Monthly Archives: March 2016

The state of the stadium naming rights market, and what it could mean for Spurs: An expert view

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If there is one aspect of the new Spurs stadium scheme that generates more debate than any other, it is the question of naming rights.

This is understandable — the naming rights partner will become indelibly linked to the club, in the same way that, say, Emirates is now a piece of Arsenal’s fabric. It will become part of the daily conversation that we have as fans, and our matchday experience, and therefore it will matter profoundly to us.

As such, many Spurs fans dread that the naming rights partner may be somehow embarrassing (Pizza Hut Park), ethically questionable (say a badly behaved bank), or simply something that we don’t like, for whatever reason.

Ultimately though, there is no way that we are all going to be happy with the eventual partner, short of Harry Kane buying up the rights himself in lieu of taking a salary.

When I wrote extensively about the financing of the stadium earlier this year, the majority of comments I received were about my assertions on naming rights. I said that putting a value on a potential naming rights deal was like guessing the length of a piece of string, based on the wide range of income from previous deals that have been struck in the US and UK.

It is fair to say that a lot of people questioned this. Many claimed expertise in the sponsorship area — more, frankly, than I believed.

A frequent comment went: The NFL deal, and the potential of the stadium to be both an NFL and Premier League stadium, were a game changer in terms of securing a lucrative naming rights deal.

With naming rights a key part of the club’s funding strategy for the stadium scheme, Spurs will have conducted (or rather commissioned) a detailed analysis of the naming rights market, and come up with a figure that they can use in the projections for funding the project.

But how feasible is it really to put an accurate figure on what Spurs may get? How “real” will the impact of the NFL deal be when the club eventually puts the rights to market? And what is the state of the sponsorship market at the moment, particularly in the US where new stadiums are regularly built?

I wanted to get some expert opinion. So I got in touch with Michael Colangelo, the Assistant Director of the University of Southern California’s Sports Business Institute, and the Managing Editor of The Fields of Green, a website covering sports business. He very kindly agreed to answer my questions.

 

It appears that every year, there is a spectacular new stadium built for a franchise across the US major leagues. How crucial is a naming rights partner in terms of funding these projects?

Naming rights are extremely crucial, especially because they are used as a funding mechanism to build a stadium. Every time a new arena/stadium is built, one of the ways teams gain extra funding (through debt) is listing its projected income on naming rights. It’s all factored in. It would be very difficult to build a new stadium without projecting naming rights income into the capital structure.

How lucrative are these arrangements? For new projects, such as the Minnesota Vikings stadium, what sort of amount are NFL franchises bringing in from their naming rights deals?

Naming rights are the most lucrative form of sponsorship for most stadium construction projects. Naming rights deals are typically 20-25 years in length with a total of $100+ million at least for newer stadiums. The Minnesota Vikings deal with US Bank has been reported at 20 years at $220 million cost. Levi’s Stadium (49ers) is reported at $11 million/year. MetLife Stadium in New York is reported at $16 million/year.

Obviously the deals change on the size of the market, exposure, if the stadium will hold marquee events (Super Bowl, National Championships etc.)

How “easy” is it to strike these deals? By which I mean, is there a broad array of different businesses — not just finance industry, say — interested? And is there a “meeting of minds” between sponsors and franchises over how long these arrangements should last?

No deal with this much money involved is “easy.” There are multiple things to take into account when working with a naming rights partners. Many times teams want a naming rights partner who is also invested locally in their community. Levi’s has a San Francisco HQ. Target is HQ-ed in Minnesota and has naming rights for Target Field (Minnesota Twins). Gillette has the naming rights for the New England Patriots and is a local company.

As you can see there are a broad array of industries. Airlines, car companies, food/quick service restaurants, banks, financial institutions, and other companies see different benefits of being a naming rights sponsor. If there is room in the marketing budget then a major company could be a naming rights partner.

As for length of arrangements, they are generally long (20 years is typical). In some cases companies change names, are purchased, or no longer operate. Often times teams will then have to find another naming rights sponsor.

The new Spurs stadium will host two NFL matches per year initially. How appealing is this exposure to the US market to a potential sponsor, on top of exposure through association with a Premier League club? Or is two NFL games simply not enough?

Any company that is purchasing naming rights to the new Spurs stadium would be buying them for the entire benefit. Two games isn’t enough for a return on investment. It would make the most sense for a global company that wants exposure in the European market to partner with the stadium owners for naming rights. The more events/exposure the better for the naming rights partners. AT&T benefits from naming rights on Cowboys Stadium from every event held there, not just the 8 home NFL football games.

The stadium is widely seen as a home for a future NFL franchise, should the league opt to push the button on an expansion to London. How valuable a sponsorship opportunity would this be? And if so, how would this potential upside affect the club’s negotiations?

The NFL is doing the right thing by taking its time to expand outside of the U.S.. It has to make sure it has a viable market before putting a team in any major city, and the NFL is trying to build the game more every year by adding extra games in London. If it is financially viable (as well as competitively viable with travel etc.) the league will move to put a term permanently in London, but there is no rush to “push the button” so to speak.

NFL games at the venue still adds to exposure, so it should still be taken into account. Especially if its a Euro-based company trying to gain exposure in the US market. London games are often played early enough where it is the only game being shown on TV (or it is the nationally televised game). That potential upside could push the price of the naming rights higher than a normal stadium deal.

With audiences for the Premier League growing in the US, how appealing is the prospect of sponsoring a team such as Spurs? We’ve had Chevrolet, for example, spending big on Man Utd shirt sponsorship — is that considered a success, and sign of things to come?

This speaks more to the globalization of industry more than it does to just the world of sports. Every company is trying to gain exposure to international markets and sports is one of the easiest ways to do so. The Chevrolet deal is something people in the United States noticed. It is also helpful that Man Utd is one of the most well known teams in the world. Fans in the U.S. knew about Man Utd before the Chevy deal was signed.

Obviously the expansion of soccer fans in the U.S. is something Tottenham should take into account with any deal. The team has been shown more on NBC this year because they have been at the top of the table. As with anything in sports, teams get more exposure the more they win. If Tottenham is going to continually be at the top of the table it is better for their sponsors that want exposure in the U.S. market. It would not be surprising for more global companies to get involved in sponsorship/partnership deals outside of their market if they see a return on investment.

Spurs have talked about bringing in around £30 million per year in additional commercial income from the stadium, much of which will be from a naming rights deal. How realistic does this seem to you?

It’s important to note that not all of the deals will come directly from naming rights. A new stadium generates income in multiple ways outside of the just naming rights, although that will definitely be a part of it. New LED screens allow for more effective partnership deals and brand exposure. Boards around the stadium can have signage for the official car, bank, beer, soda, etc. of the team. Those partnership deals will also create revenue.

