The urgent need for a drastic ticket rethink

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By John Dewhirst

The recent controversy in respect of the Chelsea and Reading tickets demonstrates the need for a radical rethink of ticketing strategy to avoid the risk of alienating fans. I believe that there are two separate issues to be addressed. The first is with regards to allocating big match tickets. The second is with regards to their purchase.

For as long as we continue to have 10,000+ season tickets there is going to be an issue with regards to the rationing of big match tickets at away games or indeed Valley Parade. How do you ensure a degree of fairness with regards to the distribution of limited tickets?

In my opinion the first claim on tickets should be from committed supporters. The principle of ‘priority tickets’ has been introduced for away games and I believe that this makes sense and rewards those who are prepared to follow the club around the country irrespective of the fixture.

However I also believe it is necessary to recognise longstanding supporters who have remained committed to the club in bad times as well as good. To do this I would encourage the club to consider classifying season ticket holders according to how long they have been repeat purchasers. For example I would suggest that those in the 10 year+ plus category had a priority claim on tickets.

Ownership of a season ticket is an entitlement to a big match ticket at Valley Parade but I can envisage a scenario where to ban multiple ticket purchases by season ticket holders will result in lower gates and become counterproductive.

For example a season ticket holder might choose to bring a friend to a cup game.Even if the non-season ticket holder bought his/her ticket separately there is the issue of how that person can be guaranteed a ticket next to his/her season ticket owning friend. Unlike the old days of standing on a terrace, every ticket is for a dedicated seat and unless the two friends are able to sit together the guest may be uninterested in attending.

The mathematics are that if capacity is 24,000 and the away support is 4,000 there are insufficient seats for season-ticket holders to buy x2 once the number of season ticket holders exceeds 10,000. In respect of the Sunderland match it ‘just worked’, but this appears to have been more by fluke than chance. Again my suggestion is that longstanding season ticket holders should get the first claim on 2x tickets and remaining season ticket-holders be allowed 1x before any remaining go on general sale. Distinction may also be made between regular season ticket holders and flexi-card holders.

An equally pressing issue is that of ticket distribution. The online system is a nightmare and queuing at Valley Parade likewise. The cheap cost of tickets has to be considered in the context of the time cost of queuing or sitting at a keyboard. It is also ludicrous to expect exiles to have to travel to Bradford to buy tickets.

My suggestion is that to reduce the inevitable pressure of people bombarding the online ticket system or snaking around Valley Parade in a queue, the club introduces the option of season ticket holders paying a premium of say £60/75. This would include the cost of any big game tickets at Valley Parade during the course of the season and incorporate the distribution of those tickets.

At the start of the season you pay your premium and the big game tickets are posted to you directly. If there are no big game tickets then so be it. Some seasons you win, others you lose but at least you have peace of mind. The radical bit is that you could pay a double premium to guarantee 2x big game tickets at Valley Parade.

The problem faced by the club is that confidence in the online system is now at rock bottom. This follows the credit card fraud in 2013 of which I was a victim. I believe that the idea of a season ticket premium could make life easier not only for the season ticket holder but the club itself, as well as other fans (by helping to reduce the peak crush on the system). From the club’s perspective it also represents an additional way to generate revenue.

To be absolutely clear however, the premium does not alter the entitlement of any season ticket holders to buy big game tickets, it merely alters the manner in which they are purchased. By effectively paying upfront it saves the hassle of queuing and the angst of obtaining a seat of choice.

The existing ticket allocation system seems arbitrary and the purchase of tickets is ‘not a nice experience’. The club needs a transparent, unambiguous policy that is recognised as equitable. Otherwise we face the unnecessary distraction and wasted emotion that followed the sale of tickets for the Reading game. As supporters I believe that we need to offer our suggestions about how things can be improved.

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Categories: Opinion

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17 replies

  1. Interesting points, although I would argue your season ticket loyalty scheme immediately alienates any fan under the age of 13 and thus also makes it unviable for families, whose parents might have been season ticket holders for longer than 10 years.

