The last ten months or so has seen an unprecedented rise in ticket sales for Lincoln City matches. Before last season I could remember queuing just once, for Scunthorpe tickets in the first play-off semi-final. That day our allocation was around 2,000 and if I recall we queued halfway down Cross Street.
Since 2003 there simply hasn’t been a need for queues or new-fangled ticketing systems. When we dropped out of the league we could have done a ‘North Ferriby’ and sold away tickets from a local Post Office. Quite simply watching Lincoln City was barely an event at all, and right up until 3.00pm on a Saturday you could pick your seat, on some occasions you could pick an entire block of them.
Then last season happened, specifically Oldham in the FA Cup. Once we knocked out the League One side on that surreal foggy evening the secret was out of the bag. 7000 fans turned up to watch, many more peered at the misty scenes on their TV screens. Wherever they were, that night everything changed.
The subsequent cup run saw a ticket office deluged with demand, it was akin to a car salesman normally knocking out a rusty old Mazda or two suddenly finding his forecourt full of Mercedes and Porsches. In truth we’d been good for a short while, but the product was in fashion, everyone wanted a slice of the Imps success. With demand comes queues, and with sudden demand comes logistical issues that needed negating.
The club didn’t always get it right, such as allowing season ticket holders ten tickets each for one of the Ipswich games. They were in new waters though, unfamiliar territory even for a former league club. Overnight they were swamped with new fans, returning fans, current fans and nobody was in the mood to play nicely. It was a free-for-all wasn’t it? People were full of recriminations and vitriol, sporadic outbursts on social media often sparked heated debates, and most importantly those queues never seemed to stop. Ipswich (twice), Brighton, Burnley, Arsenal, York, Macclesfield… the list goes on. It became a favoured hobby of the Imps fan, standing in the freezing cold for hours waiting to be told you’d have to come back tomorrow. Then, after we won the league people seemed to want to queue. When season tickets were up for renewal and your seat was safe for a month, people still queued.
I defended the club at the time, I still do. To have taken more staff on would have been sheer folly, with just two computer terminals, what good would ten staff have been? The call to implement a new ticketing system there and then was all well and good, but how do you do that during a season? Lincoln City were caught short by on field success that was completely unparalleled, and club and fans coped as well as we could. I think by the end of the season we’d almost come to a blind acceptance that when we had a big game, we’d have to queue.
News of the new ticketing system has been spreading, and perhaps some feel it hasn’t been communicated well. Will we get a swipe card? Will it be posted to us? How do we collect if we want to? What will away allocation be like? The list of queries was endless, and even up until last night I had people close to me on the phone asking what they should expect. Could the club have put better information out earlier? Probably, yes. It’s unlike me to say that, but in an ideal world there would have been a clear statement of intent in May. Then again, the whole club has undergone a remarkable transformation over the summer, no stone has been left unturned in preparing us for life in the Football League. The beleaguered and hard-working staff have barely had time to make a coffee, let alone start putting detailed plans out discussing ticketing.
What if they had, would it have answered people’s questions? Some, but not all. I wager that even if they had shared their plans earlier in the summer, it would still have caused some people to start asking the same questions, over and over again. The more discerning fan sat back, knowing deep down it might have been nice to be told earlier what was happening, but also calm in the fact it was June 2nd and the season was two whole months away. I don’t panic too much about what is happening tomorrow let alone in two months time, so I wasn’t overly bothered if they rang me on August 11th to tell me how to get in the ground.
That brings us round to this evening’s events. For the last couple of weeks we’ve been fed information as we needed it, and the plans have been made very clear. The Eventbrite app caused a few people to moan (ironically moaning on social media about not being able to use the internet, a bit like writing a handwritten letter to the government complaining you don’t have any pens), but on the whole I think we were apprehensive as a fan base. It seemed too good to be true didn’t it? 2500 Wycombe tickets, 5500 season ticket holders, surely someone was going to be unhappy? I’m sure somewhere there is a fan who isn’t happy at all right now, but those who are disgruntled have missed out due to demand, not inefficiency.
I was sat with the app open on the strike of six, and as I kept clicking back onto the ticket page I imagined it would crash any second. As soon as those 2000-odd golden tickets went on sale there would be a meltdown, the app would fail, fans would start wailing in despair and the club would have to fight off yet more criticism, this time for not having queues all around the ground. I sat there picturing all of the scenarios, and as I did I almost subconsciously selected my tickets, paid for them and got confirmation. Two minutes past six and the deed was done, back to my lamb bhuna.
50% of the tickets had sold out inside quarter of an hour, but at the time of writing there are still some left. It’s now 7.20pm, and even those fans who were not sat on their phone can still buy one from the comfort of their armchair. No queuing, no moaning, no problem at all.
I would imagine there is a group of the club directors sat somewhere right now having a cheeky glass of wine. The first big test of the new system seems to have been a huge success. I wouldn’t imagine demand for away games will be as large as it has been today for any game other than Grimsby this season, unless we’re in the top three of four. The much-heralded system seems to work for most people. There will still be a Luddite somewhere wafting his fistful of fivers around demanding to buy the old-fashioned way, but unfortunately technology moves on and if we’re to truly be a forward thinking Football League club then this is the way forward.
I was chastised earlier a little for thanking the club for their efforts, but I think they should be applauded, along with the hairy bloke who keeps popping up in Alan Long’s Facebook live chats. I’ve implemented new systems before, not ticketing but new technology and systems in various Builders Merchants. I have never had one implementation go smoothly, I always found that the branches moaned about the old system but moaned even more about the new one. Things would go wrong, you could never deliver the right information in the right way and eventually I binned off the job because it wound me up too much. Trust me when I say the work that has gone in behind the scenes will be substantial, and I doubt very much it was fulfilled inside normal 9-5 hours. Therefore I will thank the club, again, for bringing in such an easy and forward thinking system for the benefit of all season ticket holders and genuine fans.
Now, let’s hope our integration back into the Football League is just as much of a success.