Tottenham Hotspur held an open fan forum on Tuesday evening, the first such event in six years. The club, represented by chairman Daniel Levy, men’s team head coach Ange Postecoglou, club captain Son Heung-Min, women’s team head coach Robert Vilahamn, and women’s club captain Bethany England, spoke to full crowd of Spurs fans and representatives of various supporters groups on a whole host of issues ranging from ticket prices to the current season.
The forum lasted over an hour and a half and covered a LOT of ground — too much for a single article. The full video is available on YouTube, and I’d encourage anyone interested to watch it.
This forum represented a rare occasion where Levy was actively and directly speaking to Spurs supporters. Levy is a Tottenham fan but seldom gives interviews or interacts directly with large groups of supporters, something that has worked against him at times when his or the club’s actions have led to criticism. While the forum clearly had questions pre-screened prior to it taking place (there were no surprises or “gotcha” questions asked), this was an unusual opportunity for Levy to talk directly to fans about issues that still resonate with them like the cost of football and Spurs’ decision to initially join the now-aborted Super League.
In that context, let’s focus on what Levy actually said when given the chance to address supporters in an unscripted, live forum.
On COVID finances
I think people will never really appreciate how difficult it was for us. We had just opened the stadium. We had at that time and still do have more debt than any other club in Europe, luckily it was all long-term finance, but all of a sudden we didn’t have any income.
The whole financing of the stadium was predicated on having income and it just stopped. Luckily for us we were very highly regarded in financial markets and we managed to get some assistance that enabled us to keep going.
It was a very, very stressful period and luckily the institutions that originally helped us, they refinanced the debt and we repaid the Bank of England. It was a cost of about £200million.
On stadium name and ticket prices
There are a couple of questions there. On the question of naming rights, it’s quite a complicated process. Unfortunately for us we got interrupted by Covid. To do a naming rights deal, it’s got to be probably be a company coming to visit the stadium and experiencing it, so that interrupted the process.
Since then we’ve taken the decision that as much as we would like the right sponsor, it’s really important to build our name globally and all the events that we’ve had at the stadium have just enlarged the profile of this club.
So for us, we want to find the right sponsor, in the right sector at the right price and in the meantime, unless we get that, we won’t put a name on the stadium. We’d rather just have Tottenham Hotspur.
In answer to the second question about pricing, ticket pricing is an area I know everyone is sensitive to and so are we. We haven’t put up ticket prices until recently, despite the fact that they’ve been fixed for over four years.
That’s our general admission ticket prices. Season ticket prices haven’t gone up. Premium ticket prices have gone up during the period. We’re all facing increased costs, we’ve absorbed as much as we can, but you’re right, if we had other sources of income maybe we wouldn’t have had to do it. But we’re in a highly competitive industry and everything we do is to maximize the income to invest in the team.
We’re all very conscious of the cost of coming to a football game. As I said before, we are going to go through a complete review of all of our ticketing policies, but we’re in the real world and the costs of operating a football club have gone up significantly.
We’re all facing difficult times and we had tried to restrict the increases for fans and we will continue to do that.
On hiring Postecoglou and past managers
[Hiring Ange] was very easy, because Ange I would say is just a normal bloke and it was wonderful to be able to have a conversation with him where we could talk about anything and he was very direct and honest. I like someone who just tells me as it is, no one that plays games, no one that says one thing to me and then one thing to someone else.
I’m not talking about anyone else! This club needed to go back to its roots. Honestly, there was a lot of pressure on me to bring in somebody that was a big name. I just wanted somebody who understood our DNA, would play attacking football, that would give young players a chance, believe in the academy, would build a relationship with the fans and understand the resources that we have and don’t have as a club and be part of a team. Ange, I have to say, is a breath of fresh air.
On Pochettino, Mourinho and Conte
Maybe you’ll be surprised by my answer but I want to win as much as everybody else. The frustration of not winning and the pressure from, maybe some players and from a large element of the fanbase, that, you know, we need to win, we need to spend money, we need to have a big name [manager], and it affected me.
I had gone through a period where we’d almost won. With Mauricio we went through some very good times. We didn’t quite get there but we came very close and we had a change in strategy. The strategy was ‘let’s bring in a trophy manager’. We did it twice and — look you have to learn by the mistakes. They’re great managers but maybe not for this club. For what we want, we want to play in a certain way and if that means it has to take a little bit longer to win maybe it’s the right thing for us. That’s why bringing Ange in was from my viewpoint the right decision.
On the European Super League
Firstly under the new rules with the Premier League we can’t consider leaving the Premier League without their consent and the FA’s consent. All I would say to you is that we always act in the best interests of this club and I stand by the decision that we made, that we were prepared to have a conversation regarding the European Super League.
It was not leaving the Premier League, it was about forming a new European league that would have continued at the same time as the Premier League. But, you know, felt that it was a disaster for a lot of reasons but I stand by my decision that I was acting in the best interests of the club.
On whether there’s a buy-back in Harry Kane’s new contract
To be sure there’s plenty that supporters can criticize Levy for over the past several years. But what’s interesting about this forum and Levy’s answers to sometimes direct questioning is how much he clearly believes in this football club, what has gone wrong (and right!) and how Spurs are poised as a sleeping giant in Premier League.
Among his fiercest critics, there’s often an element of cartoonish (and at times, anti-Semitic) villainy in their accusations, as though, as one colleague of mine put it, he’s a walking calculator with zero empathy or care for the future of the club. Lord knows I’ve certainly had my issues with the way the club has been run over the past 20 years and especially over the past four. Because you don’t often hear from the man himself it’s easy to fall back on these unhelpful caricatures because they confirm your priors, but it’s clear from his responses that this is not the case at all.
Levy is a businessman, and he makes business decisions that are based on what he believes is in the best interest of the club. These are not always popular. They’re not always right. The needs and financial realities of the club sometimes contradict the needs and wants of the fanbase, but also Levy makes mistakes and should be held accountable by supporters when he does.
Fans won’t like his answer about raising ticket prices, but I think his answer about “absorbing as much of rising costs as we can” should probably be taken at face value. Some fans definitely won’t like his answer about the Super League, but it mirrors what I said at the time — Levy believed what he was doing was done for the betterment of the club, even if the Super League was an incredibly unpopular mistake.
I find it’s usually important to make sure the humanity of public figures are acknowledged when making judgements on their person. In this case, I think Levy’s openness in his answers served him well, even if the answers weren’t always the ones fans wanted to hear. Having him look the fans in the face and say “here’s why I did this” means something, even if it’s just adding context to an unpopular move. I’d never tell supporters that it’s not okay to dislike Levy or disagree with how he’s running the club, but I also think it’s good that we got a chance to hear from him directly and not through a press release or a prepared statement.
Incidentally, regarding that buy-back clause in Harry Kane’s contract, Sky Sports’ Paul Gilmore clarifies that, much like when Spurs sold Gareth Bale, the clause is a right of first refusal should Kane ever be sold to another Premier League club upon leaving Bayern.
Tottenham will have the first option to sign Harry Kane should he return to the Premier League in the future.— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 20, 2023
There is no fixed price but should Bayern accept an offer from another English club Spurs would have the opportunity to match the fee.
[via @skysportspaulg]. pic.twitter.com/vkUTjNUs0u
There’s a lot more good stuff from the forum, and we’ll hopefully get to that later on.