Arsenal ticket chaos: What happened, a battle against bots and touts, trying to feed demand

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As teething problems go, Arsenal’s opening game of the season was the worst possible moment for a technical breakdown.

The club had been gearing up for the full introduction of digital ticketing for months, and were encouraged that 99 per cent of season ticket holders had managed to download the pass on to their phones in time for the first game (Nottingham Forest at home). 

The remaining one per cent they could handle in person on the day. What they didn’t expect was unrelated problems in the turnstile system. Apparently it could have happened at any time, with digital QR codes, plastic cards or good old-fashioned pieces of paper. 

So, unfortunately, the majority of fans arrived for the 12.30pm kick-off against Nottingham Forest to find chaotic crowding outside the Emirates Stadium, particularly along the thinnest section of the external concourse which runs alongside the overground railway track along Drayton Park.

Once it was clear there was a problem, with safety now the priority, Arsenal switched to their “resilience planning” mode which is in place on every event day for any crowd concern. 


(Photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

The larger exit doors next to the turnstiles were opened to allow fans to filter in more quickly. Stewards had hand-held devices to scan passes manually. There were reports that some fans got through without that measure being implemented but Arsenal calculated the vast majority were scanned in.

The usual bag checks at the turnstiles could not be facilitated, but as that is a secondary check, the club were confident the initial visual checks that take place at the stadium perimeter gave them sufficient back-up. 

Behind-the-scenes discussions with all stakeholders led to an agreement that the kick-off was delayed by half an hour. Arsenal sent text messages to ticket holders and made PA announcements to relay the news. Not everybody saw or heard.

There was a surge a few minutes before the original kick-off time. The discomfort and worry amongst fans outside was understandable but luckily the crowd mostly stayed calm, if a little irritated.  

Fortunately, everyone made it in for the start of the game and there were no issues once the match got underway. The contingency plan wasn’t perfect, but thankfully was robust enough that there was no major incident. 

In the days that followed, Arsenal identified the issues — a series of smaller glitches all occurring at the same time they said in a message to fans that “a small number of technology infrastructure issues combined to create the problem. We have put in place a number of measures to remedy the issues and will continue to do extensive testing ahead of our next match.” They are confident it won’t happen again. 


Much of the discourse among fans afterwards blamed the new digital ticket system. It seemed too much of a coincidence for the electronics to crash on the first day they were in use. For many, it seemed to take half the summer holidays to figure out how everything was supposed to work. Login here, download there — like any new technology it takes a bit of getting used to. But coincidence it was. 

emirates 3 scaled e1692291095795


(Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Digital technology is here to stay and Arsenal are convinced it is going to play a significant part in their anti-touting measures. The intention is to get tickets into the hands of their supporters at face value. Following concerns aired by fans over price gouging and fakes on the secondary market, the club listened and duly spent a lot of time looking into new practices to try to clamp down on it as much as possible. 

Towards the end of last season, when Arsenal were top of the table and winning the title was a possibility, there were “tickets” to be found on the internet for thousands of pounds. Some were fakes. 

Every matchday, without fail, a number of fans who have spent a fortune buying tickets from unofficial sources end up in a long line outside the box office. They have been scammed, parting with good money for a bad screen shot or print-out that is rejected at the turnstiles.

Often these fans are coming for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Emirates. Frequently they are on the brink of tears. The staff do their best to help on the day and it has only strengthened the desire to clamp down on the secondary market. 

That brings us to this summer’s big change — the new system. It is essentially a two-pronged attack on touts based on digital tech and a new balloting concept. “With the demand for tickets for matches at Emirates at an all-time high, the introduction of the ballot and secure digital passes for men’s matches have significantly bolstered our efforts to root out ticket touting,” said an Arsenal spokesperson. 

Let’s look at the digital pass first. A digital season ticket now lives on the holder’s phone. Screenshots won’t work so the club feel this is the most dependable way of keeping tickets from being passed on illegally.

Printouts of tickets are limited — only usable if a season ticket holder transfers their seat to a fellow member (and even then the threat of losing your season ticket if it falls into the wrong hands makes this option rare).

All in all, using live QR codes on a personal phone makes life a lot more difficult for dodgy resellers.

As a plus point for Arsenal, it seems to be encouraging more bums on seats. A new policy means season ticket holders must tick off 17 home matches this season (either attending in person, via a transferred ticket or putting the seat back into the pot via the club’s ticket exchange). The ticket transfer system was used three times more than normal for the Nottingham Forest match. 

It is also important to note that Arsenal have made a small number of non-digital tickets available for exceptional cases, particularly to the elderly or disabled who might find using technology more difficult.

It should be pointed out that in the past Arsenal have experienced far less tout activity with season ticket holders compared to members who can apply for tickets on a matchday basis. 

There are two membership levels — silver and red — and the second part of Arsenal’s new system is the introduction of ballots for those members to apply for tickets. The old system was a labyrinth of pre-queues and crashes and main queues and more crashes which drove everybody mad.

The ballot system is designed to be fairer and easier to navigate. The club also wanted to make it more equitable so members who might be at work and unable to sit online at 10am on a weekday to queue would not be penalised.  

It also makes it easier to deter bots. Arsenal use a third-party expert to identify suspicious accounts which has been a success since the start of the season. 

“For the first four fixtures this season, we’ve already blocked and banned 13,000 membership accounts before they’ve been able to enter the ballot for match tickets, the Arsenal spokesperson adds. “We also have evidence that shows unauthorised re-sellers are finding it much harder to source tickets. Our aim is to put more tickets into the hands of our supporters. The ballot system and secure digital passes are helping us to achieve that.” 

The ballot is controversial because some members have been luckier than others. But everything boils down to the biggest factor of all in Arsenal ticketing this season: demand, demand, demand. 

Arsenal have a substantial waiting list for season tickets — in excess of 85,000 — and they have a vast number of silver and red members who can enter the ballots for around 5,000 to 6,000 match-day tickets. A few years ago, when the team were not doing so well, all silver members could more or less guarantee a ticket whenever they wanted and plenty of reds were successful, but now every game is massively oversubscribed. That is the price of a team on the up. 

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(Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Arsenal are aware no system is perfect, and when supply cannot possibly meet demand it is felt even more keenly. There is a tension amongst the fanbase between long-term supporters who want loyalty rewarded and newer fans or long-distance fans desperate to experience a live game. Who is more deserving? It is a very subjective and sensitive subject. 

Ashburton Army, the group that boosted the atmosphere recently, have had their allocation reduced — another emotive issue. 


The crowd for the next game at the Emirates (Fulham on August 26) might arrive that bit earlier given the issues before the Nottingham Forest game. Arsenal are hoping for a better experience to prove that digital ticketing is worth it and everything can run without a hitch. 

They outsource their ticket management to Ticketmaster, and the company responsible for the digital technology on match day is FortressGB. On their website, FortressGB promises to “fast track your scanning with the latest run access technology and deliver the best in game day experience”. 

Hopefully, when Fulham visit, it will be a relative breeze. 

And a message to anyone hoping to drop in on an Arsenal game via the resale market: be warned! Anything unofficial these days is risky business. 

(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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