TO SOME minds the sight of a bedraggled queue snaking around the Riverside is a sign of success. It shows there is a real hunger for the hottest tickets in town. It shows people are willing to jump any hurdle to be part of the dream. It shows that there is a demand. Tthe assumption is made that the club must be therefore doing something right.
Wrong, wrong wrong. The sight of a queue is a patently visible sign of the failure of Boro’s ticket distribution systems.
In an multi-media date-base age where the retail sector is sussed and sophisticated and the consumer is king, something is badly wrong when dedicated fans must take time off work to stand for hours to buy a ticket.
Boro fans are cute consumers. They know the nuances and pitfalls of the Red Book system. They know the rights and priveleges that come with their patron number pre-fix. And they have a record of making an uncannily accurate estimation of demand for tickets and judging exactly when they need to cash in their vouchers to get a ticket.
That so many have chosen to arrive at the Riverside with the milk float is a vote of no confidence in the club. They are there because their assessment is that there is a realistic chance THEY WILL NOT GET ONE otherwise.
That so many have turned up physically despite the logistically difficulties of organising family life and work shows a complete failure of the other means of ticket sales to cope with the complexities of the modern fan base.
The internet booking system collapsed into farce on day one. The system was programmed to process each ticket application individually meaning groups of Red Book holders who wanted to sit together – families and friends planning their big day together – could not be guaranteed that most simple of requests.
The system could not cope with the most basic notion that man and wife, dad and lad may actually want to sit together at Boro’s big game. Those affected by this one dimensional, family unfriendly approach had no choice but to decamp to the Riverside to queue clutching handfuls of Red Books.
Then, after angry complaints, that restriction was lifted briefly – then the system started taking multiple bookings, offering up to four tickets on one Red Book patron number. The bookings were confirmed. Money was taken from accounts. In theory those tickets could have gone to non-season ticket holders. There was suddenly a frightening possibility they could all go within a day and that Red Book holders would miss out. Chaos ensued.
The club acted quickly to make a statement that all multiple booking were cancelled and only the Red Book holder who had made the application would get one – but that left legitmate groups who all had the appropriate Red Book status and who had had their order confirmed in limbo. Would their booking be honoured or cancelled?
Phoning the ticket office to clarify was no solution. The system was in meltdown. There were long queues there too. And when you got to the front of the queue whether or not it was answered was hit or miss. And without access to Ticketmaster’s data base there was no way of checking most queries anyway. So it was either take a chance on the ticket arriving or go down to the Riverside to join the queue.
Of course, you will always get people who will tell you that there is no hardship in queuing, that it has always been the way, that it i s the price of success. There will always be people who wear their queueing time as a badge of honour as if it makes them bigger and better fans. These people do not have kids to be looked after in school holidays. They do not have jobs where labour flexibility is frowned on or time off is lost wages. And they do not live in London, Leeds, Newcastle or beyond, as so many Boro season ticket holders do.
Unless they wanted a single ticket and didn’t care where they sat and could therefore use the on-line or telephone booking systems, the exiles, the diasBoro, were forced to make their way to the Riverside. The timescale and the Bank Holiday cut out the option of posting the Red Book back to a proxy queuer. No, should they want to sit next to their family and friends they would have to physically come back. There was no way around it.
The knock-on effect is that those people forced to queue reluctantly then hold up those who normally would think nothing in driving over and picking up their tickets in a tea-break from work. There are no winners.
So, no matter how pleased marketing chiefs are that the pictures in the gazette show red hot demand, the queues are not a good thing. No. They are a fundementally, unmitigated bad thing and are an inescapable indictment of the flawed remote distribution systems installed by Boro, seemingly without any thought for the realities of modern life and the demographics of the crowd and seemingly without any testing whatsoever.
It must never happen again. We are not new to this game. In 1997 Boro had a flurry of big games – semi-finals, replays, finals, replays – and the lessons should have been learned from that scrum. Since then the proliferation of
web-based and telephone agencies should have made things easier. There is no excuse for it. Yet, here we are again shuffling along in an orderly queue to air our perfectly reasonable complaints at this avoidable farce.