    Neither does it account for fans who attend every game/ spend more than the price of a season ticket on admission to the ground, of which there are a small number. Nor does it account for fans based in other parts of the country who travel to away games often.

    For me, the simplest and fairest system would be to run the points scheme on home and away tickets purchased and then sell tickets for big games using points bands. Let’s be sure here, we aren’t talking that many games in reality.

    Eg a season ticket holder would automatically gain 230 points, a flexi card holder 150 for the season. Away games would count for 10 pts each for all fans buying through the club. Home tickets on a match by match basis would be worth 5pts

    A season ticket holder could technically rack up 430 pts per season, a Flexi holder 380, and unlikely as it is, a match-by-match supporter would have to pay for every home/away game to gain 345 points. An exiled fan who attends 10 away games and 5 home games a season would pick up 125pts.

    In the qualifying period, fans would then be able to apply for 2 tickets per person.

    Any suggested scheme is reliant on an online system that is fit for purpose. As you rightly say John, we don’t have this.

  2. Nice one John. This problem is not unique to City and I wouldn’t want City to spend a fortune building some state of the art, bespoke ticketing system. What should happen is the Football League builds a generic customizable ticketing/loyalty system (past history is imported in) which all 72 clubs can use. You’d think the FL would of shown a bit more leadership and built something like this years ago!

    The majority of FL club’s websites all use some common template so its not area they (FL) haven’t touched upon before. So each club pays an annual fee, doesn’t have to worry about buying expense dedicated servers (a reason Mr Lawn said was why the online system was so slow, as access was throttled to prevent meltdown…..).

    It’s not rocket science but pooling resources together and building something which works for all is a no brainier. There are only so many use cases to handle. I’d build it myself if I didn’t have to do the shopping this afternoon.

    • One thing that would make a massive improvement is a system that emailed you when it was your turn to buy a ticket instead of having to keep the site open while you queue. Your token to buy a ticket could last 30 mins or something.

      For your idea, it would work best with a separate queueing server that only passes users to the “store” site only they had a token to access it.

      It would be easy to build a prototype but the big challenge would be migrating legacy data from the different systems that are currently used by all the clubs.

  3. Although the ideas from this article seem ‘ ‘fair’ to the more ‘loyal’ supporter Ive got to say I’m not convinced by how you classify a ‘loyal supporter’.
    Firstly, what makes somebody more loyal to the club that can, have, or could even afford a season ticket for ten years running as opposed to somebody who has budgets which will only stretch to a pay per game/week? There will be many folk in this bracket who will miss out surely. I for one have been going 35 years but only had a ST for the last 4-5 years (as I was involved match match days therefore didn’t warrant a ticket.)
    As for the £60-70 upfront payment for priority tickets – it would also appear that the loyal ‘pay per game’ fans would most probably lose out again. Some good fans can just about muster up the £200 never mind the extra.

    Why we can’t use the loyalty points system ( that appears to be on our current online system already!) is beyond me.
    Myself and a large group of friends (with our children) have been all over the country over last few seasons, as have many others – why should we all struggle for tickets over the next ‘Two Game Tommy?’ – no room for argument then?
    This system works well in the Prem

  4. I really like the idea of paying a premium for a “cups included” season ticket at the start of the season. I would definitely be willing to! It could also qualify you to priority on buying tickets for away and Wembley games in the cups.

  5. Can we please stop the bashing of flexi card holders as it is becoming tiresome! I am a flexi card as I live in Watford and therefore it makes sense as I can’t make Tuesday night games but do do 360 mile round trip when at home on the weekend! Does this make me less committed? No. It is really beginning to annoy me now the amount of times I read of sly little digs at flexi card holders as if they (we) are some sort of second class citizen! I will end up this season probably paying more than a season ticket costs, does that mean I get priority over 99% of season ticket holders? No and neither should I! So stop massaging your own ego and pretending you are better than other fans!

