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Newcastle United away tickets – I was invited by the club to a meeting last night and this is how it went

1 month ago
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Last night I attended an away ticketing workshop / meeting at St James’ Park, where supporters were invited to discuss the distribution of Newcastle United away tickets with club representatives.

The following is how it went down, if you’re interested.

If you’re not interested, just move on, there are honestly tons of other articles to read all over the internet if you look. Don’t read, don’t comment, move on.

So, for those of you still here, some will be wondering exactly how you get an invite to something like this, possibly even considering an accusation that my ludicrously high media profile snared me a place at the table…

Well, it was explained up front by Sarah Medcalf (head of supporter services) that the people invited consisted of those who had applied for the fan advisory board (which I did not) and people who put some valid points down about away ticketing in the recent supporter survey (which I did). There were also representatives from supporter organisations NUST, United with Pride, NUSC and the disabled supporters association, all of which have hundreds or even thousands of members, whose views will have been canvassed to be presented so surely no one can object to any of them being in the room.

Anyone turning up expecting the floor so they could put forward their individual case would be sorely disappointed, as there were 12 big tables set up in the Moncur suite with about 10 people around each, including a host from Supporter Services whose role it was to collate details of the hour long discussion and a further cohort of people joining online.

At the end of it all, each table had a few minutes for the host to relay their most pertinent points to the room at large. This meant there was a chance for any niche points to get a bit diluted, but overall I think it’s extremely positive to report that there was huge consensus in the room, as the same points kept rising from pretty much every table.

The key points raised were as follows:

Loyalty Points status

It was emphatically unanimous in the room that the away loyalty points system is a positive thing, has been built up in good faith and is doing the job it is supposed to, and any attempt to remove it would be hugely unpopular.

Passing On of Away Tickets

This is a contentious one, as people passing on tickets has previously been flagged as an issue that the club has moved to address.

Tonight it was suggested that everyone should get some option to move on a ticket they have already bought, although this should be limited to prevent abuse of the system. The number suggested varied between two and five times per season, with the ticket being moved onto an existing Season Ticket holder or member (in the same way home tickets can be moved on in the current system).

Opinion was a bit split between whether the recipient should receive the loyalty point, or if it should just disappear altogether, but all were in agreement that it should not remain with the original purchaser. If the point was to be transferable, it was raised that members should be allowed to collate loyalty points too, for potential usage if gaining a Season Ticket in the future.

ID Checks

Again, this one can be contentious, as the room at large acknowledged the role ID checks have played in driving down points requirements while also generally feeling uncomfortable at the “big brother” nature of being asked to do this.

The suggestions for improvement were that the ID check could be advised up to 72 hours in advance, so people can arrive at the ground prepared, or at least that a set up to activate the ticket could be provided next to the away end by NUFC staff.

I think everyone can agree the process of having to traipse around to the other side of a ground in opposition colours to get a replacement for the dud ticket that was willingly sent to you, is a poor process.

Newcastle United Fans

Transparency and Communication

Oh, this is a big one.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every table mentioned that it would be a big positive to see a breakdown of the numbers for each away game up front, with the total that have gone to corporate, players and staff visible, as well as the amount held back for a ballot. This would end online speculation as to how many have been held back and aid future discussions about fairness.

Everyone on my table appreciated that corporate is a part of the game now and in times of FFP it is obvious that they will be eligible for some tickets.

Disclosure on the amount and the criteria for who they choose the distribute these too (suggested all recipients should have a membership number at least) would be useful in the understanding of this. Lee Marshall (head of media at NUFC) recently released a long Twitter thread detailing how tickets for the recent derby were distributed and this was mentioned several times as an excellent example of how this should be done going forward.

It was suggested Supporter Services increase their social media presence considerably to fill the information gap often attempted independently by supporters associations.

Young People and Kids

A few suggestions were made to look after the next generation.

One involved potentially splitting the ballot and giving a percentage to 16 to 21 year olds. It was suggested several times that there is a blocked route for many to take a child to an away game as a parent with high points cannot enter a ballot with their child with low/no points.

It was suggested there should be a capability for parents to add their child to their away application when the parent becomes eligible for the points criteria and/or a % of the ballot to be allocated to parent and child applications regardless of points.

Ballots for high demand games

It came up a lot that certain very high demand games should have no ballot and be awarded based entirely on loyalty points. The example used a lot was Luton, which sold out its small allocation on 160 points but still some were siphoned into a ballot.

Newcastle Fans Celebrate With Players

Daily Drops (or future absence of them)

A bit of a favourite on The Mag, but it was raised that the daily drop in points serves no purpose and it would be far preferable to have a period of 3-5 days for people interested in going to apply for the match regardless of their points, before using the computer system to allocate the tickets to the applicants with the highest points in one go.

The ballot could then be run immediately afterwards and anyone entering the ballot who was successful could be sat with their mates who may have qualified on points.

In the presentation ahead of the meeting, some of the challenges of ticket allocation were covered, including the need to check the ticket total by hand count and delays while the precise number of tickets may be bartered over with the home team. All of this could be done while the application is open, then the button pressed when all details are finalised. This would save people the hassle of trying to free up calendars at 2pm daily on the off chance the arbitrary points drop is in their favour and it sounds like it would save the box office an amount of work (and a few irate phone calls).

No brainer if you ask me.

Last Minute switching

A common point was around the possibility of circumstances changing very close to a game, with sickness being the most obvious example.

It was roundly suggested that there should be a forum to return a ticket up to the day of the game, with a visible system for reallocation at the last minute (most likely an online scramble).

Digital tickets would be easy to transfer and where this isn’t possible the club could arrange voiding and reprinting of the ticket for collection at the ground. It would hardly be ideal but would help avoid empty seats.

Newcastle Fans Scarves Sunderland

IMAGO/Pro Sports Images

So, that is pretty much the headlines. I may have missed some of the issues further down the chain but I think a lot of people’s main concerns will be covered above.

I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s no valid ulterior motive for the club in doing this Newcastle United away tickets workshop. The previous, wider ranging workshop possibly had a tinge of this about it, as Darren Eales spoke about what would be acceptable price increases and laid the groundwork for the increased corporate areas.

There is no money to be made by the club from the away ticket process, barring perhaps the odd mutually beneficial efficiency saving some ideas might provide. I think it would be cynical to suggest this was motivated by anything other than a genuine desire to listen to the supporters and try and improve the experience. The staff from Supporter Services were all great and it was overall well organised and positive.

The caveat to this of course, is to see the results in action.

I would have liked a timescale for when these actions would be reviewed and when follow up communications would be put out, even if these were rough estimates. I’d hope quick wins are looked into, as there are further workshops on memberships and crowd atmosphere and you’d hope they can be treated as separate entities that address their respective issues on their own timescale.

Initial response is very pleased (after what has gone before) that the club are listening.

Now we wait to see if they have actually listened.

You can follow the author on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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