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Royalty, not Loyalty

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As selling details for Brentford tickets are announced, @URZZ1871 takes a look at the "Royalty" Points ticket-priority system at Reading FC and asks if it could be improved.

Richard Heathcote

Ticket selling details for the Brentford game have just been announced, and as usual when there's a high-demand game there are cries of outrage that the football club isn't being fair to "loyal" supporters. As an example, one tweet in response to this said "The people who traveled [sic] to Middlesborough [sic} and Wigan deserve priority in my eyes."

Many people would agree with this attitude but they're forgetting a vital point that's behind the whole "Royalty Points" idea, and one that's fundamental to football in the twenty-first century. For most supporters, some of whom perennially play the game of "I'm a better supporter than you" it's all about loyalty - how much time, money, energy and emotion they invest in following the club home and away.

That's the emotional argument, of course, and it's a compelling one - until you realise this is a football club we're dealing with. Moral and emotional arguments are all very well, but they don't pay the bills, and it's no coincidence that the points system isn't called "Loyalty Points" - it's called Royalty Points, and it's not, as most people think, a measure of how "loyal" a supporter is. It's a measure of how much financial contribution they make to the club.

That's why you get 10 points for a home match, 5 points for an away match and 255 points for a season ticket - the club gets nothing except a small "seller's fee" for every away ticket sold, whereas they get all of the money spent for a home ticket or for a season ticket. For the same reason, the points value might be enhanced for a hard-to-sell cup tie - more points might be a small incentive to help shift tickets and so increase the revenue. This has also applied for away cup matches - don't forget that ticket revenue is still shared for cup matches, so in those case there is a revenue incentive to increase an away attendance.

But for run-of-the-mill away games, such as Wigan and Middlesbrough, the club gets next to nothing for away attendances. Yes, the team is better off for having greater support - but that extra away support doesn't pay any salaries or buy any new players - except for the home club.

I believe that when the points system was first conceived there were plans to also earn points on merchandise purchases - for example, buy an away shirt and get 10 points) but that idea has never yet come about, but it's a logical extension of the idea.

Admittedly, it doesn't help that Reading FC's Customer Charter states that Royalty Points are "our version of loyalty points" - but that just shows how deeply ingrained this misconception is that points are all about "loyalty." They're not, they're much less complicated than that, and they measure just about the only thing that can be easily measured and which also makes a difference to Reading FC - money..

I think most people are happy that top priority for tickets goes to season ticket holders - after all, they've made a financial commitment to the club at the start of the year, so are rewarded for that, and the current system is just an extension of that idea - financial contribution equals priority.

And, in practice, I don't think it's actually possible to develop a system that would be completely fair and would keep everyone happy - the idea that critics of the current system seem to favour is one where highest priority or reward would be being given to those who've made the most effort to go to a match, for instance you get more points for going to Wigan or Middlesbrough than you do for going to Watford or Millwall. That's all very well, but how many points do you award a Reading supporter who happens to live in Wigan or Middlesbrough? They are making a real effort to go to home matches and getting no recognition for it.

So for anyone who wants a system truly based on "loyalty", there are two questions that they need to find answers for. How exactly do you measure "loyalty", and what's in it for Reading FC to come up with the funds to develop such a system?

We do definitely need some kind of banding system to prioritise ticket sales- remember the old days of taking vouchers from programmes to the ticket office, or just first-come, first-served queueing? A nightmare for everyone, massively open to abuse, and just not appropriate for the internet age. So whilst "Royalty Points" isn't perfect, I don't really see what sort of system could ever replace it in practice, and I'm dead certain that it's better than nothing. It may not suit everyone, but then again no system ever will - when there aren't enough tickets to go round someone will always be disappointed.