Tottenham Hotspur and their kit sponsors Under Armour are currently running a promotion where fans can send in their photos and/or those of family and friends for inclusion on the tunnel wall at White Hart Lane. It’s a great idea – the last thing that the players see as they run out is the joy that they bring to their supporters, a reminder of when it comes to it, when they escape from the protected cosseted world of a modern Premier League professional footballer, they should be doing it for their fans.
Under Armour and Spurs use the language of loyalty to entice supporters. ‘Earn Your Spot’ at the Lane, ‘Love Your Spurs? Then Prove It’. ‘Your Spot In Spurs’ History is Waiting’. They understand the power and emotional pull of being a fan. They know what the club means to us but when it suits them, the relationship is only one way. We keep on giving, whether it be astronomically high ticket prices or creating an atmosphere as on Saturday or at most away games to lift the side from beginning to end. They reciprocate with all the depth of throwaway advertising copy about heroes and history.
When it comes to it, Spurs give us Stubhub. Tottenham On My Mind is part of Stop Stubhub, a campaign to end the club’s ties with the US based ticket reselling agency with the sole rights to sell on tickets for sold-out home matches that have been already been purchased by season ticket holders and members. The campaign by a group of Spurs writers and the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust has gathered momentum over the last couple of weeks. The online petition is a simple way individuals can support us. Also, we have had positive feedback from other clubs and the Football Supporters Federation and Sharon Hodgson MP who has longstanding concerns about the operation of ticket resellers regarding concert tickets.
The Chelsea game has brought the issues into sharp focus, so let’s see where we are after a week and bust a few myths that surround Stubhub and the campaign.
First up: when the scheme was announced in the summer, many of us feared that by enabling ticket-holders to set their own price, this would lead to exorbitant profiteering far in excess of the wildest dreams of any street-corner tout. Spurs denied this would happen but the Chelsea game proved them totally wrong. Six days before the game, one pair of tickets was on sale for £1260. The day before, top price was nearly £1000 a pair and not one ticket was available for less than £95. Sellers sought a mark up of 10 and in one case 15 times face value.
We also said this opened the way for tickets to be bought purely for resale and profit. We have no way of knowing this to be true. However, we have heard of one fan who sold his tickets early on at face value plus just a recouping of the Stubhub fee, only to find them back on the site a few days later at a vastly inflated price. Buying to sell. So much for an honest price.
Is this what Spurs really intended? I can conclude one of three things. They could be staggeringly naive about the way fans buy and sell tickets, which from what little I know about the inner sanctum could actually hold water. It could be that they don’t care, which is to my mind negligent and shows their pro-supporter rhetoric to be the hot air it most certainly is. The third option is that they were prepared to tolerate it because they knew this is where Stubhub make their money. If Stubhub see the Spurs contract as attractive for this reason (the higher the selling price, the higher their fee), they are going to bid top dollar for the rights. So in this scenario, Spurs turn a blind eye while Stubhub rub their hands as fans are ripped off.
I don’t know which aspect of this deal infuriates me most: a company that ruthlessly exploits the low supply/high demand equation at Spurs with a popular, well-supported and achieving side that has a small ground, or the club that is apparently prepared to condone this sorry state of affairs.
What we also found out this week is that there are alternatives. Stubhub’s deal with Celtic does not allow reselling or tickets to be listed above face value. Parkhead is much bigger than the Lane, so Stubhub had less bargaining power. Spurs could and should have been stronger. The other alternative remains of course the ticket exchange, either in the same format as existed BS (Before Stubhub) or in a modified format.
The old set-up was open to members only, precisely those people who ‘love their Spurs’ and have paid up front to improve their chances of getting a match ticket. A few people have said, as did a commenter on last week’s Stubhub post, that it’s only a small proportion of tickets, less than 1%. But at least members would have had a chance of getting one of those 226 that were on Stubhub last week, and at face value rather than going to fans who could justify the huge premium. It’s expensive enough and hard enough to get a ticket in the first place. A benefit of membership has been removed but the price hasn’t fallen.
Last one: who could begrudge a fan who makes a few extra quid from selling his ticket? If someone is fool enough to pay, sod ‘em. Probably some stupid football tourist anyway.
There’s nothing about individuals in my writing on this topic or in the campaign statement. Do what you like with your ticket, although in reality you can’t because of the small print in the terms and conditions that means you can’t in theory give it to your daughter, son or mate but you can sell it on at a vast profit provided you go through Stubhub. The campaign is focussed solely on the club for allowing this state of affairs and to work with them to suggest an alternative where fans can sell on unused tickets without taking a loss.
If you are selling to pay for your season ticket, the club need to know about the absurdity of creating prices that force some people into this option. Finally, the sellers on Stubhub weren’t just making a few quid, they joined by unscrupulous resellers buying and selling purely to make a profit.
This week the club announced reduced price tickets for the Europa League and the League Cup, a significant success for the Trust who have lobbied for change on behalf of supporters. It shows that the club may be sensitive to feedback after all. Stop Stubhub has a realistic target of setting up an alternative for two years’ time when the present contract expires. Consistent consultation should become part of the fabric of the club. The new stadium is not so far away. More seats changes the whole balance: they will need to work harder with us fans to fill the ground. Now’s the time to continue the process that the revamped Trust have begun because Spurs will be making plans now. Remind them that they need us.