Ten days ago the Football Supporters Federation, the country’s largest representative organisation for football fans, published the results of a nationwide survey of club charters, documents that set out standards of customer service. Clubs were graded according to a number of criteria, including accessibility, timeliness, quality, complaints procedure and contact details. Sitting proudly on top of the table are the mighty Tottenham Hotspur, scoring an impressive 31 points out of a possible 35 and fully 8 points clear of our nearest rivals, Arsenal. Where’s your St Totteringham’s Day now, huh?
Try telling that to anyone who went for Real Madrid tickets yesterday morning. The charter is on the web, if you have the time and inclination to work out where anything is on that messy and counter-intuitive official site. It’s glossy, carefully constructed in well-modulated, easy to read language and about as useful as Aaron Lennon in the air, because in reality Spurs treat fans with withering contempt.
Madrid was always going to be busy and frustrating because demand massively outweighs supply. The boards and sites were bulging with tales of joy and despair as the infamous online site maroon bar tantalisingly stuttered from left to right along the screen. As ever the abundant ingenuity of fans reached new heights of creativity. Entire offices mobilised online and on the phone in pursuit of a single ticket. Different, non-premium rate telephone numbers. One person I know queued for 12 hours at the ticket to be successful.
We all understand this. Until we have a bigger stadium, sadly many fans will be disappointed for the big games. However, what truly infuriates is the manner in which the club handles these moments. The disappointment is bearable, a sense of being kept in the dark and of the club not caring is not, especially when some problems are entirely avoidable.
Yesterday I logged on to the system at 12.10 on behalf of my son who wanted to register for a Chelsea away ticket – applications closed at 5pm and he wasn’t near a computer. On the home page of the official site there was no direct link to Madrid home tickets. Plenty of knockabout hilarious banter between JD and Bale over today’s international or the breaking news -hold tight to something solid – that Crouch was looking forward to that game. Nothing about the single most important thing that any fan wants to know about their club – match tickets.
I went onto the online ticket section to be greeted with the usual message about waiting a queue, don’t refresh you putz or you’ll lose your place. Nothing happened. About 20 minutes later a sliver of maroon appeared which steadfastly refused to budge for another half an hour. By 1.20 I was about an eighth of the way along, an hour later not much further.
This could only be due to one thing – people still believed they were in with a chance of Madrid tickets. Yet a messageboard post at 10.53 stated tickets had sold out. On the ‘forthcoming matches’ page Madrid was listed as sold out but you would not access this page if you clicked on ‘buy tickets’ and were taken straight into the system. Just after 2 I had another go on a different browser. This time, a message came up saying the tickets had gone but people who logged on hours earlier had no way of knowing this – “don’t refresh” and still nothing on the home page of the main site.
About 2.30 I suddenly shot across to 75%, then was unceremoniously booted off just gone 3. My son called the box office who confirmed my suspicions – so many supporters had by this time been left hanging in the wind for at least 4 hours since tickets had ceased to be available. The club said they were intending to clear the system and start again.
This doesn’t affect me personally as I’m fortunate enough to have a season ticket. My original standing season ticket lapsed in the late 80s when my children were young and family life was busy. As they grew older, we started going regularly to matches and bought season tickets in 1999 (no waiting list back then) because of the increasing problems of getting members tickets for important matches. Even if we couldn’t go to every game, it was still worth it. Yet yesterday makes my blood boil because better communication and a better system could have prevented the frustration and anguish of my fellow fans. It’s made all the more insulting because of the mealy mouthed empty platitudes of the Charter written by club mandarins who keep themselves as far away from the unwashed public as they possibly can. Here’s a bloody charter for you from this fan.
Tell people what’s going on. We are old enough and ugly enough to handle bad news. What we don’t like is being the mushrooms under the crap, kept in the dark. Have clear, updated ticket information on the club home page. If I could do that in 30 seconds on my pony blog, then that’s easy for you too. Use the £3.70 admin fee you charged for the costs of the electric pulse that uploaded my ticket purchase onto my season ticket card, there’s probably about £3.699999 left over.
If tickets have sold out, clear the system and replace it with an up to date message. If the start time for tickets is 9.30, don’t allow people on the system before then, thus avoiding the myths circulating about when you can and can’t log on in the mornings.
The loyalty points system is not perfect but it’s the best we have and by far the fairest way of selling tickets. Use it for games like this. Publicise a number in advance, you can’t apply for a ticket unless you have, say, 200 points. Once you meet that threshold, it’s first come first served. Not perfect as I say, but better that what happens now.
I know nothing about the logistics of ticketing but these measures are straightforward. Perish the thought that any of this might cost the club money…
In my experience the individuals at the club ticket office, including the manager, are very helpful. When Paul Barber was at the club, he used to reply to genuine concerns and enquiries personally, via his Blackberry sometimes. The current system is better than in the old days. My first game at Spurs was against Sheffield United in 1967. As it was the final home game before the Cup Final, ballot cards were distributed at the turnstiles, so I could have obtained a Final ticket on the basis of attending precisely a single game. However, the system could so easily be improved. As for the Charter, not worth the glossy paper it’s written on and the FSF, noble though they are, would be better off surveying the actual experiences of fans with clubs who depend to a large extend on taking our money. About time they put some effort into treating us better.