New stadiums also have more options for food, beverage, concessions, and apparel. There could be an increase in average ticket prices. The £30 million is achievable but the team will have to work hard with its partners to find the right deals.

About mechanics of these deals: The club has said that naming rights deals are normally struck mid-way through construction. Is this accurate, or are naming rights deals in US often struck before ground is broken?

It often depends on the market, but it is more likely that the deal is in place during construction than before the venue is built. There are multiple reasons for this — the design of the stadium may change, it is easier to price out a deal while the stadium is being built as naming right prices fluctuate (aka closer to the actual deal signage/activation happening), it allows for negotiation of the deal — and it isn’t rare for a deal be put into place a year before the stadium actually open.

Finally, just a bit of fun: can you give some names of potential sponsors who may have an interest? The two biggest naming rights deals in the EPL currently are Etihad and Emirates, but it’s surely time for something different. Can you think of any US corporations that may look it at it and think it of interest?

I try and stay out of the prognosticating business with deals like this. It’s tough to know where the global economy is going to be once the stadium is done being built. If banking is struggling those companies are less likely to sign deals. If the energy sector is down due to cheap oil prices it could take out energy companies.

In any case there will surely be interest. The Spurs new stadium will be hosting multiple events that provide sponsors with great exposure.

 

Thanks to Michael for taking time to answer my questions. For those interested in the business of sport, do check out The Fields of Green. For more Spurs chat, please give me a follow on Twitter, email or share your thoughts in the comments section.

 

New Spurs stadium the “front-runner for an NFL franchise”: Q&A with Sky Sports presenter Neil Reynolds

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Of all the aspects about the new Spurs stadium scheme that interest me most, it is the NFL connection. I’ve written extensively about it: just why on earth are Spurs, a club with no knowledge or experience of American football, going to considerable effort and expense to install NFL facilities in the new stadium?

Since publishing my last piece, there has been a steady stream of news underlining the effort the NFL is making towards international expansion. Just this week, it was reported that the NFL is seeking to take games to Germany and China in the coming years. At the annual meeting of NFL owners and powers-that-be, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked “what’s next” for the league, and said it would be a London franchise, or one in Mexico City. This is important: ultimately, the NFL is run for its owners, and Jerry Jones will be one of the people who decide when a London team happens.

On the Spurs stadium itself as an NFL venue, there hasn’t been much news of late. The stadium is still a large hole in the ground, and until it is completed we are unlikely to hear much. But I’m curious to find out more, and so decided to seek out some expert opinion.

When you are British, and you have questions about the NFL, there is only one man to ask: Neil Reynolds, Sky Sports NFL presenter and host of the Inside The Huddle podcast.

I got in touch with Neil and sent him some questions about Spurs and the NFL. And being a quality bloke, he came straight back to me with answers.

First some links: To see the stadium scheme, click here. To subscribe to the Inside the Huddle podcast, click here. My latest stadium news piece is here, and you can hear me talk about Spurs and the NFL in glorious detail on the Football and Football podcast here.

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What are you views on the new stadium Spurs are building, and how does it compare with other new NFL facilities? Does it “look” like an NFL stadium to you?

The new stadium absolutely looks like a first-class NFL facility and I think its size and design will be very attractive to the NFL, as well as the fact that Spurs are committing to giving the NFL their very own field. That shows a real commitment and desire for Tottenham Hotspur to be involved with the NFL in the long term and that is exciting.

Spurs and the NFL signed a 10-year, two-game per year arrangement. Do you think this is likely to be the extent of the hosting arrangement, or do you feel that, ultimately, the Spurs stadium is viewed as the home of an NFL franchise in London?

This is only my opinion as a reporter covering the NFL, but I think this is a partnership that is going to grow considerably over the years. As the NFL adds more games to its London schedule in the coming seasons, having multiple stadia will be useful so expect to see contests spread across Tottenham, Wembley and Twickenham.

But if we are fortunate enough to get to the point where we have an NFL franchise in London, I would expect one stadium to be used extensively in order to create a level of comfort for the players and to create some form of homefield advantage.

With Spurs offering an NFL-specific field and a capacity in the region of 60,000, I would say that venue would be the front-runner for an NFL franchise. It is certainly easier to sell out a 60,000-seat stadium eight times per year as opposed to a venue in excess of 82,000 seats.

Do you think, at this point, an NFL franchise in London is a matter of “when” not “if”? And what sort of timeline do you feel we are working on — 2022 is often is batted around. Is that realistic?

I think it is a matter of ‘when’ and the NFL will build towards that in the coming years with four, five and even six games per year being played in London. And I would say that 2022 is a very realistic time frame given the growing fan and government support, as well as outstanding stadia availability.

Momentum for the NFL in the UK continues to grow and I wrote a few years ago that I felt we would have a London franchise before a star player like Aaron Rodgers retired. Rodgers looks good for playing another six or seven years so he could end up making me look very clever on that front!

How would adding a team in London work? It is normally assumed that a team such as the Jaguars will relocate — is this the most likely scenario? Or will the NFL add an expansion team?

I personally think the talent pool would be spread too thin if the NFL added a couple more teams so had initially been leaning towards a re-location of a team like the Jaguars or the Oakland Raiders, who are having some issues in their home market at the moment.

But money talks in the NFL and if adding two more teams adds billions of dollars to the coffers, the league probably wouldn’t shy away from that. In turn, more dollars flooding into the league eventually finds its way into the pockets of the players so I would imagine them being in favour of expansion, especially as it essentially opens up an additional 106 roster spots through two new teams.

In the club’s planning documents, it was stated that Spurs may seek to secure an NFL franchise. The language was intriguing: do you think a clear relationship between a Premier League soccer club and NFL franchise makes sense from a marketing and commercial standpoint?

It would certainly help in terms of promoting the NFL in the UK and in promoting Tottenham Hotspur in the United States but I had not previously heard of such talk and I don’t think such a partnership is one hundred per cent necessary in order to secure a London NFL franchise.

How is the prospect of a London franchise viewed in the US? Is it just an inevitable next step for a league that needs to broaden its global appeal, or some sort of quixotic misadventure that frustrates many fans?

There are certainly some narrow-minded fans and media who want their game of American football to stay strictly ‘American.’ But there are also a growing number of media who recognise that the game is growing internationally and that the future of the sport – which couldn’t be more popular if it tried in the United States – is overseas.

At the end of the day, money talks and if the current NFL owners feel expanding into the UK is best for their business, they are going to do it, regardless of the blowback in the United States.

Let’s talk fan experience: a lot of Spurs fans who hadn’t previously thought about attending an NFL game will be tempted to try it out. How would you compare the experience of watching an NFL game in London, and a Premier League team?

