The relationship between Tottenham Hotspur and its Supporters’ Trust was held up as a positive example, not least by Supporters Direct. But the announcement by the club of its pricing for the much-anticipated new stadium has not only prompted anger and incredulity from many fans, it has revealed the limitations of supporter input at the top levels of the game.
We’ve spent five years talking with the club in regular board-to-board meetings about a variety of issues, but with the new stadium and ticketing policy increasingly central. When it came to the crunch we got a phone call just before the announcement went live, giving us some headline figures that masked the reality and omitting some key details never raised with us. We didn’t even get a minute’s notice for every year we’d put in.
Let’s consider those prices.
- A Park Lane lower ST costing £795 would now cost £995
- A Park Lane upper ST near the front costing £895 would now cost £1200
- A seat at the front of the North stand upper costing £895 would now cost £1200
- A seat on the halfway line in the East Upper costing £1115 would now cost £1995
- A seat on the halfway line in the West Upper costing £1895 would now cost £1995
- An £865 seat in the East Lower is now £1250 – and mostly not available. Fans seeking a comparable seat would need to move into the Upper tier at £1325
These are enormous price rises from a level that was already one of the highest in the country. Season ticket prices at the club increased by 571% between 1989 and 2011. One of the Trust’s successes was to lobby successfully for price freezes in our last three seasons at White Hart Lane. That all seems a long time ago now.
The Club argues that comparisons cannot be made between prices at the old ground, prices at Wembley this year, and the new ground. The product, they say, is completely different – the best in Europe. But fans’ wages are not, in the vast majority of cases, completely different. And to a fan whose view from the side of the pitch has gone up £880, no amount of spin will convince them that is not a rise.
One of the things that most excited many fans was the new 17,500 seater home end, modelled, we were told, on Dortmund’s famous Yellow Wall. The Club made much of wanting to promote atmosphere, of avoiding the dangers of the modern corporate bowl with diluted atmosphere. It was here that we urged them to price to attract younger and less affluent fans, here that the future-proofing for safe standing area would be, here that the commitment to accessible pricing could be demonstrated.
Instead, 55% of the tickets are over £1000 a year, and some 1,000 ‘premium-light’ seats costing £2,200 a year are stripped across the centre of the stand. Those ticket holders will have access to a private bar and hospitality area – so expect the empty seats around half time that have become a distinguishing feature of corporate areas at football stadiums. There will be more than a few bricks missing from this wall.
That premium-lite offering in the home end was never mentioned once during all the discussions we had. And it completely undermines the whole ethos we were told the stand represented.
The Club has taken some suggestions from the Trust on board. It has introduced a young adult category that gives 18-21-year-olds a 25% discount. It has offered concessionary pricing in every stand, not just one. But even here there are limitations – concessions only apply in seats costing under £1125, one of the lower price points. There are just 1,200 seats priced under £900 in the entire stadium.
The club also tells us it has implemented the stretch pricing policy we advocated - pricing up the top end corporate seats to keep other prices down. But there is no way of verifying the extent to which this has been done because sharing the workings is deemed commercially sensitive.
Fans are not as daft as club boards like to think. We understand the commercial realities of modern football. Spurs fans knew the stadium had to be paid for, they know their club’s wages policy has made it difficult to attract and retain players at the very top level - although the development of players under coach Mauricio Pochettino has produced our best team in years. Everything has to be paid for. But the extent of these rises is eye-watering, and while inevitably there will be some fans who see them as a price worth paying, the feedback we have had indicates many more are having serious doubts.
Fans may pay this year, pushing themselves beyond spending levels they find increasingly hard to justify in order to return home and see the new stadium. But will they continue to do so, especially if the team’s form drops? Football consultant Alex Fynn commented “With revenue and profit likely to be at a all-time high, Spurs season ticket prices for 2018/19 appears short sighted. The novelty of a new stadium has a short life and successful entertaining football cannot be guaranteed.” Many are telling us “one season and I’m out”. Others are saying they have been priced out completely.
We’ve received some moving, sometimes heartbreaking messages. That may sound a bit strong over a football ticket, but people’s connections with football runs deep. Spurs blogger Alan Fisher says that football boards “have no sense of the depth of feeling that an emotional attachment of such complexity and power generates”. He’s wrong . They do, and they see that it can be monetised. THFC are testing that assumption to the limit, but already some have been pushed beyond their limit.
One fan wrote to the club, copying us in, “I will be priced out in 1/2 years, do you think that my own club should be responsible for keeping me away? Hooliganism, work commitments, family, games being changed for TV or no real success have never kept me away yet your pricing will.” Another wrote: “I would implore you to think again about the pricing policy. Mr Levy has publicly said he hopes this new stadium will be an exceptional ‘new home for generations to come’. I’m afraid that, for families like mine, my boys will not grow up attending Tottenham games. Their ‘generation’ is not going to feel like White Hart Lane is ‘home’. Instead, it will feel like a rare treat. They will be tourists in the arena, instead of feeling like they belong there. Sadly, I must conclude that you have most likely priced me out of the new stadium after just one year as a Season Ticket holder.”
There’s more like that. The stadium will sell out next season. But in future years there might just be cause to regret driving a wedge between the club and some of its most passionate, committed fans. If the supporters had genuine input into their club’s strategy, some of the decisions Spurs have made would never have been agreed.
That genuine input would have ensured a greater balance between commercial and fan demand. That has not happened at a club held up as a good example of how a Trust and a club work together. And so arguing for a pragmatic, engaged approach has become that much more difficult. The need for legislation to give fans a voice in their clubs has never been more evident.