  6. John the re is no easy solution. I have watched City since 1968. In that time for a number of reasons I have not always been a season ticket holder only recently I have taken up a season ticket by your criteria I might not get priority for a big match ticket.There are people who go to every away game and they are likely to be ST holders ,there are people who go to every home game and they are likely to be ST holders,there are people who go to every other home and away game and they could be Flexicard holders.
    In total there are 10,000 ST and Flexicard holders why can’t their seat be ring fenced for the occasional big game and if that ticket holder has not confirmed their seat for the big game by a set period then it can go on general sale.For those whose seat is in the Midland Rd then they can be allocated a seat elsewhere in the ground and that to can be ring fenced and then put on general sale if not taken up
    This way every season ticket holder gets a seat if they want it and it can be done without much change to the ticketing system
    By all means pay a premium . My son and I paid a premium to sit in the Corporate seats and to have use of the Suites in the main stand but after the last ticketing fiasco we could not get on line
    So we had to queue last Monday morning for a seat in the NW corner but at least We have a seat
    My suggestion would ensure that every ST and Flexicard holder would have a seat for a big game as I understand it that’s what the big clubs do

    • John, I agree there is no obvious solution. We all know that the tickets need to be allocated to committed supporters and yes, to a younger generation of supporters – the 1976 cup run for example encouraged new interest in the club without which gates would have collapsed. That cup run arguably saved the club in the same way that this cup run could be a fantastic springboard to future success. The real frustration here is in respect of the parasites who have taken advantage of the situation to purchase and then distribute tickets according to their private criteria and personal greed. The issue needs addressing ahead of a potential repeat crisis and I think that this sort of debate is needed to allow different perspectives to be taken into account.

      • PARASITES!!

        I think perhaps Mr Dewhirst is getting a bit above himself

      • Out of interest Steve, what word would you use to describe the individuals who have reportedly bought a load of tickets to flog to touts at the expense of regular fans? Not sure about getting a bit above myself but it’s not behaviour I would condone.

        What constructive suggestions do you have to contribute to the debate?

      • John I agree with you parasite is an appropriate word to describe those who have bought multiple tickets at the expense of fellow season ticket holders in an attempt to profit
        And I don’t think you are getting above yourself to describe them as such

  7. What was wrong with the old system of 2 per ST? Don’t we have enough seats to make this work for the amount of STs we have?

    I know a lot of people like choosing their own seats, but I think the bit that worked well about the Sunderland policy was that the computer selected them so there weren’t loads of empty seats left. When I logged on on the Sunday there were loads of individual seats dotted about – hard for those with young children like myself.

  8. The problem lies with moving the season ticket holders from the midland road stand. The easy option for the big games would be to allocate them two blocks in the upper tier of the main stand which are comparable seats and views to their usual seats,

    Every season ticket holders should get 2 days purchase their own seats before going on general sale. You should never have a situation where season ticket holders are unable to purchase tickets for big cup games. Or have year in year out season ticket holders that are giving up their seats for inferior seats in the ground to fairweather fans that have bought block tickets from current season ticket holders. That’s the whole point of been a season ticket holder.

    Given that 15 per cent of tickets have to be given to the away fans having them housed in one part of the ground namely the Midland Road saves having away supporters in 2 parts of the ground and makes good sense.

    The moving of season ticket holders from the Midland Road stand has happend 5 times in the last 10 years Villla, Arsenal Leeds, Sunderland, Nottingham Forest and 6 times with the visit of Reading on the 7th March.

    Given the lack success of the club prior to the last 3 years and the small amount fans visiting Valley Parade at the lowest level of the football league there has only been 1 occasion when the season ticket holders were moved and that was against Forest in 2007.

    In the long term the best option will be to redevelop the Bradford End to accommodate five thousand visiting supporters and given the progress of the club in the last 3 years an increased number of visiting away supporters to Vallley Parade of 4 thousand plus may just become the norm.

    • I sit in the Midland Road. Why should I be told where I have to sit when being ejected from my usual seat? I have the right to chose where I wish to sit. It’s been very exciting going in different areas when having to move.

      I do not get these people who have to sit in “their” seat. It shows you don’t really understand the season ticket system. Let me explain it for you.

