Outside of the Premier League and its global appeal, many teams are struggling to fill their stadiums. As a result, they’re looking at a variety of different ways to pull in new fans and keep their current ones. One avenue that clubs are strolling down is to tap into the modern convenience culture. To bring the matchday experience in-line which much of the rest of the modern world where we can order food, watch films or play games on our smartphones.
One part of the matchday experience that lends itself to modernisation is ticketing. Can clubs provide a seamless experience allowing a fan to buy a ticket, and enter the ground using only their phone. No queuing at an understaffed ticket office to pick up a ticket, no anxiously waiting for the postman to arrive in the days leading up to a game and no desperately searching for a printer cartridge to enable you to print at home.
The idea of a ticket wallet isn’t particularly new. It’s pretty common in US sports, I’ve used one when I went to see the Atlanta Falcons. Football clubs in the UK are also starting to come round to the technology, so I wanted to try it out for myself. This led me to the other side of London and coincidentally a derby between 2 sides that are both looking at the ticket wallet solution, Queens Park Rangers (QPR) v Swansea City in the FA Cup.
My aim: To buy a ticket on the day of the game and enter the ground using only my phone.
Why use mobile ticketing?
Looking at clubs like QPR and Swansea it’s not hard to see why they would be keen to embrace mobile ticketing technologies. Both clubs have spent time in the Premier League, and both are currently looking to get back there. Off the field, there is a clear trend of falling attendances for clubs that are not part of the top tier in-crowd. QPRs average attendance was 17,808 during their last season in the Premier League, it dropped to 16,026 during the 2015/16 season, their first back in the Championship. It has since slipped to 13,816 last season and is currently slightly lower at 13,716 for the first half of this season.
Swansea had an average of 20,622 during their final Premier League campaign, but are currently only getting 16,304 so far this season. Keeping fans and attracting new ones is clearly a major priority for these clubs while they remain outside of the riches of the Premier League. Mobile ticketing could be one way of doing this. It provides convenience and efficiency in the ticketing experience and appeals to a younger, digital-native audience who could be the next generation of football fans for their local clubs.
While convenience and familiarity are the key selling points to match-going fans for this new service there are also additional benefits for the clubs. Increased take-up of digital tools helps provide the clubs with useful data, which helps them refine their service. They can see what products fans enjoy as well as when and where they like to use them. Clubs can then avoid wasting time and money on products or services that fans aren’t using. QPR are also promoting security as part of their mobile ticketing offering. The app makes sharing easy for registered users, hopefully reducing the need for touting and comes with several security features including prevention of screenshots of the key ticket information.
How it all worked
So, at 10am (4 hours before kick-off) I unlocked my phone and opened up the QPR app. Within 20 minutes I’d bought a ticket and around 45 minutes later my ticket appeared on the app. I was good to go. As a new user of the QPR app and the ticketing service, the time it took me to buy a ticket was a little longer than it would take a regular fan. I had to set up my ticketing account and work out my preferred part of the ground to sit in.
Within the app, I was clearly directed to QPR’s Ticketmaster supported ticketing site where I could create my account, all using my phone. The Ticketmaster site is designed to be used on a laptop or desktop but it was also mobile-friendly. Ticketmaster’s design is consistent across all the ticketing sites it supplies, so it was familiar to me as they also run West Ham’s e-ticketing site. It may take a completely fresh user slightly longer to navigate. There was a small amount of scrolling and pinching required when selecting my seat, but nothing too frustrating.
The only pain point I came across in the process was in selecting the type of ticket I wanted. My options were ‘Normal ticket’ and ‘Print at home’. It wasn’t immediately obvious if either or both of these options would still make my ticket available in the app or if I had to select a particular one. I went with the normal ticket and sure enough, everything was fine. My confirmation email confirmed that my ticket would be loaded onto the app, which cleared that up but it could be made slightly clearer at the point of purchase if we’re splitting hairs.
It took around 45 minutes for my ticket to appear on the app but it was easy to find and the all-important barcode was nice and big, ready to be used. I arrived at the ground around 15 minutes before kick-off and joined the queue for the turnstile in the South Africa Road side of the ground. I appeared to be the only person in the queue using their phone to get in. Most people that I saw had large A4 print-at-home tickets.
It was good to see that QPR had a human on the gate scanning tickets. The human element is important when an organisation is undergoing some form of digital transformation. Having a variety of ticketing methods in place could cause confusion and people tend not to realise how much they value human interaction until it’s unavailable.
A successful ticketing field test
I was in and was treated to 6 goals as QPR battered their Championship rivals 5-1 in this Third Round FA Cup tie. It was a successful test of an innovation that the club has brought in. It seems as though the take-up of the service isn’t huge as of yet, but completing the full process of buying a ticket by phone is not something that will be hugely familiar to many fans. It’ll be interesting to see how QPR manage to increase visibility and take-up of the service over the next few years.
Interestingly, this could also be down to the environment around fans and the experience of visiting the club. It still feels very much like a traditional ground where you get the feel of a much more old fashioned matchday. The seats are tight, the overall aesthetic is fairly industrial and I received a slightly frustrated look when I said I would pay for my cup of tea by card. It is a difficult balance for any club to strike as many fans still prefer the traditional footballing experience. The challenge for the R’s will be in finding the best way to balance the value of this experience they offer with their new, shiny service.
Clubs like these face a challenge to restore the numbers of people coming into the stadium when they’re not in the Premier League. At the time of my visit, QPR were also offering a flexible ticket option where fans could pre-pay for 3 or 5 games in advance and then select the individual games they wanted to attend. This worked out at around £24-25 per match as opposed to regular prices for league games that range between £15-34 full price. It is good to see innovation being used in this way but it may be slightly futile until the overall price of tickets starts to come down.