Tottenham Hotspur’s deal with StubHub has attracted a great deal of attention, and prompted a meeting last week between the club and the Supporters Trust at which StubHub was also present. There’s a report of the meeting on the Trust’s website. I set out my view on the deal on this blog, and subsequently in an article for the Trust website that was also carried by the Football Supporters’ Federation blog.
The first thing to say is that the Trust, which is having a new lease of life breathed into it, has been much more proactive on this issue than it has been on other issues in the past. The Trust talked to Everton’s Blue Union about Everton fans’ experiences with StubHub, carried out a survey of its own members, and various board members spent a lot of time discussing and debating the deal with me. While I would still like to see the Trust take a much stronger stance against the deal, calling more prominently for tickets only to be resold at face value, the fact that it has spent time gathering opinion and putting questions of substance to the club is encouraging. As is the report of the meeting being published within a week of it happening. So let’s take a look at that.
At the meeting, the StubHub reps seemed keen to push the view that the company doesn’t set prices, something the club points out too. They also said tickets rarely sell for over face value, and that highly-priced tickets didn’t fit their business model. There’s much reference to the fact that ‘the market’ sets the prices, something I’ve called the National Rifle Association defence – ‘we just provide the guns, other people use them to shoot people’. The honeyed words about how StubHub is just doing us a favour don’t really stand up to the context of the situation at Spurs. The stadium is sold out for pretty much every first team game. So there is usually more demand than supply. StubHub wants us to believe that in such circumstances, ticket prices will not be driven up.
What’s more, as StubHub earns its money from commission, it’s in StubHub’s interest for prices to go up. It may suit the company’s PR to say that the prices don’t go up because of any decision it makes, but the fact is that the higher the ticket price gets pushed up, the more money StubHub makes. It is hard to believe that StubHub would have paid Spurs a large amount of money to run this scheme – and sources tell me it was a large amount of money – if it didn’t think it would make more money than it laid out. If it did pay out a large amount of money just to do us fans a favour, with no prospect of turning a profit, I would expect the company’s investors to ask some searching questions. So none of these excuses stack up.
The club and StubHub, according to the minutes of the meeting, agreed to issue a call “for all tickets to be priced sensibly”. [Insert your own biting sarcasm about ticket prices across the Premier League here]. Presumably this means the club will stop promoting the fact that “you can set your price” as a benefit of the new scheme. I’m holding my breath as I write.
There’s no report of the issue about the scheme undermining the club’s own membership schemes being discussed, but I still think this is an issue (see my previous blog).
The results of the Trust survey were interesting, especially as it seems 40%+ of the Trust’s members responded – an astonishingly high rate of return for a survey. Some 66% said they were unhappy with StubHub running the exchange facility, 77% said such a platform should be for resale at face value only, and 92% think the club should have consulted fans before signing the deal. Some 37% agreed with the ‘neutral’ stance the Trust originally adopted on the scheme, while 17% wanted a stronger line. It’s not clear whether the remaining 46% disagreed with the stance but not strongly, but 37% support for the ‘neutral’ position is certainly a minority.
With those findings, I think the Trust could, and should, take a stronger line. I recognise it’s easy to criticise the Trust, especially as, despite the efforts of some members in the past, it has too often allowed itself to be used as a fig-leaf for consultation, so it’s important to give credit where it’s due. Which is why this is intended to be a constructive contribution. I also recognise it was unlikely THFC would scrap a lucrative deal that’s now into its second year. But the feelings of the Spurs fans surveyed seem to be clear, and – in an admittedly entirely unscientific observation – the responses I’ve had to my various postings on this subject have run at about 95% against involvement with what most seem to regard as legalised ticket touts.
One of the conclusions of the meeting was that “THST would push for fan consultation on such matters in the future”. Note the Trust will push but the club doesn’t commit. It seems amazing that, at a club where one of the directors once insisted to me that it had the best relationship with its fans in the Premier League, the idea that those fans should be consulted about tickets still comes as news to those in charge. Which leads back to the Trust and why we should be making it stronger.
To achieve the kind of success that, for example, the fans of Schalke 04 did in getting their club to scrap a similar deal with Viagogo would require the Trust to have many more members than it currently does. So if you’re reading this and you agree with what I’m arguing, join.
If you need more convincing, here’s a positive note to end on. After the application details for the derby at The Emirates were posted on the club site with prices tbc, I was one of a number of people who wrote to Spurs and Arsenal to complain about what’s becoming an increasingly common practice. I followed up, once the prices were set, with a question to Arsenal about why we were being charged £62 for tickets other London fans were asked to pay £35 for last season. Arsenal, despite promising to reply within a week, have yet to respond. Spurs did respond to me and addressed the points, and have agreed to take a proposal to the Premier League that all ticket prices should be set by a given date in the close season, so that there was full price transparency on tickets. That suggestion was put forward by the Supporters’ Trust in the aftermath of the fans march on Premier League HQ in June.