PO Box 306, Glasgow, G21 2AE, Scotland
just the ticket
Like the club itself, Celticís Ticket Services department has come a long way in the last few years. When manager John Paul Taylor started there were five employees, you could pay cash at the turnstiles, every supporters club ran full buses to away games and your daily Hovis loaf was delivered by a clog-wearing urchin riding a bicycle with a wee basket on the front (actually, that last bit has been added in for background atmosphere).
Nowadays, in our Brave New Post-Fergus Utopia he has a staff of 45 looking after its† own direct debit control scheme, is responsible for all the ticket arrangements for everybody who wants to watch Celtic, including all of the corporate investors, has 12 ticket counter positions and a raft of people manning the phone lines upstairs.
NTVís Average Joe Miller was able to distract him long enough to find out about such burning issues as the Right to Buy scheme, who got all the Anfield tickets and why it once paid dividends to send your ticket applications in to Parkhead in a Cartoon Cavalcade envelope.
Average Joe Miller: Whatís a typical headache for the Ticket Department?
John Paul Taylor: Pretty much all away games are now over-subscribed. 27,000 people are telling us they want to go to away games and the vast majority want to go to every away game. What we try and do through the Away Ticket Registration scheme, which we brought in two years ago, was come up with a mechanism that identified the supporters who were going most regularly and try and reward them with tickets for the bigger games. Itís those fans who go to the less attractive fixtures so itís only fair that they should get first shout for the big games.
††††† The average number of tickets we get for away games in the SPL is about 4,500. From that we have to cater for those fans who are part of the clubís Right to Buy policy - which I know causes some frustration among supporters. This group encompasses season ticket holders who have bought corporate facilities, the 67 Club and premium investors. Theyíre all season ticket holders but they pay slightly more than the average season ticket holder. In return they get the usual match day hospitality and, in addition, a guaranteed opportunity† to buy tickets for away games.
††††† This was a great hook when we wanted to attract people to Celtic Park and it represented added value for their investment but over the last couple of years when the team has been so successful, going to away games has become an attractive proposition. Demand has generally outstripped supply and now some fans are questioning othersí right to buy a ticket and it seems to be causing something of a divide among supporters.
††††† From our point of view I think we have to get back to the whole right to buy thing and establish just who should have a right to buy tickets, as well as how many they should be allowed and whether it should be a guarantee we offer for every game. My own view is that it shouldnít be a guarantee because there are some games for which we simply donít get enough tickets.
AJM: Are the fans who are part of the Right to Buy scheme controlled? Are they staying away then simply coming in and using their right to buy for the big games?
JPT: Itís a bit of a flaw in the system. If I was a business class shareholder who elected not to go to the less attractive fixtures but then said that for the game at Ibrox, ďIíll have my ticket now thank you,Ē without having attended another match all season then, no, I donít think thatís great.
††††† I appreciate that when people pay more they expect a bit more but I also think we have to have a workable scheme based on attendance at games and which recognises a wider body of people who want to go and see Celtic. I donít think we should shorten that up in order that investors are guaranteed a ticket for the games they want to go to.
††††† You canít give tickets away for Kilmarnock these days and there will be a low uptake from those on the right to buy scheme for Dens Park as well, when weíll only get 3,000 tickets. The leftover tickets will be redistributed through the Away Ticket Registration scheme but it will by necessity be a late offer. It doesnít help fans plan which games theyíll be going to.
AJM: One of the problems small supporters clubs have is not getting tickets, travelling to the away games anyway then finding tickets on sale outside the stadium. In effect, small clubs are subsidising bigger ones who take tickets they canít sell.
JPT: There are a few issues with regard to clubs. One of them is that there are too many who fall below a certain number. I think we need to increase the threshold for supporters clubs. Of the 27,000 registered to go to away games I think a large number are made up of clubs who simply register as many names as possible. What ends up happening is that clubs get an allocation of between ten and twenty percent of their membership and end up with two or three tickets. Thatís not much use if you want to run a bus.
††††† We could reduce that overall number by not dividing it between clubs and individuals and by saying that everybody has to register in groups of two to five, which I donít think will take away from the ethos of the supporters clubs. I think this would reduce the number of registrations to around the 18-20,000 mark, which in turn would make the same number of tickets available to a smaller number of people.
