With vision, a new Spurs stadium could be a catalyst for change

As the reality of recent ticketing changes at Tottenham Hotspur becomes clear, and after reading some rather extraordinary minutes of the last police and safety forum meeting between the Supporters Trust and the club, it’s struck me that the new stadium – should it ever be built – offers the chance for some significant improvements. But that will only happen if the club completely rethinks its approach, and if supporters start to work smarter.

I’ve made my feelings on the StubHub deal clear, and now the system has clicked into gear it’s possible to see the reality of how it’s working. There’s a very good analysis on the Total Tottenham site, and the bottom line is that – surprise, surprise – tickets are being listed well in excess of their face value. It’s not clear yet whether they are selling at those prices, but the increasing numbers of tickets being put up for sale at what would politely be called ‘premium’ prices – extortionate would be my preferred word – suggest that there are takers.

Some would say ‘so, what’s the problem?’ – the law of supply and demand means the right price is the price people will pay. My issue is that the scheme incentivises fans to exploit other fans, and also undermines the club’s existing membership schemes. The club is evidently sensitive to this charge, as it continually emphasises it doesn’t set the prices. It has also, rather foolishly, tried to argue that “it is very rare indeed that tickets sell for more than their original price”. The evidence in advance of the Swansea game suggests otherwise.

The club also said tickets wouldn’t go on sale on StubHub before the match was a sell out. The game officially sold out at 3pm on Thursday 1 August, but at 11pm that evening I could still click the ‘Buy tickets’ button on the Spurs site and go all the way through to the stage where I could buy a ticket. I understand from the Trust’s communications with the club that the club denied any tickets could actually be bought, but if that’s true it still leaves the problem of why the club site still said they were available. Teething problems maybe, but confidence that the problem will be solved in future isn’t boosted by the club denying the problem ever existed. We’ll have to wait for the game to see if any of the security fears that have been raised materialise.

The chances of the deal being scrapped, something fans of Schalke 04 managed to do when their club signed a similar deal with Viagogo, appear to be slim – especially as the Trust and various fan groups at Spurs are nowhere near as well-organised or numerically strong as our counterparts in Germany. What we can do is monitor how the scheme operates. We can also continue to challenge the club’s decision to sign the deal – especially given its previous stance on ticket touting – and push for a proper ticket exchange system that doesn’t penalise fans, as the previous Ticket Exchange scheme did, or give business to what the Football Supporters Federation and MP Sharon Hodgson have described as legalised touts.

This week the club also released details of how many so-called “Loyalty Points” had been deducted from season ticket holders’. The change is something else I’ve written about and criticised before, and as the changes begin to bite harder more people are speaking out. Many of those who criticise the deductions agree that something had to be done about the problem of older fans ‘blocking’ younger fans who hadn’t had the chance to build up years of points, which suggests something acceptable to all could have been worked out. But again, the club knew best and went ahead without properly consulting.

The bottom line, unfortunately, is that fans have been too loyal. What the club has done is fundamentally change a deal that fans bought into in good faith and replace a loyalty system with a recent purchase system. The suggestion I’ve made, that a combination of, say, the three most recent seasons and one or two random seasons from the start of the scheme, has attracted some support in conversations on Twitter and via email that I’ve had with other fans. There may be other solutions. At the moment, there is a high level of dissatisfaction among some of the customers, if we must call ourselves that, who pay the highest prices and a feeling that we’ve been turned over. ‘How many loyalty points have y=they stolen from you?’ is a fairly popular question on the various Spurs community forums right now.

I do sympathise with the club’s ticketing operation over this. I’ve usually found ticket office staff, and head of ticketing Ian Murphy, to be very helpful and patient and I’ve made a point of thanking them when they’ve helped me out as I know people are usually quicker to complain than to praise. But, on some issues, such as this one, I’ve also noticed the club’s corporate personality coming through – and that is to dismiss any objection from fans, pointing out why we are all too stupid and short-sighted to see why we’re wrong, and adding a line about receiving sackfuls of email supporting whatever change we are opposing for good measure. This is a club that believes consulting with fans equates to telling them what has been decided, or why whatever they want can’t be done.