I would say that there is not much in it in terms of noise and atmosphere, which is impressive from an NFL point of view because the league sends different teams into the London market year after year. If London had its own franchise, the passion for that team would build even more over time.

Personally, as a father of three, I think there is a much nicer family atmosphere at an NFL game and they are great days out. I have worked at every single NFL regular season game in London and have enjoyed seeing how the fans mingle without a hint of trouble or aggression. I have happily worked either in a TV studio or down on the field, knowing my entire family is sitting in the stands in a perfectly safe and enjoyable environment.

I would certainly encourage Premier League fans with families to give the NFL a shot – they won’t be disappointed.

Harry Kane, star striker for Spurs and England, is a huge NFL fan. How useful is that in terms of promoting the NFL to the Spurs fanbase? And on a related note, are there any NFL players you know who are Spurs fans? So far, the only one that we know about is Tim Masthay of the Packers (and he’s a punter, which is hardly too exciting).

Punters are people too, you know! But I take your point. I don’t know of any Spurs fans but I will be asking that question as I make my rounds at NFL training camps this summer. The best I can offer is that the head of public relations for the Green Bay Packers is a big Spurs fan and maybe he can work on Aaron Rodgers!

As for Harry Kane, it’s great that he is a New England Patriots fan and can help promote the NFL to Spurs fans. I’m sure he could become a very valuable marketing tool for the NFL in the coming years.

Finally — do you have a Premier League team? Or is it oblong football for you only at this point?

I grew up marvelling at the likes of Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush and revelling in all the silverware they picked up year after year. It’s been pretty slim pickings since I was a teenager but that will serve me right for being a glory hunter as a kid… YNWA!

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Neil for taking time to answer my questions. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat, and follow Neil for NFL news.

Can Spurs win the league? An analysis

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We’ve rounded the final corner in this crazy Premier League race, and with just seven games to go, Spurs are handily positioned for the sprint to the line.

Leicester, a 5000-1 shot, are a couple of lengths in front and showing no sign of weakening. But there are still hurdles to be cleared before all but the most publicity-hungry bookmaker starts paying out.

After an impressive 3-0 victory for Spurs against Bournemouth, I have one question in my mind, and one question only: Can we do it?

I’m going to mull over this question in a number of ways — both statistically, but also psychologically. Not there is anything obsessive about this, oh no.

 

The basic numbers

Here is the top of the table:

Table with 7 to go

There are seven games left, with a total of 21 points on offer for Spurs and Leicester. Arsenal (for it is them) are hanging in there. Spurs (+32) have a far better goal difference than Leicester (+23) and Arsenal (+18), and it would take some bizarre results for that to change in the final seven games.

If we finish level on points, we most likely win.*

The odds are in Leicester’s favour. Sky Bet have them at 8/15, while they have Spurs at 11/4. Arsenal are 6/1, and no-one else is a realistic chance.

It’s not huge money either way — these are odds that say “a two and a half horse race”.

I follow a number of analytics guys on Twitter, because I find it both fascinating and frequently illuminating. Here’s the view of three of them on the title race:

As you can see, the race, from this perspective, would appear Leicester’s to lose. But is it that simple?

 

The psychology and randomness of the title race

While this sort of statistical analysis is far more accurate at projecting future performance than the Ask Lawro school of “they’ll beat them this weekend, I can feel it”, it doesn’t necessarily quite fit with how I view the run-in.

I don’t know what “Leicester have a 72 percent chance of winning” actually looks like in reality. But if someone tells me, if Leicester win six of their next seven they win, that makes sense.

One of the hoariest old cliches is that “every game is a cup final” at this stage in the season, but there is an element of truth. Every football game, in isolation, turns on a relatively small number of key events — a missed penalty here, a wonder save there.

Leicester have won 11 of their 19 games by a one-goal margin — I’m not saying it’s luck, but I am saying their matches are often close. Spurs have won six out of 17 games by a one-goal margin – more often, when Spurs win, the matches are not all that close.

Over the course of the season, it all stacks up, but in just one game, there is hope. Maybe I’ve just heard the Spurs players say “we’re taking it one game at a time” so often that it has started to seep into my psyche, but I’m genuinely starting to see it like that. Does momentum exist? Are we beyond the point in the season where form means anything? Do players really feel any pressure when they step over that white line, and does it change the way they play? Do Leicester’s results actually have any bearing at all on Tottenham’s performances?

That’s a boat load of variables to chuck into the already seething pot of randomness that every Premier League game presents: the fact that in 2016 we still have linesmen trying to look in two places at once to call offside, the fact that no-one knows what handball is anymore, the fact that underperforming teams like Everton and Chelsea have superstars that can turn a game, the fact that an opposition’s motivation may be affected by upcoming cup competitions, not to mention the fact that, ultimately, football is 22 people running around a pitch for 90 minutes, and really anything can happen.

That’s where the hope lies. And yes, it’s the hope that kills you, but football without hope is Newcastle, or Aston VIlla, and I don’t want to lose it. I believe Spurs can still win: but for that to happen, Leicester are going to have to stop winning.

 

The path to victory

These are the remaining fixtures.

Leicester fixturesSpurs fixtures remaining

Leicester were often described as having an easy run-in, after a tough mid-season period, but when I look at these fixtures for both teams, I don’t see much in it, frankly.

Like most fans, I have now stopped expecting the sort of dramatic Leicester implosion I’d long assumed was coming. It turns out they are just a good team. They aren’t going to lose all seven of their remaining games.

Likewise, while Spurs are an excellent team that are very hard to beat, it is unlikely we are going to win all seven of our remaining games. For starters, we’ve drawn 10 out of our 31 games. Only West Ham, with 11, have drawn more, among teams in the top half.

So what, bearing this in mind, would a realistic path to victory look like?

I made a chart with all the possible outcomes, comparing the results Spurs would require to win, depending on what Leicester achieved.

Spurs run in

If Leicester win six of their final seven games, or win five and draw two, they have won. At the other end, it is really hard to see Leicester getting anything less than eight points — that would be one heck of an implosion.

But looking at the results, and the fixtures, there is a small “sweet spot” where you could feasibly see Leicester giving up just enough that Spurs could go on and win, with some leeway of their own.

The “sweetest” to me is a scenario where Leicester only manage 10 points. They beat Southampton, Swansea and Sunderland, but drop points, nerves kicking in, on the penultimate match of the season against Everton. West Ham continue their run for the top four with a win at the King Power, while Leicester also lose at Old Trafford and at Stamford Bridge.

Under this scenario, Spurs would “only” need to win four and draw three. So Spurs could draw at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, and play out a mind-numbing 0-0 draw at home against Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, and still be champions if we won all the other games.