††††† This would mean that if your small group was taking tickets for away games regularly then you would probably end up getting more tickets over the course of a season.
††††† There could well be claims made that the club are trying to get rid of the supporters clubs. But all the clubs would have to do is organise their members into small groups of five. They might argue that theyíll lose their guaranteed allocation of tickets but when that allocation is little more than two or three tickets then I think itís worth considering a new system where, if youíre successful, you would get a block of five tickets.
††††† It would also give us full traceability. Weíd know exactly who goes every week and we could make sure that they get the Cup Finals and so on. I think the 27,000 is a false figure and to make it fair on those who go every week weíve got to have everybody register.
††††† Itís only a thought just now and Iíd be interested in any feedback supporters would care to offer.
AJM: Is there a future for supporters clubs as we know them?
JPT: There arenít that many supporters clubs who, if they take a 10-20% allocation can run a bus these days. Most clubs have between 30-50 members so theyíre only getting two or three tickets. A lot of effort is put into running the CSCs but thereís been something of a revolution in attending football matches since the old days when you could run full buses to just about every away games. The ticket problem just didnít exist back then.
AJM: The CIS semi-final against Dundee United was a very poorly attended game. Again, big clubs picking up allocations who can afford to take a hit on 20 unsold tickets. Why could Celtic not organise it so that everybody who was actually sitting inside the stadium be issued with a voucher guaranteeing them a ticket for the final?
JPT: We said from the outset that clubs would have to take the same amount of tickets for the semi as theyíd require for the final. This caused some anger but to me it all comes down to how much you want to see the games. But we stuck to that principle when it came to allocating tickets for the final. Individual tickets went to those fans we recorded as having taken tickets for the semi-final. I thought that was the fairest thing to do.
††††† The biggest difficulty is coming up with a system everybody thinks is fair. I donít think weíll ever achieve that.
AJM: Granted. Now, on the subject of deciding who gets tickets, perhaps you can talk us through the mythical ballot and how it works. Is it really a gigantic tombola with the winners being drawn out by Hoopy the Huddle Hound?
JPT: The word ballot does suggest that everybodyís all in and theyíve all got a fair and equal chance. But itís not. Itís a series of offers for away games. Itís weighted towards people who make the effort to attend most matches. It isnít a Ďballotí as such. The word should be stricken off the lexicon!
AJM: Why do you think some fans donít perceive it the way youíd like it to be seen? There are countless theories out there about how to guarantee yourself a ticket. Send in your application in a green envelope for example, or claim to be a clergyman.
JPT: Ah yes, the green envelope theory. In the days when it was more like a ballot, prior to three years ago when you had to submit your vouchers, we would get all the vouchers in and put them in a big box. It probably pretty much was a lottery. Some people did indeed send in giant A4 envelopes coloured in with green felt tips and decorated with glitter and stars with ďPLEASE PICK ME OUTĒ written on it. Most of the time I did. I thought it was brilliant.
AJM: That was mine. Iíve still got the glitter in the house.
JPT: We half-expected the envelopes to be attached to helium-filled balloons. Pull the string and the voucher falls out.
††††† Thatís one of the reasons we did away with it, because of the hints about how it was being done. Now there are no envelopes. You apply at the start of the season your data is recorded and your offers go out. I firmly believe that it will always be the fans who really want to go to every game who wind up with the tickets for places like Kilmarnock. We record that, build up a profile and when a game at Ibrox comes round - and itís really only Ibrox and Pittodrie these days - we pick those who go to the least attractive fixtures.
††††† I believe that the reason for some of the cynicism is that weíre dealing with a commodity that more people want than we can supply. We just canít satisfy everybodyís needs so some people will come up with reasons why they canít get a ticket... even if theyíre somewhat bizarre.
AJM: In an ideal world everything would run smoothly and everybody would be happy. But then along comes something like the Liverpool game and accusations that the corporate investors were getting tickets, seemingly at the expense of the ordinary supporters.
