Big Hearts: Inverness Caledonian Thistle hit new record attendance as virtual ticket sales close in on 10,000 mark

With Inverness due to receive no pay-per-view revenue from their match against Hearts, the two clubs have come together and raised funds for the home side, showcasing their friendship once again. Jamie Mcintosh takes a look at the virtual ticket idea and the relationship between the two clubs.

Fans had the options to purchase either a £5 print-at-home ticket, or a £10 ticket and accompanying letter of thanks, both signed by Inverness manager John Robertson. (Photo Credit – Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC)

Inverness Caledonian Thistle are set to receive a substantial five-figure sum in ticket revenue for their game against Hearts on Friday 26th February, despite the fact that not one supporter will be sat inside the Tulloch Caldonian Stadium for the match.

Due to this particular fixture being selected for TV coverage by BBC Scotland, Inverness have not been able to provide a pay-per-view service for visiting supporters and non-season ticket holders, as they have done for all previous home fixtures.

The current COVID-19 regulations still make it impossible for supporters to attend matches and enter stadiums across Scotland, so the pay-per-view streams that clubs have offered in place of a seat in the ground have brought some much needed income to teams all over the country.

With no option for revenue through pay-per-view sales, Inverness and opponents Hearts agreed on the sale of virtual tickets, with supporters having the option of paying £5 for a ticket they could print at home, or paying £10, which would see a ticket arrive at the supporter’s doorstep with an accompanying personal letter of thanks, both of which being signed by Inverness manager John Robertson.

Robertson is a beloved figure in both Inverness and Edinburgh, having played the majority of his career at Hearts. The two clubs have had a strong relationship for a number of seasons, with Inverness having made a donation to Hearts in 2013, when the Edinburgh club were in severe financial difficulty. This relationship has been re-emphasised recently, as Hearts were one of the first teams to come out and show support for Robertson, who has taken a leave of absence from his position due to family bereavement. Inverness’ director, Gordon Fyfe, spoke of the clubs’ relationship and how the idea of virtual tickets came to be:

“The idea of the virtual ticket came from Stevie Kilgour, General Secretary of the Federation of Hearts Supporters, who recognised that Inverness would lose out due to the fact that BBC Scotland were televising the game live, therefore no income would be generated from pay-per-view sales. 

“Hearts fans also remember the gesture by Inverness in August 2013, when the club made a generous donation to the Hearts 1874 Fighting Fund, giving Hearts a share of the gate receipts when Hearts took 1,100 fans to Inverness. During the summer, Inverness also argued strongly that relegating Hearts was grossly unfair, believing that no club should suffer hardship as a result of COVID-19.   We also supported repeated but unsuccessful proposals by Hearts to restructure the SPFL, seeing this as an obvious move to ensure no club suffered as a result of the pandemic.”

The club has sold close to 10,000 virtual tickets, with the majority of these being the more expensive £10 tickets, meaning that Inverness are due to receive a fee of just under £100,000. The number of tickets sold has even broken Inverness’ record home attendance, which previously stood at 7,753 from a match against Rangers in 2008.

The letter has a personal touch for each supporter, as it outlines the relationship that Hearts and Inverness have built together. (Photo Credit – Jamie Mcintosh)

Inverness Chief Executive Officer Scott Gardiner, formerly of Hearts, said: “Everyone at the club is both astonished and full of gratitude to the Hearts fans, who have made the most incredible financial effort.  This has made a huge difference to us in this most stressful and challenging of seasons.  The fans have shown a collective level of goodwill, seldom seen in football.  We hugely appreciate the kindness shown towards a fellow football club.”

There are very few positive relationships in Scottish football just now – after the controversial curtailing of the 2019/20 season, the majority of the 42 clubs in the SPFL voted to end the season prematurely, relegating the three bottom clubs in the top three leagues as a result, with Hearts dropping into the Championship as a result.

Inverness stood alongside Hearts in the voting process and by doing so, gained the respect of many Hearts supporters and officials at the club, one of which being Foundation of Hearts Chairman Stuart Wallace, who has seen the generosity of Hearts fans first-hand:

“I think it definitely sums up the loyalty and generosity of Hearts fans, donating seems to be part of their DNA. I think the fact John Robertson is the Inverness manager helps, however so does their gesture from 2013 and the fact they were strong in their support for us last summer. The fans clearly have long lasting memories.” 

There hasn’t been a lot for football clubs to shout about in the last year – no supporters, no income and frankly not enough support or clarity from the governing bodies. However, this showing of defiance and togetherness from Hearts and Inverness provides hope that, together, Scottish football clubs can withstand the COVID-19 pandemic.

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