When Todd Kline joined Tottenham Hotspur as the Premier League club’s chief commercial officer just over a year ago, it was widely reported that he had been brought in to deliver against a very specific objective.
Here was the man who had spearheaded the sale of the naming rights to the Miami Dolphins’ Hard Rock Stadium, a deal which at the time was reported to be worth some US$250 million over 18 years. But to suggest Kline relocated from the US to north London simply to secure a sponsor for Spurs’ new home ground would be doing a disservice to the scale of the commercial operation he oversees, one which the man himself describes as having a “very clear mission” to generate funds that can be reinvested in the club’s men’s side, women’s team and academy.
Spurs’ commercial revenue for the pandemic-affected 2020/2021 season stood at UK£152 million (US$189 million), a figure comfortably among the highest in the Premier League but also with plenty of potential to grow. The team has lucrative long-term deals tied in with its main shirt sponsor AIA and kit supplier Nike, as well as a five-year sleeve partnership with online car seller Cinch. That security should allow the club to focus its attention on diversifying revenues elsewhere.
Todd Kline (right) started his role as Tottenham Hotspur’s chief commercial officer in March 2021
Running the right process
One priority for Kline has, of course, been the aforementioned naming rights deal, a process which has garnered plenty of attention given the cost of building the club’s currently named Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, on top of the financial impact of the pandemic. Unlike some other sports teams that have moved to new arenas in recent years, Spurs opted not to open their home ground with a stadium sponsor and remain without one three years after the men’s side played their first game at the stadium against Crystal Palace.
Kline, though, asserts that he is “happy” and “excited” with where the club is in the process, which he adds has had “as many twists and turns as I would have expected”.
“It was really challenging for lots of people who came before me in the environment of not being able to bring people to see and experience the wonder that is that stadium,” Kline says of the venue, speaking in late April after his session on stage at SportsPro Live.
I think we’ll land on the right partner for the right venue. And sometimes in doing complicated deals, sometimes patience is the move.Todd Kline, Chief Commercial Officer, Tottenham Hotspur
“I’ll admit, I’m a stadium geek. I love arenas. I love stadiums. I love clubs. I love seeing them all. And that one is really special. And the reality is that you need people to experience how special it can be. So the world opening up, travel opening up, getting people into the building and really understanding the value that you can provide a brand has been critical.
“We’re running a process. It’s been a rewarding process. We’ve met some amazing people throughout it and I think we’ll land on the right partner for the right venue. And sometimes in doing complicated deals, sometimes patience is the move.”
Indeed, Kline seems acutely aware of the importance of finding a partner that fits with how Tottenham supporters see their club. Having spent the majority of his career in American sport, also working for the likes of AEG and WME, as well as the National Football League’s (NFL) Washington Commanders, Kline says he has even listened to fan podcasts to help understand the supporter culture in N17, while the club regularly conducts fan surveys to gauge what they want.
What he also acknowledges is that supporters are increasingly taking an interest in the club’s commercial performance because of the impact it can have on the pitch.
“The beauty of that is that’s not a secret,” says Kline. “So our fans know that as well. I would say not a day goes by where I don’t interact with a fan or do a call where we don’t get asked about that [naming rights] partnership or honestly about the entire business.
“That deal gets a lot of attention just because of its high-profile nature, but our fans are rooting for us to be successful commercially in every area of the business. They are a huge part of our success on the pitch. And I think the amazing part of the Premier League is the supporters know that. And there’s an immense amount of appreciation for them.
“I think as it relates, that appreciation definitely gets translated through to our sponsors. The awareness is one thing, but the favourability, the trial, the conversion, all those metrics that brands care about, because our fans know that their investment with us directly impacts the product on the pitch, there’s an immense amount of goodwill and good sentiment that comes with that immediately.”
