Why Tottenham must secure rights to break glass ceiling

Daniel Levy, Tottenham HotspurWhen Tottenham Hotspur make their seasonal trip to the Emirates next month for the first installment of this term’s North London derby, whatever the outcome on the pitch, they will have taken something of a beating, off of it.

On November 17th, supporters will be desperate to see Andre Villas-Boas’ side steal a march on Arsenal in the race for Champions League football and beyond. But for however much Spurs may try and match the Gunners on the pitch this term, off of it, there is simply no competition. And until that is rectified, Spurs are potentially hitting a glass ceiling in their development that is getting harder to break through with every passing season.

Although Arsenal went and eventually succumbed to Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea 2-1 at home, towards the end of last month, it wasn’t all doom and gloom in the red half of North London. Indeed, the match against the Blues represented the first ‘Category A’ game of the season at the Emirates, a price bracketing for the most desirable games of the season, with a minimum price tag of £62.

The Mirror reported that matchday income from the game – a few hundred seats short of a sell out – was near on, a staggering £6million. Spurs fans are set to contribute to at least matching that figure next month.

And no one should be under any illusions of quite how gloomy that reality check is for the Lilywhites. The most recent published accounts this year (which encompass the 2010/11 season) showed that Spurs made a relatively paltry £43.3million from matchday revenue, over 27 competitive matches played – working out at about £1.6million a match. If we include the fact that this figure includes Uefa Champions League matches, you can expect that number to shrink slightly when the next accounts are released. For those wondering, Arsenal made over double what Tottenham did for the same time period in matchday revenue – a cool £93.1million.

The elephant in the room here is of course Tottenham Hotspur’s dire need for an increase in stadium capacity, in order to compete with the likes of Arsenal and beyond. At just over 36,000, White Hart Lane simply cannot compete with a cash cow like the 60,000 seater Emirates Stadium – in both purely spectator terms and the holy grail of corporate hospitality.

With White Hart Lane selling out every week, Spurs have nearly hit the ceiling in terms of squeezing any more money out of their hallowed old ground. Their cheapest adult season ticket increased a further 5.79% to £730 this season, hopping above Liverpool as the second most expensive in the land. Even with 30,000 fans waiting for the chance to snap up one of 23,500 season tickets on a waiting list that seemingly refuses to budge, it appears difficult to see how much further the club can push prices up.

The statistics, in this case, have been written on the wall for a long time, but it’s putting them into context that appears slightly more difficult.

Tottenham cannot progress any further without some form of serious investment, most likely from foreign shores. And although it may not necessarily be in the guise of a Manchester City style buy out, the sort of capital the club need to raise to fund their Northumberland Development Project, still constitutes an enormous amount of investment. Daniel Levy and ENIC may well be looking for a naming rights partner to raise the money, but with The Telegraph’s Paul Kelso reporting an asking price of £400million spread over two decades, today’s economic climate renders that a very giddy amount of money indeed.

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Some fans may shrug their shoulders at the level of investment and you can suggest that Spurs aren’t doing two badly for themselves at the moment. They’ve finished fourth twice in the space of three years, had a tasty little Champions League run and they’re looking to make another assault on European qualification this year.

The catalyst is however, in terms of need for development and the need for survival, the dark realm of Premier League wages. Some fans still seem to protest that Daniel Levy has stashed a chunk of their Champions League money under the sofa somewhere. What they don’t often consider though, is the extra £24million swell in wages, from 2010 to 2011. For all the jiggery-pokery of the summer transfer window and the smokescreen of Luka Modric, Tottenham Hotspur in fact made an initial net LOSS of £545,600, during the summer. Yes, that doesn’t factor in the Roman Pavlyuchenko sale in January, but this isn’t some form of Levy-defending propaganda. The club are operating upon their very limits.

With the new Premier League domestic television rights alone, securing up to £3billion to be shared around with clubs, Daniel Levy can afford to push the boat out on handing players like Gareth Bale a lucrative new contract. But such is the nature in the way broadcasting money is split between clubs, everyone is afforded a similar financial reprieve. Spurs have simply chosen to spend a chunk of theirs on securing their most valuable asset.

Perhaps in some ways, the best way of analyzing your own strength is upon the strength of those around you. There was a school of thought with some Spurs supporters, that the club was only ‘two or three players away from challenging for the league’ last season under Harry Redknapp. If we accept that the notion doesn’t involve the weakening of the squad by selling any players, that means that in wages and transfer fees, the club would have had to find that money from somewhere to acquire those players. Spurs made a £7million operating loss last year, just for a bit of added context before we finish.

From the last available accounts (2010/11 season), Tottenham Hotspur finished fifth. The difference between their wage bill and Arsenal’s, who finished one place above, was £33million. The difference between third placed Manchester City’s wage bill and Spurs? An increased £83million. And to wrap up, the contrast between Spurs and second placed Chelsea’s wage bill was £98million.

Although 2011 champions Manchester United’s was a little lower, you get the point. The cost between bridging even one place in this league can be phenomenal and Spurs are running out of room for financial maneuver. Yes Financial Fair Play will help, but they cannot make serious developments without the construction of a new stadium. A fourth placed achievement this term would represent a stunning achievement and have fans celebrating and three points on Saturday would go a long way to achieving that in the short term. In the long term however, it would be the announcement of a naming rights partner, that the club needs just as much.

Do you feel Tottenham have hit a glass ceiling in being able to move further up the league? How do you feel about the implications of a foreign naming rights partner? Let me know how you feel on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your views.