Meeting held at 11 am - the Red Zone Saturday 21st February 2009

Attendees 
Borthwick, Ian – Family Enclosure
Brent, Graham – Club Level
Brindle, Mark – Arsenal Supporters Club Branch
Clifford, David – Gold Member
Docherty, Amanda – Arsenal F.C
Ford, Adrian – Arsenal F.C
Frost, Ben – AISA Representative
Gazidis, Ivan – Arsenal F.C
Harrold, Ian – Arsenal Supporters Club Branch
Irwin, John – Gold Member
Manek, Ameesh – Ethnic Minority Representative
Miles, David – Arsenal F.C.
Miller, Raymond – Red Member
Osipiuk, Rob – Silver Member
O’Brien, Michael - Arsenal F.C
Pattinson, Dave – Red Member
Roberts, Elliot – Electoral Reform Services (Chair)
Smith, Jill – Arsenal F.C.
Thater, Rosie – 16 – 21 Year Old Representative
Worsell, Ivan - Arsenal F.C. 

Apologies
Beattie, John – Arsenal F.C
Campbell, Sue – Arsenal F.C
Grainger, Nicola – Silver Member
Hayward, Richard – Gay Supporters Representative

Matters arising from the last meeting
The ARSENAL letterings are now back above the Armoury Arsenalisation of the stadium is covered below.

Introduction of Ivan Gazidis, the new Arsenal Chief Executive and financial overview
I grew up in various locations across the United Kingdom and was a supporter of all the local teams. After graduating, I moved to London where I worked for 6 years and came to watch Arsenal on numerous occasions. In 1994, I had the opportunity to develop a business plan for a new soccer league in America (now known as the MLS – Major Soccer League) and moved out there to see it come to fruition. It took a lot of hard work and there was a lot of scepticism, but ultimately it has developed into a well established league, with stadiums and teams all across the U.S, national television contracts, significant revenue streams and accelerating team values. It will, by 2011, have 18 teams playing in at least 8 new stadiums built solely for football.

At MLS I was responsible for many of the day-to-day operations of the league with a particular focus on the competition side, which amongst other things included the contract and transfer negotiations for all players in the league. I also sit on FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber, which decides international player contract and transfer disputes in the game. I was also responsible for developing international relationships for the league’s sister organisation which developed international football brands such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, the English, Argentinean and Mexican National teams in the United States. In my first 7 weeks, I’ve been reviewing all Arsenal’s current operations and listening to viewpoints of those connected with the club, including fans. I’ve been liaising with our commercial partners as well as introducing myself to the media.

The club is well positioned to weather the current financial climate. Our relationship with our fans is at the core of everything we do and we promise to listen to and respect their views. We are continuing to fight for the highest possible position in the League and believe we will finish among the top four at the end of the season. If we were not to qualify for the Champions League for 2009/10, that obviously impacts our revenue streams but the potential impact on us will be a lot less than it would be for other clubs because of our strong fundamentals. We remain in 3 competitions and have a real chance to win silverware with an exceptionally young first team squad who will only get better. I also believe we have the best manager in the world at the moment.

I can announce today that we will be freezing ticket prices for next season, even though we have a long waiting list. The V.A.T discount, due to be discontinued in January 2010, will apply to season tickets for the next campaign, which means there is an effective price reduction.

One of the main strengths of the club is that it is able to sustain itself through its own revenue streams. Many other clubs don’t have the same underlying strength that Arsenal have to deal with the new economic realities that will unfold over the next couple of years.

In terms of revenue streams, the Premier League domestic TV contract has just been signed at an uplift again from the previous one. I expect the international broadcast contract to also be larger than the previous one. Continuing high levels of broadcast revenue will provide some degree of stability to the league over the next few years although it would be foolish to think clubs will not be affected by the new realities.

In terms of the impact of the economy on the fan base, has there been a drop-off in renewals for season tickets?

