In the summer of 2006 Arsenal moved out of one of the most historical football grounds in the country – Highbury – after 93 years of calling it their home. At its peak, Highbury could hold over 60,000 spectators, and had a capacity of 57,000 until the early 1990s. The Taylor Report and Premier League regulations forced Arsenal to convert Highbury into an all-seater in time for the 1993/94 season, reducing the capacity to 38,419 seated fans. Any expansion of Highbury was restricted because the east stand had been designated as a grade II listed building and the other three stands were close to residential properties. These limitations prevented the club from maximising matchday revenue during the 1990s and early 2000s, leaving them in danger of being left behind during the football boom of that time. After considering various options, in 2000 Arsenal finally proposed building a new 60,355 capacity stadium at Ashburton Grove.
Whilst many fans of Arsenal and the game of football itself were sad to see the end of Highbury, there was a clearly a need for the club to move it. There was a real risk that the Gunners could be left behind – their ground being one of the smallest in Europe for a club of such stature. Over 20,000 members were on a waiting list for season tickets, so the club was not even close maximising their potential revenue. For the 1998/99 and 1999/00 seasons they had even decided to play their European home games at Wembley. It made good business sense for them to explore the construction of a brand new stadium.
Finding a suitable site in north London was not an easy task. The preference was to remain in the borough of Islington but they had to concede that other sites would have to be considered. Had the Ashburton Grove site not have been, Arsenal could have relocated closer to the M2 or even made a permanent move to Wembley, had the home of English football not been going through its own redevelopment plans.
Eventually the club selected a site, an industrial estate at Ashburton Grove, which was just 500 yards from Highbury. The plan was announced in November 1999, with a scheduled opening date of August 2003; later slipped back to summer 2006 due to planning and financial difficulties. The Ashburton Grove site had many occupants; with the most significant being Islington Council's recycling plant and the Royal Mail Holloway Delivery Office. In order to develop the site, it was necessary to buy out the existing occupants and pay for their relocation. Arsenal purchased 10 acres (40,000 m²) of former railway land on Lough Road to house the new recycling plant, while the Royal Mail moved to Hamilton Park, and these moves proved to be very expensive for the Gunners.
The stadium is a four-tiered bowl with roofing over the stands, but not the pitch. The upper tier is contoured to leave open space in the corners of the ground, and the roof is significantly canted inwards. Both of these features are meant to provide as much airflow and sunlight to the pitch as possible. The design team included architects HOK Sport (now known as Populous), construction consultants AYH, and engineering firm Buro Happold. The stadium was constructed by Sir Robert McAlpine. At a total cost of around £430m it came in on both budget and time.
Even before the stadium was finished Arsenal were starting to reap the rewards. In one of the biggest sponsorship deals of all time, the stadiums naming rights were sold to Emirates Airline, making the official name of the stadium become the ‘Emirates Stadium’. This was 15 year agreement that also included an 8 season shirt sponsorship deal. Some fans are inevitably against the idea of commercialising football and the decision to sell the naming rights. You may often still hear it referred to, by some fans, as Ashburton Grove, but this is nothing unusual for the club; their old stadium was never officially called Highbury, it was officially registered as Arsenal Stadium, a name that has been carried over to the new stadium for European Competition due to UEFA regulations.
On top of the huge sponsorship deal and general increase in ticket sales, the vast majority of the increased annual revenue since leaving Highbury has been from hospitality sales. One thing the club have successfully done is raise the bar when it comes to matchday hospitality, making the matchday experience seem somewhat unrecognisable from the days when the famous clock end was just a single banked stand. The main middle tier, known as the ‘Club Level’, is premium priced and also includes the director's box. There are 7,139 seats at this level, which are sold on licences lasting from one to four years.
Immediately above the club tier there is a small tier consisting of 150 boxes of 10, 12 and 15 seats. The total number of spectators at this level is 2,222. Box prices start at £65,000 per annum plus VAT, and covers admission to all home league games and any home games Arsenal play in the UEFA Champions League, FA Cup and Carling Cup. The most exclusive area in the stadium is known as the ‘Diamond Club’ which is invitation only and costs £25,000 up front plus £25,000 a year. Tickets here include use of a private lounge, a complimentary restaurant and bar, valet parking and concierge service. Members will also have the option of travelling to European away games on the players' aeroplane.
Full Name: Emirates Stadium
Colloquially known as: The Emirates/Ashburton Grove