Manchester United is targeting significant uptake of digital ticketing next season after investment of more than £1m in new technology and hardware at Old Trafford and the arrival of a soon-to-be-announced new ticketing partner.

The Premier League club, which averages 75,000 spectators per game in regular seasons, told TheTicketingBusiness that a combination of long-term objectives and response to COVID requirements has led to changes.

The club outlined initial rules for the return of fans for one match at the end of the 2020-21 season, although all clubs and organisations must await further guidance from the authorities before confirming matters such as capacity and social distancing rules ahead of the start of the 2021-22 campaign in August.

With fans present at Old Trafford just once since March 2020, the club took the opportunity to update its ticketing platform and upgrade turnstiles ahead of the expected return en masse during 2021-22.

Sam Kelleher, United’s head of ticketing and membership, said recently at a fans forum event that the club anticipates digital ticketing will be mandatory for Premier League games.

“All tickets for future [Manchester United] matches will be digital,” Kelleher said. “This change was implemented following guidance issued during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we anticipate that this will become a league wide requirement in the future.

“Our turnstiles were upgraded in summer 2020 in preparation for this, and there are many benefits including reduced risk of virus transmission, reduced environmental impact due to posting and ticket waste, reduced risk of lost or stolen tickets and enhanced stadium security.

“It is important to highlight that we have undertaken this work on an incredibly condensed timeline, so whilst fans will see some immediate improvements and benefits, including increased self-service functionality, we have chosen to initially, identically replicate what we currently have and further developments and functionality will be rolled out in the future.

“I am delighted to confirm that from June 2021, we will be changing our ticketing system provider, and are working on providing a system which is more flexible for both us and fans.”

In the past, Manchester United, like most Premier League clubs, has offered traditional printed tickets, print-at-home options and membership cards. A club spokesperson said the club will maintain print-at-home options for the foreseeable future, accepting many fans will remain reticent about making the switch to mobile tickets.

Ahead of the Fulham home game in May, the club took a number of steps to ensure fans would be comfortable with digital tickets, from direct communication to a step-by-step video on the website and social media channels.

The club was satisfied with the results as the maximum 10,000 fans returned to the stadium.

“The changes were a success for the first match with fans back from our point of view,” the United spokesperson said. “We had stewards and ticketing staff there to help, advise and assist and all together we had fewer than a dozen issues on the night so we were very pleased with that, although of course, that was a reduced capacity.”

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