Liverpool FC has provided up to date and detailed proposals for a season ticket amnesty during a meeting with the club’s ticket availability forum.
The meeting, which took place at the club’s Chapel Street offices in Liverpool city centre on Thursday July 5, was attended by four forum members in person with three others participating via conference call, while two further members provided written submissions in advance.
Phil Dutton, head of ticketing and hospitality, opened the discussions with a progress report on the proposed amnesty in order to bring the forum up to date on how the plans have developed since they were first presented in February.
“As you will recall from the last meeting, one of the ideas that was discussed was the possibility of the amnesty leading to the introduction of identification cards but having taken on board your feelings on the matter we will no longer be storing supporter pictures as part of this initial process and we will be looking to discuss with this group and the wider supporter base in general before making any final decisions,” Phil Dutton said.
“We want to make this process as simple and as user-friendly as possible and for the majority of our supporters - the current estimate is that for up to 75-80 per cent of fans it should take no longer than two to three minutes. It will simply be a case of downloading an app to your phone [the app is expected to be available in late August], entering your ticketing username and password to log in and confirming your personal details, name, address etc.
“You will then use your phone to take a picture of whatever photographic ID you care to choose of the 4,000 different types of photographic ID that will be eligible, and then take a selfie to prove you are the same person. That will be it; job done. The photograph that you have submitted will then be deleted.
“For those supporters who, for whatever reason, cannot complete the process in this way we will be putting an appointment system in place which will allow them to come to the stadium or to our location in the city centre in person either through the week or on matchdays. Again, this will be a short process and is expected to take five to ten minutes where they will go through the same process with the help of our staff having first made a booking online.
“Obviously, there will be individual cases which will take longer, for example if someone is looking to transfer a season ticket they will both have to attend in person, ideally together but it can be done separately. We are aware that this won’t be possible in all cases as, to give one example, the current estimate is that 412 season tickets are in the names of individuals who are deceased. In those situations, the supporter in possession of the season ticket will need proof that they have been using it and will also need to provide a death certificate.
“What I must stress is that there is nothing in any of this for supporters to worry about. We are not looking to take season tickets off supporters, we just want to know who is using it, but in order for this process to achieve that objective supporters will only be able to renew their season tickets for the 2019-20 season when they have completed the process.
“There are a number of other issues that need to be discussed, particularly involving friends and family initiatives and ways in which we can allow supporters to let us know who is attending the game using apps etc because we want to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. But for the time being this is all about stage one of the amnesty which is all about getting the right names on season tickets and nothing else.”
A written submission by Rae Bezer was then presented by forum chair Tony Barrett.
“The reasons for this amnesty still need to be fully, and widely, announced to supporters,” Rae Bezer stated.
“I don’t think that an announcement on the website is sufficient. A letter to each season ticket holder, or an advert in the local paper (or some other kind of advertisement) is necessary. There are still fans and season ticket holders out there who don’t regularly visit the website or use social media, and are unaware of the proposed amnesty.
“The announcement must include the issue of security, given the current age we are living in, but equally so, people need to be made aware of how long the season ticket waiting list is, and the average wait time, and the need to try and reduce this waiting list. I also think that when announcing the amnesty, that the club needs to emphasise that the aim of the amnesty is not to take season tickets off people, but to ensure that those using a ST have the right to have the ticket in their name.
“Overall, I think many fans are in agreement that an amnesty would be useful, and I understand that the club want to complete this process as soon as possible. However, in light of any issues that may be brought up during the meeting, I would like to stress that it would benefit the club to spend the time and resources needed to ensure this amnesty goes as smoothly as possible, rather than rushing through a process that could end up alienating fans.”
Responding to the points raised, Phil Dutton said: “We are definitely not rushing this. We are giving it all the time that it needs. But I must point out that this is not about the season ticket waiting list. If, as a by-product of what we’re doing, the waiting list is brought down that would obviously be absolutely fine but this isn’t a purge. In this instance, the season ticket amnesty and the waiting list need to be de-coupled. In terms of the communications element, this is something that is already under discussion and our aim will be to reach all of our supporters by whatever means necessary.”
Tony Barrett then presented a written submission from forum member Matthew Selby who asked whether there would be any implications for those who share season tickets. Dutton said: “We will need a lead name on the season ticket but we get that people share season tickets. In the short term, there will be no issue with this happening; in the long term, it is up to us to put a process in place that facilitates this practice.”
Forum member Tony Fitzgerald raised a number of issues, including whether the forum would be able to try the app before it is launched, if the club would be appointing a team to oversee the project, if the process will be free of charge and whether it will be accessible by all types of software. Responding, Phil Dutton confirmed forum members will be able to test the app in the coming weeks with a view to putting forward potential improvements and that a project management team is already in place.
