'We're sorry but scale of demand took us by surprise'
ALBION's biggest away following for seven years heads for St Andrew’s tomorrow after an overwhelming demand for the FA Cup tie with Birmingham City.
Chief Executive Mark Jenkins has apologised to supporters who were left frustrated and ultimately empty-handed as more than 18,000 season ticket holders scrambled for 5,500 tickets.
"The demand, I have to admit, took us by total surprise," says Jenkins. "There was nothing in our recent booking trends which could have signalled such a surge of interest.
"Our most recent Premier League games at Birmingham had seen us send tickets back while, as everyone knows, the FA Cup has been struggling to attract the attendances and interest of old in recent years.
"But it was as if the club got swamped by good, old-fashioned cup fever and I’m afraid such was the demand for tickets it exposed glitches within our system. That made the scramble that much more aggravating for the fans and for that we apologise.
"The problem was not so much dealing with the quantity as the intensity of the demand. Ticket staff have said they had not experienced anything like this since the Wembley games in 2007 and 2008.
"We have done everything we can to resolve those issues and, going forward, believe we will be ready for the next high-demand game. Naturally, I’m hoping that will be a really exciting fifth-round tie!”
Albion’s biggest difficulty – and a source of major complaint – was the failure of the ‘Family and Friends’ service in the on-line booking system which enables supporters to book group seatings.
"We knew we had a problem and had alerted our software suppliers to fix it,” Jenkins explains. “It had not been a matter of great urgency to us because, again, the demand in recent seasons simply had not warranted it.
"We had been able to satisfy requests for supporters to sit with family members or friends without requiring the service.
"Similarly people have asked why the loyalty points system has not been used and the answer is the same – the demand had not been there to make it necessary. We hope to have this service available again for the start of next season.
"But the huge up-surge for this cup tie really caught us out."
As it is, Albion’s ticket office staff ploughed through the successful ticket applicants to try to match up their seating requests where possible based on their booking history.
"There will be some fans who I regret may still be dissatisfied but I cannot fault the efforts of the staff to try to accommodate everyone’s requests," said Jenkins.
Other factors were at work in causing a log-jam in the booking system. That so many supporters had not used their on-line membership information for so long was endorsed by the huge amount of forgotten passwords and e-mail changes, all of which helped clog the phone queues.
Equally, events beyond Albion’s control conspired against the club. A crash on the first morning of the nationwide credit card payment system piled on the problems and the frustrations for fans and staff alike.
"It has been a chastening experience for us and one we have learned from,” says Jenkins. "I hope the supporters will accept my apologies. Some things we know we could have done better, others were beyond our control.
"But we have learned from the experience and are confident we can prevent a repeat in the future. It would be fantastic to imagine that the demand will continue at the kind of levels we have seen this tie generate – and if it does, we will be ready for it."
***For those attending tomorrow's cup tie at St Andrew's, Blues have sent the below map regarding entrance information to the Gil Merrick Stand depending on which blocks fans are seated.***
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