You’ve got to feel sorry for Tottenham Hotspur’s press team. Sometimes you get dealt a card so fiendishly difficult to handle, it’s hard to see how any satisfactory outcome can be arrived at. And that’s precisely the situation they find themselves in at the moment after the announcement of the link-up with StubHub.
Several years ago, the club ran a campaign called Out the tout. Its aim was to stop tickets being sold for well above face value to fans, and to stop the security problems that could come with the sale of tickets in home sections on the general market. Or at least, that’s what the club said its motivation was. The deal with StubHub casts some doubt on that motivation.
StubHub enables fans to sell their tickets to each other at a price of their own choosing. If you can’t work out how that differs from the practice the club claims it was trying to stamp out a few years ago, then you’re in good company. No one I have spoken to can either. Apart from the not inconsequential fact that, under the StubHub deal, the club presumably gets a slice of the transaction. Maybe even a nice upfront payment for setting up a marketplace for its loyal fans to exploit each other. Putting a positive spin on this is going to be quite some challenge. The obvious thing to do is to point out that StubHub is entirely legal. Which it is. Just as making your profits in one country and declaring them offshore is. But even those inhabiting the football business bubble cannot be unaware that some very big companies indeed are finding that people want to see them do not only what is legally right, but ethically right too. So that’s one twist of the conundrum for the poor old Spurs press team.
But the StubHub deal not only risks making the club look, to unkind observers, like a bunch of greedy and unprincipled hypocrites – something which worries loyal supporters such as me. It also undermines a number of other schemes and claims. let’s take the recent instance of the change to the loyalty points system. This was done, the club says, to make the system fairer; to prevent an effective closed shop of older fans having access to tickets. But now a system is being introduced which not only encourages the driving up of prices for big games so that an even narrower closed shop of very well off fans can afford them, it also encourages people not to give up their season tickets. Because now, if you’re a season ticket holder who moves away or can’t get to games for whatever reason, you are incentivised to hold onto the ticket in order to sell it on, making a very tidy profit indeed on games for which there is great demand.
That’s also not going to do much to tackle this enormous waiting list we’re always being told exists. And it totally undermines the point of the Members Club. Being a club member once meant you had priority in the queue for tickets once they went on general sale. Now, fewer tickets will go on general sale, because available tickets will be snapped up by those able to pay the inflated price on StubHub.
So, to recap, the StubHub deal reverses a previous public stance, undermines the membership scheme, exacerbates the season ticket waiting list problem, raises rather serious security issues, and sets fan against fan in a race for greatest exploitation in order that the club makes a greater profit. That, in itself, would be difficult enough for the deftest of spin doctors to handle. But there’s more.
The announcement of the StubHub deal comes on top of the announcement of yet more increases in ticket prices for next season. In my part of the ground, that means the price of a season ticket has risen by 105% since ENIC took over. Nothing else, and especially not wages, has risen by anywhere near that amount. The extra money raised will not buy a single player, or pay a single player’s wages for very long. Nor it will it go very far towards doing anything significant about the new stadium the club is rumoured to be building at some as yet unspecified date. In fact, with the enormous new TV deal kicking in next season, it’s difficult to see why the club needs to raise ticket prices at all. Unkind observers may be moved to conclude that the club is raising prices because it can, to keep the fans in our place.
Now the press team at Spurs are a sharp bunch. They know that the old favourite response to any criticism, “We have received hundreds of letters from supporters backing our position” (I’ve often wanted to write a book compiling the best of those letters, but no one seems to know where they are) will probably not wash this time. They might even have seen a considerable amount of disquiet about the scheme on supporter websites and message boards. At the moment, if truth be told, there seems to be a lack of direction in the official response, a certain flapping about.
When I wrote to the club questioning this scheme, I was told “we will publish a full Q&A section regarding this on the club website during the close season”. This, I responded, sounded a bit evasive, and did not address my worries before the all-important deadline for renewing my season ticket. I was told my points had been “passed to the relevant person” and that they would be in touch. Relevant Person has not yet made contact, but it’s only been two weeks.
Meanwhile, another relevant person does seem able to send out more emails urging us all to sign up to the scheme the club has yet to explain satisfactorily. So that’s all good. And there’s a meeting about the scheme with the Supporters Trust, newly-energised of late after years of being sidelined by the club. Assuming this meeting does not get cancelled, a fate that has befallen too many scheduled meetings during the reign of ENIC, it will happen on Saturday before the Southampton game. Cynics, fighting for elbow space with those unkind observers I mentioned earlier, have already suggested that the promised Q&A is likely to appear on Friday night, to take the wind out of any sails that may have been unfurled. But I find that very unkind.
I think it is a measure of the value the club attaches to supporter consultation that it has agreed to meet the Trust to discuss a deal after it has been signed and the advertising programmed into the slick electronic hoardings we are lucky enough to see on match days. No doubt the press team can report on the very positive discussions that take place.