By Mahesh Johal
The process in which tickets were sold for Saturday’s prized game with Chelsea has come under much scrutiny over the last few days. Whilst many understand that this is a classic case of demand outweighing supply, some feel that process in which tickets were sold was flawed. Others will think differently.
The purpose of the article is to analyse the way tickets were distributed. With the first hand experiences of those who were fortunate, and those who weren’t, Width of a Post aims to paint a picture of the three days of ticket sales.
What was the buying process?
Below is a table of my interpretation of the club’s proposed buying process for the Chelsea game. If readers disagree, I guess it shows an immediate flaw that the process was too complicated…
Who can buy
|When can they buy||Where||How many||Further information|
|15-16th Jan (deadline 17:00)||Online only||
Pick ticket up on 20 January from Valley Parade
Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub
|17-18 January||Ticket office||1 per Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub|
Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub
|Online||1 per Away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall stub||Supporters that bought multiple tickets online, phone or in person using only one season ticket should email pictures of away priority, Season, Flexi card + Millwall ticket stub. Club to call to confirm transaction.|
|Season, Flexi card||19 January||Online & Ticket office||
1 per person Season, Flexi card
|Millwall stub||20 January||Ticket office||
1 per Millwall stub
Arguments have raged around the topic for nearly a week. Should flexi cards hold the same weight as a season ticket? Why was the priority card introduced? Was it fair that the 400 odd souls that made their way on the longest away day of the year missed out on the opportunity to buy tickets for the prized away day of the season? (Something that was belated rectified on Wednesday, with additional tickets made available to these fans.)
There have been many (probably too many to comment in one article) issues which people feel flawed the Chelsea ticket process. Some of the questions have been addressed in the club’s Q&A with Simon Parker, other question still remain unanswered.
In no particular order, here are some of the key issues and discussion points which came out of our interviews.
The Millwall stub and multiple tickets online…
Before analysing the above table, a quick reminder is needed about the process for the third round replay against Millwall. On the 7 January, fans were first informed that season and flexi card holders who purchased replay tickets would get a priority on buying tickets for the potential clash with Chelsea (for the purpose of the article, the 7 January announcement will be referred to as Millwall stub). For some fans, here is where the first major problem lies.
A season ticket holder for over 40 years, Pete Leskovac attended the replay with a group of 10 friends and family. The group’s tickets were purchased by Pete’s friend, and were all bought online under one person’s account. Whilst Pete went to the Millwall game, there is no record on his account that a ticket had been purchased. Instead it appeared that Pete’s friend had bought ten for himself. This proved extremely problematic when it came to buying Chelsea tickets.
Pete and his colleagues found themselves in the tricky position trying to buy tickets online whilst also sending the club an email with pictures of season tickets and Millwall stubs. As Pete described, “the stub and the email added another layer of complexity to the process”.
It should be noted that this added a layer of complexity was for both the fans and the club. From the fan point of view, it was an arduous process of collecting stubs from friends and family, taking images and sending them across to the club. For the ticket office staff, they now had a very time consuming manual job to perform. With the added pressure of selling tickets for the biggest game of the season, you can’t help but feel sorry for whoever had that responsibility.
Reading comments on social media, this seemed to be a reoccurring problem for many people who wanted to buy multiple tickets. I can’t help but feel for those fans and ticket office staff. Due to the process, everyone was fighting a losing battle from the start. To add to everyone’s problems, Pete explained how fans (understandably impatient and anxious) were ringing to enquire if there emails had been verified. As Pete rightly said, it seems the fundamental “lines of communication between the club and fans were lost”.
Talking to other fans, they feel the club could have stressed the correct procedure for buying multiple tickets for the Millwall game in order to avoid the manual verification method. The procedure being; each individual replay ticket should be linked to the individual’s customer account who attended to the game.
Arguments can be made that the club were “under resourced and not ready” for Saturday’s ticket sales. Those assumptions maybe correct, with the club saying on Tuesday that they were been unable to reply to all emails due to the pure volume of messages. However, I find it hard to criticise the staff. Again I look at the process and the manual verification as the major flaw here.
Club ticketing system
If the manual verification was unavoidable, were the problems in this ticket process due to the club’s ticket system? For Pete, the answer was yes. The club stated that introduction of the manual verification “was due the system being unable to reconcile multiple ticket purchases to each individual”. In his eyes, it was preposterous that the club would implement a ticket process, but have a ticket system that could not back it up. It’s here where a major flaw lies. Whilst the majority of the ticket process works, one aspect doesn’t due to the system.
