Liverpool Football Club has outlined proposals for a season ticket amnesty with a view to starting the process in June 2018, a timeframe which, if implemented, would ensure it is concluded in time for the start of the 2019-20 season.
Initial discussions took place at the second Ticket Availability Fan Forum which was held ahead of Liverpool’s home game against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday February 4 and will be the subject of further discussion and scrutiny at forthcoming Ticket Availability Fan Forums.
The season ticket amnesty proposal is part of the stadium operational security measures and the key driver behind this amnesty is to know who is the primary season ticket holder and who is in the seat on any given matchday.
Supporters will be aware that, like a lot of other stadiums and other large public arenas, the club has stepped up its general security measures around the stadium and, from this season, further security measures have been introduced with bag searches as supporters make their way through the turnstiles. This amnesty is about ensuring the club has the right information on who is in the seats on any given matchday should it be needed.
Explaining the rationale behind an amnesty, Liverpool’s head of ticketing and hospitality, Phil Dutton said: “We are aware that many of our fans have been urging us to do this and the completion of the Main Stand has now enabled us to make progress on this important initiative.
“I must stress that this isn’t about taking season tickets away from supporters – we are aware that not all season tickets are held in the name of the supporter who attends the matches but this is about bringing our records up to date with the primary owner of the season ticket and providing updated contact details. We are also aware that the primary season ticket holder isn’t always able to attend the match and our ongoing discussions with this Fan Forum will include this point and how best to deal that.
“We have in excess of 26,000 season ticket holders and at the end of this process we will still have in excess of 26,000 season ticket holders.
“We want to make this as easy as possible for supporters to come to take part in the amnesty and we also want to make it easy as possible for supporters to come to games. We also want to be open, transparent and engage fans in this process and that’s the reason we are bringing this issue to the Ticket Availability Fan Forum so we can have an open dialogue.”
Asked to explain how the process would work in practice, Tom Boardman, senior project manager at Liverpool FC, said in the first instance supporters would be required to provide photographic ID.
“This could be done online via an app or in person at the ticket office,” he said. “Individual season ticket holders would be able to upload a picture online in order for those season tickets to be assigned correctly. In future, this might allow pictures to be used on season tickets.”
The latter point was challenged by forum member Anna Burgess who sought further information about the potential for photographic ID being used in the future. “I’m not sure many supporters would be comfortable with this idea,” she said, although forum member Nigel Taylor said he would have no problem with it in principle.
“In the first instance, this would be about allowing us to verify supporters during the amnesty effectively,” Tom Boardman said. “Any ideas of that type would be for the next stage and would be open to debate,” Phil Dutton said. “The first stage is simply about providing supporters with a mechanism that will allow them to put season tickets in the right names.”
Though supportive of the idea of an amnesty in principle, the forum members present raised a number of concerns and issues which they urged the club to address prior to implementation. Forum member Kieth Culvin said: “You need to give people the full information before forcing any of this on them.
“One of the things the club is saying is that they need to know who is coming to the game and I can understand the reasons for that but this is something that can change on the night before a game or the morning of a game. There are more than 50,000 people who come to Anfield for every game and they all have different circumstances.
“If I have a season ticket and it is in my name, what would happen if I was ill would I be able to pass it on to my son at such late notice because if people can’t do that why would they participate in an amnesty?”
“If your son is using your season ticket to come to the game it could simply be a case of transferring your ticket to him on the phone,” Phil Dutton said. “There are a range of options that we are looking at, including a friends and family scheme with season ticket holders being able to make nominations for that at the start of every season because, as I said, we want to make this as easy as possible for our supporters to come to the game.
“This process will likely take a couple of seasons to fully implement and we want to consult with supporters right through that process, this is just stage one of making our systems and processes very transparent and efficient to use.”
Forum member Andrew Morris said: “As long as the club is very transparent about this in terms of what they are doing and how they are doing it, it is the right thing to do. But whatever season tickets end up coming back to the club via this process have to go to those on the season ticket waiting list.”
“It would be helpful if the club would announce the number of season tickets that have come back in and what they are doing with them,” added forum member Rae Bezer.