      In exchange for a relatively modest amount of money you rent a plastic seat in one location from a man who owns a theme park. This is for 23 league games. The rest of the time it belongs to a ginger haired man with a penchant for pink, long legged birds.

      It’s that simple.

  9. Whilst I agree that all season ticket holders should be able to get their hands on the first available tickets, I don’t really understand why season ticket holders get entitled to more than one ticket per cup game. The people you normally ‘go with’ are ordinarily sat next to you as season ticket holders, so can get ‘their’ seat also. If you give them entitlement to more than one seat immediately, of course they’re going to get at the very least two seats purchased and deal with the ‘who’s going issue’ as it comes up; people who by definition are not regulars. It’s quite a high-risk strategy from the club to pick these people who ‘may come again’ over people who already have flexicards or others who don’t know anyone with season ticket (admittedly including myself living a long way away for the last 20 years). I guess the club don’t care as they’ve sold the seat, even if it ends up empty.

    Though in the long term, this alienates people who live far away, who then stop going to the additional effort of going to numerous ‘small’ games as they know they’ll never be able to get a ‘big’ game ticket, as well as flexicard holders (who don’t bother renewing their tickets for the same reason) and even some season ticket holders who’ve been to every game for the last thirty years.

    In order to be ‘fair’ (rather than commercially astute, which is I guess what the club are doing, abeit for the immediate, not long-term future), the only real way of doing it is having a few days, maybe a week, where you can buy only your season ticket seat (or multiple tickets if you bring all the season tickets along), then flexicard holders can buy a single ticket for a few days, then everything else goes on general sale after that. If you want to bring a friend along, then you wait for the general sale like everyone else; go to the ticket office and swap your seats for two together whilst you’re buying if you must. Admittedly the online purchasing bit needs this sort of capability, but it’s not like it doesn’t need a massive upgrade anyway.

    If you really want two tickets next to each other for a cup game then you buy two season tickets at the beginning of the season.

    A big part of the ‘additional’ budget for the current and next seasons is determined by non-season ticket-holding fans paying on the gate, so it’s probably best not to make them think it’s not worth the effort anymore.

  10. I have to have a little giggle during these sorts of debates. I am what everyone describes as a ‘plastic fan’. Although I saw a game or two in circa 1982 I only really caught the City bug in the 1984 / 1985 season which was, as we know, the most successful post war season up until that point. It was a love affair that almost cost me my life.

    Since then I’ve been with the club through thick and thin attending many games both with and without a season ticket. If you were to map my attendance over the those 30 years you’d find that it was inversely proportional to league position. I have some sort of perverted loyalty that dictates when the club are doing well – they don’t need me. However we all know that plastic doesn’t degrade so once a plastic – always a plastic.

    I wasn’t at Chelsea, Sunderland and wont be at Reading despite being a season ticket holder. The last ‘big games’ I was at was Villa Away and the two Wembley appearances but to be honest when I think back to 2012 / 2013 I enjoyed Torquay away more than those games.

    I’ll follow the big match on the radio and will think about the ‘plastic’ teenager who will be sat in my seat and will be beginning a 30 journey with the club which will include soaring highs and desperate lows. He’ll see parts of the country that he never knew existed and witness how football can bring out the very best, and very worst in people.

    I don’t know whether to envy him or pity him!

    Not sure how this adds to the ticketing debate but if you can’t get a ticket for what ever reason do what I do and bet the ticket price on a City win. I did very nicely out of it following the Chelsea result!

  11. Why not just keep it simple ?. Each F/C or S/T holder can buy 2 tickets each for the big home games. That will always leave an option for tickets to go on general sale after a period of time, where if necessary those members can buy extra.
    Everyone would be treated fairly and everyone would know that they didn’t need to get on 1st to the website and cause the system to crash.
    For the big away games, we already have a priority pass scheme set up. It costs £10 to join. Hardly breaks the bank does it ? I see it my donation to PPs squad fund and a peace of mind policy just in case. These should be on a ratio of 1 ticket per person.

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