GAA Football

Kicking Out: Fans being let down by ticketing woes

"And aside from the difficulty of it, there's the feeling of losing your independence too for older people. Needing someone else to get your tickets for you, a task that shouldn't feel all that difficult. We're discarding the aged, telling them to get up and walk or be left behind. That's wrong."

Fans pictured at the very top corner of the upper tier in Croke Park on Saturday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

SIX days out from the All-Ireland hurling semi-final meeting of Limerick and Galway, there were last night still plum seats available for Croke Park.

Section 333, row F. Right down close to the action in the Cusack Stand, almost right on the 45-metre line.

All-Ireland semi-finals tend not to sell out. The crowds are too big to put them together as a double-header, and too small to fill Croke Park on their own.

The big counties are all well used to the drill but even they are still adjusting to the radical overhaul of the GAA’s ticketing process in recent years.

Others are less well versed.

In Croke Park on Saturday, there was a bigger Derry support than there’s been at any game for 30 years.

When you got into the stadium, it was very noticeable that the Derry supporters were spread into four very distinct groups – in the four corners of the stadium, running into the Canal End and with the Dungiven Massif on the Hill.

There was almost nobody in the massive expanse of empty seats in the middle of the field during the first game.

The only option for tickets in Derry was online through Ticketmaster.

With Dublin playing, you couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t sell out so the majority felt they had to move fast. Take what you get. And what they got was almost exclusively in the corner of the field.

When Derry clubs received the message again on Sunday evening that Ticketmaster is their only avenue for purchasing tickets for the semi-final against Galway, there was wariness.

Sure enough, yesterday provided the same frustrations.

In 25 attempts by this writer at getting a decent view, the best tickets available for two adults were in section 334 – down low at the 20m line near the Hill 16 end.

Taking the two eldest children would have put us in the Canal End, which is where all the juvenile tickets have long been housed, but the best tickets yesterday were towards the corner of it too.

Derry fans are clear that Ticketmaster is their only option.

What has been made less clear is the fact that it wasn’t the only option.

Galway fans, for instance, do not have to go through the same process. They will order as usual through their clubs and Galway county board will hand out their selection of seats that will include plenty in the middle sections.

Derry county board – and Kerry, whose fans have it even worse having to fight for the general sale for a game that will generate huge interest – chose not to pursue this option and have handed over their allocation to Ticketmaster to sort.

Why? Simply because the burden of the administration is enormous and since Covid, the county board has not had the paid administrative staff there to deal with the orders.

Derry had to deal with it through the Ulster Championship, where things are still done in the traditional manner, and the interest for the final became a huge strain on unpaid volunteer staff. An enormous amount of it fell on the already weighed-down shoulders of county secretary Sean Keane who, unlike many of his counterparts in other counties, is unpaid in the role.

The GAA did release a number of tickets for the central seating yesterday but they sold in double-quick time.

The middle of the lower Cusack Stand is reserved for season ticket holders, which they have until Thursday to draw down, with much of the Hogan Stand held over to meet the requests of the competing counties.

At some stage over the next 10 days, there will almost certainly be a tranche of fresh tickets unloaded on to Ticketmaster that will provide better seating.

Derry fans buying yesterday and being stuck in the corners is partly miscommunication, a bit of Ticketmaster’s fault, and partly Derry’s own problem.

The lack of administrative staff has forced Derry’s hand and has in turn left their supporters having to play a game of chicken.

Do you buy bad tickets now or wait a week and hope better ones become available, but also take the risk you might get none at all?

Galway, between orders through clubs and tickets bought online, took around 10,000 fans to Croke Park for their game with Armagh, whose colour was far more notable.

The quick sale of 27,000 tickets in half an hour yesterday suggests that with the Tailteann Cup on beforehand, the Saturday double-header should go over 50,000, but it’s unlikely to do much more than that.

Ticketmaster, for whatever reason, continue hold back the allocation that Derry aren’t taking. Maybe it’s in case the county changes its mind, which it won’t.

The whole Ticketmaster process has been riddled with hiccups and frustrations for supporters from all over.

Earlier this year, former Limerick hurler Shane Dowling wrote a column for RTÉ outlining that getting tickets had become a bigger source of anguish than the games themselves.

He’s involved with Centra stores for work and one of the stores he’s allocated to sells GAA tickets.

He told of an elderly gentleman who queued for an hour to get into the shop, only to find there were no seated tickets left for Limerick-Cork.

“The poor man was devastated as he wasn't in a fit condition to go to the terrace,” wrote Dowling.

There has to be some middle-ground on this.

Firstly, there has to be better communication. If Derry’s allocation is being held back then their supporters should be made aware of that by somebody, be it the GAA, Ticketmaster or the county board.

Instead, they’ve jumped into a queue, clicked ‘best available’ and been stuck in a corner, with no idea whether buying them anyway is the right or wrong thing to do.

It’s not good enough to just all of a sudden up sticks from what we’ve been doing for generations and move to a completely online system, least of all one with the glitches that have been seen.

Older members are having to adjust very quickly to a whole new way of life. The widespread closure of bank branches across the north are indicative of the move towards a cashless, online society but it’s not all that handy for some.

And aside from the difficulty of it, there’s the feeling of losing your independence too for older people. Needing someone else to get your tickets for you, a task that shouldn’t feel all that difficult. We’re discarding the aged, telling them to get up and walk or be left behind. That’s wrong.

The youth can deal with an online system but that system must become better and more streamlined. It can’t be hard for the GAA and Ticketmaster to communicate a simple message that says Derry aren’t taking an allocation for clubs, so put their tickets online first thing when that is their supporters’ only method of buying.

Given that you have to register for a GAA Ticketmaster account to buy online tickets, it also can’t be that difficult to reward paying club members by giving them first refusal. We’re dealing with an enormous ticketing website that does pre-sales for just about every concert going, so it’s absolutely doable.

It’s all a bit lost in the middle right now, like the gears of change are grinding hard from trying to pull people deep into a new technological era.

It is the future and has to be.

But the present requires a bit more understanding that we’re not quite there yet as a society.

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