Date: 29th November 2014 at 9:00am
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You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

Abraham Lincoln

017 EMPTY SEATSThis would seem to aptly sum up most supporters feelings towards the Club’s ‘Loyalty Point’ system. Few supporters either like or understand the loyalty points system and less are happy about it. Whilst most understand that Premier League games where there is a high demand for tickets are sold on loyalty points, games like the Shrewsbury Capital One Cup match, with an allocation of less than 1500 was not sold on loyalty points and there was much criticism of this decision, as there often is for any away match where the allocation will not meet the demand for tickets by Chelsea supporters.

The confusion about ‘Loyalty Points’ persists probably because it has very little to do with loyalty! There is a strong suggestion that they are not loyalty points at all, more ‘purchase points’, used more as a marketing gimmick to sell tickets to unattractive matches. Why else ratchet up the number of points for a European Group stage home game against a team from some obscure part of Eastern Europe!

There is little consistency in the system and it does not encompass loyalty as many supporters would understand it.

These supporters (albeit of a certain age) believe that loyalty is and should mean exactly that – loyalty in supporting Chelsea usually expressed as longevity in terms of support for the club, especially in the days when that support was most needed. I am talking about supporters who regularly attended Stamford Bridge and far flung fields of Norvern England in the 1970’s and 1980’s when the surroundings were less than comfortable and usually downright hostile and the football served up was usually worse! It took a particularly loyal supporter to turn up, week in week out, in the days “when we were shit” and of course that means anyone who turned up before 1996 (approx.!). Since then, things have been vastly different in terms of results on the pitch and the comfort surrounding you – as has the price!

Clearly there has to be some sort of ‘rationing’ system where demand outstrips supply, and equally I can understand the logic in not making attending Chelsea games home or away a ‘closed shop’ but the Club seriously needs to review the system and more important drop the somewhat disingenuous sobriquet ‘Loyalty Points’. They also need to grasp which matches are going to be high demand with more common sense than they currently do. Any supporter who has been going for years could have told them that Shrewsbury (a team we regularly locked horns with in the good old, bad old days) would have been an attractive proposition! A little consultation with the people who understand these things best would go a long way.

If they did, then they would discover that there is actually much consensus as to what loyalty means in terms of supporting the club and buying tickets.

As I have already said foremost among these is the length of time you’ve supported the club and the fact that you were there for a long period of time during the clubs long period of failure. But of course this does not take account of the youngsters coming in to the Club. It’s now 2014 and a young lad (or girl) of 18 would have been born in 1996 just as we were about to enter the most successful period in the Club’s history. It’s not their fault that they were not born 20-30 years prior and were not able to go to Rotherham away to see us lose 6-0!

Additionally most agree that the supporters who are prepared to go to Sunderland away on a Monday night in the middle of winter or the European away games no matter how far away or how lowly the opposition, are incredibly loyal.

The same could be said for the supporters who commit to attending games like the Community Shield, World Club Cup or pre-season tours. But invariably there are no loyalty points for these games.

You could argue that those who renew their Season Ticket early are incredibly loyal, but is this not just an indicator of having the money to do so rather than being loyal?

This of course returns us to the fine line between being a loyal supporter and the modern football anathema of being a loyal customer. Ultimately, this is currently what0365629 you are being rewarded for – not loyalty in terms of support, but loyalty in terms of your ability to both afford and purchase the product – in this case match tickets. If you go to every match as a Season Ticket holder or a Member, it should follow that you are a very loyal supporter (and of course most of the time it does), but by the same token you are in the eyes of the Club a very loyal customer.

But what if you are a loyal supporter who has been priced out of Stamford Bridge over the last few years through economic circumstances beyond your control – are you any less loyal? It is very likely that this type of supporter finds themselves at an incredible disadvantage in attending matches precisely because of the loyalty points system.

A very good friend of mine has encountered this problem. He has failed to get tickets for four matches so far this season including the aways at Burnley and Everton and the home games against Leicester and Swansea. Of course many would say that if he had a season ticket he’d solve his problem but when he wrote to the Club asking if he could renew his season ticket after a 3 year gap, reminding them that he’d had one for 38 years and in fact had paid for 4 or 5 for 25 years, right through the years ‘when we were shit’, he was told that he did not have enough loyalty points!

He points the finger, in terms of access as a non-season ticket holder, squarely at the ‘ghost’ season ticket holders and members ‘syndicates’ operating a big ticket buying and selling racket. He believes the loyalty points system encourages wealthy ‘ghost’ season ticket holders and fictitious memberships who rarely come to a game, just a few big high profile fixtures. They also are involved in the syndicated buying of away tickets which are then sold on in the black market, but they get the loyalty points so can get to big cup games including finals. Proof of this, he claims, is evidenced by the regularity that he is offered tickets for matches he can’t buy tickets for from the Club directly and also the rafts of empty seats at games where real supporters would have bought them up had they had the chance to buy them through official channels.

The end result being that the system is completing the process of squeezing long term fans like him out completely. He goes further, arguing that the club may have a vested interest here, in that they would prefer wealthy match goers who spend loads of money in the megastore and restaurants, rather than raucous long term old guard fans who would actually be bothered to turn up! His solution would be a return to identity cards: “It needs a return to face pictures on season tickets and memberships and if it ain’t you, then you don’t get in!” Food for thought indeed!

3590734It seems there needs to be a fair balance between access for priced out long term fans and access for those who do go and can afford to go regularly. We need to re-visit the loyalty points system to genuinely take account of loyalty in terms of long term support. There are several clubs who allow loyalty points to apply over a historic period, rather than just the current season.  In this way they can reward longer term loyalty by having a longer period of applicability.  Another friend of mine, for whom this issue has long been a bug-bear, supports this idea saying that extra loyalty points could be awarded at the start of the season to recognise longevity of support. He goes further suggesting different categories of Season Ticket and Membership to reflect this: Silver for 5 years; Gold for 10 years; Platinum for 15 years and so on. This, I think, is an excellent idea although I’m not sure where this would leave supporters like my friend mentioned above who had an enforced break for three years, and this of course re-enforces just how difficult and complex the issue around loyalty and the loyalty points system is!

Sadly ideas such as this have been resisted by the club in the past but surely in the light of the debate and dissatisfaction with the current system it must be worth re-examining.  The Club must also recognise that we are talking about football support, and this is inherently different from the purchase of consumables and brands. It’s not just about bums on seats and the money exchanged but also the affinity for and real loyalty and commitment to the club shown by the supporters, often over a very long period of time. This should count for something.

It’s not easy, but there are excellent ideas, suggestions and potential solutions to the ‘loyalty points’ system: making sure they genuinely reflect match attendance rather than being a marketing tool; taking account of longer term support and loyalty (as we understand it); simplifying the process and communicating it more effectively. But most important of all actually consult with the people the system effects directly on a weekly basis – the supporters.

The complexity around the issue can probably best be summarised by a very similar quote to the one that opened this piece and I’ll leave you with that!

You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

John Lydgate

First published in cfcuk