Good morning, @NFLUK. 😍 pic.twitter.com/pvAPd4GpNP— Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (@SpursStadium) October 10, 2021
With those supporters now back in the building, Tottenham’s commercial department will be looking to realise the potential of what now stands as one of the most technologically advanced venues in all of sport. Not only is Spurs’ stadium armed with all the amenities required to keep fans at the stadium for longer periods on matchdays, but the 62,850-seater is also designed to be a true multi-use arena, capable of hosting everything from NFL games to Lady Gaga concerts.
That multifunctionality – and the opportunity it provides to reach multiple audiences – is something that Kline believes is appealing to any potential partner.
“I’ll give you a crazy stat when we talk to brands about the venue,” Kline begins. “If you take all the content that we host – obviously football, NFL, boxing, concerts, rugby – 78 per cent of the world’s population is interested in an event that will be at that stadium. That’s over five billion people. That’s really compelling.
“It’s really compelling to a brand, that’s really compelling for what it means for the regeneration of our neighborhood, it’s really compelling for all of our partners and for what it does to go back to our core mission.”
Servicing an audience
Despite the various challenges that came with Covid-19, Kline believes that it helped accelerate the club’s digital transformation as Spurs tried to maintain engagement with their supporters while they couldn’t attend games.
Some of the learnings from that period will no doubt have been useful while devising a strategy for SpursPlay, a new over-the-top (OTT) streaming platform that will be rolled out this summer. It is estimated that the new service will see the club’s content output soar from 275 hours to 750 hours annually, with the product’s offering set to include everything from live preseason fixtures and women’s games to feature-length documentaries, original series and a deep library of archive footage.
‘It all goes back to giving the fans what they want’ – Tottenham Hotspur CCO @toddlkline on the impact of international players on reaching new fans #THFC #SportsBiz #SPLIVE22 pic.twitter.com/79q58RAKoh— SportsPro (@SportsPro) April 26, 2022
Describing SpursPlay as a “significant investment”, Kline says that the service will be priced “very competitively” but emphasises that fans will “pay less to receive more”.
“It’s pulling together some things we’ve already been doing across other social media platforms, and really investing in non-scripted content,” he adds. “If you look at what’s happened with things like Drive to Survive with Netflix, and all the different All or Nothings that Amazon has done, by bringing your fans closer and giving them a behind-the-scenes look, you really can create a deeper and more sincere connection – and SpursPlay will do that.
“We’re lucky, right? We’re lucky that our fans want content from us. And we’ve looked at it in a way of servicing our core fan with great stories about our legends like Ledley King and Gary Mabbutt, to stories of current players like Lucas Moura, Heung Min Son, to matchday content.
“So I think for us it’s a massive commitment, a mix of agency partners and in-house staff, thinking like a digital business, but more so thinking like a content creation machine to service an audience.
“We’re an audience company, that’s what we think about ourselves as. Our audience may be 62,000 on a gameday, so what’s that experience? But really, what is that experience for the hundreds of millions of fans that we have all over the world, and how do we service that with great content?”
That focus on digital engagement will naturally lead Spurs to the fledgling realm of Web3 and the commercial opportunities in blockchain-based technologies, something which has become an area of exploration for sports properties around the world.
That relationship with our fan is so important. The last thing we’re going to do is make a decision that’s economically driven, that potentially could impact how they view or feel about us.Todd Kline, Chief Commercial Officer, Tottenham Hotspur
A growing number of soccer teams – including several in the Premier League – are rolling out their own non-fungible token (NFT) offerings and some projects, such as the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) Top Shot platform, have proved wildly popular. Others, though, have been criticised for pushing fan tokens on their supporters, with detractors suggesting the digital assets are designed to exploit fan loyalty and could result in individuals losing money if the tokens depreciate in value. There is also caution over the proliferation of cryptocurrency sponsors in sport, given that the sector remains largely unregulated.
At the time of writing, Spurs do not have any projects or partnerships in the space, but Kline suggests the club is developing a better idea of what kind of offering would resonate with its supporters.
