BCFC: The Away Ticket Problem

Wednesday morning can’t have been a nice morning for Blues CEO Garry Cook to open his inbox, judging by the anger of several Blues fans online on Tuesday night. Small allocations and local derbies can quickly equal issues for those wanting away tickets, and the upcoming game against West Bromwich Albion is no exception.

Main Stand St Andrews

Blues were given an allocation of 2,009 tickets for the game against the Baggies on February 3.

These tickets were to go on sale to Platinum and Gold members online that night at 5pm, with the ticket office and phone sales opening at 9am the next morning.

Three hours later it was officially announced on Twitter all the tickets had gone, although there had been sold out signs shown intermittently on the Blues ticketing website during the previous three hours.

Ominously, the tweet also confirmed that Platinum members who had not got a ticket needed to email the ticket office.

While it’s expected for tickets to a match like this to sell out quickly, the fact that some of most loyal of the away fans had not been able to get a ticket quickly caused online fury and I can only imagine how difficult Wednesday was at St Andrew’s.

I’m hopeful that those who have missed out may have been sorted out, but I think there are lessons to learn from this and with this in mind I’ve put this article together.


The Problem

As with any issue, the first thing we should do is understand what the problem is to try and see where things have gone wrong and what can be done better.

As is often the case with popular tickets, the simplest version of the problem is one of supply and demand.

The supply of tickets was in this case lower than it maybe could have been and the demand was even higher than usual.

I’ll freely admit I don’t get to that many away games – although my record of two wins in two games this season suggests I should make more of an effort to do so.

I understand as a season ticket holder with no away priority that there will be games I just can’t get to; many games are sold out before they get to my priority.

However, I think fans in the Platinum tier have a right to expect that they will get tickets.

They’re the ones who go to every single game up and down the country and their loyalty should be rewarded. Even with a low supply of tickets there is no way they should miss out.

It’s for this reason there is a separation between the Platinum and Gold tiers; on the odd occasion where the supply is really low then the priority has to go to those who have the highest tier membership.

Having tickets on sale to both tiers at the same time was only ever going to cause issues, and I can’t understand why that happened.

However, this wasn’t the only problem that the club faced when selling this allocation.

I’ve never seen it discussed by the club, but it’s fairly widely known that tickets are sold to commercial partners before they go on sale to the away fans.

These commercial partners include sponsors and box holders and as part of their contract with the club they have access to a certain number of away tickets.

It’s not an arrangement that is exclusive to Blues either; as I understand it many other clubs operate in the same way.

The argument is simple: commercial partners put in a lot of money into the club and therefore are due a perk as part of that deal.

For most games I suspect it’s not an issue because either the demand for those away tickets isn’t there or the supply can easily cover it.

However, for a local derby like the game against WBA, both demand and supply cause an increasing constriction on ticket sales, leading to problems like we saw on Tuesday evening.

On the surface, with these causes in mind it seems a simple problem to fix.

However, there are also deeper lying issues.


Issues under the surface

Having thought about this a lot, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are some interesting deeper thoughts to consider.

One of the first things I realised was that at the Open House session I attended, the club didn’t really go into detail about the ticket office.

I think that the controversy around the cost of home tickets might have caused the club to back off from that a bit; away tickets hadn’t even come up in the conversations I’d seen.

Yet it’s become clear to me that the ticket office clearly needs time and investment as much as any other part of the club.

I’ve seen too many people complain about trying to get through to the ticket office on the phone to know that can be an issue.

It also seems clear from the people annoyed on social media by the ticketing website that online sales aren’t precisely “world class” either.

From a strictly economic point of view, I can understand why there might be no appetite in improving how away tickets are sold.

Realistically, outside of cup games where gate revenues are shared Blues make nothing from away tickets despite having to go through a fair bit of hassle to sell them.

If you’re looking at the club from an accountancy point of view, it seems obvious to improve the things that bring in money first before things that don’t – especially when the club is trying to do all it can to improve its situation under the Profit and Sustainability rules.

And yet, for many fans the ticket office is one of the main touchpoints they have with the club. If the ticket office doesn’t have the best software or the best training for its employees, then how can it move forward with the club?

The other thing that strikes me in all this is the lack of transparency.

I’m sure a lot of fans understand why commercial partners have first dibs on away tickets and why that might constrain supply for the more popular games.

However, what I think galls people is the opaqueness of the process.

If we know that there are precisely 2,009 tickets available, why can’t we be told how many people are in each tier?

More pertinently, why is the club so opaque about tickets going to commercial partners?

This lack of information fosters distrust and rumours about the ticket office staff, which is not helpful to anyone.

The lack of supply of away tickets has also been exacerbated by Blues receiving smaller allocations from teams.

I think clubs coming to St Andrew’s have been purposely given smaller allocations than they have in the past and I believe that policy is now coming back to bite us on the arse as those clubs reciprocate that treatment.

The trick here is to learn from these mistakes and make improvements for the future.


Solutions?

For me, there are a few things that the club needs to do to help ensure a situation like this doesn’t occur again.

The first is the easiest: if it’s obvious supply is going to be constrained, then make sure that the top tier gets access to tickets by itself first.

Secondly, I think there needs to be bit of transparency.

We know when tickets are going on sale to the various tiers, and some fans can make an educated guess as to how far down the priority list away tickets are going to get.

I think it wouldn’t hurt to let people know at least roughly how many are in each tier, so people have a better understanding of how likely it is going to be to get a ticket.

It would also be helpful of the club to confirm in some way that commercial partners are getting tickets although I suspect that the club are unlikely to say how many.

While some might gripe at that information, I think we have to accept that it’s the way it is and that some away tickets at least will be going to commercial partners who spend a lot of money with the club.

Most importantly for me, it seems evident that the ticket office needs investment.

I’ve been impressed with the money put into the infrastructure of the club already – surely it’s time to sort out ticketing and customer relationship management software?

And while it’s true that away tickets don’t contribute to the club in a strict financial sense, I am of the belief that improving the way the club deals with them will go down well with the true hardcore support within the club.

It is a loss leader, but keeping that hardcore on side will only benefit the powers that be, especially when things aren’t going quite right.


I must stress that I know these ideas and opinions are mine and mine only, and that I don’t speak for anyone else.

What I hope is that I can help improve the conversations around the topic – and with the new supporter meetings coming up this month and next month the club might consider it a topic to bring into discussion.

I fully support the idea of making Blues world class in everything the club does; this is just another link in the chain of making that happen.