Premier League clubs are facing a digital BACKLASH from fans

Premier League clubs are facing a digital BACKLASH from fans as they fight to appease them over ticket revolution… with enormous queues and chaos outside grounds expected this weekend as the top flight embraces technology

  • Many clubs switched from paper and plastic tickets to smartphones last season 
  • Now more are set to follow as new season starts and a backlash is again brewing 
  • West Ham agreed print-at-home option after complaints from supporters 
  • Crystal Palace fans angry about £10 fee for e-tickets issued in transfer scheme

Football’s digital ticket revolution has provoked outrage among fans, leaving Premier League clubs scrambling to deal with complaints.

Several clubs made the switch from paper and plastic to season tickets on smartphones last season, sparking chaos at the turnstiles and criticism from fans’ groups. Now more are set to follow as the new season starts.

On Wednesday, West Ham agreed a print-at-home option on tickets after complaints from supporters who could not, or did not want to, download tickets on to their phones. Fans also launched an online petition. 

Premier League clubs are fighting to appease angry fans over football’s digital ticket revolution

Crystal Palace have backed down on plans to introduce a £40 membership fee for anyone wanting to transfer or resell digital season tickets for certain games. 

But some Palace fans are still angry because any e-tickets issued in the transfer scheme still come with a £10 charge.

‘When clubs are making big changes to their ticketing operations, like going all digital, we expect them to consult their supporters about it,’ a spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Association said. 

‘All supporters should be able to get into the ground easily.’

Several clubs made the switch from paper and plastic to season tickets on smartphones last season

MATT BARLOW: Digital revolution is a turn-off for fans

The Premier League turnstiles are about to swing back into action and fans will approach with a sense of apprehension not merely limited to the readiness of their team for the big kick-off.

Twelve months on from enormous queues and scenes of chaos outside the grounds caused by another lurch towards digital ticketing, more top-flight clubs are about to embrace the revolution. That means more supporters braced for the inevitable disruptions and hidden costs.

West Ham have found themselves under fire ahead of the opening game of the season against Manchester City, with an online petition gathering signatures and complaints from fans who would rather not move to a digital-only system.

The club extended booking office ticket hours to cope, promised more staff will be on the gates on Sunday and have ultimately now agreed to provide supporters with a ‘print at home’ option for tickets for the match.

Portsmouth fans come through the turnstiles all the way back in 2013 using the paper system

West Ham have found themselves under fire ahead of the opening game against Man City

But the Hammers are not the first to head down the digital path and they will not be the last.

Several clubs made the move at the start of last season when crowds first returned to capacity after the pandemic.

During the Covid lockdowns starting in 2020, the Premier League wrote into their rules that clubs should look to be ‘digital first’ to stop paper tickets being passed hand to hand, spreading the virus. 

But the rule no longer exists, and the decision is once again down to the individual clubs, although the direction of travel is set and it is clearly advancing towards more digital tickets.

There is no holding back the march of technology. It is much cheaper, cleaner and more environmentally friendly. It is also more secure, and the added measure of control is appealing for the clubs.

They will have a much better understanding of who is in each seat, how often they actually attend, what time they arrive at the stadium, how they consume what they like to call the ‘match day experience’. It can help track down culprits if there is disorder in the stands and is proving to be a crucial weapon in the long fight against ticket touting.

The Hammers are not the first to head down the digital path and they will not be the last

Plenty of fans prefer it. They find it more convenient to know the ticket is on their phone and in their pocket without needing to think about printing it at home or going to a collection point, but there are plenty who disapprove for various reasons.

Some just don’t like change. Football fans by definition are creatures of habit. Some collect ticket stubs for sentimental reasons in the way they collected match-day programmes, something else that is under threat.

Some dread this shifting landscape and the increasing pressure from all angles to surrender personal data. Where does it end, with face recognition technology at the turnstiles?

Others find it is an unnecessary complication – and an additional expense – if they are sharing season ticket passes or cannot attend and want to pass the ticket to a friend or family member.

Extra charges are increasingly set on transfers, membership fees to be part of the scheme or simply an administration fee to receive an e-ticket, or to list on the ticket exchange.

Clubs might argue that tickets should not be transferable. You cannot transfer a season ticket on the trains if you are not travelling, for example, but football is a different entity.

Fans are loyal to their colours not passing trade and prices have soared, with more costs often hiding behind every twist of new technology. 

Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish backtracked after criticism on Wednesday on plans to charge a £40 membership fee plus additional administration charges for fans to be part of a ticket transfer scheme.

‘Passing on tickets among friends and family is a part of fan culture and something the FSA generally supports,’ was the response of the Football Supporters’ Association on Twitter, in response to Palace’s initial proposals.

‘Putting the ability to do that behind a £50 paywall and dumping the admin on to fans isn’t exactly progress.’

The complexities of the individual ticketing systems for every single club in the country are like a tangled web. The more complicated the better to hide and deflect outrage – that is how it seems.

Crystal Palace have backed down on plans to introduce a £50 fee for anyone wanting to transfer or resell digital season tickets

On a simpler level, there are those, particularly from older generations, facing genuine practical issues because they do not own a smartphone or rarely use one.

David Cracknell is 88-years-old. A lifelong West Ham fan and a season-ticket holder in the Billy Bonds Stand, he does not use a smartphone and was moved to make the journey to the London Stadium ticket office on Wednesday because he feared he might miss Sunday’s game against champions City.

West Ham have used a form of digital tickets over the last two seasons and say 98 per cent of supporters entered the London Stadium last season using Near Field Communication technology, the same thing that enables safe contactless payments.

The new system had been trialled extensively. There were long queues at the turnstiles ahead of a game against Newcastle in February when 2,000 ticket holders were using the system.

Steve Parish backtracked after criticism on plans to charge a £40 membership fee plus additional administration charges for fans to be part of a ticket transfer scheme

Those clubs who introduced the system last season reported problems at the turnstiles caused by a combination of the technology struggling to cope with the volume and users who did not know what they were supposed to be doing.

There were queues of supporters snaking down the Anfield Road before Liverpool’s opening game of last season against Burnley. There were similar stories elsewhere, and photographs circulated on social media, including from games at West Ham, Palace and Southampton.

‘When clubs are making big changes to their ticketing operations, like going all digital, we expect clubs to consult their supporters about it as a matter of course,’ an FSA spokesperson told Sportsmail.

‘All supporters should be able to get into the ground easily and efficiently. We saw last season the problems at the turnstiles that can come with untested digital-only systems.

‘We will continue to monitor the introduction of the technology in the game but in the meantime we believe that supporters who need a physical rather than digital ticket should be accommodated.’

There were enormous queues and scenes of chaos outside the grounds 12 months ago, caused by another lurch towards digital ticketing

CASE STUDY: ‘Why can’t we just have a paper ticket?’

David Cracknell, 88, is a lifelong West Ham fan and a season-ticket holder in the Billy Bonds Stand.

He does not use a smartphone and his wife Norma, who was for many years also a season-ticket holder and always dealt with his emails, passed away in January.

His son now looks after his emails but is not in a position to accompany him to every game just to get him through the turnstiles.

‘I’m not the only one,’ Mr Cracknell told Sportsmail. ‘I’ve spoken to my niece and my sister-in-law about this and they’ve already signed the petition (from West Ham fans who don’t want a digital-only system).

David Cracknell is a lifelong West Ham fan and a season-ticket holder in the Billy Bonds Stand

‘I don’t know why we can’t have a paper ticket like the one we had last season or the plastic access card like we used to have.’

West Ham sent an email on July 23 to thank fans for buying a season ticket and provided instructions about downloading it to a device and using at the turnstile.

For David, whose father followed the Hammers his whole life and whose grandfather worked at Thames Ironworks in Canning Town, where the club was founded, it came as something of a shock.

There had been plenty of notice issued by the club, but most of it passes people by if they do not have a mobile phone or look at their emails or browse the club’s website.

The Hammers issued extensive details online on Tuesday to remind fans of the changes and made it clear that anyone not able to access their ticket on a phone could get in touch with the booking office and they would find a solution.

The Hammers issued extensive details online on Tuesday to remind fans of the changes

Mr Cracknell knew nothing of this when he made up his mind to travel down the Central Line from his home in Woodford to the London Stadium on Wednesday, determined as he was to sort it out.

‘Rather that than go down there on Sunday and not get into the game,’ said the retired advertising executive of West Ham’s clash with Manchester City. ‘Really, they should cater for people who are not particularly technical.’

He was issued with his season ticket on a plastic card and heard how the club had given hundreds of them to people not able to download it on phones.

At least it came at no extra charge. Some clubs who have gone digital are charging for the privilege of a plastic card in a wallet.




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