“New inventory, new categories, are always going to come forward, right?,” he says. “Five, ten years ago, no one knew what daily fantasy was. And now DraftKings and FanDuel are part of the overall nomenclature of sports.
“To really look at it, you have to break it down into segments. I think we all agree that cryptocurrency will be here for the foreseeable future. I think we all would agree that crypto exchanges will be here. And I think we all would agree that NFTs are things that will be here.
“The fan token has been something that has been debated about widely. As a club, we have decided to be a bit more cautious as it relates to fan tokens, particularly because we put our fans first. Everything we do, every decision we make goes through that lens and that filter of what is best for our fans. So it’s something that we have been a little cautious with.”
Based on its research, Kline hints that the club is primarily focusing on NFTs for the time being.
“When we do a lot of fan surveys, when we talk to our fans, they want on them, they want moments,” he continues. “They want Harry Kane’s great goals, they want Sonny’s record-breaking performances, they want moments from our academy and from our past of our legends. So thinking about it and putting our fans first we think we’re going to be able to eventually really service that need.
“As a club of firsts, this has been one that we have been very careful and cautious with. That relationship with our fan is so important. We’ve been here since 1882. And the last thing we’re going to do is make a decision that’s economically driven, that potentially could impact how they view or feel about us.”
Kline believes there could be an appetite among Spurs fans for NFTs showcasing some of the club’s memorable moments
Controlling the controllables
Kline seldom talks about Tottenham’s men’s team without mentioning their women’s side in the same breath. Spurs have made a conscious effort to grow the profile of their Women’s Super League (WSL) outfit in recent years, bringing globally renowned stars such as Alex Morgan to the club and staging games at the new stadium, which welcomed a then-record 38,262 fans for a north London derby in 2019.
As far as Kline is concerned, the women’s side is fully integrated into the club’s commercial operation – “there’s no difference between the men’s team and the women’s team,” he asserts – and he believes there is “an immense amount of room for growth”.
“What’s happening in the world right now, there are certain trends that aren’t going anywhere,” Kline notes. “Sustainability is not going anywhere. Diversity and inclusion aren’t going anywhere. And the growth of women’s sports, it’s not going anywhere.
“So I think embracing it as a football club is really simple, because the reality is all of our partners and all of our future partners are embracing it as well. It’s on their mission. It’s who they are. It’s in their DNA. And all partnership conversations we have are all including our women’s team. It just didn’t exist for them to include it three years ago.
“Now it does, and now there’s a better place for them to activate, better place for them to host, hospitality, exposure, the social, the digital, the content creation. It’s a huge platform. We’re just starting to scratch the surface of its real value.”
Kline says all of Tottenham’s partnership conversations include the club’s women’s team
All of that is to come. For now, though, all eyes are on the men’s team and their trip to Norwich City on Sunday, when Spurs have the opportunity to secure Uefa Champions League soccer for next season after their rivals Arsenal slipped up against Newcastle on Monday. Qualifying for European soccer’s premier club competition, as opposed to the second-tier Europa League, would no doubt come with its own commercial benefits, bringing in more revenue and adding another layer to Spurs’ conversations with potential partners.
But whatever happens on the pitch, Kline says the focus for him and his team will be to “control the controllables”.
“Now that we’re out of a pandemic, we’re into our new home, we can actually start to really accelerate the growth of all the businesses in which we’ve been able to create,” he states. “I think that’s the exciting part, right? That’s really the short and medium term.
“You will see in the long term some of the master planning around the neighborhood and some other things that will come out and what we’re going to build in and around the campus – again, all designed to support the great facilities and support the investment into the necessary vehicles in which we desire to fund.
“But that’s what we’re about now. We’ve got to deliver, we’ve got to execute, we’ve got to continue to connect with that fanbase globally, and we have to continue to deliver on our promise we’ve made to our community.
“I could work 48 hours a day, seven days a week for the next two years and feel like we’re not making progress. But I think that’s the fun part of what we’re doing and why this has been such a fulfilling first year at the club.”