ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB FANS' FORUM 2011/2012 SEASON

Meeting held at 11am on Saturday September 10th 2011 at Highbury House

Attendees

Aslam, Nabil - Silver Member Representative
Brown, Peter - Gold Member Representative
Christie, John - Over 60 Year Old Representative
Cooper, Steve - Arsenal Supporters Trust Representative
Ellis, Paul - Arsenal Supporters Club Representative (Domestic)
Evans, Richard - Club Level Representative
Fox, Tom - Arsenal F.C
Fellows, James - Away Scheme Member Representative
Gazidis, Ivan - Arsenal F.C
Georgiev, Angel - Arsenal Supporters Club (Overseas)
Gonnella, Mark - Arsenal F.C
Guthrie, Elliot - 16-21 Year Old Representative
Langton, Lois - AISA Representative
Lawrence, Paul - RedAction Representative
Roberts, Elliot - Electoral Reform Services (Chair)
Selby, Stewart - LGB Representative
Tanfield, Hazel - Red Member Representative
Upson, Patsy - Disabled Supporter Representative

Apologies

Padfield, Mick - Arsenal Supporters Club - (Domestic)
Williams, Lesley - Shareholder Representative

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[This was the first forum of the 2011/2012 season, so members were given the opportunity to introduce themselves, the areas they represent and what they would like to get from the forum]

Dynamics of the Forum and its future role.

The forum has been in existence since 2002. It has had a strong impact and input into such areas as the Arsenalisation of the new stadium, decisions such as kit design, steward protocols etc. We will tighten up on the ways fans can communicate with representatives. Some forum members have direct relationships with the fan base they represent - for others we will develop a web-form based process on the Arsenal.com website for fans to get in touch with you and help get an even better understanding of what fans want from the Club.

The Club wants to use this forum to formally report to fans on their thinking behind decisions and also wants input from fans via the forum representatives on what is working. We will bring our ideas to this forum and look to you for input and the fans' perspective. We will also be looking to work with you outside the forum in terms of getting your input and feedback. This forum is one of several ways we communicate with fans. For example we had meetings with AISA (Arsenal Independent Suuporters' Association) in developing our ticketing policy. We want to discuss substantive themes at the forum, not particular issues or queries which have more effective channels of resolution elsewhere. The main themes we would like to develop with your support and insight are:

  • Ticketing / Pricing Strategy
  • Stadium Development & Arsenalisation
  • Diversity & Inclusion
  • Supporter Consultation
  • Community Activities
  • Complaints Procedures

We will also be looking at other topics such as Merchandising and Policing and Stewarding Policy.

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Overview from Ivan Gazidis
It has been an eventful last 6 months for all those associated with the Club and obviously not all of it has been positive. We strongly believe that this Club is at its best when we stick together. We know that some fans are unhappy about where we are and that a lot of discussions take place amongst fans about what the Club needs to do. We understand and respect that. Our ultimate aim is to create pride and esteem amongst our fans and we accept that some of our recent performances have not engendered that.

We saw what the spirit of our fans is after our 8-2 defeat to Manchester United. Our fans at that game were absolutely fantastic. How they reacted to the game illustrated the strength of feeling they have for the Club.
On the field we are trying to compete with the likes of Manchester United, whose revenue is massively higher than ours, and . Chelsea and Manchester City who have unlimited funds available. With our new stadium and our internal organisation we can still compete at the highest level in Europe and we identify ourselves as being one of the top 10.

For us to be competitive within this context, we need to be better than them in what we do. As you all know, we now have a new majority shareholder in Stan Kroenke, who owns about two- thirds of the shares. About 3 ½ percent are owned by fans and the remaining 30 or so percent by Red and White Holdings. Mr Kroenke believes in our self-sustaining model and we should be proud of being able to stand on our own two feet.

There was a significant overhaul of the squad over the summer and contrary to press reports, it materialised in the way we wanted, with planned early and late business. We bought youth in early and experience in towards the end of the transfer window. We believe the squad now has more depth and breadth and we now have increased cover for our younger players who are continuing to grow within the Club. Given the context of how the window works, we achieved what we set out to do.

As a fan, it is sometimes hard to get a full understanding of the long-term goals of the Club and how the transfer policy fits in with that.

When you are in the middle of the transfer window you are trying to execute strategy. You do not want to reveal too much about where you are with certain players. You will always get a lot of speculation and incorrect information during the transfer window, especially towards the end. We are happy with how the transfer window went and how the playing staff fit in with our future plans. We have to understand the market we are working in. £30-£40 million a few years ago was world record fee territory, now if you're not strategic in what you do, you can buy a relatively average player for £20 million.

There has been some antagonism in the press towards Arsenal specifically lately- what can the Club do about and as importantly what can we as fans do about it?

In relation to transfers, we've always taken a low key approach and if we were to counter every inaccuracy reported in the press then we wouldn't have time to do anything else. In terms of the transfer window, all clubs have multiple conversations going on with multiple players of all different levels. The only two people who know our ultimate aims in the transfer window are myself (Ivan Gazidis) and Arsène Wenger. The dynamic of a transfer story can change hour by hour and any releases given may already be out of date, so we feel it's better to confirm something once it's happened. There's a lot of white noise at the sharp end of the transfer window and the media do tend to exaggerate a story. Arsène ignores all this and focuses on the footballing elements required for the squad. Player decisions are based on long-term proprietary statistical analysis. Ultimately, there is no agenda against the Club. Journalists are writing stories to sell newspapers and we are by no means the only Club in their line of fire.

