Although I usually take little notice of the electronic hoardings that surround the pitch at Spurs, it’s been impossible to avoid the recent spate of ads for Stubhub. However, it’s only recently that I discovered what it is. Rather than being the tagline for a new co-ordinated anti-smoking campaign, Stubhub is a secondary ticketing service about to embark on a partnership with Tottenham Hotspur to create a market for unwanted tickets for sold-out matches. Whether that market will work in the interests of fans is highly questionable.
For several years now the Ticket Exchange Scheme has enabled season-ticket holders unable to attend a sold-out match to resell their ticket through the club at full price for that fixture less 25%. Although the commission is steep, it seems a reasonable compromise, given that we invest so much so far in advance and kick-offs are changed at the whim of TV. Before Sky, I could safely guarantee in advance to keep Saturdays and Wednesdays free – Spurs midweek matches were always on a Wednesday – whereas now it’s impossible to plan ahead. Many seem wary of the exchange, judging by the number of tickets that appear on twitter in the days before a game, but at least the tickets were available via the club, as they say on the official site, “resulting in genuine fans having greater access to tickets.”
From the start of next season, this will change. The Ticket Exchange will be no more and reselling spares must be done through Stubhub. Listing is free and it still applies only to sold-out fixtures but there are two significant changes. Season-ticket holders can now set whatever price they want. The market is king – several hundred pounds for the north London derby is a conservative estimate.
Also, nowhere does it state on the site that this offer is open to members only, as was the case with the Exchange. It very carefully enthuses about the benefits to ‘Spurs supporters’ seeking tickets but avoids the word ‘member’. On the basis of the club’s own information, anyone could buy them.
This looks like touting in the 21st century, institutionalised scalping on a corporate scale. Tickets will be on sale at inflated prices and will be available only to those who can pay. Stan Flashman reincarnated in the boardrooms of multi-nationals. It may prove to be an inducement to season-ticket holders to sell their seats for the many games that will be sold out if we have any sort of success and an incentive for members to chuck away their cards, never to return.
Also, it appears impossible for the club to control who has those tickets once they appear on the site. There’s nothing at present to stop those seats, which will be printed on paper tickets, being resold by touts, who can truly put a value on the laws of supply and demand. They could easily go to away fans, although Stubhub clients Sunderland make an exception for the Tyne and Wear derby.
The membership scheme is essentially a premium for the privilege of having some priority over White Hart Lane tickets, an advantage that will disappear once the ticket goes to Stubhub. Never mind free Spurs TV, membership is worth less than it is is now.
It is possible for members to retain some priority if Stubhub have access to the Spurs database. On the face of it, this flouts protection under the Data Protection Act but interestingly the current One Hotspur terms and conditions contain the following (the italics are mine):
“The Club will keep your name, address, email address, phone numbers and other personal details including credit/debit card information and use this information to fulfil your order(s) for Season Tickets plus Membership and for customer service purposes. We will disclose your information to our service providers and agents for these purposes.”
So by buying a season-ticket, it could mean you have already agreed to your details being shared. I should stress that the position of members and anything re the terms and conditions has not been confirmed by the club and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust is urgently seeking clarification regarding these and other matters to do with the Stubhub partnership. Joint chair of the Trust Darren Alexander said today:
“Requesting a meeting on this specific matter was one of the first things we did and we’ve chased it up on several occasions. We are aware it is a major concern to a lot of fans and we will not hold back from asking pertinent questions.”
The meeting takes place before the Southampton game and the Trust undertake to report back within 48 hours. Yet the club have not taken the chance to use the word ‘member’ instead of supporter and this contract has been planned for some time. It’s not used on the Sunderland website either. Therefore the speculation is fair and I would be happy to post clarification on the blog as and when it appears.
In the last year there has been considerable concern about the activities of the growing number of secondary markets for tickets, mainly in respect of concert tickets. A Channel 4 documentary showed that far from being an open ‘fan to fan’ marketplace, some agencies and promoters were indecently close, with promoters syphoning off substantial numbers of prime seats direct to the secondary ticket agencies who sold them on for a fat profit. Those seats were never available to the general public at the box office.
I don’t recall Stubhub being mentioned at the time. They are a large company successful in America owned by ebay who will use them for all ticket listings in the future. They have contracts with other Premier League teams so football is obviously a targeted growth market for them. It’s not clear on the Spurs site how much commission they take but on other sites it is 25%.
It’s also unclear how Spurs make their money on this. It may be a flat fee over the year or, as seems more likely, a percentage of the commission. Either way, they will receive substantial income which is presumably higher than either the cost of reselling or of simply leaving the seat empty because they would have otherwise not have changed the system As I say, a percentage may not be the arrangement they have. However if it is, it means that the higher the price and the further away it is from the original seat price, the more they make.
My article earlier this week about the grumblings amongst fans in and out of the ground pointed to the alienation between fans and teams. This doesn’t create the poor atmosphere in the Lane directly but increasingly we feel distant and disgruntled, feelings that have to emerge in some way. The Stubhub scheme can only add to the problems. In football true loyalty is priceless. The club would do well to remember that.