My club, Huddersfield Town, recently made waves around the internet by launching a loyalty scheme for the fans based around individual attendance of games.

In principle, ensuring that those fans who attend more games are allowed the first pick of tickets if games are likely to be high in demand. It used to be that fans would present ticket stubs from previous rounds of cup competitions (indeed, I recall my Worcester City ticket being coveted for a future round against Chelsea) but that system was easily manipulated and unreliable (indeed, I recall my Worcester City ticket being coveted for a future round against Chelsea).

So taking a more professional approach and linking tickets sold with the people they are sold to should allow clubs to tackle this more logically and, certainly, there’s signs that that was the intention.
However, certain issues have arisen since the scheme was announced, and as time progresses it feels as though the club may have started with the best intentions, but have ended up with an idea that is riddled with problems.

In the first place, rewarding fans for the number of games they go to and labelling it ‘loyalty’ seems a disingenuous approach, so far as I’m concerned. If somebody works shifts and has to cover Saturdays every few weeks, they’ll naturally miss games – but it makes them no less ‘loyal’ than a teenager who goes because games remain half price for them.

More points are awarded for distant away games than closer (for the club) so I could have a field day for points just by mopping up the games local to me in the South East – Millwall are worth double the points Barnsley are, for example, and there’s Charlton, Bournemouth, QPR, Watford…all not so very far away. Even though I’d benefit, it seems unfair. A Town fan based in Newcastle would have a hell of a job on getting to places like Yeovil, and have nowhere, really, nearby except Middlesbrough.

Much the same, loyalty points are rewarded (on occasion) for using official club transport. This seems a little unfair also. Huddersfield is a big town, reaching well around the Colne Valley and the reach of the club’s fans is easily seen in places like Wakefield, Shepley, through Brighouse and into the Heavy Woollen area – I knew more Town fans in Mirfield growing up than anything else, and there was no shortage of them in Dewsbury, either.

These are all people for whom it would be unequivocally stupid to go to Huddersfield in order to access public transport in order to attend an away game in, for example, Leeds, Barnsley or Sheffield.
Last night’s game against Bradford City was thought to be the first for which loyalty points would be allotted.

Admittedly, a home game against a local rival wouldn’t be high on the ‘loyalty’ scale, but its always good to get on the board early. It turns out that because there were seats available by paying cash on the door and that would mean those people had no way of proving who they were in the loyalty scheme, that no points will be awarded.

Tickets were available through the club, and people who feature on the database bought them from the club in a way that their identities would be known by the club, but they, too, will not receive any points for their attendance at a game that, even taking into account the local nature of opposition, wasn’t the most appealing of draws.

There’s points available for buying merchandise, for spending in the club’s other outlets and generally getting involved with the way Huddersfield Town have spread into the local community which, I have to say, is something I’m thoroughly in agreement with. I know the support of the Yorkshire Air Ambulance (the annual Pedal 4 Pounds cycle rides in particular) are a wonderful thing, and the Keep It Up campaign does great things both for the club and the local area – I’d like to see these things rewarded with loyalty; getting involved with the community side of the club.

However, the cynic in me feels that the club have designed this scheme to reward those who spend the most money with them. Its true that more reasonably, in a system that can’t operate on trust, they can only judge loyalty that can be confirmed – if I rocked up to Charlton away with a ticket that had been sent down by my mother (not an unlikely scenario), there’d be a hornet’s nest in allocation of points.
Ultimately, what do points make? They make prizes. Prizes include a day with the first team, or a season ticket upgrade for the next season. More than reasonable stuff (and things that I guess, if you’ve put the effort in to attend every home and away game, would feel like something of a reward for your effort – indeed, the fan with the most points at the end of the season will be invited to the awards do to be presented with something)

So what am I wittering on about?

I just can’t shake off the feeling that, as well intentioned as it is, this scheme will reward fans who spend the most money with things they otherwise can’t obtain. I’m fairly certain that if I bought a season ticket, and a ticket for every game, yet just sat and watched Sky Sports News instead of attending, I’d still get the points. There are some things money can’t buy, for everything else, there’s money.

It all contributes to that sentiment that feels like the more you spend with the club, the more they want you to spend more money with them. I won’t gain many points (I got to one game last season) but I’d like to see those that do invest time and money get a palpable reward. Maybe people who attain a certain level of points could be given 10% of their next season ticket – something that would encourage loyalty in the longer term rather than a ‘money-can’t-buy’ experience.

Maybe, given the club’s partnership agreement, an arrangement could have been made with Virgin Atlantic – a half-price flight in the close-season or some such.

I won’t criticise the club for their intentions of rewarding the fans who show the most dedication – for trying to ensure that the people who stick with the team through thick and thin feel appreciated; I’ve done it, it’s a depressing thing to do at times.

Nor will I criticise the fans for wanting to get the best out of the deal with their loyalty – even casual fans shell out masses of money following clubs, often for little reward, so its natural to hope you’ll see some of it back.

The idea and the thinking behind it is sound. I just feel the execution is a little off. The system probably should have been tested more thoroughly before being rolled out and, I’m not sure that fans, particularly those who are likely to finish at the upper end of the loyalty charts, were really top in the mind of the schemes designers.

I’ll let you know if I acquire any points, and what I can get for them. I hope for a keyring by May.

Advertisements