Why Europe’s newest football stadium looked to the high street to ensure success
Tottenham Hotspur’s new home aims to balance the needs of diehard supporters with an incoming generation of more casual fans. Central to this is Jump Studio’s design for its hospitality spaces, which take the bars and restaurants of East London as their benchmark, rather than the club's rivals to the north and south.
For Tottenham Hotspurs' manager, the team's recent move to their new 62,062-capacity stadium can only be qualified a success if it engenders a change in mindset. ‘Now, there is no point in thinking like a small club,’ Mauricio Pochettino quipped. ‘You must think like a big club.’ Their participation in last month's Champions League final suggests that such a transition may be ahead of schedule, but it’s still instructive to ask what a modern stadium designed to help a football franchise achieve ‘big club’ status looks like, and how it operates.
That concept can be interpreted quite literally, of course. Tottenham is graduating from a venue that could hold only 36,000 spectators, mid-table by the standards of most of the Premier League's top six teams, to a home twice the size. But while this expansion undoubtedly offers an upgrade in soft power, this is largely about gate receipts. More bums on seats means more revenue at the turnstile… and, crucially, at the concessions that line the concourses above.
These latter spaces in particular can tells us a lot about the future of club football and the increasingly important role hospitality plays within it. Because, in truth, size is only half the story here. Though reaching close to its 62,062 capacity on a regular basis will undoubtedly provoke a smile from chairman Daniel Levy – the driving force behind this (reportedly) 1-billion pound project – pure numbers are not enough. They’ll have to be the right type of fan if they’re going to help pay off that sizeable capital investment.
As football has cemented its place as the world's favourite sport, and the Premier League as the sport's most popular and prosperous competition, so has its fanbase evolved. This combination of global reach and the shift in perception of football watching as another form of entertainment –rather than something to be lived, breathed and bled – means the mix of people turning up on match day is shifting away from the diehard and towards the casual. And for the casual fan, the totality of the match-day experience is more important than the purity of watching the game. How is that interpreted architecturally? Well, it means that at least as much attention is paid to the ancillary spaces as to the main arena.
This is what makes Tottenham’s stadium such a fascinating case study. For the purists, architects Populous included elements such as the vertiginous, single-tier south stand and the provision for safe standing (once approved). This will create a much-welcomed intensity during games. Both call back to an era of English football in which match-day passions ran much hotter. While these were arguably more exciting venues, however, they were not more welcoming ones for those who deviated from the mean.
But as Nielsen’s World Football Report 2018 shows, today’s audience has diversified in every way, from gender to nationality to income bracket. In fact, and perhaps most surprisingly, medium and high-income earners were more interested in football than those on lower incomes in every country surveyed apart from India. This gives some clue to Tottenham’s decision to promise a (much ridiculed) cheese room as part of their provision for top-bracket ticket holders. It hasn’t materialised in the final build, but that doesn’t mean that the club was wrong to try and anticipate the needs of those luxury consumers showing an increased appetite for live sport.
The stadium can claim other firsts however, such as hosting the longest bar in Europe and being the only stadium in the world with an onsite brewery – run by local craft label Beavertown, not one of the ‘big beer’ brands. (This is only half true, as Heineken purchased a minority stake in Beavertown last summer, but the point that IPAs will be taking a precedent over lager is still instructive). It should come as little surprise then, that when tasked to help create Europe’s most impressive sports venue, Jump Studios, a Populous subsidiary, looked not at what Tottenham’s rivals were doing, but what was happening on the high street.
‘We realised early on that there would be nothing like this,’ explained Jump Studios associate Liam Doyle. ‘We knew we weren’t going to be competing with other clubs, so we were essentially doing a benchmarking exercise. For high-end hospitality, we were looking to the luxurious opulence of the West End and the hotels there as reference points. And then for the concourse it was very much about the bars of East London.’
Three feature bars – The Dispensary, The Shelf and The White Hart – are modern interpretations of the London pub, decked out in a palette of oak, copper and subway tiles. This is decidedly more gastro than astro. In hospitality hub The Market Place, the designers took inspiration from London’s ‘vibrant street food market scene,’ featuring outlets with names like Linesman, N17 Grill, Naan & Noodle, Smashed Olive and the Chicken House. ‘The level refinement we’re now seeing on the high street, in terms of detail and service, is expected as the norm,’ says Doyle. ‘A cold concourse and a stale pint and a crap pie is not going to cut it anymore.’ It’s not completely agnostic to the club’s past, however: subtle touches like embedding aggregates from the old stadium in the new concrete floor, in order to add colour and texture, provide a sense of continuity.
Ultimately, however, this is about propelling the club forward, and that means keeping these spaces fuller for longer. ‘We’re pretty much trying to create a longer dwell time,’ continued Doyle. ‘We want to encourage people to arrive early and stay late. And the proof is already there – they're certainly not leaving straight after the match.’ That’s good news both for the club’s culture and its balance sheet.
As the live sports market continues to grow, stadia are having to adapt their offer to a far broader range of demographics. And while venues have been investing in spaces for their top-tier ticket holders for a number of years, premiumization is now filtering down to the general concourse, opening up new opportunities for hospitality-focused design studios that might previously not have targeted such contexts.