A MAJOR shake-up in the sale of tickets to Edinburgh's flagship fireworks concert has been ordered, to coincide with the new Virgin Money sponsorship deal.
Organisers of the Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) have confirmed the traditional ballot for thousands of tickets has been abandoned in favour of a general sale at the start of next month.
Festival-goers have had to wait months in previous years to find out if they had secured tickets for the traditional climax to the capital's festivals season.
Organisers admitted the previous system had become "old-fashioned" with the rethink aimed at rewarding people who wanted to buy their tickets early.
However, under the terms of the deal, Virgin Money will be allocated more than a quarter of the 12,500 tickets to give away to staff and customers.
The Scotsman revealed last month that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert in Princes Street Gardens was to be rebranded the Virgin Money Fireworks Concert, after the bank agreed a two-year deal worth at least 500,000.
It has also confirmed a three-year deal to bankroll the Fringe's free entertainment arenas on the Royal Mile and the Mound, worth a reputed 750,000 over three years.
Crowds of more than 250,000 regularly flock to the various vantage points around the city to watch the fireworks, which were first held in 1982 and were initially sponsored by Glenlivet before Bank of Scotland took over in 1995.
Tickets are much sought-after and the majority have been allocated by a postal ballot.
Under the new arrangements, tickets for the 2,000-capacity Ross Theatre and the 12,500 places in the gardens arena will go on sale on 2 April - along with all other Festival events - and be available only until 30 April. A second allocation will go on sale on 18 July and a limited number will be held back for release the day before the event, on Sunday, 4 September.
A spokeswoman for the EIF said: "We felt it was time to refresh things, as it was a bit old-fashioned with people having to send off an application with a cheque or postal order and wait for a while to see if they were successful in the ballot.
"People are much more used to booking online these days and we feel it is also right to reward people who want to buy their tickets well in advance."
Virgin Money said it would be "making the most" of its 4,000 tickets, with some expected to help raise money for charity.Chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia said: "Virgin Money is committed to supporting events which bring communities together and make everyone better off, and that is undoubtedly the case with the Edinburgh International Festival fireworks concert."
"We are focused on doing all we can supporting the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in ensuring the concert builds on its 28-year history of delighting audiences in Edinburgh."
Virgin Money is the latest new sponsor to get involved in the festivals, following the decision of Caledonian Brewery to back the Fringe and Foster's to bankroll its biggest comedy award.
But the film festival is thought to be struggling to find a headline sponsor to replace its long-time backer, Standard Life.