Liverpool Football Club has one of the largest fan bases of any sports team in the world. With estimates varying as to the exact number, it is difficult to say precisely how many supporters the club boast, but the figure generally accepted is around the 500 million mark worldwide.
In 2014, then-chief commercial officer Billy Hogan (now managing director) claimed the number was around 580 million, according to club research. What we do know for certain is that Liverpool are the sixth most followed football club on social media in the world.
Whatever the exact figure of fans is, one thing is clear: Liverpool have a huge following. Despite a relative lack of success in trophies in the previous decade or so, Liverpool's fans flock from far and wide; the club is still a huge draw.
Of course, that is a good thing in many ways: the club has huge revenues and a massive global attraction, and have a huge appeal in the form of their fans. Mention Liverpool to people all over the world, and they know exactly what you are talking about.
There are very few drawbacks with having a big following, but there is a very major one, in the form of ticket sales. Anfield has a capacity of 54,074 since being newly expanded with the addition of the Main Stand, but quite simply the demand for tickets is much higher than that.with having a big following, but there is a very major one, in the form of ticket sales.
Unofficial estimates suggest that for an average league game, each ticket could be sold six times over. The accuracy of such a claim is not known, but is certainly a feasible guess. Even at £50-plus, seats sell fast.
Whilst many clubs struggle to sell-out at all for some matches, the Reds do so within hours, leaving many without tickets, without even mentioning the fact that fans are asked to stump up all the cash for the first half of the season at once, rather than buying in stages as with other teams, which can prove inhibitive for some.
If you thought the fume over a lack of transfer activity was getting to some people – anger over Anfield tickets (or, rather, a lack of them) is off the scale.
The way that Liverpool sell tickets poses a problem, although in fairness to the club, the solution is not an easy one to pinpoint, when so many people want a commodity so limited.
Season ticket holders, of which there are about 30,000 (or about 55% of the attendance), have their seats guaranteed, but only after waiting for perhaps fifteen or more years to get one.
Right now, Liverpool's season ticket waiting list is so long (estimated at more than twenty seasons), they have closed it, so new people cannot add their name to the list. The admin involved to add more names to an already out of control file would simply be overwhelming.
The remaining 45% of tickets are split between hospitality tickets (of which there are around 7000 per game) and tickets sold through the Members Ticket Sale.
The club say any remaining tickets after the Members Ticket Sale go through to non-members (a general sale), but the likelihood of there being any left is less than Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher coming out of retirement to play for Everton – it just doesn’t happen.
A new scheme designed to get more local fans into Anfield has seen around 2% of the seats at Anfield reserved for those with an ‘L’ postcode, but whilst that is a positive move to get more local people involved and stop the detachment, what about the rest?
Liverpool fans who live within a few miles of Anfield – just like at any other top club – are vastly outnumbered by those who live further away. The local ticketing scheme might help some people (including myself, in fact), but they are very much in the minority – ticketing is a much wider issue.
Anyone unable to purchase a season ticket – either those in the queue, or those waiting for it to reopen for them to get in it – or those people who want to get to a few matches a season, but not every single one, must fight it out in the Members Ticket Sale.
Twice a year, Liverpool sell tickets in a big lot – in July for home games up until the end of December, and then in November for the remaining matches from January to May.
Twice a year, hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of people log onto Liverpool's official website to try and buy some tickets. If you are lucky, you might be able to snatch one or two matches; if not, you get none. Three hours online, with potentially nothing to show for it.
It is as simple as the fact that there are not enough to go around.
This Tuesday saw Liverpool's first batch of tickets go on sale, for those with thirteen or more credits from last season (those who went to thirteen or more league matches get priority for the following season).
Come the opening of the sale, the site crashed. For 45 minutes, the server refused to allow access, shutting down in fear that it was under attack, despite the fact Liverpool knew that people would all log on at the same time well in advance. What should have been an easy, stress-free sale turned out to be anything but.
Wednesday saw those with four or more games from last season given priority for four of next season’s fixtures – Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United. Having learnt from the previous day’s disaster, the computer system survived, but those in the queue would still be sat there for upwards of two hours – hardly an efficient method of purchasing.
In a final sale, the final few tickets – ironically sold to the biggest group of people (those with no season ticket or priority) – went on Thursday. Another long queue ensued, with some fans complaining of being added to the queue and then inexplicably shunted to the back after some time, in further technical difficulties.
Even those who were fortunate enough to get through had to sit for more than three hours in some cases, with some supporters on Twitter having had enough. Stephen Davies tweeted to say he would “not be renewing [his Liverpool membership] again”, and he was not the only one at the end of his tether.
Even without technical problems, without a queue, and without all the stress that buying Liverpool tickets entails (not that that is realistic), the bottom line is that many are left disappointed; left empty-handed and wondering when they might ever be able to get to Anfield.
Access to the club on a matchday is a real issue, with many future fans missing out. Watching on TV is one thing, but more should be able to experience Anfield in the flesh.
Capturing the imagination of supporters young and old worldwide, not just locally, ensures that Liverpool has a future as one of the biggest fan bases in the world. That is something that the club pride themselves on, and something that needs to be preserved.
The club acknowledge there is an issue. Former journalist and Liverpool resident Tony Barrett’s new role as Head of Club and Supporter Liaison involves five main areas of focus, and availability of tickets is one of those, along with ticket prices, Anfield, local supporter engagement and equality and diversity.
In the aftermath of Tuesday’s sale, the club sent out an email apologising for the “technical issues that whilst now resolved, were wholly unacceptable”, and promised an “already planned system review” into future sales.
Making the system that sells tickets work is a start, but short of building a new stadium with 300,000 seats or whatever it takes (which is not going to happen for financial reasons), the demand will never be met.
Whatever the answer, ticketing remains Liverpool's biggest challenge. Failure to find an adequate solution will only further alienate fans who already feel that there is a chasm between the club and themselves. Those who miss out – of which there are plenty – understandably feel disconnected.
Failure to find a solution would lead to Liverpool's status as one of the most-followed teams in the world risks being tainted.
Anger over ticket sales is a huge threat to the club’s reputation, and without a change of tact, it will not just go away.