dean saved his mate from a bad day at Chelsea versus calling the correct decision. That’s why Lee Mason was rehired just months after a brutal public sacking. They are all family.
Anyway… amusing to see Owen feel the burn after siding with PGMOL propaganda.
Innnnnnn other news…
Gabi Jesus was sent to Brazil despite limping into the hotel lobby on official social channels. Why did he have to go? What was the point? This is a country that benched him for RICHARLISON. Now they want to wheel him out injured? It pains me to see.
Our friends over at Highbury Squad dropped a monster podcast with Aaron Ramsdale’s dad… and it was not pretty. (here)
He had a few too many drinks and went PROUD DAD on his son. As a parent who celebrates my child stacking two boxes on top of each other, I can see why Nick Ramsdale went nuclear on Mikel and the choice to pick David Raya over his son. But it was a bad idea. People are desperate to pretend it’s not important and Arteta won’t care… but he will. Not that it has changed anything. Aaron will be out the door in January and that will be that. It’s a shame, but I do think the lack of focus has cost him. The performances on the pitch were bad, but the podcasting and media darling aspect at the same time hasn’t helped him.
Podcasts will win you fans outside the club, but I’m not sure over-saturating yourself in the media helps you in an Arteta dressing room.
Last section, there’s a very interesting battle of ideas going off regarding the atmosphere at The Emirates.
It has declined.
There was a lot of denial at the start of the season that this was the case, but now everyone has caved, and the verdict is in: we’re back to having a limp atmosphere.
The least convincing excuse is: ‘expectations have changed’
I’d buy it if the only thing that changed between last season and now was contending the title.
Before you determine why something isn’t working – you have to understand what made it tick in the first place.
When clubs engage meaningfully with supporters and take on their ideas, it improves the vibes in the stadium. A very simple idea, but if you ask fans how to make things noisy, take their ideas on board, and implement them. You’re on a good path. Arsenal engaged with fans extensively and we know this because they said it in the NYT.
Again, another basic. People that go to a lot of games understand the norms in a stadium and that makes it easier for everyone to vibe. There’s a reason things feel very different between a Premier League game and an Emirates Cup outing. Different people bring different energy. Stadiums with elite atmospheres generally have a lot of repeat fans.
For the older crowd that read this blog… remember how sterile it was going from Highbury to The Ems? That’s why familiarity is important. It took years to break the staleness because it took years to care about those around you.
If you’re American, you get this term. If you’re an 80s fan, this would be the terrace fans. If you’re Italian, it’d be the Ultras. Creating a section in the stadium that is dedicated to fans who sing, wave flags, and hit drums is essential to creating a great vibe. In MLS, those sections are 3000 strong. In Dortmund, their singing stand is called the yellow wall and it’s 25,000 strong. It doesn’t matter the weather, the score, the performance, these fans keep the vibe banging. Arsenal did this with the AA, we know this, because they spoke about it in the NYT.
The caveat is the group was exposed for disgusting antisemitism that came out in The Guardian. There’s no excuse for that. But I’m working off the notion that the club dealt with it – because they said they did. You can’t hold a whole group accountable for the actions of a few.
EXPECTATIONS: When you’re doing a root-cause analysis in a blog – I don’t think it’s prudent to try and gauge something ethereal like expectation. 50,000 people all deciding at once that they are too good for singing because they now expect Arsenal to win the title doesn’t really work for me. It’s an especially odd conclusion considering how well we’ve been doing this season. Did Arsenal fans all decide to can the singing because we’re… 2 points off top in the EPL and top of our CL group? Doesn’t work for me. If expectation shifts were a problem then tell me how being exactly where you need to be if you want to win the league kills fan mood in the stadium?
Ok, so now we know what worked – let’s talk about what changed.
NEW: LESS ENGAGEMENT. Now, take what certain fans groups say with a pinch of salt… but the AA crowd say that club engagement has stopped with them. The club don’t listen to their ideas, approve their tifos, and they’ve cut their tickets.
I don’t know why that’s happened – it might be because they don’t want to deal with folk that caused embarrassment to them. If that’s the case, fine. But don’t kill the core idea and assume only one group is interested in making noise. Broaden the group. Encourage new ones. Work out a way to get the spirit of a supporter section into the stadium.
Cutting 200 tickets (0.03% of the stadium) to 150 is counter-productive. It also looks like the club is saying ‘we’re cool again, so we don’t need your aggro.’
NEW: LESS FAMILIARITY. I don’t want to go too far down a rabbit hole because #TicketDrama twitter is by far the most boring thing I read on the internet. But the message from the big voices was clear.
- Loyalty has been usurped
- The priority is access for more people
- It is harder for people to shift tickets
Now, I understand the thinking here. Having to spend 8 years going to Bolton away to get a home ticket ain’t right, but people did it so they could get access to single tickets. That’s all in the bin and the club has moved to random ballots. Red members have an 11% chance of a ticket, Silver has been 32%.
So here me out here – first-timers should be welcome. I am a TOURIST fan myself, and I should be welcome because I write all these free blogs. But you cannot ignore the reality of what newness brings… unfamiliarity. Arsenal ain’t the same as it used to be for me. I don’t sing because I don’t know anyone in the section. It’s just different. That doesn’t make me less of a fan – it’s just my reality. If you’re a tourist fan, stop complaining on Twitter you’re the same as regulars because you’re not. That doesn’t mean you don’t care, or you aren’t passionate, it just means you don’t fully get the vibe because you are new.
Back to what has changed: Were we seeing complaints of early leavers last season? Were people taking videos of empty seats? Were people saying the atmosphere was grim? No. No. No.
At a corporate level – you are celebrating the right things.
- Ticket touts aren’t flogging spares for £400 a piece
- More NEW fans are getting into the stadium
- We aren’t dealing with supporters that bring reputational risk to the club
… but at the same time.
The stadium feels more sterile because there are lots of first-timers.
The designated noise makers have lost 25% of their already pitiful allocation and they feel ignored.
The new balloting system riles everyone up the wrong way.
… and the final point: The vibes are not immaculate in the stadium.
It is very hard getting people to contribute to a great atmosphere. When it happens, document why the magic is happening, pour petrol all over it, and light a match. Don’t hide behind ‘nuanced’ or ‘complicated’ especially if we’ve
seen heard the promised land.
It doesn’t take much to damage vibes – and too much change will do that. This season, it looks like the tinkering has broken something. Maybe the club should spend less time arming their online allies with sound bites to defend the problem and more time working out how they achieved greatness.*
After all, no one wants to sit in a quiet stadium, especially the players.
(*Hint: take a look at the Rory Smith New York Times article and try that again.)