Sheffield United: Fans split over Blades' current loyalty points system as Premier League football increases demand for tickets
The loyalty point system which dictates when Sheffield United supporters can purchase tickets for Blades games has come under fresh scrutiny after a recent poll showed fans are split on whether the current set-up is not fit for purpose.
The current system was introduced when United last competed in the Premier League, as a way of attempting to ensure that tickets for in-demand games were distributed fairly. Purchases of season tickets and tickets for other games generated points, and were subsequently sold in tiers.
After over a decade, though, the gap has become vast between those who took advantage in the early days, and those who have either been born since, or couldn't rack up points for other reasons.
With many clubs in the Premier League limiting their away allocation to the minimum requirements - either 3,000 or ten per cent of ground capacity, whichever is lower - many fans have become exasperated, knowing they are very unlikely to be able to see their team away from home this season. Games like AFC Bournemouth on the opening day sold out early because of the reduced allocation and even the 3,038 away tickets for the game at Tottenham Hotspur's new stadium, which holds over 62,000 fans, are expected to be snapped up quickly after going on sale today to fans with 50,000 loyalty points.
It's a debate that has wide-reaching facets. Some supporters reject entirely the notion that loyalty can be measured in points, and others point out the fact that they travel long hours from their homes in the south to be at Bramall Lane for home games. Does that make them more or less loyal than a fan who went everywhere with the Blades in the 1970s and 1980s, well before this was an issue, but now cannot do so because of family or financial constraints?
Youngsters, too, are behind the eight-ball now through no real fault of their own. A young 10-year-old now, an age when he or she will be pestering mum or dad to take them to away games, was born at least three years after fans began racking up loyalty points and will soon be faced with a conundrum; they need points to attend games, but can't attend that many games - certainly away from Bramall Lane - without points.
This is a topic that came into view again recently when Sam Parry, one of the driving forces behind the popular 'Dem Blades' fanzine, conducted a poll on the subject. Over 1,000 responded, and 56 per cent have not seen United play away this season. Just over a third haven't even attempted to buy a ticket.
Over three-quarters of respondents to the survey are season-ticket holders and, discounting those who responded 'not sure', 69 per cent said that the process of using someone else's loyalty points to buy tickets was unfair.
For some, though, it's the only choice; one fan openly admits he has been to every away game so far this season without earning a single loyalty point in his own name.
Fans, though, seem split on whether the current system is working. One of the survey's questions asks if "the current loyalty point scheme is fit for purpose" and 41 per cent of fans either agreed or strongly agreed; 41 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed. The other 18 per cent responded 'not sure'.
Almost 67 per cent of respondents who responded decisively to the poll believe the current system should be reformed in some way.
“We decided to run this survey as a result of the discussions of social media and fan forums about away match tickets and loyalty points," Parry told The Star.
"It is a conversation that has grown much louder since the Blades won promotion to the Premier League, and it evokes passionate responses on both sides. I hope the survey takes some of that divisiveness and captures a few issues where both sides agree.
"For example, most responses indicate that when young people miss out on games due to lack of loyalty points, it isn’t just tough luck. There are so many strands to this that it’s difficult for the club, or anyone, to focus on what should be changed, if anything at all.
"So you must prioritise and I hope this survey can clarify where the consensus exists to do that. My opinion is that action needs to be taken to increase the attainability of away match tickets to under 25s. I think the best system for doing that is a ballot.
"Ultimately, those who were present at Southend and Crewe deserve priority tickets but as fans, we must be good ancestors - and that means sharing those away days with younger fans."