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Liverpool and the conundrum of ticketing

How do you solve a problem like the Liverpool ticketing one? That is a very big debate that circles around every single time there is a bulk sale or a sale for a big cup game, the same questions get asked, the same debates ignite. The popularity of Liverpool FC is at an all time high where demand completely outnumbers supply. It is a stark contrast to 8 years ago when under the regime of Hicks and Gillett, Rafael Benitez had been replaced by Roy Hodgson and the summer transfer market saw underwhelming additions in Milan Jovanovic, Paul Konchesky and Christian Poulsen. The most fevered of supporters needed to garner extra motivation as the forecast for the season didn’t scream as one that would lead to success. The attendance figures for the campaign, especially as you edged nearer to the Christmas period told their own story although a staggering attendance of just 22,000 for the league cup defeat to Northampton showed supporters enthusiasm or belief that we could go far in the competition. Just over 39,000 supporters saw the Reds beat Aston Villa 3-0. 2,000 less witnessed the final Europa League group game, a dull 0-0 against Utrecht. This was a fanbase that had seen defeats at Anfield to Blackpool as well as a rare defeat in the Merseyside Derby and as for away games, the ladder had never had a better chance to jump on with many people I know seizing their opportunity to get on the away ladder at the lowest ebb for the club as administration became a close reality.

Fast forward to the 2013/14 season and the frustrations and anger that bubbled from loyal supporters who risked missing out on seeing Liverpool lifting the league title for the 1st time since 1990 as the final day match scheduled for Newcastle United allowed supporters who had never been to a game in the same sale as those who had been going for many years. A number of those tickets were seen on resale sites for eye watering prices. The club did address this by ensuring loyalty would be required for the final match of a season from the 14/15 season onwards.

Now to the present day where supporters circumstances vary from those wishing to see all the matches, to those able to see 1 or 2 but the system cannot please everybody. If we start with home matches, those who have been to all 19 homes for many a season still battle it out for the promoted teams with supporters who may never have been to a game before. Since axing the general sale, there is a premium attached which is the membership scheme which allows non-season ticket holders access to tickets which means that Liverpool will probably not change this approach unless there are sweeping changes elsewhere, both within the club and in the wider sale of tickets at least amongst the top sides in the country.

System upgrades, system changes.. words constantly banded about by the club in years gone by all with one aim to improve the supporter experience when buying their tickets however, even 5 years after I first encountered my basket being emptied as I proceeded to checkout for tickets to the final match of Jamie Carragher’s Liverpool career, I still hear of this issue affecting supporters. Of error messages either saying they can’t buy or saying they have matches registered to their account which clearly they don’t as personal experience when trying to obtain auto cup seats in 2016 and 2017. It was once again proven this Thursday, the servers crash due to significant demand, something which could be expected when so many people are fighting for a handful of tickets in proportion but surely the numbers are minute in comparison to other event sites. You can’t even play the numbers game at the minute to decide if it’s worth trying because I can’t even remember ever seeing a figure revealing how many memberships had been bought, just countless adverts with 1 key message.. buy membership and get tickets. Since the 1st half of the 2016/17 season, I do not recall seeing a breakdown of the ticket allocations. If Liverpool were open and transparent some of the angst may fade away.

There are so many solutions offered, some constructive, others unrealistic but how do you strike a new balance where you do not end up with Anfield being a closed shop and stopping the next generation of supporters getting tickets or stopping those fans where circumstances do not allow for them to attend more than say 1 match a year. The Away ladder has been closed for so long and as for the season ticket waiting list, I don’t actually know if I will see the day it reopens. What is it about our club that seems to cause so much confusion when it comes to tickets?

There is a fear factor descending from all of this, stemming from the difficulties supports face accessing Liverpool tickets that leads to people effectively credit hunting where they will find a way to ensure they can buy all the tickets with the knowledge that for some of them, they will sell them on at face value to their friends because they know that if they fall under the threshold, whether it be for the bulk home sales or an away game in the league or cup, they won’t know when or even if they will be able to get their hands on those sort of tickets again restricting other supporters climbing on ticketing ladders or building loyalty. Much worse is that you get the touts who always seem to end up getting the tickets and never seem to get the issues experienced by those loyal supporters who then proceed to charge money that is eye watering. It is easy to identify the people abusing the system in this way even with a casual search of social media however  I always say if you can afford to pay a tout and are desperate to watch Liverpool then go down the hospitality route, at least the money is going back into the club.

If Liverpool were to reward the efforts of members with all 19 previous matches by allowing them to get first dibs on all 19 for the next season, it would be a positive move and if that’s impractical find some way to reward them. The idea of guaranteeing 19 for 19 is simple and again there’s been no official numbers released by the club to show how many are in that club however it would pretty soon lead to a negative knock on effect further down the ladder, the thresholds of 13 or 14 games would be nearer 17 and realistically could within a couple of seasons be a closed shop for the league matches and stop the supporters who may only get to a single game a season. Other clubs have differing approaches from various tiers of membership to a loyalty points system which varies dependent on the opposition and competition. Now you have to think, which of these would be most appealing… the old PTS system was capped and generally had a 1 in 2 success rate for matches.

Different tiers of memberships, each with different rewards and access to tickets seems the direction the club is headed in and there will be winners and losers in each situation. The club have gone from marketing a fan card that will be the only card you need with a one off fee to now charging £26.99 to even have a shot at getting a ticket or slightly more and get a book and box. There are supporters who literally put a sweat in either twice a year in the bulk sales or in every one of the late availability sales by balancing finances, work and personal time to try and get a ticket somewhere in the ground, yet there are others who almost expect tickets to be put into their lap in their specific stand, row and seat by doing nothing more than handing money over.

The proposed redevelopment of Anfield Road, an amnesty on Season Tickets and the recently announced tout targeting by the club may solve part of the issue but with a system that crashes with a tiny bit of demand, the infrastructure surely needs to be revisited. For sales where there is a selling criteria, the ability to log in first so only those genuinely able to buy tickets can buy them, reducing queues and demand on the system as well as frustrations when the best specs are holed up in somebodys basket who does not qualify and has no intention of completing the sale. Sale dates, sale times are always a hot source of debate especially with the usual sale times being when people are commuting to work or are in work. I personally would like to see the end to the bulk sales because I have heard of a number of people who have ended up in positions of debt, all in the name of securing a seat and retaining their loyalty. Go back to sales in the weeks before the games once the kick off times have been finalised by the television companies or sell them in monthly blocks. Have a number of tickets available for each sale with a guarantee for those attending 75%, a good chance for those attending 50% and in effect a ballot entry for those with little to no previous attendance. That would be clear and everybody would know where they stand.

Away games is a tough one because in the days when Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan were regular opponents, if you wanted to go to an away game these were the ones where you would pretty much be guaranteed but as these sides dropped out of the league, other allocations shrunk and the cap came in on away prices, it is harder than ever to get an away ticket unless you happen to have a good friend who can help you out with a ticket for face value but then again the touts also scavenge this market and charge eye watering prices for a ticket where face value is just £30. I can’t recall the last away league game that dropped to all members.

I would be very interested to hear of your own experiences with the system and your own solutions so either comment below or contact me directly on twitter on @kopitesaint91

Matthew Purchase

 @kopitesaint91

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