Are Tottenham promoting ticket touting?

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Last season it was announced that StubHub would become Tottenham’s first official secondary ticketing partner, in a three-year deal. Initially being granted exposure on the club’s electronic advertising boards, the full ticketing scheme will be rolled out for the 2013/14 season. But what does this mean for fans of the Premier League club?

StubHub are an eBay Inc. company who have until late offered a secondary ticketing outlet for mainly US-based sporting events. Fans who have tickets for games, but are unable to attend, can place these on StubHub for any price they wish and sell them on to another fan.

In the case of Spurs, the facility will open once all the general sale tickets have been sold. Then season ticket holders are able to list unwanted seats for whatever price they like on the site. It will replace the previous ticket exchange, which enabled seats to be re-sold with around a 25% deduction on face value to the season ticket holder.

Commenting on this announcement Tracey Keenan, Head of Global Partnerships at Tottenham Hotspur said:

“We’re delighted that StubHub is set to become one of our official partners and are looking forward to helping develop its brand internationally.

“StubHub enjoys enormous popularity with fans of all sports in the United States and this is built on an understanding that the fan experience is paramount – a principle we share at Tottenham Hotspur.”

I simply do not share the deluded optimism of those close to the deal at Tottenham. Several years ago Spurs ran a campaign called ‘out the tout’, with the aim of preventing tickets being sold to fans for extortionate sums of money. The deal with StubHub casts serious doubt over the club’s motivation on eradicating touts. The facility allows fans to extort vast sums of money out of fellow fans and to make matters worse, the club are also likely to get a slice of the deal.

You may think I am sensationalising things a little bit here, so let me run you through what could feasibly happen next year. The facility will only come into effect when all general sale tickets are sold. Last season Spurs sold out almost every week and therefore the system will be used for most home games. Clearly an over demand for tickets (i.e. selling out) means the market price is too low. How high could a price for a Spurs ticket on StubHub rise to then?

It would not be out of the question for a North London derby ticket to rise to many hundreds of pounds, with all other ticket prices rising too. For an economist this really isn’t an issue because with StubHub the market rules. However, in an era where football is already becoming unaffordable for the average fan, StubHub is just going to make going to games something that only the wealthy can aspire to. The once great atmosphere of White Hart Lane, which ENIC have used happily as a marketing tool, reduced to a collection of champagne sippers and corporates. This is an ethical rather than financial question, so is “fan experience paramount”?

The deal may well be advantageous to those with season tickets who can happily profit from the demand of other Spurs fans. This is not a dig at season ticket holders and I imagine most in their position would happily sell tickets for whatever price they could get for them. The problem is for members who already pay enough for a place on the waiting list and a degree of priority over tickets. Would a season ticket holder ever give up their seat when they can profit through StubHub? StubHub doesn’t even allow members priority, and the general public are all treated equally.

So what even is the point of being a member now? It certainly isn’t the free subscription to Spurs TV that’s for certain.

The optimists among you may be aware that Everton have had this scheme in place for a few years now and it seems to work well for them. Having spoken to a few Evertonians, the difference for their club is in the demand for tickets – Everton very rarely sell out completely and this means that tickets on StubHub fetch close to face value and in some cases below it. For a club like Spurs this kind of scenario is a fantasy.

While ENIC appear to favour conservatism regarding on-field investment, they are all too keen to extort vast sums of money out of their fans. The only difference between touting and StubHub is that Spurs as a club can control the facility and sell the rights to it. Joe Lewis didn’t want to regulate touting for the welfare of fans; he just wanted to make some money out of it.

The practicalities of the deal still remain vague. Perhaps there is still a chance that the club may heed some of the fans’ concerns. But I don’t hold out too much hope for a club that is all too ready to treat its fans like consumers.

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