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.