For some, previous bad experiences with the system played on their minds. 26-year-old Andy Dresser decided to queue for his three tickets. Whilst I will talk about his experience later, it was intriguing to understand that he “did not trust the ticket system to cope with demand”. Andy described the “bad experiences he had in 2013, and when trying to purchase Leeds tickets for this season League Cup game”. I doubt he is alone in this fear and would presume it was a big reason why so many people queued on the Friday and Saturday.
Interestingly, my own experience buying online was actually quite easy. Admittedly I was only buying one ticket and had an away priority card to boot. I was able to purchase my ticket online on 16 January without the brunt of the user traffic. However, my experience was easier and less stressful than those I had in 2013. With this in mind, an argument could be made that the system is okay, but is it mature enough to cope with more complex transactions?
Both Pete and Andy rightly discussed the club’s hopes of progressing to the Championship. With a vast array of big away games, these problems will be happening more regularly. With this in mind, the pair stressed that the club needed a system to cope.
One of the biggest criticisms the club has faced is its dealing with the queue. In freezing conditions thousands of fans lined the outskirts of the stadium in the hope of getting a ticket. For those who got there early enough, they were lucky to get a ticket. For others, they faced the artic conditions without the knowledge that they would not be getting a ticket. Andy echoed Pete’s sentiment about the club’s lack of organisation and communication, and feels it’s a major reason for discontent.
Andy pitched up to the ground at 4:30 in the morning. Even at this time, over 400 fans had begun to queue. He described the morning as an “endurance exercise”, with fans waiting sodden, cold and wet outside the ground. It was only until 06:30 that stewards were on hand to help organise the queue. Even then it still took time to get fans into the “warmth” of the main stand concourse.
The club have said that they had opened all the facilities available to them, but should more have been done to make this painful experience more bearable? As one fan said to me, could provisions not have been made to make some tea for fans? It should be noted that the fans at City are treated very well and the club rightfully deserve credit. The season ticket pricing is an example of this. However, in this instance it seems as if the club was underprepared and have not thought of fans’ wellbeing.
This isn’t the first time Andy has lined up for tickets. He was one of the thousand or so who queued for Burton Albion play off tickets. When comparing the two experiences, this was far worse. Andy described that for the Burton queue fans were given a “raffle” type ticket with a “match ticket number”. Whilst it was tough experience waiting for your ticket, he said that it was bearable in the knowledge that they would be getting a ticket. This time round the communication was “non-existent”.
I think it’s the latter point which has upset so many. How could the club allow fans to queue for several hours even though it was apparent they would not be getting a ticket? Again the supply and demand argument comes into play, but surely the club could have saved some fans the hassle and the time?
What can the club learn from this?
The most difficult conversations surrounding this ticket sale is the question of, “which fans are deserving of a trip like Saturdays”. What makes me more deserving than you; what make you more deserving than them? There are some who, like Pete, who have been through the mire with this club and will be unable to go to Stamford Bridge. As Jason poignantly suggests, every fan has a right to be there on Saturday. He mentions the difficulty in quantifying supporters’ level and dedication, but can a method be implemented?
Much discussion on social media has revolved around the idea of a loyalty ticket system. In its crudest terms it means the more games you attend, the more loyalty points you get, the higher the priority you get for big games like this.
Pete used examples of Premier League clubs like Crystal Palace using a similar method. Admittedly some won’t see this as fair system. Some fans, like my cousin, were regular season ticket holders in the 90s. But as his career and family life has progressed his attendance at Valley Parade is less frequent. Does this make him a less committed and dedicated fan? I would argue it doesn’t, but a system like Palace’s would inevitably marginalise fans in his predicament.
Maybe the club should adopt Andy’s suggestion of a lottery system similar to the one Dortmund used for their Champions League Final in 2013. Either way, it’s easy to see how the club have struggled to keep everyone happy.
One thing is for sure. The club need to improve its lines of communications with fans over matters like this. The messages have to be simple and to the point. The process in which tickets are sold have to be of a similar vein. As this episode has proved, the more complex the process, the more people will struggle.
As someone who was fortunate enough to get a ticket, I feel for those who won’t be my side. I look to situations likes Pete and countless others and feel very fortunate. This game should be a uniting factor for our fan base. Instead it appears to be splitting it.
Let’s just hope that, by 17.30 on Saturday, the team has put in a performance that unites all of us.
And, in case a miracle does happen and City force a replay, let’s hope the club are already considering how to make sure ticket sales go much smoother.