ASA Adjudication on Heart of Midlothian plc
Heart of Midlothian plc
8 August 2012
Radio, Direct mail
Number of complaints:
Summary of Council decision:
Four issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
A radio and direct mailing ad promoted Heart of Midlothian Season tickets.
a. The radio ad, broadcast on 23, 26 and 28 March 2012 stated "Get your Hearts 2012/13 season ticket today ... there are great savings thanks to our new pricing plan. Benefit from the lowest season ticket starting price for four years as well as savings of up of 50% on match by match admissions ... Visit the club store [website address] or call [telephone number] to secure your seat ...".
b. The direct mailing stated "2012-13 SEASON TICKETS In order to provide you with the greatest season ticket value in 2012-2013 we are replacing our traditional three sales phases with an innovative pricing model ... known as dynamic pricing, [it] allows us to reward you ... with significant savings ... simply by adjusting our pricing as demand for season tickets increases ... we are able to offer you the lowest season ticket starting cost in over four years ... you can enjoy savings of up to 50% on match-by-match admission - but only for a limited period ... Available from Friday 23rd March 2012 PLEASE NOTE: There are a limited number of season tickets available at the above pricing. Once they have been sold the next batch of tickets will be released at the next available price and so on. It should be noted that pricing is subject to change at any time therefore we recommend purchasing your season ticket as soon as possible to benefit from the lowest price and biggest savings ...". A table headed "SEASON TICKET STARTING PRICES" was included. Tickets for adult Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze were priced at "£380, £350, £270 and £240 respectively.
The ASA received five complaints:
1. three complainants challenged whether ad (a) was misleading, because at the time of the ad's broadcast, none of the lowest priced tickets were available;
2. one complainant challenged whether ad (a) gave a misleading impression about listeners' chances of taking advantage of the lowest priced tickets;
3. three complainants, who received ad (b) on 22 March 2012 and 23 March 2012, challenged whether the availability of tickets at the advertised starting prices was misleading; and
4. one challenged whether ad (b) was misleading because it failed to make clear that a donation to Hearts Education and Community Trust and an administration fee applied to bookings.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
1. Heart of Midlothian plc (Heart of Midlothian) believed ad (a) was not misleading and stated that they began selling tickets at 8am on Friday 23 March and that on the same day the ad was broadcast, all of the lowest priced tickets (10% of the total sales) were available. They stated that as soon as they were aware that concerns had been raised about the ad following the lowest price tickets being sold out, they had worked with Radio Forth to remove the ad from broadcast in order to prevent further complaints being received.
2. They believed ad (a) was accurate because they did sell the lowest priced tickets on the 23 March when the ad was first broadcast. They stated that tickets sold out much quicker than anticipated and that historically it had taken two to three weeks for those tickets to be sold. They therefore accepted that listeners who heard the ads in the following days would not have had a chance to take advantage of the lowest priced tickets. They stated, however, that they would still have benefited from huge savings on match-by-match admissions and would have been able to purchase their Under 12 season ticket. If they had known that the tickets were going to sell out so quickly, they would have mentioned within the ads that the tickets were "subject to availability" or "available while stocks last" to make listeners aware that a limited number of tickets were available and once gone, the price of the remaining tickets would increase.
They stated that, in the past, they had sold their season tickets in three phases to give supporters a set period of time in which to purchase their season tickets at a specific price. They stated that they decided to do things differently this year and replaced the phased model with a more fluid dynamic pricing model and that this resulted in intensified demand. They said that on launching their season tickets they made a specific number available at the lowest starting price and that once they had sold out, the next batch of tickets would come available at the next price and so on. They stated that this process was communicated to supporters via their website and also in their direct mail brochure. They said that the only thing they did not communicate was the exact number of tickets that were available in each batch. Because this was their first time implementing dynamic pricing, they had no idea how many season tickets would be sold within the first few days, or how quickly they would go. They stated that when selling their season tickets via the phased model they had sold around 3,500 tickets in the first few weeks of the launch but on this occasion they sold 2,230 season tickets on the first day alone, which totally outweighed their expectations and meant that they jumped several prices within the one day. They reiterated that as soon as they were aware of the fact the lowest price tickets had sold out, they worked with Radio Forth to ensure the ad was not repeated. They also stated that the radio ad was only one of the channels they used to communicate the season ticket information and that their website was the main vehicle for communications, alongside text messages, e-mails, LED ads, match-day programme ads, posters and stadium announcements.
Radio Forth said Heart of Midlothian had advertised over a number of years with the radio station and that in the past Radio Forth had produced their ads but in the past year or so Heart of Midlothian had started to produce their own copy and that on this occasion they had produced a season ticket offer that was booked to run for eight days.