As previously indicated, the renewal rates historically have always been very high and whilst we appreciate that we are in tougher economic circumstances, we’re very confident that our renewal rate for next season will also be very high. We’ve currently got 47,000 fans on our season ticket waiting list. We anticipate that we will see higher than last years’ figure of 500 not renewing but we believe that our waiting list is very robust – a situation not enjoyed by many other clubs. It is taking longer to sell out for some matches and there are more season ticket holders using the ticket exchange scheme – this is partly due to the increase in publicity surrounding this scheme. We have and will continue to make clear that where people use the ticket exchange scheme or don’t take up the option of extra cup tickets, this doesn’t affect their entitlement to credits. We’re also looking to broaden this market and looking into using the ticketfast scheme, whereby people can print bar-coded tickets and bring these to the stadium. 

There has been a pattern in some clubs taking up a smaller allocation of tickets for when their teams come to the Emirates, but they confirm a month before exactly how many they will take up. We can then offer the remainder to our supporters. The police are comfortable with the location of away fans for both league and cup games, with the bulk of the fans going into the lower tier first. For cup games, away teams are entitled to up to 9,000 seats at the Emirates. The lower tier (approximately 5,200) are sold in 4 graduated stages, the upper tier (approximately 3,800) is then sold in one block, with the team underwriting the full capacity for that tier. 

How do you think the renewal process for club level & box/corporate seats will hold up?

We accept that club and box level are likely to be affected in a different way to the general admission levels and we are expecting a higher rate of churn in this area. We are looking at ways to mitigate against this and it may be a more difficult climate at the end of the 2009/2010 season than at the end of this season.

For all renewals we’re looking at the same terms as last year – if we give people longer, they may ultimately turn around and state they’re not able to renew, which will lead to less time for us in finding someone from the waiting list. We have looked at various finance packages for people to stagger their payments, but of the finance companies who’ve approached us, most are run well in excess of 20% APR, an additional cost that we don’t think will help fans. There are better external products available to fans who want to pay for a ticket over a period of time.

In terms of Cannon Club Membership / Junior Gunners, there is a membership category for those younger fans who want to buy tickets in the family enclosure at a cheaper price. Other young fans can buy tickets for matches in the normal way - we are continuing to work on a wider strategy in terms of concession tickets. 

What is the official rule on the names/ownership of season tickets Some fans have numerous season tickets for friends etc – wouldn’t it be better if you can keep in contact with them directly?

We understand that a person holding multiple tickets obviously has family members/friends who use these tickets but we have to be careful that this doesn’t lead to an unofficial secondary market. For example if someone has 6 and for a particular game and regularly doesn’t use 2, there is the potential to sell those to anyone – we would prefer that they’re offered back to the club and we can offer them back to the waiting list – if it’s game by game, then that is exactly what the Ticket Exchange Scheme was set up for. Where tickets are transferred into the name of a family member, we do look at these on a case by case basis.

Can the club explain the rationale for Arsenal’s decision about the differential prices for the Spurs away game and why some fans paid £10 more than others?

Spurs box office initially gave us the wrong ticket prices for the game – they were £45 but we were informed that they would be £35. We passed this information to both away scheme members, who buy tickets for all away games, and our one-off purchasers. Spurs realised their mistake and let us know, but we had already communicated the £35 price. The actual tickets had the correct price printed on them. We believed that the correct way to behave was the way that we would want to be treated by another club if the shoe was on the other foot. We understand that there have been issues with Spurs in the past, but we held our tradition of behaving correctly and do not believe it would be productive to engage in a tit-for-tat escalating spiral – which would be likely to result over the longer term in damage to our reputation and to our fans. We would not have taken this course had any of our fans suffered by virtue of Spurs’ mistake. 

The away scheme members make a commitment to buy all away tickets at the correct price (here, £45), so they did not suffer. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the legal position, we gave away scheme members the option to opt out of the game if they did not want to pay the £45 ticket price.

The one-off purchasers made their purchase decision on the basis of the incorrect price that was quoted to them and so were in a different position. It would not have been morally right or legally enforceable to force them to pay the £10 “windfall” back – we therefore offered all these fans the opportunity to get a full refund, voluntarily pay the extra £10 or go the game for £35. The vast majority of fans paid the extra £10.

