As fans begin to return to English stadia and arenas, Tottenham Hotspur venue director Andy O’Sullivan expressed his confidence that the Premier League football club will be able to break even on matchdays with 4,000 spectators in attendance.

Speaking during a Q&A discussing Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’s ‘toughest of starts’ at TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2020, O’Sullivan discussed how the venue has coped with COVID-19 hitting its opening seasons of operation. You can watch the session in full below.

Tottenham welcomed fans back for the North London derby against Arsenal on Sunday. Spurs were allowed to host 2,000 spectators at their 62,303-seat stadium as their London home is in England’s Tier 2 of COVID-19 restrictions, and O’Sullivan said the design of the facility should allow for a break even on matchday if this capacity limit is doubled.

Having opened in April 2019, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was able to host 14 of its 19 home 2019-20 matches with fans in the stadium, before COVID-19 hit. However, from this point, the Stadium also missed out on a host of other events such as NFL American football games and concerts from the likes of Guns N’ Roses and Lady Gaga this year.

With fans unable to attend, O’Sullivan detailed how the Stadium was repurposed to help the local community. The venue’s basement car park was set up as a COVID-19 test centre, football medical facilities were adapted to become a maternity outpatients clinic and the on-site technical college produced face shields for the NHS.

“We are in a particularly poor part of London here in Tottenham so it was important that we did our part,” said O’Sullivan. “We put the entire club to work for the NHS for a four to six month period, reconnecting our community.”

With fans returning, O’Sullivan outlined how Spurs will push towards an app-based F&B service so the club can deal with issues such as social distancing in queues. “Because of the technical capabilities of the stadium we’re able to give everyone the bandwidth and capability that they need to use their phones,” he said.

“At any one time since we opened, we’ve only had a maximum of 26,000 phones on our system trying to stream or download, so the good news is the system holds up and we’re confident it would do so if 63,000 phones tried to access.”

Looking back at the development of the Stadium, O’Sullivan stressed how fan experience was crucial for the vision, and continues to be so now it is fully operational. He said: “It was built with the fan experience in mind. A lot of venues talk about that and say that’s what we want to do, but sadly during the construction phase that’s the sort of thing that gets value engineered out.

“You can’t guarantee the results on the pitch so you have to work hard with the building. You’ll never take the emotion away if the home team loses, but you can certainly soften the impact if the fan experience is amazing on a gameday.”

O’Sullivan explained how Spurs survey 6,000 fans per gameday, asking them to score their experience across various metrics as below average, average, above average, great and excellent. He said: “We’re looking for 85% in the great and excellent category. If we can’t get that score then we’re doing something wrong on the fan experience front.

“By covering 10% of attendees per game day you end up surveying your fans probably three times per year, which is not overkill and gives you a good indicator.”

O’Sullivan said game-by-game surveys have allowed the club to pick up on potential issues quickly. He added: “We’ll generally pick up the top 10 dislikes and ask ‘how do we address this for the next game’?”

Tottenham’s F&B strategy for its new stadium has also proved extremely successful. “On the catering side, when we did our business plan we were targeting £5 (€5.5/$6.65) spend per head, the highest in the Premier League,” said O’Sullivan. “We were looking at a catering turnover of £19m to £20m for the venue per year.”

However, O’Sullivan said Spurs have “knocked it out the park” on this front, averaging £7.60 spend per head and £26m in turnover, which would have been in excess of £30m if it had a full season with fans in 2019-20.

“I think the popularity on our F&B is through our pricing being comparable to the high street, not other venues,” he said.

Attendees are able to watch sessions from all three days of TheStadiumBusiness Summit 2020 for the next 30 days through the event platform

The Summit returns to Manchester – in person, in the real world – on June 22-23, 2021.

Image: Populous