“We want to provide transparency,” replied Phil Dutton. “But for that to happen we need to know who is in possession of season tickets. If a supporter owns one that belonged to his or her uncle who died many years ago just tell us and we will put it in your name.”
Anna Burgess said: “It just needs to be really transparent so that this is as fair as it possibly can be. People will be far more receptive if that is the case.”
Kieth Culvin sought clarity on whether the club’s desire to know who is attending games extends to those who use corporate and hospitality facilities. “If it doesn’t and those in hospitality are given a walkover, this will just blow up in the club’s face,” he said.
Phil Dutton stressed that the same objective would apply to all supporters equally. “Those in hospitality would also be part of the overall process,” he said. “How the process works in practice might be slightly different but all supporters who come into the stadium will be subject to a verification process; this is stage one of this.”
Kieth Culvin asked what would happen to children and young people who use an adult’s season ticket to attend matches alongside parents. “You have kids who are paying a full adult season ticket price, if the season ticket is put in their name will they be eligible for a concession?”
“Yes. This will be the chance to do it,” Phil Dutton responded. “But people need to consider very carefully how they do this, we will not be allowing season tickets to be transferred once this process is completed and will be monitoring usage, junior tickets are for juniors, not for adults.”
The conversation then moved onto the issue of empty seats at home games and it was agreed that the discussion over a proposed amnesty will be resumed at the next ticket availability forum.
On the problem of seats being left vacant, Phil Dutton said that on average 2,737 remain empty at every home fixture despite tickets having been purchased for those seats in advance. “This is very simple from our point of view, we just want the place to be full,” he said.
“To put those figures in context, if those tickets were made available they would, in theory, add up to 20 per cent to the members’ sale. This is a significant number. Quite frankly, it is ludicrous that 5-6 per cent of the stadium capacity is not being used when there are so many supporters who want to be in the ground.”
A range of possible solutions were put forward by the forum members with Rae Bezer suggesting a phone app to facilitate spare tickets being passed on or returned to the club and Andrew Morris and Anna Burgess contending that the club should do more to incentivise supporters who cannot attend by refunding the full value of their tickets. Anna Burgess also asked if the club would allow supporters to donate tickets to younger fans.
Phil Dutton said all of those ideas would be workable. “From the club’s perspective, we can change many things but there needs to be a bit of give and take on this,” he said. “We can improve the buyback facility, we can put a friends and family scheme in place, we can do all of those things and more.
“But what would you do if, even after all of that was done, someone continued to leave their seat empty on a regular basis? Some European clubs have a three strikes and you’re out rule which means that anyone who leaves their seat empty three times in the same season loses their season ticket. You might think that is harsh but we have to do something, we need a fair deterrent.”
Kieth Culvin argued against Liverpool following that kind of example, saying there are any number of reasons why people are unable to attend a particular match and that not all supporters have the wherewithal or the inclination to trigger buyback or friends and family options.
Andrew Morris said that while it is agreed in principle that this is an issue that needs to be resolved “we have to work out what a suitable deterrent would be” if the club makes it as easy as possible for supporters to return tickets ahead of games.
Forum member Melissa Fallon also voiced her opposition to the “three strikes” idea, suggesting that one possible solution would be that in instances in which a supporter has persistently left a seat empty to have their ticket deactivated for the following fixture.
“We have to be very careful with this,” Kieth Culvin said. “We all accept there is a problem but it is about making sure that if there is a deterrent that it is fair and proportionate.”
“This was a positive forum,” said Tony Barrett, Liverpool’s head of supporter and club liaison. “There was a consensus about the need for a season ticket amnesty and also about the need for the club to do more to tackle the problem of empty seats but there was also a series of healthy challenges from supporters with regard to the approaches that should be taken to resolve these issues.
“Having listened to the concerns that were raised by supporters about how the season ticket amnesty should operate in practice, the next stage for the club needs to be for clarity to be provided so that supporters know how it would work and how it would apply to them. The club has said it would like the amnesty to start in June but a great deal more information and consultation will be required before then.”