The issue for the away scheme members is that they did not get the same “break” that the one-off purchasers received. We understand the generated perception that we treated our away scheme members – our most loyal fans - less well. But our away scheme members received their tickets at the right price as they had agreed at the beginning of the season. They received what they were entitled to (and a right to opt out), but they did not receive a windfall due to Spurs’ administrative error. The only way to equalise the price among all our travelling fans would have been to provide everyone a windfall because of the administrative error and we did not feel that was right or appropriate. We fully understand the point raised by the away scheme members.

The point was raised that the communication to the one-off purchasers was unclear that they could have refused to pay the extra £10 and still had their tickets honoured. We will review that communication.

It is unfortunate that the club were placed in a “no-win” position by the administrative error made by Spurs. We tried to do the right thing in all the circumstances. We do not pretend that we always get these things right, but we acted with the right intention to be fair to all parties and to preserve the integrity of Arsenal.

Spurs did offer to pay the additional administrative costs that were incurred by Arsenal.

Media Policy / PR

Do the club feel their PR strategy and general communications with fans work effectively, especially surrounding Boardroom issues – do the club feel their strategy works well in a rolling-news media environment?

In terms of the issue surrounding the departure of 2 Directors (Mr Carr & Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith), we did put his information out through our communication channels but we accept the fact that there wasn’t additional information about the background of this development. However the reason for this is that it is confidential board information and the vacuum is then filled with speculation across media channels which we have no control over. We accept that it can be frustrating for fans in not knowing the full details but in relation to shares, they are not owned by the football club and we are not therefore able to directly comment on what happens to them and what the individual does with them. There is a legal issue that, as a public company, there are things we cannot fully disseminate and it’s also not beneficial to the interests of the club in having all these discussions open to all the public. 

How does the club react to what it perceives as negative articles in fan-zines etc?

Where there is inaccurate information that the club can act on then obviously we will make our stance known, but it’s not for us as a club to police independent points of view written by fans for fans. The same also applies to on-line discussion forums and blogs. We do of course read them to get a feel for what fans are thinking - a lot of the people who work at Arsenal are fans and take an interest in what fans opinions are. There are fervent comments made on some of them, but we don’t rebut every single one. There are instances when opinions are expressed during time-sensitive situations that dictate what and when we can say things e.g. the signing of Arshavin. I (Ivan Gazidis) was shaking hands with Arshavin when it was stated on a TV channel that he had the left the stadium unhappy and not having signed for the club! We want to give our fans as much information as we can but there are instances when this could be counter-productive. 

The issue is wider in that it’s not how the club react to certain events, it is the fact the events, like the leaving of Directors, creates uncertainty in the fan base.

One sure-fire way of creating uncertainty ,which we as a club try to avoid, is to air in the public domain every issue or topic that this club encounters, without any sense of direction. The Board and the club can’t function effectively if we were to go down this route. In terms of Red & White Holdings acquiring new shares, they have increased their holdings by just over 1% in the last 12 months and the last few shares they acquired took them over 25%. The impact of this is limited to Red & White Holdings’ ability to block “Special Resolutions” of the company, which are relatively rare and apply in such situations as a proposed name change or alterations to the Memorandum and Articles of Association of a company.

When it was reported that Gallas was stripped of the captaincy, there was nothing to that effect on the official Arsenal website- which led to a period of uncertainty in the fan base.

We put the phone calls into the training ground and were told that we weren’t to put anything on our media channels – that is a decision of Arsène’s that we had to respect. We understand that fans want to know information on issues such as this instantaneously and that fans may go to places other than official Arsenal channels to get this information but confirming this story, just prior to an important game would have been considerably more damaging to the team and the team need to focus on winning the game – we hope that fans understand that dressing room issues should stay in the dressing room. As soon as the game had finished, Arsène answered direct media enquiries about the situation. We believe that Arsène is far more readily available for the media than many other managers. We believe a lot of fans visit the Arsenal.com website because what is on there is accurate and directly from the club, as opposed to information from some journalists which is partially accurate or pure speculation.