JPT: We got 2,700 tickets for Liverpool. Everybody - including those on the right to buy scheme - got a reduced allocation. Almost as soon as we beat Stuttgart the scaremongering started about there being no tickets for the ordinary supporters. In the end we managed to get 700 tickets to standard season ticket holders. Thatís about 30% of the total. Not as many as Iíd have liked, but not bad all the same.
††††† My view is that we simply couldnít have done it any other way, especially a club like Celtic. If we say, ďYouíre only an ordinary supporter and this is a big game so you canít goĒ, then the partyís over. Thankfully Ian MacLeod agreed with me and said that we couldnít do that, even if it meant some people with a guaranteed right to buy had to take a hit. We were going to take flak regardless, from ordinary season book holders or whatever. But to do otherwise I think would have scunnered enough people into not coming back to Celtic Park.
††††† Fans generally accept that if thereís a severely limited number of tickets - like Anfield - then itís unlikely theyíll get a ticket but they like the idea that theyíve got a chance of one. If weíd have said from the outset that youíve got no chance then I think that would have been terrible.
AJM: On the subject of fan bases, what about rumours that there will be a reduced number of season ticket renewals next season?
JPT: It is a worry and I think itís largely due to the SPL not having a great deal of appeal as well as a realisation that tickets can be bought on a week to week basis.
††††† What I think we need to do is focus on the fact that supporters have their own seats and the whole thing is part of a match day routine.
††††† As for next season, I donít realistically think we can bring prices down at a time when costs are still rising. Itíll take two or three years, for example, to get big salaries off the books and bring wages into line.
††††† Initially for next season we were going to do a standard 3% cost of living increase for season tickets - which would have averaged† out at about £10 - together with another £20 which would have covered all other domestic matches, such as cup ties. I think itís a good idea because supporters just canít keep shelling out extra money for match after match, particularly when you consider the run of cup ties weíve had at home this season. We need people in the stadium.
AJM: What about Europe? Presumably the board recognise and are budgeting for at least another three games next season. Thatís another hundred quid or so on top of the twenty or thirty youíre talking about. Itís a lot of money.
JPT: The reason we donít include Europe on the season book is because itís an opportunity for the club to raise extra revenue. For the Champions League run we were able to offer the three matches for between £60-£65. I think most people were quite happy with that and I donít think it would be much than that if we qualify next season. There would be one European tie included in the season book but it wouldnít be against top drawer opposition. Potentially next yearís book could have around 26 games included.
AJM: Iím not sure making it easier for fans to part with their money is quite getting to the crux of the renewal issue.
JPT: Itís a difficulty, but I still think the problem lies in the quality of football on offer. Itís not great. Weíd have to be playing in a different environment before people felt that they were really getting value for money.
AJM: We probably already pay more than most fans of English Premiership teams.
JPT: Weíre comparable with Liverpool and Newcastle - in fact most of the northern teams - and slightly more expensive than Manchester United. But the product isnít like for like, which only illustrates that weíre probably paying more for our football than we should be. One of the reasons, of course, is that weíre paying our players Premiership salaries.
††††† The question is, is it worth investing in the type of player we have done over the years in order to ensure domestic success? The result is the fans have to pay more and some start to feel exploited. If we moved to the Premiership weíd certainly get 50,000 renewals.
††††† In the meantime we have to reduce our cost base so that we can do more with the revenue weíre bringing in. We also donít offer people enough for the money theyíre spending every year. In my opinion we oversell ourselves on things we canít always deliver, like the guaranteed right to buy tickets.
††††† Nevertheless, we are always looking at how we can give the fans value for money.
AJM: Finally, youíve got an almost impossible job. It must be a pretty thankless one at times.
JPT: I can understand why people get frustrated at times and say things like, ďWhy canít I get through on the phone?Ē Itís because weíve got two games against Liverpool, two against Rangers and a Scottish Cup tie against Inverness all within the space of fifteen days. Weíre pretty busy!
††††† What it tells us is that we need more outlets and more opportunities for people to get their tickets. Weíve got an on-line facility coming up and that should be online in 6-7 weeks. Youíll be able to renew your season tickets through a link on the website. We havenít done it before because of software compatibility problems. Like most things itíll probably be a bit rocky to begin with but Iím confident this is the way forward.