I had a meeting on Friday with a senior official in the Ticket Office to discuss the away ticket distribution. I would stress that I was there to discuss my own concerns, particularly as it wasn’t clear to me what was meant by “further discussion with fan groups” in the Forres email and in my opinion only balloting for Forres tickets amongst “season ticket holders who have previously purchased an away ticket this season” was unfair to those who had not had been unsuccessful in previous ballots e.g. Annan or on the telephone lines e.g. Peterhead. It is also worth noting in this respect that the vast majority of fans are not members of any affiliated supporters association; in fact the Assembly, with whom the Ticket Office have discussed these issues, only speaks for a small minority of season ticket holders.
For those, if any, who do not know how the system worked in the past; for SPL games one had to apply at the beginning of the season and you were then allocated say 5 or 6 games on a supposedly random basis (although it was done in blocks). Most times you would get a ticket for places like Kilmarnock, Dundee Utd and Dunfermline and usually one Celtic per season but Aberdeen and Hearts, for example were difficult to come by. Going back a few years you were not allowed to reject any of these tickets or you would lose them all; but in recent seasons you were allowed to reject up to two and still remain in the scheme. If you were on the Continuous Credit Card Scheme (CCCS) you paid a £1 booking fee per ticket. Because of a dispute over charges some clubs such as Hearts and Hibs opted to sell the tickets direct to Rangers fans.
This season, the allocations for the typically small SFL3 grounds have been much less than we have been used to in the SPL, which has posed the Ticket Office a major dilemma in trying to find a fair method of distribution of say 1,000 - 2,000 tickets when there are 10,000 people signed up for non-SFL home games.
They started by using a call centre but in the case of Peterhead for example this meant that (as happened to me) you might be waiting in the queue, with no way of knowing if or when you would ever get through, for an hour or more at 10p per minute, only to find out when your call was eventually answered, that the tickets had been sold out in 20 minutes. A bit like voting for someone on one of these terrible talent shows after the result has already been decided. It did work better for Berwick apparently, when most everyone who wanted a ticket was able to buy one.
I have asked that a message be put on the system when tickets are sold out; so that fans are not hanging on the phone lines for no purpose.
However, with the even smaller allocation for Annan (400) the Ticket Office introduced a computerised random ballot, allowing two days for those who were successful to purchase the tickets and then re-balloting any tickets that were not purchased. However, this proved to be a nightmare as it took no less than 5 ballots to sell all the tickets.
The original allocation for Forres was only 295 tickets but last Friday, Forres advised the Ticket Office that we would be getting 1,000. Hence the first ballot on Monday and the second ballot on Wednesday night, in which I am pleased to say I was successful! However, here again only getting a confirmed ticket by calling on Thursday greatly reduced the already limited travel options and increased the cost and with no room at the inn, means the 0645 from Croy, via Edinburgh and Aberdeen to Forres and not getting home again till after 11.00pm on Saturday night.
They reverted to the call centre again for Stirling Albion and once again the tickets sold out quickly.
Neither system has been a success for the Ticket Office or the fans resulting in frustration all round. It is unfortunate that as a result some staff have been subject to abuse when they are doing their best in difficult circumstances and clearly this is not acceptable.
As a result the Ticket Office are looking at a new system of distribution which will combine elements of the old system whilst taking into account the limited availability this season (and next). Expect an announcement in early course. They hope to have a new fully computerised online system for next season.
In the short term there will be no problem for Clyde as we are getting 5,000 tickets (or Queens Park at Hampden for that matter!) but East Stirling will pose the same issues as for the other small grounds. By the way Hampden is owned by Queens Park FC not the SFA (who along with the SPL and the SFL only rent office space there) so boycotting that match hurts QP not the football authorities.
I have asked that in future email announcements to those who have been successful in ballots it is made clear that if you go along to Ibrox to purchase your ticket you do not have to pay the £1.80 booking fee which only applies to tickets purchased through the call centre. Since you will probably have to go along to be certain of getting your ticket in time, especially if it is a second or subsequent round ballot, then there is no point in phoning the call centre, as I learned to my cost! In any event I have made the point that a 12% fee (£1.80 on £15) is out of order. It seems that the call centre levy a flat charge per ticket and Rangers get an add-on, so I don’t expect that to change.
Until the distribution system is changed, there is an issue about whether it is fairer to reserve tickets for those who have already purchased away tickets (as used to happen in the Travel Club through your history) or whether to ensure that those who have not been successful in obtaining tickets for previous games should get first shout (rather like happened with SPL tickets in previous seasons). It seems that the Assembly view, thus far adopted by the Club, is that the former is the preferred option; my personal opinion is the latter, because a random ballot amongst season ticket holders or a pre-selected ballot amongst those who have previously been able to purchase a ticket could be self perpetuating and might mean that some people never get a chance to buy an away ticket.
There is an added complication because some people, for work other genuine reasons, do not purchase season tickets but nonetheless wish to go to away matches from time to time.
I have posted a ballot to seek views on this aspect of the issue which I will pass back to the Ticket Office along with any other suggestions.
Door to door, an 18 hour round trip with 3 train connections to Forres and the same again for Elgin at the end of November; if I get a ticket! I wonder if these will count for Travel History when we get back into Europe?!
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