NOW the dust has settled it is time to think the unthinkable when it comes to season tickets and big match priority… it is time to scrap the glamour game monopoly of the S and T patron prefix.
And the rest of the letters must go too. It is time to move to a comprehensive and transparent loyalty points system that rewards season ticket holders but allows the younger home and away diehards with less years on the clock the chance to work their way to the front of the queue.
The rusting alphabet hierarchy is anachronistic. It can not cope with the changing demographics of the crowd as parents with S books sit with Demi-Leigh (a D) and young Josh (a white book) or groups of good friends sit together with a cluster of prefixs that look like an explosion in a constonant factory. Are they to be denied the chance ever to sit together at a final? Must they wait until the ageing S and T elite start to pop their clogs?
There are still 12,000 S and Ts. They make up half of the season ticket holders. Given that some season tickets are white books they are over half the Red Books. That is not an elite. It is the majority.
But even that is misleading. Within that group there are Boro Till I Die former Holgate Ender home and away types who have been to every UEFA game, to Nuneaton in the FA Cup and who still cherish tickets from the Anglo-Italian , ZDS and Simod Cups. Alongside them you have Riverside newbies whose only away games have been the Old Trafford semi and Cardiff. That is no bad thing, everyone has different circumstances and budgets, but it suggests a chasm between the extremes of what constitutes the elite.
There are also sub-groups within that 12,000 that maybe deserve an extra stripe. For instance, what of the estimated 4,000 people who held season tickets at Ayresome Park (estimated because the club destroyed all records in the Year Zero move to the Riverside)? When Boro say they will give priority to their longest serving season ticket holders why is unstinting service through the Dark Ages not considered?
So the system is inflexible, doesn’t account for degrees of commitment and, crucially, it dumps those who, through whatever quirk of circumstance didn’t have a season ticket that first year, into a permanent ghetto of second class citizenship. It doesn’t matter that they go to every match home and away, they can never make up the ground lost by missing out in 1995. They are an ever present alphabet underclass.
As shown by the UEFA Cup final – and the FA Cup semi-final before it – the prefix pecking order is too simplistic to be a practical method of determining allocations. Their were not enough Eindhoven tickets to satisfy all the S and T Red Book holders and if Boro had got to the FA Cup final they would have had 22,000 tickets so there would not have been enough of those to satisfy all the season ticket holders.
The chaotic and arbitrary system used to allocate the UEFA Cup tickets must never be used again. It lacks transparancy and logic and has left a bitter taste for many of the longest serving, most loyal fans.
The club could claw back some of the lost goodwill by moving towards a new fairer system that strives to iron out the anomolies. ‘Ah, but no system can be perfect’. Maybe not. But on the pitch we are always looking to bring in better than we already have. Why not off the pitch too.
The club should hold an inquiry into the ticketing system, methods of prioritising entitlement and ways of rewarding loyalty across all the patron numbers. They should examine best practice across the league and they should consult with fans representatives as to what criteria should be included.
Several clubs, like Manchester City, operate point systems that give long standing season ticket holders a head start but allow the stalwarts who travel away to Brentford in the third round of the League Cup – or Xanthi – to catch up.
It is simple. A base of say 100 points is given to each season ticket holder with maybe another ten for each year served. Then points are earned for other tickets bought so turning out to the Xanthi home game when so many S and Ts didn’t bother would boost a fan’s overall standing. As would away games. They could even be weighted so away at Nuneaton in the third round counted for more than home to Steaua in the semi-final.
Then, when tickets were limited – a UEFA Cup final say – it could be announced that those with 250 points had priority. That would give what would now be G prefix fan who had been to every away game as much chance as an S who had never hit the road. Fans could even check on-line where they stood in the pecking order and it may boost attendences in early rounds as people with an eye on the big one clock up their points.
The current situation can’t be allowed to drift on. It is no good hoping the next big match is at a 60,000 plus seater stadium. Boro must be pro-active and creative and must offer hope to those low letter Red Books that they too can share in the glory, that they are part of a community prepared for success.