All 20 English Premier League clubs will in the coming days welcome fans to their stadiums for the first time in 2021. The silence and artificial noise will soon be replaced by chanting, applause and maybe even the odd expletive.

There are perhaps as many ways to manage the return of fans as there are to plot a vital victory on the field. Clubs have been deciding who will get the opportunity to apply for tickets in limited capacity arenas, with tough questions such as how many should be available for season ticket holders and how many earmarked for corporate partners.

There is also, of course, the question of ticket price.

The most striking decision perhaps has been Burnley’s decision to offer all tickets free of charge for its final home game of the season.

Burnley will welcome 3,500 supporters to Turf Moor for the visit of Liverpool on Wednesday, May 19 – with all Premier League clubs playing one home game in front of supporters during the final two rounds of 2020-21 fixtures as England enters step 3 of the roadmap out of coronavirus restrictions next week.

As with most of its Premier League rivals, Burnley is to hold a ballot for the restricted number of tickets. The ballot is open to all supporters who retained their season ticket for the 2020-21 season, and have subsequently renewed for 2021-22.

However, while other clubs have chosen a variety of price points, the Clarets have opted to give tickets away for free to those fans successful in the ballot. Chairman Alan Pace described the game as an “opportunity to reward our loyal season ticket holders,” with the club encouraging successful ticket holders to make a donation to NHS Charities Together.

Burnley’s decision comes as clubs, organisations and their ticketing partners assess how to prioritise fans in these times of restricted capacities.

PTI Digital chief executive Mike Bohndiek told TheTicketingBusiness that the surest way to maintain a positive relationship with fans and other key stakeholders is flexibility and strong communication.

He said: “The challenge now for those rightsholders is who gets priority for what? What is loyalty in the context of having say 60,000 season ticket holders but only 4,000 tickets on offer? Where do your corporate partners, hospitality guests et al fit in? The question has arguably moved away from a technological one – the how – into a far more human one – the who. This is the biggest challenge in the industry for balloting and you will not please everyone.

“Those who are doing it well are those who are communicating. Not just communicating with facts, dates and times of applications and the like, but with empathy and emotion. When thinking of that communications plan, ask yourself ‘How would I feel as a season ticket holder of 20+ years when I don’t get a ticket for the first game back?’. If you can talk to the fan as a fan, you’ve started down the right path.”

Bohndiek, whose company works with Edgbaston, Norwich City, Bristol City, Bristol Bears, said he has been impressed by the way ticketing system vendors have adapted to the challenges of the last year.

“A key question that ticketing companies have had to answer this last 12-months has been how flexible can their refunds, credits, rollbacks be?” PTI Digital’s CEO said.

“With rightsholders wanting to retain cash in their respective businesses, be that sports or entertainment, flexibility here has been important. In most cases, it’s been an excellent watch as the ticketing system vendors in the marketplace stood up to the challenge and really broke their ‘slow moving’ tag lines that have so often accompanied the rate of development in the space.”

While Burnley is giving away tickets for free, Manchester United yesterday announced that 10,000 tickets for the visit of Fulham on May 18 will be priced at £30 for adults, £10 for under 16s and £15 for those aged under 21 or over 65.

Liverpool will charge £44.92 for general admission tickets, which is based on a weighted average of general admission and seasonal ticket prices across the stadium.

Premier League leaders Manchester City have priced tickets at 1/19th of the average season card price, ranging between £53 and £24.

Meanwhile, Wolves has today announced its stadium capacity has been set at 4,500 for the visit of Manchester United, with tickets on sale to fans successful in last week’s ballot from tomorrow (Wednesday).

The limit has been set in agreement with the Wolverhampton City Council Safety Advisory Group, in accordance with current government guidance, by a combination of assessing socially distanced seating and the space available within the concourses.

The club said just 10 per cent of the 4,500 capacity is reserved for corporate season ticket holders.

More than 13,000 supporters entered a ballot for tickets and have now been placed randomly into one of four Priority Groups. Priority Group 1 supporters are guaranteed to be able to purchase a ticket in the first sales window, and any unsold tickets will then go on to the other groups.

Image: Nathan Rogers (Unsplash)