ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB FANS' FORUM 2010/2011 SEASON

Meeting held at 11am on Saturday September 25th at Highbury House

Attendees

Ahmad, Zaheer - Ethic Minority Representative
Barrett, John - Silver Member Representative
Beale, Richard - Arsenal Supporters' Club Representative (Domestic)
Campbell, Sue - Arsenal F.C
Case, Max - 16-21 yr Old Representative
Ellis, Paul - Arsenal Supporters' Club Representative (Domestic)
Evans, Richard - Club Level Representative
Fellows, James - Away Scheme Member Representative
Frost, Ben - AISA Representative
Futerman, David - Shareholder Representative
Gazidis, Ivan - Arsenal F.C
Hayes, Stephen - Family Enclosure Representative
Herlihy, Raymond - RedAction Representative
O'Brien, Michael - Arsenal F.C
Perry, Mike - Over 60 Year-Old Representative
Roberts, Elliot - Electoral Reform Services (Chair)
Saving, Trevor - Arsenal F.C
Selby, Stewart - LGBT Representative
Szabala, Jan - Arsenal Supporters Club Representative (Overseas)
Tanfield, Hazel - Red Member Representative
Thater, John - Gold Member Representative
Tolhurst, Dan - Arsenal F.C
Upson, Patsy - Disabled Supporters' Representative
Worsell, Ivan - Arsenal F.C

Apologies

Fox, Tom - Arsenal F.C
Smith, Jill - Arsenal F.C.

[minutes of the last meeting]

There was a query in relation to lighting used in the North East Corner and the nearby steps. In the past this system relied on sensors but there is now a manual system in place and all the feedback is now that this is much better.

Ticketing

As an overview, we have 35,000 general admission season ticket holders and only 1,400 didn't renew for this season, down from nearer 2,000 last season - these seats were allocated to those who were top of the season ticket waiting list. There were about 3,000 requests for seat re-allocation and we were able to assist in just under half of these cases. Silver membership currently stands at about 25,000 and Red membership around 74,000 - about 2,000 were upgraded from Red to Silver membership and we're looking at a piece of development so that Red members know their position in the queue - we have to ensure that this is as clear as possible and doesn't generate a huge number of queries. - Junior Gunners stands at just under 22,000 members. Purple (Disabled Supporters) membership is about 1,600.

We discussed at the last forum the definition and boundaries of membership and we've got a dedicated team specifically conducting comprehensive research and, based on their findings, will come up with some new proposals in due course.

In relation to ticket touting, we're working in many areas to minimise the opportunities, Firstly, if we're suspicious of a particular transaction we have a varied ways we can check the validity, which is something we've done for some time. Obviously, touting techniques change over time and we're always changing our focus on how we deal with this topic. We work with both the Metropolitan Police and the Premier League, our collective efforts have resulted in over 50 internet ticketing agencies closed down as well as cancelling over 1,000 memberships. We're also continuously working with other agencies looking at more sophisticated ways of addressing the issue.

Do you have an idea of how many tickets on a typical match day are bought via touts?

With what we are doing, we believe it's probably in the region of 1,000. The dynamics of how they operate change all the time.

Metropolitan Police are focused on getting the people who own or organise these companies and not just the runners on the street - this is something that affects all major sports and has links to organised crime. On a match day, the police's main focus is crowd control but we do and will continue to work with them on specific match-day touting operations. We always ask fans to provide us with information and not get directly involved.