Is this realistic?

Certainly, you feel Spurs need some leeway, not least because of our dreadful records at Anfield and Stamford Bridge. We’ve won just twice in the Premier League era at Anfield, and are yet to score a Premier League win at Chelsea. These places, not the Emirates, the Etihad or Old Trafford, are our bogey grounds. We’ll slay a few ghosts if we manage to win at either, and in any other season, you’d take a point and move on.

But at least that part is in our hands. For the rest, we’ll be relying on the work of others to slow Leicester.

 

Arsenal and St Totteringham’s Day

Everyone is ruling out Arsenal, and certainly the dip in form for both Leicester and Spurs would have to be considerable for them to sneak the title.

But until it is mathematically impossible, I refuse to rule it out. This isn’t superstition, but rather acknowledgement that Arsenal, in recent seasons, have been phenomenal finishers. After their annual Champions League last 16 exit, they invariably turn on the afterburners in the league.

Last season, they won 10 of their last 14. In 2013/14, they won their last five matches in a row. In 2012/13, they won 10 of their last 12.

Under the scenario I outlined above of Leicester only taking 10 points out of a possible 21, if Spurs failed to get the required 15 points, Arsenal could take the title if they won all their remaining games and improved their goal difference over Leicester. Surely, you would think, they will drop some points at some stage, but their record suggests they come on strong.

On this note, what do Spurs need to do to avoid “St Totteringham’s Day”? To guarantee it, with the GD advantage, we’d need 18 points out of 21. If Arsenal were to slip up just once, it would 14 or 15 points required.**

We should be able to do it, but I want to hear fat ladies warbling before I can celebrate finally finishing above Arsenal for the first time in the Wenger era, and truly enjoy the sight of Arsenal fans in meltdown.

 

A final note

In his post-match interview, Hugo Lloris provided cause for optimism, but also perspective.

“We understand perfectly the philosophy of our manager,” he purred. “We will be ready (for the run-in), we’ve worked all season to get this possibility.”

It may have been an extension of the “one game at a time” mentality, but his next comments were a reminder of just how far Spurs have travelled.

“The first thing is to get the Champions League,” he said. “This club deserves to make one step forward. And after we never know. We just need to be focused on ourselves, and we know in football anything can happen. We need to be ambitious to the last day.”

I warned recently of the “narratives” surrounding Tottenham’s title bid, particular the ideas that Spurs will never get a better chance, or that if Leicester win, Spurs have somehow failed. I’m continually impressed by just how realistic and calm most Spurs fans are being, even as the tension builds.

Above all, the sense on my timeline is that this has been a remarkable season, and that Spurs have outperformed even the most sunny of pre-season predictions. Impressively, we seem to be enjoying it.

Of course, we are all desperate for Spurs to win. My early football memories coincided with the start of the Premier League era, and we’ve never been in this position in that time. This is new territory for me, as it is most Spurs fans given we’ve not won the league since 1961. I can’t begin to put into words what it would mean to me if we won it.

But I firmly believe we are building something special, and if we don’t win it this season, we’ll challenge for it the next. All the building blocks are there. There’s a difference between being unambitious, and not freaking out when something you never thought would happen doesn’t happen.

I’m with Hugo. Let’s get the Champions League, then let’s finish above Arsenal, and then let’s get Leicester.

So can we win? It’s a possibility, rather than a probability, as it isn’t in our hands. But yes, we can win the league — and that really is quite something.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat

*Updated this part to remove the lunatic maths.

**Updated this part at 13.30pm the bump required points up by one across the board. Maths…

Liverpool offer useful guidance for Spurs on and off the pitch

liverpoolasia

Regardless of whether Spurs go on and lift the Premier League title in May, or fall just short, comparisons are inevitably going to be made between the season we are having, the one enjoyed by Liverpool in 2013/14.

While Leicester are a bolt out of the blue, Spurs and Liverpool both vaulted out of the pack and mounted title challenges after years of promising but failing to deliver.

The title challenges carry a similar “vibe” — a sense of team cohesion and a clear tactical philosophy, but also a strong enough core of players to suggest a whiff of sustainability in terms of future success.

Liverpool’s struggles since that superb season, when Messrs Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling routinely shredded opposition defences, offer some useful pointers to the hierarchy at Spurs as the club plans ahead both on and off the pitch.

In his latest piece, football finance blogger Swiss Ramble makes a number of interesting observations about the situation of Liverpool, and the importance of the Champions League, that are relevant to Spurs.

Also, some of the facts and figures in Liverpool’s accounts offer useful reference for us: there is still a huge amount of work to be done at Spurs to ensure our feeling of progress is built upon something more sustainable than the underperformance of others.

 

1 Don’t sell your best players

Liverpool’s transfer strategy since qualifying for the Champions League has been little short of a debacle. The £60 million profit the club reported in its latest accounts sums up the difference, as put by Brendan Rodgers, between a business model and a winning model.

Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling were one of the deadliest attacking trios in Premier League history. Suarez and Sturridge combined for a whopping 55 goals, while Sterling contributed nine goals and seven assists. Yet two years on, both Suarez and Sterling have been sold, while Sturridge has struggled with injuries that are testing the patience of Jurgen Klopp.

Barcelona may have triggered a release clause for Suarez, although reports at the time suggested Liverpool were happy to be rid of him. But selling Sterling, the most talented homegrown player since Steven Gerrard (albeit via QPR) to a Champions League rival in Man City was in many ways insane. In both cases, the club’s decision-making became clouded — whether that be by weird disciplinary problems, or snotty agents.

With Champions League football, Liverpool should have become stronger, but instead they became weaker. Their huge profit this season feels hollow, as they couldn’t sustain the success.

Spurs are going to get big offers this summer for the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. Daniel Levy needs to resist any reptilian urge to turn a massive profit, and just say no. I’m pretty confident our chairman has now learned this lesson after the Bale money trauma, but the only way we’re going to shake the tag of being a “selling club” is by not selling our best players over a prolonged period.

 

2 Take the chance to buy Champions League calibre players

This is the list of players Liverpool bought ahead of its Champions League campaign:

Adam Lallana, Rickie Lambert, Alberto Moreno, Emre Can, Lazar Markovic, Mario Balotelli, Dejan Lovren and Divock Origi.

The combined cost? £117 million.

For years, Liverpool had been held back in the transfer market by the inability to offer Champions League football — a feeling Spurs know all too well. There is only so much elite talent out there, and all elite players want to play in the Champions League.

Finally, Liverpool had a chance to break this cycle and bring in genuinely world-class players — and they missed it. All eight of those players bought by Liverpool would have been available if Liverpool were only offering Europa League football. Sure, they were rejected by Alexis Sanchez, but there were other possibilities out there.

