Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Where are all the Tottenham fans? Why Spurs are still being plagued by empty seats after Conte’s arrival

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Tottenham have not sold more than 60,000 tickets for a game since the end of October

Like every club across the country, Spurs continued to be hit by Covid long after turnstiles reopened. Cautious fans have stayed away as Omicron cases surged from November.

Few fans were still in the ground when Tottenham were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by Chelsea on Wednesday – but the sight of empty seats in the 62,850 is not unfamiliar this season.

However, in this corner of north London, where it has been less than three years since the £1bn Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was unveiled, low attendance is of particular concern.

Loss to Chelsea was accepted by 45,603 supporters including the away team. It was the first time since December 19 that the 2-2 draw with Liverpool had seen a crowd of over 41,000.

So Spurs built the most expensive club stadium in the country and for what currently? To attract about 4,000 more fans than the capacity of the old White Hart Lane (36,284).

When Daniel Levy said ‘you can’t be a big club in a stadium with 36,000 spectators, but you can be in a stadium with 62,000 spectators’ it may not have been what he had in mind.

There is no denying that the new stadium is spectacular and in more normal times it is estimated that the new stadium can bring in up to £1million in food and drink every matchday. But in June 2021 the club announced match receipts of just £1.9m compared to £94.5m in 2020 as so many games are played behind closed doors.

Tottenham were victims of bad timing. Nobody could have foreseen Covid. Their fans joke that this result is inherently ‘Spursy’ that no other club would be so unfortunate to open their historic new stadium a year before a major pandemic hit.

However, the crowds are not so small elsewhere. Since the turn of the year, attendance at West Ham’s London Stadium, where maximum capacity is 62,500, has not fallen below 54,403. Admittedly, that was for the FA Cup win over Premier League team Leeds, while Spurs played third tier side Morecambe that same weekend.

A crowd of 59,775 attended West Ham’s league game against Norwich, which was played on the same night as Spurs’ second leg against Chelsea. At Arsenal, they registered attendances of 59,777 (against West Ham) and 59,757 (against Manchester City) for their last two home games in the league.

Of course, official statistics don’t always reflect the numbers at the stadium. Arsenal’s self-confessed figures have become a common meme; Cameras will pan to thousands of empty seats before an announcer dutifully confirms an attendance of 60,260, the Emirates’ full capacity.

Then why do the gaps at Spurs look so stark compared to other clubs? Tottenham Hotspur Stadium holds around 41,000 season tickets, although it’s not entirely clear where the gaps are coming from. Are the regulars upset, are the casual fans disinterested, or are other forces at play?

It can’t help that they have the second most expensive season tickets in the country. Large sections of the 17,500 single tier South Stand cost £1,200 per season. Halfway down this grandstand is the ‘1882’ category with £2,200 season tickets. You can pay up to £1,500 in the East Stand.

This affects the pricing of the individual tickets. Season ticket holders cannot pay more than one-time players, and so even matches against “Category C” opponents can cost up to £80.

As expected, interest in the Uefa Conference League was low. The upper tiers were closed for several games including Antonio Conte’s first game in charge against Vitesse.

In many ways, Conte’s arrival has rejuvenated both players and fans, but he has yet to officiate a home game in front of a sold-out crowd. The last time Spurs sold more than 60,000 tickets was for Nuno Espirito Santo’s last game in charge, a 3-0 loss to Manchester United. At the time of writing, even Sunday’s north London derby against Arsenal hadn’t sold out.

The Italian’s appointment promised exhilarating football but it will take time. “People make a lot more than that,” he admitted on Friday.

The stadium project was intended to take Spurs to another level. Instead, it coincided with two years of post-Pochettino chaos. Part of this is due to a pandemic. Part of that is down to Spurs. Whatever the reason, it means the new terrain isn’t going to pay off just yet.

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