He also stated that there are no anticipated software issues, confirmed the process will be free of charge and said a small trial featuring a cross section of fans is anticipated to run in mid-August.
Tony Fitzgerald then asked whether it was fair for the process to be called an amnesty given the connotations of an amnesty usually involve an individual having done something wrong. Tony Barrett intervened to say that this was an issue that he had already raised and the club is considering alternative naming options as a result, one of them being LFC Fan ID, with the intention of replacing the word 'amnesty' with something that is more reflective of the proposed process.
Forum member Kieth Culvin voiced his concern that the process could lead to issues between supporters. “I think it could quite easily cause trouble between fans over who takes ownership of a season ticket if it has been used by more than one person, particularly if the named owner wishes to take it out of the hands of someone who has been using it,” he said.
A similar point was raised by Rae Bezer via a written submission: “What if someone has been using a deceased member’s season ticket, but the family now want that season ticket to be used by someone else? What recourse does the person who has been using the ticket have? Will a family member of the original holder just have the right to take the ticket off that person and transfer it to someone else? Will there be any kind of appeals process?
“I can certainly see this being an issue if someone has been paying for the season ticket for a number of years, and has been attending all cup matches, and then someone else getting the benefit of the purchase history. Will it be possible for someone affected by this to prove their purchase history? If the season ticket is taken off them, will they be able to get the purchase history transferred off the season ticket onto a Members’ card?”
Phil Dutton replied: “These are all fair points and we recognise that there will be issues but in the majority of cases it will be for the individual supporters involved to resolve them. All we can do is take it case by case.”
Tony Fitzgerald raised a concern about “doing step one of amnesty without doing step two,” pointing out that in a previous forum the issue of transferring season tickets for individual games had been discussed only to be put on the back burner. That position was supported by Anna Burgess who said: “That is the trust element I think. If people don’t know what is coming next there is no guarantee that they will buy into it.”
Phil Dutton responded: “I know this isn’t going to be called an amnesty but bear with me; this amnesty does what it says on the tin. Over the next six months we will work on a robust plan which will allow supporters to use their tickets in a very easy and transparent way. The current terms and conditions are no longer fit for purpose because there are too many grey areas and that makes things more difficult for the club and supporters than they need to be. If we put the right plan in place – and I have confidence that will happen – there will be no grey areas.”
Anna Burgess suggested the club should put an appeals policy in place and introduce an appeals board for any contentious issues that are raised during the process, an idea that Phil Dutton said he had no problem with. Anna Burgess also put forward a proposal that given the expense of season tickets and how much they are cherished, supporters should be able to have a sabbatical if unable to afford them on a short term basis due to employment or family issues. Phil Dutton stated that “In principle, I have no problem with that but that is not part of this process, although it is something we can discuss going forward.”
Anna Burgess asked how the process will work for supporters clubs to which Phil Dutton replied: “We are still working through that situation because it is less straightforward for historical reasons. What I can say at this stage is there will be a process for supporters clubs but it won’t be exactly the same.”
Forum member Drew Morris said: “I think there is an acceptance that that something of this nature has to be done but the caveat to that is that we can’t end up in the same place in three or four years’ time. This has to be done properly if it is going to be done and it’s up to the club to ensure this is the case.”
Tony Barrett asked the forum members if, based on what they had heard, they had any objections to the first stage of the proposal in principle. The consensus of the forum members was that they did not, however there was also a consensus of support for an intervention from Kieth Culvin who said that the way the club executes its own plans would determine whether or not the process is a success.
“We are not here to rubber stamp your plans, that’s not what our role is,” Kieth Culvin said. “We are here to represent the views and concerns of supporters and hopefully we have done that. But what happens now is down to the club. As long as every possible eventuality has been exhausted and covered and as long as supporters are treated fairly throughout and there is transparency in what you are doing I don’t think the amnesty, in itself, will be a problem.
“But you have to understand that at the outset not everyone will trust what you are doing for various reasons and you have to accept that there will be issues that will arise that no-one has considered. The club also has to take into account that in the past it allowed individual supporters to have multiple season tickets and obviously this does not mean that those supporters have done anything wrong or are doing anything wrong.”
Head of club and supporter liaison Tony Barrett said: “It is clear that the club has gone to great lengths to address the concerns that supporters have about the proposed amnesty and it is also clear that those supporters involved in the ticket availability forum have gone above and beyond the call of duty to represent the best interests of their fellow fans.
“The input of supporters has been invaluable and has led to the club’s proposals being refined and, in some cases, changed altogether and it is now the club’s responsibility to ensure that it provides a detailed breakdown of how the amnesty will work in practice with the relevant information and accompanying timescales being made available at the earliest possible opportunity.”