A lot of fans go to the website for confirmation on stories. Whilst it may not always be the place that gives the information first, we know that what is on there is accurate and truly reflects what’s happening at the club.- until then most fans don’t believe a story. 

Arsenalisation of the Stadium

[Context: at numerous other forums, members have raised the issue about the “Arsenalisation” of the stadium, referring to making it feel more like the home of Arsenal. There have been iterative stages of this process and the below discussion relates to the next stage]

We believe that the Emirates is now one of the best stadiums in the world but we do accept that it isn’t yet a place that feels like a true home. We have had a lot of internal discussions and the overall plans for next season have now been approved by the Board. One of the main elements of the proposal is that we intend to build a shrine to Highbury, with a photo showing all the players who ever played there (apart from 6). It will be 10 feet high and 50 long and the names of every single player will be engraved underneath. We feel this epitomizes our history and tradition and it will be placed above the Armoury. This project has taken nearly 3 years to come to fruition and we hope that you and the rest of our fans will come to like it. [Forum Members were then shown the proposals]. 

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have trophies underneath the teams who won them?

That’s a great idea and we will see if we can incorporate it into the final design. This is not the only development we have in mind, as previously mentioned, we’re looking to build a theme around the 125th anniversary celebrations which will encompass all the stadium and we’ll provide more information about this nearer the time. 

That’s a great idea and we will see if we can incorporate it into the final design. This is not the only development we have in mind, as previously mentioned, we’re looking to build a theme around the 125th anniversary celebrations which will encompass all the stadium and we’ll provide more information about this nearer the time. 

In terms of the interior of the stadium and the lower concourses, we’ve come up with, in conjunction with 20:20, a number of ideas. We intend to implement some of their ideas over 2 stages. For the 1st stage, we’ve got the general themes but we want to give fans an input into the specific choices, both via this forum and the club website. [Forum members were then shown these themes] The general idea is to depict out history on some of the grey walls in the lower concourse and we’ve come up with lettering, either players’ names or famous quotes from our history. We’re also looking at having tiles to represent (in a mosaic effect) the cannon in one of the concourses. We’ve allocated 12 walls to represent legends of the club. The idea we have around this is to have some “pop-art” graffiti / graphics of players or stats and will build it around Wenger’s legends. The 125th anniversary celebration will reflect all our history.

The important aspect of any prospective board member is judging whether or not they can make a valuable and positive contribution to it and we’re not currently looking to increase the size of the Board. You don’t automatically get a Board position unless you own 51% of the Shares available. We have a new Chief Executive starting in the New Year. (see below) Mr Kroenke, our non-executive Director, has given us positive input via his experience of developing the Colarado Rapids Football Team and he is very keen in developing the Youth players out there. 

Wouldn’t it be better to represent this by great games and moments that Arsenal have been involved in as opposed to individuals who may have an impact against the club in the future – if you bring back peoples memories of success at Highbury and not necessarily things that have happened just at the Emirates, you may tap into the whole of the fan base.

We’ll have a look and go back to the design team and see what ideas they have about how to capture moments of Arsenal’s history. Not all of these ideas are set in stone so we can bring further ideas back to the next forum in April. 

As part of the 2nd stage, we’re also looking at livening up the over-hangs & ceilings and not just the walls, but at the moment we haven’t decided on any definitive ideas – we’ll feedback on this as well.

A.O.B

Is there a way for Forum Reps to represent sections of fans more formally?

One thing we can do for the start of next season is to take photos of all the reps and put it in the program / on the website. We’ll also look at setting up email addresses for fans to contact the relevant representatives.  

 

Citroen have given us a car and Gerald Scarfe the cartoonist has done some work on it, including caricatures on the side and details of our successes on the top. Over the next couple of weeks there’ll be some publicity around it and we will be selling raffle tickets to win it. It’s on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust and it will be on show outside the stadium for a few games.

 

There’s also a raffle for a box to watch Kasabian at the Royal Albert Hall, again on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust and tickets cost £10 a time.

 

The meeting finished at 1.10pm

The next forum is provisionally scheduled for Sunday 26th April – details tbc ASAP.

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 6 Mar 2009