Spurs need to be smart this summer. Yes, the club is building for the long-term and around a homegrown core. Yes, there is only a finite amount of money to spend on transfer fees and wages while the stadium is being built. Yes, there is a risk of upsetting squad unity by bringing in stars on huge wages. But there is also an opportunity to buy the sort of player we’ve not been able to attract in the past, and that should at least be explored.

So HYPOTHETICALLY (this is the key word), let’s say the club’s analysts feel that Spurs are struggling to create enough “good” chances, and that with Mario Gotze in the number 10 role, as opposed to Christian Eriksen, Spurs would be a much more dangerous proposition.

Gotze’s star may have waned a little since the 2014 World Cup, but he is still a player who will command Champions League football. This summer Spurs may be able to lure a player of that calibre, whereas in previous seasons it wouldn’t have even been worth trying.

I’m NOT saying Spurs should sell Eriksen — I’m just giving an example of the sort of talent we may be able to attract if there is Champions League football at White Hart Lane.

It was in the Sun on Sunday, so there is a 99.9% chance it is wrong, but there was a nugget of this sort of thinking about the speculation that Spurs may move for Jordan Henderson. I’m not sure he is the right player, but if the club is seriously engaged in some sort of “game theory” approach to strengthening ourselves while at the same time weakening potential rivals, I find that quite encouraging. I mean, if Man Utd miss out on Champions League, why not stick in a bid for Morgan Schneiderlin?

 

3 Where we finish matters in terms of Champions League money

Should Spurs falter in the coming games, and Leicester roll remorselessly on, the temptation may be for the players to take their foot off the gas with Champions League football all-but in the bag.

However, I did not realise that the final finishing position makes a big difference in terms of how much Champions League money is awarded. See this graph from the Swiss Ramble:

Liverpoool_champsleagueTV

Champions League money is split in two ways: where you finish in the Premier League, and how you perform in the Champions League itself. Under the previous TV deal, the difference between finishing 1st and 4th was £14 million. This is far greater than the performance-related proportion of Premier League TV money — the gap between payouts for 1st and 4th is £2.5 million.

Under the new Champions League deal, the money on offer is up 40 to 50 percent. If the allocation is the same, the difference between finishing 1st and 4th could be approaching £20 million. That is a significant amount of money.

Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t seem like the sort of manager to allow his team to coast. But should Spurs fall out of contention for the title, there’s still millions at stake for finishing second as opposed to third or fourth.

 

4 One more reason why the Europa League sucks

A common misconception about the Premier League TV deal is that the money is divided equally. This is not true — while it is more even than, say La Liga, there is considerable range. Last season, champions Chelsea brought in £99 million, while relegated QPR brought in £64.9 million. It is a phenomenal amount of money for QPR to receive, sure, but that is a big difference.

While 50 percent is divided equally, the other half is split among “merit payment” (where you finish) and “facility fee” (what you get when you are shown live).

Last season, while Spurs finished ahead of Liverpool, the Reds earned £4 million more from the TV deal. The reason? They were shown more often — seven times more in fact. While 25 Liverpool games were broadcast, just 18 Spurs games were shown — less than half the fixtures.

Part of this is legacy — Liverpool have a bigger fanbase. Also, having competed for the title in the previous season, it was reasonable to expect them to be shown more early on. But Europa League also has an impact — as Spurs were forced to play on Sundays for at least eight fixture rounds, this meant our matches couldn’t be selected for the two Saturday TV timeslots.

While Spurs had 18 games shown live, and our fellow Europa League travellers Everton had 17, Newcastle had 20 games shown live, despite one of the most miserable seasons the club has endured.

When you see Spurs bring in just £6.1 million in TV revenue from the Europa League, and the pain in the balls it is having to play Thursday-Sunday and cope with the huge distances and demands on the squad, you can see why West Ham in particular this season basically told the Europa League to go shove it and focused on the league. It feels like a good call by Slaven Bilic.

 

5 Liverpool are still miles ahead of Spurs commercially

Champions League qualification boosted Liverpool’s bottom line tremendously. Broadcast revenue was up 22 percent, matchday income up 16 percent, and commercial income up 12 percent.

While matchday and TV income is likely to come crashing down to earth in its next accounts (although the endless replays this season may have helped at the turnstyles), the gap between Liverpool and Spurs on the commercial front is more like a chasm.

Liverpool’s commercial (so sponsorships, merchandising, etc) income stood at £116 million: this is almost double the £59 million Spurs brought in per its last accounts (the club is due to report soon).

Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered is at least £20-25 million annually, while its kit deal with New Balance is £25 million. Currently Spurs get £16 million from AIA, and £10 million a year from Under Armour. A reported £30 million deal with Nike can’t come soon enough, likewise a naming rights deal.

Meanwhile, we’ll just have to punch above our weight. Liverpool’s wage bill is £144 million, compared to Spurs’ £100 million. Since 2011/12, LIverpool’s net transfer spend is £148 million — Spurs have made a profit of £39 million since then (this season’s accounts should show us breaking even).

For stadium costs, Spurs intend to borrow £350 million from banks, while Liverpool’s owners are providing a £100 million interest-free loan for the expansion of Anfield’s main stand.

Liverpool’s owners get a lot of stick, especially after the ticketing fiasco, but they’ve put their money where their mouth is, and achieved sustained commercial growth. They just need to sort it out on the pitch, but that’s the difficult part.

For Spurs, we’ve gotten it right on the pitch at long last — but we just need to look at Liverpool to show how hard sustaining that success can be.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

Stadium update: Local tickets, NFL hosting, cheap beer, timeline and Wembley groundshare

A couple of days ago, Haringey Council published what is known as the “Section 106” agreement it has reached with the club over the redevelopment of White Hart Lane.

This document — or rather, three documents — is essentially a long list of commitments that the club has agreed to meet through the course of this massive project. You can read it here — scroll down to the bottom.

Much of it is incredibly tedious — we’re talking real minutiae of the British planning system here — but there are one or two points of interest for the average Spurs fan.

 

Local ticketing policy

The S106 agreement sets out Spurs’ commitment in terms of the number of tickets it must offer local residents. I’d not previously seen this in detail — but there is an awful lot of documentation out there so the likelihood is I missed it.

Nonetheless, here are the key points:

Season tickets: the club must offer 2,500 season tickets for residents of Haringey, and 2,500 season tickets for residents of Enfield. This includes those residents already on the season ticket waiting list (just in case you were concerned that, by being on the waiting list, you may somehow be outflanked). The season tickets are for “first-team football” — so Premier League, but potentially also cup competitions. This is of course on top of existing season ticket holders.

