Fans of the Premier League in England had been waiting for more than a year to get back to watching games in person. But their return to the grounds wasn’t exactly everything they had hoped for, as teams saw major issues in the rollout of a “digital-first” ticketing system at multiple venues across the country.
“awful trying to get in tonight,” one fan of West Ham tweeted at the team with a photo of a huge queue at the gate. “Give us our cards please. Your ticket system is a mess!!!”
“It was farcical,” one Crystal Palace FC ticket holder said, with another adding that it was “a shambles.”
Many organizations across the Premier League – the highest level of soccer in the UK and home to some of the top players in the world – have used the return to play amid the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to force the shift to mobile-only ticketing. The reasons given are the same as organizations in the U.S. have given for the shift – increased security, and safety in the time of COVID, though in reality the shift is almost always about controlling user data and allowing aggressive control over consumer ticket rights and secondary sale.
While leagues and rights-holders reap the benefit of the consumer data and access control that mobile-only ticketing systems, the fans are missing the start of contests and concerts, stuck in large lines in crowds that fly directly in the face of the excuse that the mobile-only system is in place for COVID safety. And that doesn’t even mention the people that don’t have smartphones and are therefore forced out of the mobile-only system entirely.
Beyond those bedrock issues, the Premier League rollout was done at the last minute, which clearly exacerbated the issues.
“This is just another example of poor treatment of some of the most loyal fans, which unfortunately is becoming more common,” a statement from the Palace Supporters’ Trust organization said. “The speed of introduction is unreasonable. It was only recently that the club were encouraging fans to find their plastic season ticket cards, as these would be uploaded with the season’s fixtures. Now, only days before the first home match, a complete change of tack, indicating those cannot be used.”
The Football Supporters Association says it is looking into the widespread issues that have plagued the mobile-only rollout, and going to the league if it is deemed necessary to suggest changes.
“All supporters should be able to get into the ground easily and efficiently,” a spokesperson told The Athletic. “We expect clubs to be able to deliver that as a bare minimum, regardless of what system they use. Unfortunately, to the predictable frustration of fans, from what we’ve seen so far of digital-only systems, that isn’t happening.”
As is so often the case, the complaints are largely being brushed over as ‘teething problems’ of the new system, with hopes that the issues will eventually smooth out. For every situation where loud fan complaints lead to a rollback to traditional ticketing systems (such as what happened this summer for Nebraska football), there are numerous where the push for mobile-only goes on despite the issues.