One of the many positives we’ve all seen since the takeover has been the investment and improvements to so much of Newcastle United’s infrastructure. A hugely improved training ground and at SJP new swanky corporate facilities which will contribute to the bottom line and support the club commercially etc. It is much needed and long overdue.
The question then is why is so much going wrong with the simple business of selling tickets to an adoring public to watch Newcastle United play? And apparently, why is so little being done to address it? And what the club does with ticketing so grindingly awkward?
As we all know United has moved to a digital season ticket operation and whilst people might be change resistant as a default setting, for me I don’t understand what is being gained from the perspective of supporters?
Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t recall seeing any consultation with NUST on the why and wherefore of digitalising the ticketing operation and how we’d benefit from it. I still don’t have a clue how this new system offers an advantage to me as a supporter from the credit card season ticket me and many others had.
As an aside I don’t know why we didn’t receive the usual pack we receive as season ticket holders and members. I’m not crying too much over that granted but its removal is a wee bit out of kilter with everything else that’s going on at SJP. If anything I thought the pack might have been upgraded this season. No explanation why it was removed completely.
If the impact of the new digital ST system is to require a culture change amongst fans to get into the ground earlier and the sight of queues on stairways and concourses then we move from inconvenience to a justifiable concern for public safety. That particularly extends to visiting fans and home supporters not far apart from each other at the Leazes End which doesn’t strike me as particularly wise.
Again, I’ll ask the question – what is the benefit of implementing this change? What was the plan to land it seamlessly from the previous method? I couldn’t start to answer that question.
Who is making decisions at the Box Office?
Who thought it was a smart move to expect supporters to apply for tickets for the Villa game uncertain if they would have to pay £44 or £74? I applaud the club for correcting this decision but why was it made in the first instance?
I would never describe myself as a genius with IT but I’m able to buy any amount of crap off Amazon, ill-fitting clothes from various sites, book flights and accommodation, do a bit of online banking and have achieved a level of digital literacy that might be described as competent. Why then, like many of us did I have an anxiety overload joining the cup scheme via the United website?
I’m quite reassured when I get that e-mail confirming I’ve just bought a ticket so was a bit baffled when nothing similar arrived when I joined up for the cup scheme. I wasn’t alone as I stood in the queue outside the Box Office which comfortably stretched onto Strawberry Place, having unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the matter by telephone. I’ve heard enough accounts of e-mails being blanked to understand that firing a polite question into the ether for the attention of someone at the Box Office was something of a fool’s errand.
It’s not just my own personal experience obviously.
I read this in The Chronicle and was appalled. A simple mistake has been made and at the time this was published there was no reported resolution.
It should be easy to resolve. The club isn’t selling any new season tickets so the most this girl would have missed would have been one game in the seat she occupied previously as a season ticket holder. Or she could have been reallocated as she has stated. But she appears not to have received any help or consideration. Hopefully it’s not the case but according to that report, a loyal, long-standing season ticket holder has been binned off without much consideration for her. That she has certain characteristics as a disabled person with autism should spur some people at the Box office into action to resolve this (if it hasn’t been already).
I did see something similar on Face-book about a grandfather who took his grandchild to the match as season ticket holders and experienced a glitch of some sort in the renewal process who was told the tickets he’d been buying regularly had gone. That can’t be correct because United isn’t selling any more season tickets. I think we can all smell someone being fobbed off and this stinks of it.
There is evidence of lots more like this but I’d suggest the whole away ticket ID checks were unnecessary. I question whether the approach adopted of away tickets being cancelled and a supporter required to provide ID to get a replacement is impractical as well as a huge imposition at most PL away games when the home club’s ticket office is nowhere near the away end. It is potentially unsafe and dangerous for obvious reasons.
You also have to ask what the cause of the latest e-mail blunder was where supporters who have clocked the money go out of their accounts for the Champions League fixtures receive e-mails from the club telling them something different.
Why have there been supporters on social media questioning how their own personal data has been managed? I hear whispers of something of a cavalier attitude to the management of supporters’ personal data at United and as a result I rarely open the marketing e-mails that I receive for that reason. That needs some scrutiny.
The current United website is to put it mildly, limited. I’d have thought given so much else being upgraded that would have been in scope of a significant upgrade. To my knowledge, there is no plan to look at it. I find that baffling.
But who is in charge?
I referred here to the curious position of the club’s marketing manager, Yvette Thompson having responsibility for the supervision of the Box office and its manager Stephen Tickle. Yvette works within Peter Silverstone’s (Chief Commercial Officer) managerial hierarchy as does Sarah Medcalf, the Head of Supporter Services.
We know Sarah joined United from the Newcastle United Foundation, where she was held in high regard. Yvette’s previous role was with Durham CCC working within public relations and marketing. I don’t see any previous experience in managing ticket sales which requires a specific skill-set and at Newcastle United an understanding of what the club means to its supporters.
I stand to be corrected but we do seem to have the position that neither the Head of Supporter Services (Sarah Medcalf) or the person in charge of the Box Office (Yvette Thompson) applied for those jobs, underwent an application or selection process or has any demonstrable experience or qualifications to perform them. This just strikes me as such a Mike Ashley-Lee Charnley way of operating and so unlike what the new ownership is doing in different areas where it is bringing those in with a proven track record, experience and qualifications. Its strange and out of step with the rest of the club.
Now this isn’t meant in any way to denigrate anyone at Newcastle United. I am certain all of those in executive positions have impressive experience and skill-sets.
But in terms of the Box Office there is a clear need for a dedicated senior professional with experience of managing a big PL operation as opposed to Yvette who performs this post as an adjunct to her marketing responsibilities. The club has head hunted top quality professionals across the club’s operations and I suggest that needs to happen for the Box Office and any new person reporting directly to Darren Eales. Some accredited project management and customer service experience wouldn’t go amiss.
August is just ending but this month alone we have had a nonsense about ticket pricing (Villa), digital season ticket implementation which has led to thousands delayed outside the turnstiles, e-mails to people who have paid for cup tickets telling them something at odds from the facts and a myriad of poor experiences which have the stain of Ashley-Charnley about them.
The club is transforming before our eyes in so many positive ways but there is something wrong at the Box Office which is in equal parts, systemic, organisational and cultural.
It needs putting right.
The Newcastle United Supporters Trust is compiling a survey of supporters’ experiences of the Box office. The survey is open to every supporter to complete – you should relate your experience, good and bad here
Keep On, Keepin’ On …
Michael Martin, @TFMick1892