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We have further continued the Arsenalisation of the stadium over the summer. The lower cores underneath the murals and around the lower exterior of the stadium are terrific. We have also put banners around the stadium. We have incorporated fans as well as staff as they are a core part of our fabric and history. The process has taken several years but we now feel and hopefully the fans feel a great sense of pride about our stadium. We are also developing plans for celebrating our 125th Anniversary in December and we will send you some more details about that. We had some good feedback on potential banner designs and we've launched an App to get further fan ideas in terms of what they want on banners inside the stadium.

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In terms of ticket prices, we consulted and took input from various fan representative groups. The price increase was not a decision we came to lightly. The context of this decision is that we had only raised prices twice in the last five years. If we had raised them by inflation year on year, they would be much higher than they are now. We always try to balance everyone connected to this Club wanting us to be able to compete with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea and being fair to our fans during the current economic climate. Working with AISA & AST, we are developing a more subtle pricing strategy for the future. We will always be sensitive to the economic realities of our fans.

Our ticket exchange scheme is integral to getting as many fans involved as possible. Those who have season tickets can use it as a way to recoup some of the cost and makes the season ticket more affordable. It also gives more fans the opportunity to get to games. This scheme delivers a lot to our fans and we are looking at new technologies to improve it for the future. About 1,000 to 1,500 tickets per game are exchanged in this way.

Can Arsenal use any leverage to push UEFA to implementing their talked about rule of clubs trading within defined financial rules?

Last week I met with UEFA and we were informed that they are looking at it very hard and they are serious about enforcing it. I am also on the European Clubs Association and that body is 100% behind financial fair play. We will not see any action until at least the end of next season, when clubs will start to be assessed. We can see with all the drama around the transfer window that the perpetual drive to "spend, spend spend" is not the long-term answer within football. We don't want our fans thinking that the only way to assuage the feelings of hurt pride is to spend indiscriminately as a way out.

We are already seeing the negative ramifications of this culture in Europe. For example La Liga is now a two team league and the Italian league is effectively financially broken. On the flip side, the Bundesliga in Germany is a lot more competitive due to more responsible spending and there is a strong relationship between the clubs and fans. It is difficult to run a club in a responsible and sustainable way but we believe that in the long term this will be more effective in fans feeling proud of the Club and the team winning trophies.

What was the thinking behind increasing the number of Red level tickets to 3,500 for every home Premier League game?

We have a very large number of Red level members. We also have a very committed band of long-term season ticket holders. We want to ensure they continue their association with the Club and we also want to embrace our Red Members and our international fan base. There is a relatively high level of churn within the Red Membership category and we want these groups of fans to be life-long supporters. We can help achieve that by giving them as much access as possible to games. For a lot of Red members, the sole purpose of membership is to gain access to games. We want to expand what it means to be a member, including things such as opening up Arsenal Player. 85,000 of our 200,000 overall membership used it to watch our opening pre-season game and we will expand this service to give fans more coverage on events behind the scenes and interactions with players.

What proportion of overall revenue do you obtain from ticket sales?

Currently, it is a very important part of our balance sheet. Ticketing and match day revenue equates to approximately 40-45% of our overall revenue. Our long-term strategic growth is to develop existing and grow new revenue streams so that we become less reliant on ticket sales and therefore have more flexibility around them. We are developing the commercial capability to make this happen. Our two major sponsorship deals are locked down into 2014 but our new relationship with Indesit is a good example of what we are achieving. In the past, our secondary sponsorship deals were relatively local in nature. We need to reach out and develop the connection with our global fan base and our new commercial relationships are beginning to reflect this. When we come to re-negotiate the deals with Emirates Airlines and Nike, we will be able to deliver to them a global proposition and will change their engagement with us as a Club.

How far behind Manchester United are we in terms of our global commercial ventures?

They are currently the biggest club brand in the world. We have a way to go and we will be attempting to close the gap with them over the next few years.

Can you give a bit more background about the relationship you've entered into with Indesit? 

One of the main things that attracted them to us is that they want to sell their products around the same values that we have as a Club, namely quality and reliability. They are going to associate with us not just here in the UK, but in Europe and Russia. Other deals we have agreed, namely with Citreon and Carlsberg, were related to the Summer tour to Asia. There has been a lot of behind the scenes activity over a long period of time in negotiating and coming up with these commercial relationships. We are ahead of our own plans in relation to this and the success of these types of ventures improves the sustainability of the Club and ensures that we can continue to compete and win at the highest level on the football field.

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As you all know, we had a very successful tour to Asia over the summer. We set ourselves some objectives before the tour, with the first one being that we integrate the tour as part of the overall pre-season training process in terms of preparing the players and ensuring that the players enjoyed the experience. Secondly, we wanted to promote ourselves as a global Club. We know we are watched and supported by millions of fans around the globe and we are aware of the need to develop this support into a meaningful relationship with the Club. Thirdly we wanted to actively engage these supporters. In China we developed our digital market platform and relationship with fans there and this helps in developing our commercial relationships with partners. It also provided a good way for different areas of the Club to work closely together on the trip and understand how we are all working towards the same goal.

The knowledge of the fans out there was amazing, a lot of them knew who the Club doctor was! In terms of the objective of expanding our Club globally, the most effective and scalable way of doing this is digitally and we built a digital campaign around the tour. We built a relationship with a couple of Chinese media companies, including a Chinese internet portal called QQ and we had viral videos of the players talking Chinese available in that country, as well as hosting Web Chats. Over 5 million people tuned into a web-chat with Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky with hundreds of thousands queuing up to ask questions. So we now have a massive base of fans in that part of the world and having this level of support will help us build more effective partnerships with our commercial partners.

How did the players and coach find it from a footballing perspective?

The team spirit and bonding that arose and developed on tour made it worthwhile and overall our injury list coming into this season has been less than in previous years. We made sure that doctors and medical staff were heavily involved in the planning of the tour.

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 28 Sep 2011