Nowhere is this more clearly displayed than in the minutes of the meeting between the Trust, the club and the police recently. It’s worth reading in full, twice, just to make sure that you are actually reading what you think you’re reading. There’s a head of steam building up behind efforts to create a better atmosphere at White Hart Lane, so the Trust asked about the possibility of bringing large ‘surfer’ flags and tifo (card) displays in. Apparently, surfers cannot be be used at White Hart Lane for the following reasons; • the design of the stadium is not right • the flags would pass over gangways when people were taking their seats • the gradient on the Park Lane is not right • there is nowhere to store such a flag when it’s not being used.

Reading that, it is amazing to think that surfers seem to be used in so many grounds elsewhere in the world without causing these problems. Credit to the club for being more inventive than they were years ago though, when it simply told the old Independent Supporters Association that such flags were a fire risk.

On the subject of tiff, or “mosaics” as the meeting called them, they are apparently allowed, although – and you’ll like this – there is a risk the club could get fined £20,000 if someone uses one of the cards as a paper aeroplane and throws it onto the pitch! I live in constant fear myself of being caught in the eye by a page of the programme that has been fashioned into a paper missile, but presumably as the club can sell us the programme that’s a risk worth taking.

If ever you had to illustrate a “can’t do” attitude, it’s displayed in these minutes, and my sympathy is with the supporter reps who had to sit and listen to this utter nonsense from the sort of people who presumably support bans of games of conkers and doing handstands in school playgrounds on health and safety grounds. Every single suggestion made by the supporter reps in the meeting is knocked back. And that’s THFC consultation in a nutshell.

For that to change, we need more Spurs fans to become actively involved in supporters groups, and those groups need to co-ordinate work. Instead of focussing on differences, as has too often been the case in the past at Spurs, we need to see the various focal points of groups such as the Trust, The Fighting CockRevive the Lane and others as indications of a broad base. With sufficient numbers, we can than begin to properly discuss a number of issues for the new stadium – while still acknowledging there’s a big IF around the question of whether it will ever be built. These should include; • affordable ticket pricing structures; • ticket allocation policies that have broad support from fans; • improved membership care and retention policies; • initiatives for displaying and improving support: • implementing safe standing and singing or ‘kop’ areas.

These discussions should be approached in a constructive, open and “can-do” manner by the club, which should recognise the potential of tapping into its supporters’ levels of expertise. Personally, I would also like to see discussions on including a community share aspect in the new stadium’s funding model, and further investigation of whether it would be possible and desirable to make the ground an asset of community value, as fans at clubs from Oxford United to Manchester United have done. I’ve also written a bit about the ACV issue for the New Statesman.

The club’s attitude to its supporters over the years doesn’t give much hope that it is likely to experience a sudden conversion to the benefits of proper consultation. My impression is that agreeing to sit down and have a chat occasionally does count as consultation in the eyes of a board simply not used to dealing with mere supporters on an equal footing. I don’t think that’s necessarily because they are bad people, it’s just the way they are wired. So, as fans, we need to show what we are capable of through well-researched and thought-through ideas, and that we have the strength and organisational ability to make it unwise, or impossible, to ignore us.

The potential new stadium offers the chance to put right much of what is wrong between the club and its supporters. A new stadium could bring with it sky-high prices, expensive bond schemes, a sterile atmosphere and an increasing disconnect between club, supporters and the local community. Or it could take a more long-term view that builds stronger links, a more vibrant set of relationships and, in so doing, a more sustainable business model. I’m not sure those running the club have the vision to embrace this opportunity, so it’s up to us fans to take the lead.

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Contact me at martincloake@mac.com

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