Across the pond, there is a soccer team that bears some resemblance to the Oakland A’s. Although they don’t wear green and gold, Tottenham Hotspur is a scrappy team that manages to compete despite not having the unlimited financial measures of the Big Four teams: Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, and Chelsea. They are so well-liked that the Fisher-Wolff-Beane troika headed over to Tottenham to get some pointers on stadium building, and along the way forged a partnership between Spurs and the San Jose Earthquakes. Earlier this summer, some of the English club came here and played a friendly with the Quakes, the result of which (0-0) foretold how the early Premier League season would go for Tottenham Hotspur.
Like the Quakes and A’s, Spurs play in what’s considered an old, antiquated venue, White Hart Lane. The compact, 111-year old stadium was built in stages, as many of the older stadia were, and currently seats a cozy 36,310. Unlike their new stateside partners, Spurs almost always sell out. Not only do they sell out, they have a season ticket waiting list of 34,000. Imagine having a waiting list so long that you could fill two of your own stadia. It’s a severe understatement to say that it’s an enviable position in which to be.
Knowing that demand is so strong, Tottenham Hotspur management has been aggressively looking for a new venue. A plan to build a new White Hart Lane at the current site has had its cost estimate escalate significantly, creating doubt within the team as to whether or not the plan could be pulled off, especially without massive public funding. Called the Northumberland Development Project, the plan would have a new, 56,250-seat White Hart Lane as its centerpiece, along with 200 affordable housing units, a 150-room hotel, a supermarket, and a public square. Current estimates run at around £450 million (US$718 million) for the stadium alone, much more for the complete 20-acre development. Tottenham head Daniel Levy explained the situation.
“We have made no secret about the fact that the cost of (planning) consent will be extremely high. The revisions to the plans, to meet stakeholder approval, has added in excess of £50m to a development that could well cost in the region of £450m to bring to fruition.”
Levy said that extra costs nearing £50million had been accrued in a bid to preserve English Heritage sites close to the Northumberland Development Project, bringing to total projected cost to around £450million.
None of that money has been offset by public funding – a revenue source that both the revamped Wembley and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium were able to utilise – a state of affairs that clearly rankles with Levy.
He continued: “Had we not made these changes to retain historic buildings then English Heritage indicated that they would have no option but to advise that the application be called in and that permission would be refused.
“Meanwhile this development has not attracted a penny of public money.”
As the plan worked its way through the political realm, a government entity called English Heritage raised concerns. English Heritage objected to the plan on the account of demolition of several historic buildings within the plan area. That forced Spurs to submit a new plan that would have scaled back the vision significantly, preserving threatened historic buildings. The plan was approved by the Borough of Haringey, and all seemed well and on target. Right?
Fast forward a few weeks to mid-October, when rumors of a major move started to circulate. Spurs saw the escalating cost, resistance in the process, and it’s inability to secure public funding for the project, and started to look elsewhere. The new target is now the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, which would be reconfigured to work as a 60,000-seat, modern Premier League venue. We’ve seen this happen successfully in Atlanta with Turner Field, so the precedent is there. Whether or not it’s a prudent move is up for serious debate.
Assuming that the Olympic Stadium reconfiguration moves forward, it wouldn’t be available to Spurs until the 2013 season at the earliest. The site is only 6 miles east of the current White Hart Lane, a distance which might make you wonder why anyone would complain. But this is London, where neighborhoods are much more pronounced than we’re used to in the States. Imagine that MLB had just 20 teams, and all of them played all league play exclusively in an area 1/3 the size of California, from San Luis Obispo to Sacramento. Suddenly you can see how identifying with a part of a city, not just the city proper, might make sense. Tottenham is a rather diverse part of London, with a sizable black population. It is also poor and crime-ridden. Yet that doesn’t stop Spurs supporters from packing White Hart Lane, even though many of them come from well outside the immediate area. A move to Stratford, where the Olympic Stadium is located, is considered unconscionable by some fans and locals, while others consider the location of the stadium little more than a site to visit only for games and not much else, like the Coliseum. It would move the team from North London to East London and break up the North London derby, which pits Spurs against local rivals Arsenal. Stratford is also diverse and poor, though it benefits from not being built up the way Tottenham is, and from ongoing redevelopment work being completed to create the Olympic Park.
But really, six miles? That’s the distance between the Coliseum and the West Oakland BART station. If little-to-no public help is forthcoming, and there’s an opportunity to re-use a brand new venue six miles away, shouldn’t it be explored at the very least? It would seem that the line between emotional ties and practicality has no fence to sit on, which sadly is an all too familiar struggle in our neck of the woods.
Ah, but there are even more complications to this. West Ham United has also shown interest in the Olympic Stadium. There was also a promise made by the UK that when the Olympics were completed, the stadium would have its capacity cut in half with the idea of keeping it a track and field facility. Spurs and their possible stadium partner, AEG, want to remove the track and make the stadium a more intimate soccer venue. Early on there was talk that Spurs’ interest in the Olympic Stadium was a mere negotiating ploy to squeeze out some public funding for White Hart Lane. However, the talk of moving has only gotten more serious since then, as the time for the club to determine its future draws nearer.
You can’t blame Tottenham Hotspur from wanting to maximize its potential. After all, even though they sell out practically every match, their average attendance ranks as only slightly more than the league average. They’re leaving a ton of money on the table – money that could help them be more competitive with the likes of the Big Four. It may all come to a head in the coming months, and it will be interesting to see if it plays out anything like what we’re seeing in the Bay Area.