3. Heart of Midlothian did not believe the mailing was misleading because all of the advertised season ticket starting prices were available at the time of going on sale at 8am on March 23. They said over 13,000 copies of ad (b) were distributed to supporters and those who had received the copy on 22 March would have been in a position to take advantage of the low starting prices had they phoned or visited the ticket centre in person or purchased their season ticket via the Hearts eTickets website the following day. They said there were 600 season tickets available at the starting prices and reiterated that all of these tickets were sold out quicker than anticipated. Those individuals who received the ad on the 23 May, may not have had the chance to obtain the season ticket at the advertised lower starting prices but the third page of the mailing advised recipients that there were a limited number of tickets available at the starting price and the ad also recommended purchasing season tickets as soon as possible to take advantage of the low starting prices. These recommendations also appeared on the Season Ticket section of their website, on an LED display, and an announcement at a game on 18 March stated that season tickets went on sale on 23 March and that a limited number were available at the low starting prices. They believed that, given the variety of channels used in the week leading up to the launch of the season tickets, they had done as much as they could to raise awareness of the season ticket starting prices.
4. They stated that page three of direct mailing (b) included the text "We will be offering our outstanding U12's season ticket which includes an automatic £6 donation to the Big Hearts Education and Community Trust". This was reiterated underneath the season ticket starting prices grid (also on page three) and page five included the text "£6 from every Bronze, Silver, Gold and platinum U12 Season Ticket will be donated to Big Hearts, as standard". Page five also included the text "As we have done in recent years, an automatic donation of £2 will be included at the point of sale for your season ticket. You may opt out of this donation, should you wish, but we hope you will support us supporting our communities".
They said ad (b) did not include a statement that an administration fee applied to the bookings but that the 'tickets' section of the website explicitly stated the fees that applied to the various booking methods.
1, & 2. Upheld
The ASA noted the ad was broadcast on the 23 March and that all of the lowest price season tickets were available at that time and were sold out on that same day. We considered listeners would understand from the claim "lowest season ticket starting price" that the prices of the season tickets were tiered. However, the ad did not indicate the extent to which the lowest price season tickets were limited and noted the speed of sales had exceeded previous years resulting in the lowest price tickets being sold out much quicker than expected. We considered that Heart of Midlothian had not demonstrated that they had anticipated the likely response to the ads, but because 10% of the season tickets on sale were available at the lowest price on 23 March, the ad was not misleading on that particular date.
However, whilst efforts were made to remove the ad from broadcast once it was apparent that the lowest price season tickets had sold out, the ad was broadcast again on the 26 and 28 March and whilst other season tickets were available with significant discounts, the lowest priced tickets had sold out. Because tickets were no longer available at the lowest price and the ad did not include information to indicate that the lowest price tickets were limited in number, we considered that the reference to the availability of those tickets was likely to mislead listeners. We therefore concluded that when broadcast after the 23 March, the ad was misleading.
On these points ad (a) breached BCAP Code rules 3.1, 3.2 (Misleading advertising). 3.9 (Substantiation) and 3.10 (Qualification).
We noted ad (b) stated that the season tickets went on sale on 23 March and made clear to recipients that the season ticket starting prices were limited in number and that after they had been sold, the prices would move up to the next tier. We therefore considered that all recipients would understand that the lower price season tickets were available on a first come, first serve basis. However, although some members received the direct mailing on the 22 March (which would have provided them with sufficient time to take full advantage of the offer), some recipients did not receive the mailing until the day of the launch itself which had the potential to result in those consumers not being in a position to take advantage of the lowest price tickets which were sold out very quickly. Although the tickets had sold considerably faster than in previous years, we considered that Heart of Midlothian had not demonstrated that they had anticipated the likely response to the changes they had made to the ticket pricing system. Whilst the content of the mailing made clear the availability of tickets was very limited and that recipients needed to book quickly to benefit from the lowest prices, that mailing had not been delivered to all recipients within sufficient time for them to take advantage of that lowest price offer. We considered that the promotion had not been carried out in such a way as to avoid unnecessary disappointment and therefore concluded that ad (b) breached the Code.
On this point the ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 8.9 and 8.10 (Sales promotions).
Ad (b) included clear text on several pages that the 'under 12' season tickets included a £6 donation and that an automatic donation of £2 would be automatically included at the point of sale for all other season tickets. However, although we noted the website made clear that an administration fee applied to season tickets purchased at the ticket centre, over the telephone and online, we considered that omission of this non-optional condition from the direct mailing was likely to have mislead recipients about the total cost of buying a season ticket. We therefore concluded that the ad (b) was misleading through omission.
On this point ad (b) breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1, 3.3 (Misleading advertising).
The ads should not appear again in their current form. We told Heart of Midlothian to ensure future ads for limited offers included all significant conditions and did not appear at a time when promotions were no longer available.