Yesterday, thousands of Tottenham Hotspur members across the world had their loyalty points total reduced, with those who have spent the most time and money over the last 15 years losing the most points.
The change, which fans were notified of in the Terms and Conditions in renewal packages for the forthcoming season, clears all loyalty points earned over five seasons ago with the intention that it will continue on a rolling basis.
So fans who have earned points over the best part of 13 seasons, following an under-performing team who were regularly beaten away from home at the turn of the century, now have no more recognition than someone who has only gone to the same amount of matches in the last four, more bountiful, seasons. In reality, the change is penalising those who have been loyal the longest.
When the loyalty scheme started, it was a refreshing idea, an example of a football club respecting their fans as paying customer and applying a principle of fairness when tickets became available for the most high-demand games, such as Cup Finals or the small allocations in the way of North London Derby.
The Loyalty System introduced logic to a system that was previously arbitrary such as, for example, the 1993 FA Cup Semi-Final being dependent for members who were able to travel to N17 at a time before public transport was running on a Sunday morning to physically queue around several blocks for over four hours.
The Loyalty Point scheme brought order to a virtual queue over a longer period of time with newer fans able to join at the back, as is the way of life. The principle in itself wasn’t totally new at Spurs—the 1991 FA Cup Final tickets went to members on vouchers for that season; continuous loyalty was rightly being rewarded, through thick and thin, not just the years when we were being told we never had it so good.
But this season’s changes have undermined that goodwill. Now, in games with small allocations and high demand, such as Shamrock Rovers or NEC Nijmegen away in Europe in recent seasons (both of which had under a thousand tickets for Tottenham fans), or the trip to Arsenal which usually gives Spurs fans only 3,100 tickets, two fans who have been to the same amount of games in the last four seasons now have the same chance of getting a ticket even though one may have gone to matches home and away for the previous 10 years while the other had hardly been away at all.
It is particularly harsh in the current economic climate when many who have followed the club through the lean years on the pitch are now being squeezed elsewhere. And it is also bizarre. It is hard to imagine Tottenham giving their staff a clock after just five years service or handing out a testimonial for five years as a player. Otherwise David Bentley would be hanging on for another year. The word “Loyalty” is the clue.
Football is a unique type of business in that its customers are supporters, so they are not going to shop around for other Clubs. The agreement that came with Season Ticket renewals wasn’t a contract where two parties could iron out the differences. Failure to renew in time not only would send Season Ticket Holders to the back of a long waiting list, it would mean all loyalty points would be lost.
Players who have earned vast sums of money lead a lifestyle alien to the customers who are key to paying their wages, from making it a saleable asset for TV and Sponsors to paying for expensive tickets and goods inside the ground, have had the argument that Supply and Demand justifies the wealth in the game.
But as Portsmouth and Glasgow Rangers are finding, there are two edges to the free market coin. Other clubs should see it as a wake-up call that nothing lasts forever. And were supporters, who have just had the positive and different experience of an Olympic Games ahead of this EPL season, to feel their loyalty has been abused once too often, their custom taken for granted in less rosy times on the pitch may be affected.
If every Tottenham fan who has had 10 years worth of points taken away stops spending any money in the Spurs Shop until their points are returned, they may yet see how football fans can affect their clubs with purchasing power.
Mel Gomes is the author of Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley where he documents his trip following Tottenham Hotspur home and away in their return to the European Cup after an absence of 49 Seasons and concludes with an Epilogue at the end of 2012 Season— http://thesubstantive.com/the-substantive-published-e-books/
Mel Gomes is on Twitter - @melstarsg