Sports management and Arsenal, from the club’s earliest day

In the earliest days of football, sports management did not exist.  A football club put on matches, tried to get big crowds, and then hoped that the money from the gate receipts was greater than the cost of running the club.  And that was by and large it.

If not enough money was raise then extra ways of raising money were found.  Likewise, if the team wasn’t doing well enough, new players were brought in to the club.  If that meant having more money to pay them, then so be it – yet more new ways of finding money had to be found.

So matters went round and round and it took a while for people to realise that by making the local population feel good about their club more then more money could be raised.  These people might not want to watch football, but they would come along to events at the ground because it was their club.  And if the events had some sporting element in them, then so much the better.  The club needed money to bring in players, the players had to win games to earn money, there was no end to it.

As a result of this early thinking today, a central part of sports management is “event management” with many events being arranged as challenges to those taking part, as entertainment and as ways of making money.

The first time Arsenal made the news in relation to running an event beyond a football match was with an archery tournament held at the Manor Ground in 1902 to raise funds. Arsenal’s first event manager was thus also their first-ever chairman: Jack Humble. 

His event was held on 29 November 1902 and raised about £1,200 – which was equal to about a quarter of the club’s annual turnover.  All from one afternoon!

What’s more, according to reports in the local papers the event was incredibly popular.   An amazing 80,000 tickets were sold at 6d (2.5p) each.  They were then, on the day of the competition, put on a board measuring 17 feet square, and then a selected young lady fired at the board and whichever ticket she hit was the winner.

The fact that on the first two shots she actually missed the enormous board totally was neither here nor there.  Everyone thought it was fun.

So the love of sports, taking a chance and having a challenge were all pulled together in one event – a perfect piece of very early sporting event management.  It also incorporated sports betting and pure entertainment – the ideal combination.

Sport, chance and challenges all came together in a winning combination for the club as well as being a brilliant day in terms of PR.  Indeed Arsenal’s archery challenge made the newspapers all over England.

Arsenal continued this idea for many many years by utilising its ground in all sorts of ways for events that were entertaining and sporting, introducing people to the ground, giving them a good time and hoping they would come back for more.

One that is remembered with much affection is the Jockeys vs the Boxers football match at Highbury.  There was a genuine interest in games such as this – would the jockeys be too fast for the boxers, would be boxers be too strong for the jockeys?   The games were widely covered on national radio as well.  Indeed they are still celebrated as part of Arsenal’s past by the club’s own website.

Of course part of the management involves arranging events that appeal to not just supporters but the whole family so that the local football team can be part of the community.  Royal Arsenal and later Woolwich Arsenal led the way with this with away day excursions for the whole family, and ultimately the invention of away support.

Sports management, sporting events, family entertainment and financing the football team merged into one event which supported the entire local community.

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