Tottenham's new stadium leads to supporter unrest over ticket prices
Tottenham have taken a huge gamble with their new stadium. Not with the construction of the state-of-the-art, 62,000-seater home, but with the pricing and allocation of season tickets. It is a gamble that, with no Premier League football to distract supporters' attention during the international break, has been in danger of becoming a full-on PR disaster.
When Tottenham first announced the construction of the new stadium at White Hart Lane, the club promised that fans would be at the forefront of its thinking. That promise, however, proved to be hollow when details and prices of the seating arrangements were revealed.
While everyone expected some increase in cost, nobody was prepared for a hike of up to 50 percent -- to see fewer games as two cup ties are no longer included -- to sit in equivalent areas of the new ground. It just feels like exploitation and, already, long-time supporters that I know have said they will not be renewing their season tickets because they can no longer afford to do so.
Spurs have argued to the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust that there can be no real equivalence between the old White Hart Lane and the new stadium as fans will get a completely different matchday experience. While that may be so, when push comes to shove supporters don't come to sample the delights of a microbrewery or to buy sourdough bread from an artisan bakery: They come for the football.
Further, the club is being disingenuous in claiming the price increases are necessary to pay for the cost of building the stadium, which are estimated to be £850 million. According to Deloitte's 2018 Football Money League, Spurs' 2016-17 revenue was approximately £305m, of which just over £45m -- roughly 15 percent -- came from gate receipts.
Sponsorship, TV rights and off-pitch commercial activity are far greater revenue generators, so the extra cash brought in from ticket price increases will be negligible in the grander scheme of things. Supporters, therefore, feel they are being taken for a ride.
In the short run, Spurs will get away with it and the new ground will be full. The club is on a high under the management of Mauricio Pochettino, whose team is playing some of the best football seen for decades. As such, many fans will be prepared to suck up being stung for more cash in exchange for sampling the experience of watching Tottenham in their new surroundings.
But at some stage the novelty could wear off. What happens if or when Pochettino moves on and the team he has created is broken up? What if the new manager struggles and Tottenham slip back to being a side for whom the Europa League is more familiar territory than the Champions League? How many supporters will want to keep their over-priced season tickets then?
The danger for Spurs is that, should the bad times come, fans will vote with their wallets, surrender their season tickets and pick and choose their games. There may be no difficulty in filling the ground for big games such as the North London derby against Arsenal, but large areas of empty seating may open up for less-attractive fixtures.
Beyond the price issue, there are other concerns. It was perhaps inevitable that more of the new ground would be given over to corporate hospitality, which creates concern about a loss of atmosphere, and that some fans would be split from friends and familiar faces. However, some supporters believe the club has exacerbated the situation with an overly complicated, eight-phase allocation system for season tickets. On the surface the new system appeared to give preference to the longest-serving season-ticket holders. In practice, though, it could separate friends and families, who had sat together for years. The only way groups can stay together is by applying at the same time as the member in the latest phase of allocation. For example, if three "Phase 1" members want to sit near one in "Phase 4," then they must wait until the latter is eligible to apply.
Even that is no guarantee, however, as there may not be seats available in the area of the ground where everyone can afford. Much of the pleasure fans get from going to watch their team on a regular basis is from knowing they are around familiar faces. Supporters like to share the ups and downs together but, from next season, many could be surrounded by strangers.
The international break has concentrated the minds of many fans and should also have concentrated those of the club's directors and players. Never has on-field success been more vital than it is now. Tottenham can afford no slip-ups in the chase for a top-four finish. Otherwise, the risk increases that the club kills the goose that lays golden eggs.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.