Why Tottenham are edging the battle of North London
Posted on February 26, 2019
AS the two North London giants prepare to meet in another heated derby, the dynamic in that part of the capital is clearly changing. Tottenham, on the brink of moving into a new stadium, are moving up a gear, both on and off the pitch. For the first time in a number of years, Spurs look poised to gain the upper hand over their fierce rivals. The balance of power may be shifting.
For the past two seasons, Spurs have finished above Arsenal, but unlike the Gunners, they have not been able to secure any silverware. It’s a constant source of frustration to many of the club’s fans that the progress made under Mauricio Pochettino has not been gilded with some sort of trophy. And unless they win the UEFA Champions League, a tall order but they are still in with a shout, it may well be another year without material endorsement of Spurs’ position in the English game.
In some respects, Spurs and Arsenal have switched places. For a long time, Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, were more superior on the playing field and in the boardroom. With the financial benefits provided by having a 60,000 stadium versus Spurs’ 35,000-capacity White Hart Lane, Arsenal benefitted from greater revenue streams than their neighbours, who continued to be stymied by a ground that was tired and restricted. Furthermore, Arsenal were perennial UEFA Champions Leaguers, although the last 16 was almost always their stumbling block. Nevertheless, the substantial income derived from UEFA was a big advantage for the club.
When Arsenal moved to the excellent Emirates, their team-building stuttered, but they placed their hopes on younger players with great potential. For some years, Arsenal were a coming team, one that would, eventually, mount a title bid and repay Wenger’s purist beliefs. In waiting for that “jam tomorrow”, the narrative went stale and supporter unrest became contagious. All things come to an end and the Wenger era had run its course – he exited before toxicity really set in.
But Arsenal went from a Champions League regular to the Europa League in 2017, a competition they may yet win in 2018-19, their second successive season out of the UCL. At the same time, Tottenham have got a taste of the Champions League again and are looking comfortable.
The effect of having Champions League money is transfomational. In 2017-18, Spurs’ TV revenues totalled £ 227 million, some £ 40 million more than Arsenal’s income from broadcasting. This was only part of the growth story for Spurs, whose total revenues amounted to £ 379 million compared to Arsenal’s £ 389 million. The gap has closed substantially between the two clubs – in 2016-17, Arsenal generated £ 419 million and Spurs £ 306 million.
Spurs’ residency at Wembley is key to this growth, in 2017-18, crowds for their home games averaged 70,642 – compared to around 32,000 in their last season at White Hart Lane. As a result, matchday income rose from £ 45 to £ 75 million, still behind Arsenal’s £ 99 million, but a positive story. Commercially, Spurs’ income totalled £ 103 million, comparable to Arsenal’s £ 107 million.
Whereas Arsenal’s revenue trend is very consistent over the past five years, Spurs have experienced dramatic momentum. In 2013-14, their total income was £ 180 million but it has doubled in the last five seasons, a reflection of the club’s growing international profile and elevation to contender status. Arsenal’s revenues have gone from £ 300 million to £ 389 million in this period.
The rise of Spurs can also be attributed to their batch of young English players, something that Arsenal once enjoyed. With England having something of a mini-revival, players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier have become popular nation-wide and generally, Spurs have acquired a reputation for developing and encouraging home-grown talent. By contrast, Arsenal have consolidated their position as a club that scours Europe and beyond for their players. This was underlined by the composition of England’s World Cup squad for Russia – five from Spurs and one from Arsenal. In addition, Tottenham had twice as many players across all countries at the World Cup than Arsenal (12 versus six), with three from third-placed Belgium as well as the England quintet.
The status of Spurs’ squad is reflected in estimations of transfer values – according to CIES Football Observatory, Harry Kane is ranked the fifth most valuable player at € 151 million. Dele Alli is ranked 15that € 101 million. Arsenal’s highest valued player is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – € 68 million.
Overall, Spurs are considered to have the most valuable squad out of the two clubs – Soccerex, in its Football Finance 100 (which Game of the People provided editorial), valued it at € 830 million compared to the € 554 million calculation of Arsenal’s playing resources. The landscape could change, however, if Spurs fail to hold onto their prized assets, which becomes more likely with each trophy-less season. Furthermore, the balance could be upset if they also lose their highly-coveted manager. As for Arsenal, the jury is still out with regards to the appointment of Unai Emery, who started well but has seen his team assume a similar role to the latter days of Wenger – chasing a Champions League spot to avoid the Europa.
It is remarkable how similar the two clubs are, though, in terms of items like tangible assets and cash reserves. Spurs may be saddled with more debt at the moment, but that is undoubtedly attributable to the new stadium.
Stability is a rare commodity in football, but both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have been far more settled than drama-driven Chelsea, their rivals across London. Arsenal are now owned by Stan Kroenke and there have been concerns that he will adopt a US-style approach to the management of the club. As a business, Arsenal has been very successful, run on relatively prudent lines. Tottenham are little different in that direction.
Tottenham will move into their impressive new stadium in the next few months. Already this new construction has been used as a form of one-upmanship – the capacity will be 62,062 which exceeds the 60,260 of the Emirates. 1-0 to the Spurs, as they say.