WANDERERS CEO Neil Hart said he was surprised by the negative reaction from some quarters to the introduction of a membership program at the University of Bolton Stadium.
Fans were told on October 25 that they need to register to purchase tickets for last weekend’s FA Cup clash with Stockport County, and that in the future those who don’t had no subscription could not purchase a seat without providing their contact details online.
This caused a reaction from some fans, some of whom believed the introduction of the program was rushed and others who had technical issues in the process.
Speaking to The Bolton News, Hart said the criticism came from a “vocal minority” on social media, but the process had been speeded up to stem the escalation of crowd disorder issues.
ARE YOU SURPRISED BY THE REACTION TO THE MEMBERSHIP PLAN?
âI’m surprised, but I would classify him as a minority, a vocal minority, which tends to operate on social media.
âThere are a number of supporters who contacted the club, directly with me, and we spoke to them in an honest and open manner and resolved any issues they had, and they came away happy.
CAN YOU EXACTLY EXPLAIN WHY THE MEMBERSHIP SCHEME WAS IMPLEMENTED AT THIS STAGE OF THE SEASON?
âWe started talking when I arrived at the club in July and August about the ticketing policy.
âThe strategic intention here is that we need to modernize many aspects of the football club, and our ticketing policy and our ability to collect data to talk to supporters will be key to moving forward. It’s 2021, we are working in the digital age, and the strategy has always been to introduce this pattern.
âIn an ideal world, would we have done this in preseason? Yes. But related to the mess – and those who were there for the Wigan game saw what was going on. It was a minority but totally out of service and we couldn’t identify these supporters precisely for this reason, we didn’t know who we were selling tickets to.
“It’s not just a mess in the Wigan game, we had issues in several matches before that. And I’ll give a very real example – I walked out of the lobby after Rotherham’s game and there were fans from both clubs fighting, with a Rotherham fan lying flat on his back.
âI am sure your readers will agree that this is totally unacceptable and that we need to take action. The start of this is a ticketing policy.
“We quickly made the decision to introduce the program and I apologize to the fans if they think he is coming from left field or that he took them by surprise. This does not apply to holders of d ‘subscriptions, we know who you are, we know where you are sitting, this only applies to match-by-match buyers.
ONE OF THE COMMON CRITICISMS IS THAT A MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM WILL AFFECT TICKET SALES AND CLUB ACTIVITIES.
âIt’s a two to three minute online exercise, and any music or sporting event you attend anywhere in this country will ask for the same level of data.
âWe are not asking for anything ridiculous. It’s free, but we want to know who’s coming to the stadium and use that data to talk to you, let you know what we’re doing, events, offers, activities, family days, half-season passes, etc. .
âWe’re going to evolve membership, look at the benefits and improve it. We will also have consultation meetings with the Supporters’ Trust on what this will look like.
âOverall yes I was a little disappointed with the minority but it got the traction we were hoping for.
âI’m working on facts, not what 15-20 people are saying on social media. Within two weeks of the membership launch, sitting here today at lunchtime on Thursday, November 11, we have 9,200 members of which 75 percent are non-subscription members. That’s 7,000 datasets that don’t have a subscription.
âIf you look at our average crowd, which is around 15,500 this season without the cup, looking at it smartly, there are 10,000 season ticket holders and an away contingent set aside, we have pretty much nearly captured our match by match casual buyers.
âSo what we wanted to achieve, we did. We and our stakeholders – SAG, local authority, police, are satisfied with the steps we have taken and are now in a better position to move forward.
WILL THE CLUB LOSE BUSINESS AS A RESULT OF A MEMBERSHIP PLAN?
âWe haven’t seen it and haven’t seen it since we introduced it. We have tickets for Stockport on sale and they are almost sold out.
âWe have a crowd for the game against Crewe which will be similar to that against Gillingham, around the 13,000 mark.
âWe are where we expected. A few supporters said the crowd was not big against Stockport but that was where we expected it to be, membership system or not.
âIf you look at two years ago when we faced Plymouth Argyle in the FA Cup I think the gate was 7,000. There’s no difference there, actually I think we’re a little ahead of the Stockport game on Sunday.
“We are not seeing any impact on sales and in fact what I hope to see is that the membership program will have a commercial impact on the club as we have 7,000 sets of supporter data that are not season ticket holders and this allows us to say ‘come join us’ or âbuy a half-season passâ.
âWe will be increasing the number of members over the next few months. ”
WILL APPLYING FOR MEMBERSHIP ONLINE CAUSE PROBLEMS FOR OLDER SUPPORTERS?
âIt caused a little problem with our older demographics, but what we tried to do there is support them. See the ticket office as a help desk. You can call them, physically enter Bolton Central. Danny Scott and his team are fantastic and great people and have been here for many years. They know our systems and our supporters, so they will help you do what you need to do. This support has been there from the start.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A MEMBERSHIP DIAGRAM IN RELATION TO SUPPORTERS WHO ARE WAKING UP AND LOOKING FOR A GAME?
âIt allows us to communicate with people, to tell them what we are doing, to make them feel that they are a part of it. And not symbolically, we really want them to be part of the Bolton The vagabonds family. This is something that we have not been able to do.
âWe have our own database, our own data sets, current data. And you can always wake up one morning and think “I’m a Bolton fan, haven’t been to a game for a few years, I fancy Crewe tomorrow.” âGo online, go to the box office and we’ll sell you a ticket, as long as you fill out all five or six lines of information. It’s simple and straightforward.
âI went to a concert in Manchester a few weeks ago and did just that, providing my data, who I was, where I live, key information. This is the norm.
âI understand that football fans don’t like change. And I’m sorry it took people by surprise. But it is in the interest of the football club and 95% of the supporters are committed to it.
âI’m sure people make mountains with molehills here.
âAnother point that deserves to be underlined is that on Tuesday we sent a small thank you to the 8,500 people who had joined. On social media, what you see are 15-20 negative comments, but what supporters don’t see – and that’s the context and openness to the facts – is that within two hours of this outing we had 500 additional members.
âFacts and data tell the story, not a small minority of people being negative about it.
“I think we are doing the right thing for this football club, from a ticketing and data perspective.”
WHICH STAKEHOLDERS DID YOU CONSULT BEFORE LAUNCHING THE DIAGRAM?
âThe main stakeholders we spoke with after the trouble against Wigan, but also before, before other games were the Greater Manchester Police and our local authority.
âBefore the mess happened, we as a management group thought that was the direction the club needed to go.
âWe want to be a professional team and if you go to any Premier League club or most professionally managed EFL clubs that’s what’s in place.
âI can’t buy a ticket at United, City, Arsenal or Blackburn Rovers without joining some sort of membership program or having an identification number. It is no different.
âBolton Wanderers ticketing policy has not been updated for several years. And it’s time for that to happen.
âIt will be part of the furniture. ”