By Matt Stone
Can a fan ever be happy to be called a customer? Do they actually care about anything outside the pitch itself? Can the football business ever build something truly authentic for the devoted hardcore?
Tottenham Hotspur have taken a £1bn gamble that the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘Yes.’ On the evidence of this fan they are being proved right.
I’ve been going to White Hart Lane since 1981. We’ve had good teams, great players and years of being distinctly average. 13 different league champions have been crowned since our win in 1961 while 20 different clubs have played in an FA Cup Final since our last appearance including Millwall, Wigan, Cardiff and Portsmouth – twice!
When I started, you could stand behind one goal in the first half, then walk round and watch behind the other in the second. All-seater stadia locked you into one section. In the new Tottenham stadium the experience is almost like the old days, at least below deck. You can walk round three sides of the ground to meet friends on lower or upper levels.
Tottenham have constantly stressed the ‘fan-centric’ nature of the stadium and the attempt to upgrade rather than replace. Fans have appreciated the old ground’s aggregate being in the new floor and the location of the old centre spot has an Insta-friendly blue plaque in the new South Stand concourse. Huge pictures of former heroes and something which truly resonates – a collage of old programmes – cover the walls. The cockerel on the roof is present, albeit a scaled-up version which contains every bump and scratch from the old one – even Paul Gascoigne’s air rifle dent.
There’s an NFL pitch under the grass and larger changing rooms in the East Stand to accommodate even the biggest squads. Will the ‘event’ offering around the game be influenced by U.S. sports culture? There’s little evidence of that so far, although certainly fans are turning up early. At the City game, plastic bags were tied to seats with rubber bands to spell out the club’s motto ‘To Dare is To Do’. Hopefully fans recycled the bags and Ederson found a use for the bands that came pinging his way…
But it’s probably the beer which has created the most buzz. The Bottoms up technology can serve 10,000 pints per minute, which you would have thought would be enough, but there were reported shortages at test events. What’s unquestionably a great move is the use of the uber-local Beavertown brewery, another ‘Welcome Home’ touch.
The new stadium has data flying off it at all angles, like a Moussa Sissoko left-footer. For a start it’s cashless, which speeds things up and creates streams of data trails, while your season tickets are integrated into the app. 325m² screens fill the corners of the ground – the largest in western Europe and visible in the sunlight (unlike their ‘Jumbotron’ predecessors – state-of-the-art in the Amstrad days).
The next stage is to connect the growing fan base worldwide to the matchday experience and encourage fans inside the stadium to do more than upload pics. The free wi-fi works well and should provide the missing link to digital fan engagement. Joining the dots between over 100k members, millions on social media worldwide and even the players themselves is in its infancy. It’s clear the fans want to talk about the new home though – our research shows that stadium content gets nearly twice as many shares and 70% more comments on the Tottenham Facebook page*.
How do you measure fan engagement? Data will play an ever-increasing role, but the immediate sense of pride, belonging and pure childlike joy is so evident on fans’ faces. Three games in and Tottenham look like they’ve pulled off the holy grail – colossal commercial upturn with intense fan satisfaction. As Daniel Taylor noted in the Guardian, other stadia, particularly Old Trafford, look tired in comparison. This fan hopes that the really key part of the design process – keeping the authentic fan experience in mind – will be front and centre in any new sports build.
* Of 1068 facebook posts since the start of 2017 on the Tottenham Hotspur Facebook page, 53 messages contained the word stadium or its emoji. These messages received an average of 472 comments and 625 shares. The average for all posts was 279 comments and 331 shares.