Valley Gold and ticket priority

CAST chair Richard Wiseman spoke to Valley Gold committee member Richard Pemberton this week about the question of how much priority Valley Gold members should get when purchasing match tickets.................

RW – There has been some lively discussion in the last few weeks about the level of priority that Valley Gold members get for match tickets – in particular for the Fulham game on October 5th. The “value” of Valley Gold membership seems to have been upgraded since the Reading game. Is that correct?

RP - Valley Gold hasn’t increased its priority level; it was arguably lower than its traditional level for the Reading game, but was restored by the time Fulham tickets went on sale.  Each game is different, and we continue to work with the club to get the balance right moving forward.

Since Valley Gold’s launch 30 years ago membership has offered ticket priority as one of its benefits. Members give £120 a year, which initially supported the return to the Valley but now provides additional funds for Academy projects.  They don’t get a lot in return, but one thing that has been consistent throughout its life is top tier priority for tickets when in combination with a current season ticket, and second tier priority on its own standing.

Last year the football club introduced a loyalty points scheme in order that those who regularly travel away don’t drop to the bottom of the pile when there’s high demand for a game. This season, for the first time, the loyalty scheme includes points not just from this season but also from last.

As a result, the Reading game exposed some unintended outcomes. Whilst every care was taken to maintain Valley Gold’s priority level, some members pointed out that theoretically it was possible for someone who had only earned a certain number of loyalty points last season to gain a higher level than current Valley Gold members.  In practice this had little effect, and the tickets went to general sale anyway, but we’re putting into practice what we learned from that game to avoid such scenarios arising in future, and maintain an appropriate level of ticket priority.

RW – If I understand it correctly, someone who joined Valley Gold three months ago has greater priority than someone who has had a season ticket for the last two seasons and has been to three away games in that time. Surely, that can’t be right?

RP - But equally, is it right that someone who bought an under-11 season ticket last year but not this has greater priority than someone who has been a member of Valley Gold for 30 years?  It’s a thorny subject, and there are as many views as there are people.

Ticket priority is a tricky thing to work out. Most would agree that rewarding loyalty with ticket priority is a good thing to do, but there are hugely varying views of what loyalty actually means – our forums regularly highlight the controversy in one supporter claiming a greater loyalty than another, for example.  To introduce a ticket priority scheme based on loyalty, therefore, demands a definition.  A working party set up by the Fans Forum settled on measuring loyalty by the number of tickets a supporter had purchased since the start of the previous season, plus Valley Gold membership.

The club works out from game to game what the most appropriate priority tiering should be, and it’s an art as much as it’s a science with numerous considerations. One of those is maintaining Valley Gold priority at the levels it’s always enjoyed, which is not straightforward now the system has changed.

But actually the vast majority of games go to general sale anyway, which means everyone who had a priority could have got tickets. When demand is such that tickets are likely to sell out quickly, ticket priority is obviously more important - but in truth there are so few people who qualify in the top few tiers that it is very common even for those games that tickets are still available by the time the last tier before general sale is arrived at.

RW – Couldn’t VG be given a points value rather than standing as a separate category?

RP -  This is something we’re exploring, with a focus on maintaining Valley Gold’s traditional level of ticket priority.  However there are several obstacles to overcome, including that Valley Gold is not part of the football club.  As a separate organisation, under GDPR we are unable to share information on our members freely with the club, and we are limited in terms of sharing our members’ data for the football club’s ticketing system and therefore loyalty scheme.

We’re working on solutions that would ensure compliance with the law and enable the ticketing system to work even better with VG priority. However we must remember that Valley Gold members are eligible for its benefits by virtue of membership alone, not longevity.

RW – Could it be done so VG membership isn’t considered towards priority until someone has been a member for a certain time – e.g. twelve months?

RP - We have a policy that ticket priority isn’t made available until members have paid a minimum of 3 months, but we have to recognise that when you take out a membership like this it is not unreasonable to expect to be eligible for its entitlements straight away.  For example, if you joined a social club but weren’t allowed entry for a year you may opt not to join.

The Valley Gold Management Committee’s first responsibility is to the scheme’s success. Ruling out membership benefits for such a long time isn’t something we could reasonably consider in that context.

RW – Has the cost of VG membership increased since it was first launched?

RP - No, the scheme hasn’t increased its fees since its launch, and I’m sympathetic to the argument that there is greater value for membership now, at least in terms of ticket priority.   We’re reviewing the priority eligibility policy in light of this, but let’s put this in some context – Valley Gold members make a donation to a scheme adding funds to the Academy.  The scheme’s benefits are all they receive for their £120 annually.  Someone who owns a season ticket may have paid more than £120 for it, but they are essentially buying match tickets at a discount rather than giving money to the club.  Should Valley Gold have a lesser priority?  I think the balance is about right, but it’s certainly not as straightforward to get there as it may sometimes appear.

RW: Is it fair that a VG member can buy more than one match ticket – i.e. can buy one for someone who isn’t a VG member?

RP -  It’s the football club who decides how many tickets anyone can buy, and Valley Gold membership doesn’t allow members to buy any more tickets than anyone else; all it does is enable members to buy tickets earlier than those without priority.