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Squeezing every penny out of Tottenham fans at their new home does  not show they are valued, writes Tony Evans

 

What constitutes a football club? Players? Managers? Fans? A stadium?

The greatest clubs are a synthesis of them all. They are a communal, community activity. Players and managers pass through, some entering folklore, some forgotten. 

 

The stadiums are a receptacle of memories and a cradle of dreams. Supporters tread in the footsteps of their forebears, the excitement transmitted across generations with the future alive with possibilities.

It’s hard to put a price on what all this means. Until, of course, money tips the balance and the nature of the club is changed forever.

This morning, season tickets for Tottenham’s new stadium went on sale. The old White Hart Lane was a decaying, atmospheric place. It was uncomfortable — in the best sense — and even those who loved it most understood the need for change. Change comes at a cost, though.

With a return to their spiritual home only months away after a season at Wembley and with Spurs riding high in the Premier League and looking forward to an FA Cup semi-final, it should be a positive time for supporters. Instead, the pricing scale of the new ground has caused widespread dismay.

No one expected seats in the purpose-built 62,000-capacity stadium to be cheap. Prices were always going to rise, but some fans face hikes of 70 per cent on their tickets at the old Lane.

Tottenham point to the improved facilities — more leg room, better sightlines, foodcourts, a microbrewery and even a cheese room — and say there is no “like-for-like seat comparison” with their former home. Ultimately, though, they are charging money to watch 90 minutes of football. That’s pretty like for like. For most people, it really is that simple.  
Fewer than 1,200 season tickets are available at the least expensive price of £795. Concessions do not apply for seats costing more than £1,125. 

Even in the huge, 17,500-seat South Stand — meant to rival Borussia Dortmund’s Yellow Wall for atmosphere — 55 per cent of seats cost £995 and another 25 per cent weigh in at £1,200. That’s for 19 League matches per season. 

Clearly, Tottenham need to pay for the new stadium, but squeezing every last penny out of loyal supporters is misguided. Matchday income comprises an ever-decreasing proportion of overall revenue. 

According to Deloitte, the amount of annual income clubs receive from ticket sales has fallen from 29 per cent to 15 per cent in the past decade. Even though domestic television revenue has plateaued for the next three-year cycle, the foreign rights deals show no sign of slowing down. Turnstile cash is becoming less important.

The lesson of Arsenal should be a forewarning. The Gunners had much more justification in the financial climate of 2006 to place some of the burden of paying for the Emirates on their supporters. 

Quite a number of hard-core Arsenal fans were priced out by the move and the atmosphere of Highbury has rarely been replicated in their new home. 

The empty seats for the recent Premier League match against Manchester City were largely paid for but a worrying portent for next season if Arsenal’s slump continues. 

Which brings up another issue. In 2006, there was a ‘big four’. Arsene Wenger’s team could reasonably expect to qualify for the Champions League every year and compete for trophies. Now six teams — most with bigger budgets than Spurs will have even with the new stadium — are tussling at the top of the Premier League. Although Tottenham are well set at the moment, that could change quickly. The season-ticket pricing seems predicated on being one of the top quartet. If things go wrong on the pitch once the novelty of new surroundings wears off, it might not be so easy to get punters to pay the sort of money Spurs are asking.

Perhaps supporters will be happy if their cash goes towards player wages or transfer fees, though there is no guarantee of this happening. 
What is almost certain is that the nature of the club will change.
If football was merely a business, it would have died long ago. It has sustained through tradition, through shared beliefs and a celebration of a club’s distinct culture. 

Tottenham’s has always been strong. Transplanting it to a new stadium can be a delicate task.  

This was an opportunity to cement supporters’ ties to the club as well as increasing revenue. All it would have taken was to shave a few pounds off the cost of each seat. It is hard to escape the feeling that Spurs decided on the price without taking into account the value of the people who have invested their lives in the club.



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