The GAA & – it could be so much better

I’m a GAA fan. Not die-hard, but a what I would describe as a ‘keen supporter’. I’m not the ‘travel the length and breadth of the country following my home county’ type supporter, but I usually go to a dozen or so games each year and I really enjoy that time with family. I’m not particularly affiliated to any club – I’m a county supporter and attend both league and championship games from February through to September, and as many of them as I can possibly get to. The games I don’t see in person, I watch on TV – though I don’t go so far as to subscribe to Sky Sports for the privilege. We won’t go there!

As I’m not a member of a club, I buy all my tickets directly online, on the only site that sells them – I am a registered user of the site and the buying process is pretty straightforward in most cases. Despite some other claims they make, the only real advantage of being registered for the site is that it stores your payment details, making the checkout process a few steps shorter. Other than that, it’s a pretty basic and totally unpersonalised buying experience.

This year I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets to all my teams home games from the very start of the league all the way up to the semi-finals of the football championship – my 9th home game this year.

When Dublin and Mayo drew their semi final on August 30th, my luck ran out. Demand for tickets for the replay were apparently unprecedented to date this year. The website crawled all that afternoon as thousands of people logged on to book their places for the replay on Saturday. Apparently a lot more than had been the case for the original game, whose tickets I had secured easily several weeks ago. I guess the drama of that semi final and the nice day thousands witnessed on their tv screens drew out a few more fair weather supporters. The site was unusable until late into the night. By Monday morning it was accessible again, but by then the first tranche of tickets had been sold. As soon as tickets became available again, you guessed it – the site once again became overwhelmed by requests and was impossible to use. 504 errors, 503 errors, timeout errors, 30 second page load times followed by more timeouts, it was all happening. And again, the site only became functional again when all tickets were sold. Huge demand vs the ability to supply – it was a vicious circle and one I wasn’t finding a way out of.

So here I stand (sit actually) with no tickets and not many options. I am sure there are many like me, and that’s the luck of the draw. You win some and you lose some – just like the game itself. However, I have two issues that are worth considering for the GAA. 1). don’t seem to have a modern robust website & ecommerce infrastructure to deal with a few tens (or at worst, hundreds) of thousands of requests to their app. It’s very possible to build systems that can withstand this type of demand with infrastructure such as Heroku (note: I work for the company that owns Heroku), Amazon, Google etc. A few hundred thousand requests is nothing and there’s no excuse for lousy customer experience like this. For everyone’s sake, this should be addressed. 2). The loyalty to both the GAA and my custom to them and through this, and many years past came to nothing when I wanted tickets to this game. Surely someone with an account that demonstrates consistent purchases from the dark and cold evenings of February should get preference over the 40,000 that don’t bother looking for tickets until the warm afternoons of August? August 30th was the first sellout of the season and I was there for every other game. The ability to track this loyalty easily due to the nature of online purchases provides an amazing opportunity for the GAA to get closer to the customers they can benefit most from. If airlines and hotels can do it, why can’t a sporting organisation?

Instead of rewarding a loyal customer and increasing the chances he’ll come back next time, a poor purchasing experience and lack of any loyalty program has created disappointment with the very customer that there’s the greatest potential to earn from and retain long term.

Imagine a scenario like this: GAA fans who’ve been buying tickets all year long with registered accounts at get an email three hours before general ticket sales open. “Dear Mark, as someone who’s been coming to matches all year we’d like to offer you an exclusive opportunity to buy a limited number of tickets to next weeks match. You have three hours to respond, after which we’re opening up sales to everyone.” Imagine had a mobile app and that app could send push notifications or SMS messages with the same message. Imagine that based on my location near a GAA ticket office, the app would suggest I drop in for a ‘special customer reward’. It’s easy to imagine, and in fact it’s relatively easy to make reality too. And the GAA and should set about doing it soon for the sake of customer experience and customer service.

The GAA is a sporting organisation, but also a retailer and it needs to adopt modern retail technology, customer loyalty programs, customer engagement and service to connect with it’s customers in new ways.

The technology exists to enable this to be so much different. The only question is whether there’s the will and the forward thinking to make it happen.

PS: Anyone got any tickets? 😉

PPS: I got a ticket in the end through a colleague (Thanks Helene!). But what makes this even more annoying is that there were a tonne of tickets available on the day of the match through touts. So many in fact that the touts ended up giving them away for nothing to the Gardai stationed at the entrances to Croke Park. Even they weren’t able to give them away, and there ended up being empty seats in Croke Park. Even more reason to sort this mess out.

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