Next season, fans of Tottenham Hotspur can watch their team play all three group stage Champions League games at Wembley Stadium for a combined total of £70. That's just over £23 a game.
Take a moment and let that sink in. Top class football against the best sides in Europe for just over £23 a game.
Money is at the centre of modern football. The dizzying transfer fees and wages are the most noticeable manifestation of what's been dubbed moneyball. But it's the price of watching the game that has provoked the most angst, the greatest outrage, the feeling that the unrivalled loyalty of the customer to the brand - for it is in those terms that fans and clubs are now seen by the business like no other that is the modern game at top level – is taken for granted.
The feeling of alienation, of being exploited and taken for granted, of being ripped off, is rooted in the price of going to the game - a practice that has deep, resonant cultural roots.
In the past few years, as the money going into the game from television deals has become ever more eye-watering, the anger and discontent has become more manifest. And the uncomfortable feeling about where the game is going has been voiced not just among the fans or the dedicated but still relatively small band of fan activists, but in the mainstream press, at the highest levels of government, in the general consciousness of the country.
Where once the discomfort about football was focused on the behaviour of supporters routinely condemned as animals, now that discomfort centres on the financial burden those fans are asked to bear as the game and its leading clubs grow ever richer.
It was that popular unrest that prompted the Premier League clubs to decide to cap away ticket prices at £30 for the next three seasons, after years of campaigning by grass roots fan organisations. The game itself realised it had to do something to combat the impression that all it was interested in was taking as much money as it could from a captive audience.
That price cap, though widely welcomed, also provoked some cynicism. It was, said some with some justification, the least the game could do. It was a PR-driven decision, said still more.
But there's another view. A view that says the efforts of organised fans had helped to persuade and convince those who took decisions in football that there was a genuine case being made about where we had got to with ticket pricing. And, of course, that the case being made was beginning to damage Brand Football.
It is against that background that Tottenham Hotspur FC's decision to make pricing for the forthcoming Champions League campaign accessible needs to be considered.
Speaking to the club’s Supporters Trust, it rapidly becomes clear that the pricing decision was something the club’s board decided on very early. “We got very early indication that their priority was bums on seats,” says Trust co-chair Martin Cloake. The Trust, since its relaunch three years ago, has established what seems to be a productive line of communication with the club, and it has constantly made the case for accessible ticket pricing. One result of that has been the club offering tickets at £20 and £25 for home cup games in recent seasons.
“The club obviously know our views on pricing and pricing policy,” says Cloake. “It’s our job to keep pushing the case. But for these Champions League games, we had to do very little pushing for the club to settle on these prices. Once it became clear we’d be playing at Wembley, they said they would take on board concerns over pricing. And they certainly have. We’re delighted.”
Cloake adds that the club consulted the Trust on some of the detail of the packages, testing various options. “We had some very focused and productive conversations,” says Cloake. “What we try to do in those situations is draw on our experience as matchgoing fans and the casework we deal with for members to feed back on where there might be issues for fans or where certain considerations may have been missed. We don’t claim to speak for every fan, that would be impossible, but what we can do is be an informed point of contact putting the fan perspective. We’ve built a great working relationship with the club’s ticket office, and we enjoyed working with them on this. They really wanted to deliver a good deal for fans.”
Remember, the reputation of Spurs is as one of the clubs that led the charge to the Premier League, the first club to float on the Stock Exchange, the club where, perhaps more than any other, money came first. And yet here they were, acknowledging the issues fans had raised and stating they would address those issues for the Champions League games.
A significant proportion of Spurs fans wondered if the decision to play Champions League games at Wembley was driven by money. But hiring someone else's stadium was always going to cost more than using your own. The decision seems rooted in more practical considerations - and one of those was the wish to give more fans the chance to watch their team. A season ticket waiting list well in excess of 40,000 indicated there was significant demand.
The packages are impressive. Season ticket holders and club members will be able to buy three-game packages for between £70 and £150. That’s between £23.33 and £50 a game. Concessions will be half price throughout the stadium. So a parent could take two kids to all three games for between £140 and £225 pounds. That’s between £23.33 and £50 a game for the adult and £11.66 and £25 for each of the kids. What’s more, the stadium will be open to its 90,000 seat capacity for every game, meaning far more fans will be able to watch Spurs in Champions League action than would have been possible at White Hart Lane. And that capacity should also provide the opportunity for fans who do not hold club membership to buy tickets too, once demand from members has been met.
And perhaps, too, precedent has been set for the full price tickets that will go on sale after the package sales period ends to be competitively priced.
The club’s step is a significant one for a number of reasons. It shows that, if fan organisations are prepared to put the graft in to build a working relationship with their club, while retaining a clear set of objectives, they can help to deliver real benefits for fans. It shows that national campaigns by fans working together can help create an environment where those tangible, local-level benefits can be delivered.
But, perhaps most of all, it puts Tottenham Hotspur FC in a whole new light. The club has made the effort to give more of its fans a chance to see the club, and at a price that is extremely fair. What’s more, it has done that while continuing to fund the most expensive private sector stadium building project in the country, and paying to hire a temporary ground. And at the same time as a local rival is trumpeting its low-price ticket policy while benefitting from the gift of a taxpayer-funded stadium. The club had, for a while, become synonymous with high prices, squeezing the fans, epitomising all the worst traits of modern football.
Now, as a former manager might say, there’s a football club over there.