Priority Premier League tickets: the club must establish a priority booking system for local residents, offering 2,500 tickets for residents of Haringey, and 2,500 tickets for residents of Enfield. This only covers Premier League matches — per the agreement, there is no obligation for the club to offer priority tickets to European or domestic cup football.

So in total, that is 10,000 tickets for local residents on Premier League match days. Note, the club cannot levy any waiting list fee, or priority booking fee, on qualifying residents.

The local ticketing provisions do NOT extend to the NFL and other non-THFC events that may take place in the stadium, as far as I can tell. This may simply be “beyond the gift” of the club, as it wouldn’t be the issuing entity for these tickets: The same issues of transportation and access apply to the stadium in NFL mode.

And speaking of the NFL…

 

Greater flexibility for an NFL franchise

In the club’s initial planning statement, the intention was stated that the new stadium host up to 10 major non-THFC sports events, and six major non-sporting events per year.

However, per the S106 agreement, there has since been a subtle change in wording:

“No more than 16 major non-association football events shall be held per annum, no more than six of which shall be music concerts”

This is a small change – it’s still up to 16 non-THFC major events — but it will make a big difference to the stadium as the potential home of an NFL franchise.

Under the earlier limit of 10 matches, this posed a headache: an NFL season has eight home games, but there is also the requirement for pre-season and post-season matches. There was a potential problem if, heaven forbid, a London NFL franchise was actually decent and made the playoffs.

This is now alleviated. This small change in wording will allow the stadium to host other non-Spurs, non-NFL sporting events — Europa League finals, World Cup matches, monster truck rallies, boxing, etc.

I have been trying to see when this change of wording happened, purely out of curiosity. The more flexible major events agreement is contained in a document entitled “Appendix 3 Revised Schedule of Conditions (2)” that was part of the main bundle, and also in the minutes published for the main planning meeting by the council (which run to 418 pages). I know, how did I miss it?

Not that it matters — what is in the S106 agreement is what counts.

 

Matchday experience

A major focus in the S106 agreement is the movement of people. Not just because of the size of the venue — 61,000 — but also because of its location in a residential part of the capital with relatively poor accessibility by public transport.

Therefore, there are a number of provisions aimed at getting people to the stadium early, and encouraging people to stay late, which could mean a slightly different matchday experience.

The club is committing to a comprehensive pre-match and post-match entertainment service — complete with manager interviews, man of the match awards and such like. Will this be radically different from what is already on the big screen at White Hart Lane? I doubt it — but nonetheless, the commitment has been made to make enhancements.

For NFL games, the agreement suggests that later NFL games in the US should be broadcast in the stadium to encourage people to stay. This sounds like a lot of fun. When I went to Wembley a few years back to see the NFL, I ended up in a bar watching the later slate of games, and had such a good time that I ended up missing the tube home (goddam Sunday service).

There is one more commitment that you may like: early bird prices.

It doesn’t SPECIFY beer, but I’d say if the THST is looking for an issue to galvanize the fanbase now season ticket prices have been frozen, pushing the club to meet its S106 obligations through the provision of cheap lager ahead of kick-off would be a good place to start.

 

Update to the timeline

Spurs made another step forward at the end of February (Feb 25 to be exact) when it secured approval from London Mayor Boris Johnson. Next up is approval from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: a decision should come in a couple of weeks.

This isn’t quite the final hurdle though — there is a six-week judicial review window that follows Secretary of State approval. After that, things should be able to proceed at full speed, at least to the best of my understanding. I hope then we’ll get announcements on financing, which will be of great interest to fans given the huge amount of debt the club will be taking on.

Nothing with this project is quick, or easy.

In many ways it is reassuring that you can’t just build a massive stadium in London because you want to — but reading through all these exhaustively detailed documents, you can certainly understand why the prospect of moving to the Olympic site seemed so appealing a while back. Chelsea’s stadium project must raise serious questions given its scale and location.

 

Wembley groundshare

Speaking of Chelsea, buried behind The Times paywall this week was an important update on the prospect of Spurs sharing Wembley.

Per Martyn Ziegler (as reliable a source as they come), senior FA figures are now convinced that a groundshare between Chelsea and Spurs is possible, after spending time studying the ramifications.

Ziegler put the cost per season at £20 million for Spurs and Chelsea. With Chelsea wanting it for three seasons, and Spurs wanting it for one, that will be £80 million coming the FA’s way — more than enough to encourage them to take England games around the country.

Previous reports suggested an arrangement whereby Spurs play league games at Wembley, and cup matches in Milton Keynes — which is certainly an interesting idea, but I’ve heard no more about that.

 

Thanks for reading, and please follow me on Twitter for more updates. If anyone has spotted anything important in these documents, or if you feel I’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick on anything, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I previously wrote about the stadium finances here, and my last update can be found here.

 

 

The Boys Club: Less than 10 percent of Premier League directors are women

caplehorn

Rebecca Caplehorn, Spurs’ Director of Football Operations, with Mauricio Pochettino

*Update: This article was written and published before Margaret Byrne left Sunderland… Timing

When Spurs appointed Rebecca Caplehorn as Director of Football Operations in March 2015, she became the second woman on the club’s board, alongside Executive Director Donna-Maria Cullen.

This got me wondering: with two women out of six people in total, how do Spurs stack up with other Premier League clubs in terms of gender balance in the boardroom?

As regular readers of this blog know, my mind goes to pretty random things, and I love nothing more than setting off on a tangent. So I spent a little time researching this, using club websites and Companies House as the sources of information.*

So here’s what I found:

  • Out of 115 people listed as directors at Premier League clubs, 11 are women. That is 9.57 percent.
  • Just three clubs — Leicester, Sunderland and Tottenham (all 2) — have more than one woman director. No club has three.
  • No club has a majority of women in its boardroom. Sunderland is closest with 2 out of 5. Spurs are next with 2 out of 6. Southampton’s three-person board includes owner Katharina Liebherr.
  • Of the 20 current Premier League clubs, 12 have no women in the boardroom.

Here is the basic table, and I’ll add the full spreadsheet with all directors below.

Screenshot 2016-03-08 at 8.23.55 AM

By way of contrast, 26 percent of directors at FTSE 100 companies are women — up from 12.5 percent in 2011. There are now zero all-male boards. But less than 10% of executive directors are women, per Board Watch.

To me, these numbers seemed low, but predictable — football has long been a boys club.

This is starting to change as women such as Karren Brady, Marina Granovskaia and Margaret Byrne have assumed top roles at Premier League clubs. But clearly, the numbers show that the boardrooms remain overwhelmingly male. (I daresay a study of the racial makeup of Premier League boardrooms would show them also to be overwhelming white.)

Football remains a challenging environment for women, as this survey published to mark International Women’s Day shows.

