Irish League fans, and Linfield fans especially, are going to have to get used to the idea and concept of ticketed matches due to new Health and Safety regulations on ground capacity, with Linfield’s upcoming trips to Portadown and Crusaders being the first games to have this arrangement.
Firstly, credit must go to Linfield for working with the host clubs and relevent authorities to make sure that the tickets have been released to sell to Linfield fans, especially with the lack of home matches at Windsor Park in the coming weeks.
The Portadown game had two matchdays, three working weeks and importantly, three Saturday mornings for people to buy tickets.
Previous arrangements had left supporters with a lot less time for people in which to purchase, often having to go to the ground outside of a matchday.
This ticketing issue is a challenge which has to be met head on, with Linfield having to offer more purchasing avenues for supporters and to continue to ensure that host clubs release tickets for away games that give supporters ample time to purchase tickets.
My own personal gripe about ticketing arrangements is that the club shop only operates during the week between 9am and 5pm.
For me, this offers me no opportunity to buy tickets during the week, and I have to wait until the weekend to buy tickets.
I get the feeling i’m not the only one in this situation.
Now i’m not suggesting that the club shop opening hours should be changed to work around my working hours, but if it was feasible, it should be considered for a trial basis to change the opening hours to either 9.30am to 5.30pm or 10am to 6pm, to enable Belfast based supporters to get tickets after work.
Now, having watched Linfield for 16 years, I am aware that Linfield supporters do enjoy complaining, and that people would probably find something to complain about if they tickets were hand delivered to them personally by David Jeffrey.
However, an E-Commerce strategy must be put in place to enable supporters from outside Belfast, or even outside Northern Ireland should there be enough tickets available, to purchase online from the comfort of their PC.
This E-Commerce strategy would would need to complimented with an Communication strategy to match.
This involves ensuring ticket information is released to supporters regularly across varying forms.
It would be worth looking at how clubs on the mainland do this. The first, and most obvious, is to have a page in the club programme dedicated to ticketing, detailing when they are for sale, how much for, and how they can be purchased.
Even if there are matches where no ticket is required, this can be included in it just to say so.
Likewise, the creation of an e-newsletter and a dedicated section of the club website should also be looked at.
Only the visit of Glentoran is most likely to be a ticketed home game, and the demolition of the ticket office at the Railway Stand presents a problem for the club.
If it was feasible to hire a kiosk to be place outside the ground before kick-off, then it should be looked at.
Arrangements in the Irish League are that the host club gets 100% of the gate money, you may ask why Linfield should be going to the effort of helping people buy tickets that Linfield won’t see any money from?
As much as I hate referring to Irish League fans as “customers” it is important to remember that though they may be putting money through the turnstile of some clubs 2-3 times a season, Linfield need them to put money through their turnstiles 19-25 times a season, and they need to be kept ‘Onside’
At the moment, this regulation is a threat to the Irish League. Good business sense can turn this into an opportunity to develop a closer relationship with fans.
This week, it was interesting to note the League Of Ireland is currently in the process of moving back to a Winter season.
Hopefully, this news, and the reasons listed (Clashes with summer events and holidays) will see an end to the pointless debates about introducing Summer Football into the Irish League.
The different operating months of the Irish League and League Of Ireland has been the major stumbling block in making the Setanta Cup a major part of the local football season.
This season’s fixture list was announced, and two of the rounds take place in the immediate aftermath of Irish Cup weekends.
Heaven forbid, there should be any Irish Cup replays or a backlog of postponed league fixtures.
I predict an almighty mess. You read it here first.