The circus surrounding the employment tribunal involving Eva Carneiro, the former Chelsea team doctor, has been excruciating to witness. Even the most desperate C-list celebrity wannabe would find the attention piled on this woman over the top.

The media (or the shoutier parts of it, at least) don’t help in the portrayal of women in football. This is from the Daily Mail on the appointment of Granovskaia as new Chelsea CEO:

Her glamorous good looks will inevitably draw comparisons with the outspoken, perfectly groomed ‘first lady of football’ and Apprentice star Karren Brady.

But anyone ready to dismiss Ms Granovskaia as merely a pretty face should be aware of a core of steel behind the megawatt smile.

I’m guessing, if it had been a Russian bloke, we’d not be talking about his “megawatt smile”. This article was written by a female journalist, by the way, so this really is more a case of the Daily Mail being moronic, not men in general (and I’ve justified it all by reading it).

In keeping with the low-key, drama-free Tottenham 2.0, both Donna-Maria Cullen and Rebecca Caplehorn have kept their heads below the parapet since assuming their positions at Spurs. What little I’ve read or heard about their work has been entirely positive.

Cullen received rave reviews for her representation of the club at the Haringey planning sub-committee meeting when the new stadium scheme was given approval. Caplehorn has received praise in various articles concerning an improvement in how Spurs are going about the business of player trading and football operations — although this could be as much a dig at Daniel Levy as anything else.

So does the number of women running football clubs in England matter? It depends on your view of things. My guess, if you’ve read this far, it is because you feel this issue is either interesting, or important. But for many it will seem like a fairly trivial matter in the broader scheme of things.

My research was more a case of journalistic curiosity than some Guardianista attempt at being “right on”. I didn’t know it was International Women’s Day until yesterday, such is my high level of awareness — although I’ll admit I subsequently brought this piece forward so that it would be timely.

But I’ll add, from a personal point of view, I believe balance in all things is good, and if we had more women running companies, government departments and, yes, football clubs, the standard of decision-making would be higher. I’m sure there are thousands of studies that show the benefit of gender balance in the workplace and in management teams.

Certainly, less than 10% of women in Premier League boardrooms seems very low, and personally I hope that number increases in the years to come.

 

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat (and other random stuff).

 

*The primary source was Companies House. However, where club websites appeared more up-to-date, or provided more clarity, I used them to get the information. I counted all directors, but did not include club secretaries. Full data below.

 

Debunking the myths about Tottenham and the title race

kane_mask_arsenal

Like many fans, I read far more articles about Spurs than is healthy. Hours of my life are wasted each week. It must classify as compulsive behaviour — if there is something that is written about Spurs, I just can’t say no.

What makes it extra silly is that, bar some honourable exceptions, the articles on mainstream sites are often essentially the same. Not exactly the same of course, but with the same underlying assumptions, preconceptions, or logical framework.

This is fine when the premise of the article is accurate — “Spurs work hard”, “Pochettino is a good coach”, “Spurs are an exciting young team”. But time and time again, I get frustrated when I read articles about Spurs built upon strawman arguments, cliche or presumption.

As we enter the final quarter of the season, and with Spurs so tantalisingly placed, the deluge of reading material will only intensify. So here are seven narratives about Spurs and the title race to look out for and avoid, to help you fully enjoy the ride this joyous Spurs team are taking us on:

 

Myth 1: “Nobody wants to win the title”

The most common narrative of them all: Teams such as Spurs, Arsenal and Manchester City are failing to overhaul Leicester at the top because we don’t “want” it enough.

Sarah Winterburn of Football 365, normally one of my favourite writers due to her ability to rise above the narrative, summed up this argument in her North London derby conclusions.

We will ask again: Has somebody p***ed in the Premier League trophy? Nobody wanted it enough in January to spend money on the players that might have made a difference and nobody wanted it on Wednesday when Leicester left the door ajar only to see it kicked shut in cack-footed fashion by Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester City.

For even one second, does anyone think this is true? Do Spurs, Arsenal or Man City really not WANT the title? It is preposterously inaccurate. Of course they want the title: the problem is that they aren’t good enough to win it.

Man City aren’t good enough tactically in big matches. Arsenal are too inconsistent and weak in central midfield. Spurs lack options up front and draw too many matches. Leicester aren’t winning because they want it more. They are winning it because, implausible as it sounds, they are just better than everyone else.

 

Myth 2: “Every defeat means something”

When Spurs were beaten by West Ham, various diagnoses were made: Spurs were feeling the pressure, Spurs were tiring due to Pochettino’s intense style, and so forth.

In the Guardian, both columnist Barney Ronay, and correspondent Dominic Fifield, diagnosed a clear case of title anxiety:

The pangs of anxiety had gripped through a one-sided first half, rendering their approach tentative and ineffective. Mauricio Pochettino denied it but the suspicion was that this was the first evidence of nerves undermining the club’s pursuit of a first league championship in 55 years.

I noted in a previous piece the disparity between the reactions of Spurs fans and the media to this result. While journalists felt the result required a particular psychological explanation, most fans just shrugged.

West Ham are a good team, they played well, and Spurs appeared slightly off the pace ahead of Saturday’s big derby. We were also missing two of our three central midfield amigos. Spurs didn’t throw away a three-goal lead, Pochettino didn’t start screaming “I’d love it if we beat them on Saturday” to the TV cameras, and Toby Alderweireld didn’t slip over and concede a goal a week after telling his team “let’s not slip”.

Sometimes, in football, you just lose. Spurs have only lost four times all season — this is surely a far greater statement of the team’s psychological strength than one narrow defeat at Upton Park.

 

Myth 3: “Spurs will never have a better chance of winning”

Spurs led the league for 13 minutes on Saturday, creating plenty of jokes on social media that this might be it for another decade or so. Indeed, a common narrative is that Spurs need to overhaul Leicester this season, as if we don’t, another chance might not come along for a very long time.

This was how Tony Evans ended his report on the North London derby:

[Harry Kane] was right. Tottenham had the chance to go top and let it slip. Opportunities like that may not come along so often.

I understand the logic: this season has been something of a perfect storm of underperformance by the moneybags elite. Next season, with Pep Guardiola at Man City, Jurgen Klopp rebuilding Liverpool, Chelsea under new management and Man Utd with either Jose Mourinho or, erm, Ryan Giggs in charge, even getting a top four place could be beyond the reach of Spurs.

But this misses a couple of crucial points.

First, there is no guarantee that all the new managers will hit the ground running, or ever be a success. The rebuilds at Manchester United and Liverpool in particular look precarious.

And second, does anyone seriously think Spurs aren’t going to be even better next season? When you have the youngest squad in the league, it means you have a ton of room for natural progression. The likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Eric Dier are just scratching the surface of what they are as players, and Pochettino still has plenty of scope in terms of improving the team as an incisive attacking unit (in my view). We may not win this year, but we’re going to be just as competitive next time.

 

Myth 4: “Leicester’s success means everyone else is failing”

I raised this point in my piece before the North London derby. It is a particularly negative argument: Leicester’s success makes everyone else look bad.

The argument was encapsulated in this piece from Richard Jolly:

There is one influential faction who should hope Claudio Ranieri’s energetic overachievers fade away: the other 19 Premier League clubs. It would be an indictment of them all if Leicester become the most unexpected champions since Ipswich in 1962.

I asked on Twitter and Reddit if anyone at the start of the season honestly thought that we’d be where we are now. Overwhelming, the reaction was that we had expected Spurs to finish outside the top four, and comfortably so.

You can’t judge your season solely through the prism of another club’s performance. Leicester’s success is a wonderful story, but takes nothing away from what has been a stonkingly good campaign for Spurs.

Man Utd should be disappointed, not because Leicester are top, but because they are sixth. Arsenal fans are disappointed, because once again their title challenge is in danger of fading. But it doesn’t really matter that it is Leicester edging clear at the top, rather than Man City — it’s about them.

 

Myth 5: “A tight race means a bad race”

There is an extension to the “If Leicester are winning it means everyone else is failing” narrative. Namely, if a team that a year ago was bottom of the league is now leading, then the league must have gotten worse.

Winterburn (again, normally one of my favourite football writers, but her conclusions on Saturday were very negative), sums this up:

As ridiculous as it may sound, as a Premier League neutral I want to see a team – any team – grab this title and make it unquestionably theirs. We see scruffy, anybody-can-beat-anybody, error-strewn football in the Championship and I expect and want better from the top flight. So while this 2-2 draw was enthralling – and indeed perfect for 16 Conclusions – it was also deeply disappointing. Does nobody want this enough to produce the kind of performances worthy of champions? Over to you, Leicester.

Last season, Chelsea cruised to the title, while the established big four all slotted nicely into their expected Champions League slots without any serious challenge. But does this mean the Premier League was “better”?

Certainly, by the yardstick of European competition, the answer was “no”. No English team made the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and only Everton reached the last 16 of the Europa League. This season, Man City are almost certain to progress, Chelsea have a strong chance against PSG, and one of Liverpool or United (who admittedly stunk up the Champions League) will reach the Europa League quarter-finals.

Sure, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs have underachieved, but this doesn’t mean that Leicester are bad. Just because we are struggling to explain why Leicester are good, doesn’t mean they aren’t good. This compulsion to explain everything, even when we don’t have all the facts, is age old — when the Vikings saw lightning, they assumed it was Thor getting mad.

And the same with Spurs — us finishing second behind Leicester wouldn’t mean that the 2015/16 season deserves some sort of asterix in the record books. It is to our credit if we finish above richer clubs such as Man City or Chelsea, and not just to their detriment. You are going to read some stuff in weeks to come about how this season was a fluke, about how lucky Spurs and Leicester were — don’t buy it. In a 38-game season, you get what you deserve.

And this is all before the miserablist assertion that this race is somehow less worthy because it is close. Surely a tight, unpredictable race is much more enjoyable, and in fact a truer test of a team’s nerve and competitive spirit, than the standard procession of clubs by order of revenue? Charlie Stillitano may disagree, but everyone else wants a contest.

 

Myth 6: “The balance of power is shifting in North London”

This is one of the oldest narrative chestnuts, wheeled out every time Spurs make a splashy signing, beat Arsenal or threaten to finish above them.

It reached a peak before Saturday’s match-up: a Spurs win would knock Arsenal out of the title race, and end Arsene Wenger’s era of domination to boot.

From Jason Burt’s (excellent) preview in the Telegraph:

Spurs are most definitely catching up on the pitch and in the dug-out. The fact is they go into Saturday’s north London derby at White Hart Lane three points ahead of their bitterest rivals and mounting their first league title challenge for decades.

But there is also a sense that something more significant is unfolding given the cohesion, the freshness and hunger of Spurs’ approach as opposed to the mood of complacency, conservatism and – most worrying of all – toxicity (from the fans) that has begun to envelope Arsenal from the ownership down.

Sure, a win on Saturday would have been huge in this race. But does anyone think Arsenal won’t be just as strong, if not stronger next season?

While they may have atrophied a bit, Arsenal have world-class attacking talent in Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez. They also have a ton of money in the bank. If Spurs do finish above Arsenal this season, this is surely a catalyst for them to actually start spending it. After 20 years of St Totteringham’s Days, we are overdue a year above the other lot, but that doesn’t mean the balance of power has shifted in the other direction. At most, it means that there may finally be some balance in what has become a depressingly one-sided rivalry.

Again, before the start of this season, I’d have taken parity with Arsenal — let’s not get overexcited.

 

Myth 7: “Spurs can’t win because they are Spurs”

Read anything about the title chances of Spurs, and there’ll be an underlying rider that this team is ultimately too inexperienced, or lacks the track record, to win. Failing that, the mere existence of the word “Spursy” is enough evidence to many to suggest Spurs don’t have the bottle.

Garth Crooks, a former Spurs player although by journalistic standards hardly the next Hugh McIllvaney, summed it up in his Team of the Week:

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Spurs cannot win the Premier League title. What they can do is produce moments of magic like the goal scored by Harry Kane that should have won the game and proved that they are capable of winning the matches that matter.

With Leicester (at least up until a couple of weeks ago) the argument was that because no rank outsider has ever won the Premier League, it means it is impossible and they are bound to fall away.

This is nonsense of the highest order.

For Spurs, the whole reason Alan Hansen’s “you’ll never win anything with kids” line became one of the ultimate footballing cliches was because it was proved so utterly wrong that very season.

As for the whole “Spursy” thing — this is the team with the best goal difference, tightest defense and best record of gaining points from losing positions. “Spursy” belongs to a different era — just as you can’t apply the tag “Invincibles” to the current Arsenal squad, or describe Liverpool as the best club in the world.

For Leicester, the logical failure is even more extreme. No 5,000-1 shot has ever been in the running nine games out — this is new territory in the Premier League era, so nobody can apply past evidence to judge how it will end, as there isn’t any.

I suspect we are all guilty of this to a degree. For me, my voyage of belief in Leicester winning the league has been slow — it was really only this weekend that it dawned on me that it was now a likelihood.

I understand that with Spurs having led for a whopping 13 minutes this season, the idea that we may go on and win it seems fanciful. But if we don’t, it won’t be because we are too young, too Spursy, or because we’ve not won it before. It’ll be because there was someone better than us.

 

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs chat.