We've recently launched a new version of e-tickets and on-line box office with future enhancements and developments in the pipeline. We've also improved ticket exchange and made the whole process a lot cleaner, as well as extended the time in which it operates. E.g. for today's game the scheme would have previously closed on the Wednesday, it can now remain open until 3pm on the Friday. This system is proving more successful year on year with increasing numbers of fans re-allocating their tickets in this way - we've now got up to near 1,400 tickets exchanged for one game. We know that there are other fans who aren't able to get to games and don't currently use the system - we're continually promoting this scheme as it benefits both existing ticket holders and those who aren't always able to get tickets to games they want to go to. We've also developing a charity system where those who can't attend a game well in advance can donate the ticket to charity. Ultimately, we have large numbers of fans who always want to come to games and we're always looking at new schemes to ensure that our stadium is always full and it's not in any of our interests to have any empty seats at games. One integrated benefit of this is that the more effectively these schemes work, the less scope there is for ticket touts to operate. These schemes are available for both club level and general admittance.

Does the exchange scheme work for UEFA Champions League games?

Currently it doesn't extend to these games and the main reason for that is there are additional media requirements and UEFA regulations that means we don't know how many tickets we may need to reserve for these requirements.

Our friends and family scheme has also grown and there have been a few games where over 1,300 tickets have been allocated in this way. We also participate in the O2 ticket priority scheme, whereby any tickets that aren't bought by silver, red or friends and family then get offered to those who've registered with O2 before they go on general sale.

Are fans able to choose their seats on-line - also there's not a great deal of positive feedback about the on-line supporters centre?

This is something that is part of our new software development and is very close to being universally offered. The problem at the moment is that when we have a large ticket on sale, the demand on the server unsurprisingly is very large so we are looking at our infrastructure and servers to ensure that when this system is fully operational, we have the capacity and ability to service multiple simultaneous requests.

We first introduced the on-line supporters centre over three years ago and at the time it was very well received, as it was a big improvement on what we previously had. It has provided beneficial to both us and fans, in that it allowed us to answer specific questions more directly. There was a technical issue in that there were two buttons to press for fans to formally submit their request and some queries didn't get through to us - we've now fixed this glitch and the feedback we get is usually positive and 98% of emails and requests received are dealt within 1 day and the majority of the remainder are dealt with within 1 working week. We recognised half way through last season that the service needed updating, we are currently looking at potential solutions we've had meetings with other providers to find a system that improves the customer experience and provides excellent management information which will help us to continually enhance the service..

Why has the Club introduced the log-in system for the Partisan Belgrade away game?

We were concerned that there weren't many tickets available and the ones that were were very cheap. We thought this was the best way to ensure that fans that wanted to attend the game had every opportunity to do so. There is the danger that fans could potentially buy the cheap tickets to build up their credits but not actually attend the game, stopping the ones that really wanted to. We're running it as a pilot and it obviously won't be needed for all away games but if needed, we would apply it again in the future and we could look into applying this to away Premier League games.

On a more general point, we as a club understand that after on field activities, ticketing and issues around ticketing is the most talked about topic amongst fans and as we can see from the discussion today - we're improving on a wide number of areas and are always seeking ways to fine-tune and improve how we offer tickets. We're very lucky to be in the position of having many more active fans than seats available.


Arsenalisation of the Stadium / Atmosphere

This is something that we feel has no defined end point and we're always going to be making improvements and changes to the feel and appearance of the stadium. We know the potential that the stadium and surrounding area has and it will be an on-going process. In terms of recent improvements, you all know about the clock coming back and the naming of the stands - we've made very good progress on the upper tier, replicating to a large extent what we have in place in the lower tier. We're aware that Club Level was a very corporate space, hence we're also working to bring Arsenal elements into this area. There's also a massive opportunity at podium level. Generally we've done a lot of work on graphic and pictorial representations of the club but we're also aware that we need to continue to improve service levels and the interactions with fans on a matchday.

Most fans are very happy with the lower tier and the family enclosure area but as stated it's a rolling process and we're already looking at ways to further improve the appearance in these areas. There are some things that are already out of date, for example, teams we've played in Europe and we have to ensure that we keep these alive and fresh. In terms of what we stand for as a Club, we're also mindful that we need to improve the away area, which is quite grey at the moment.

The programme mural inside the stadium is fantastic- it really captures our history and you just have to stop and look at it. We're aware that it can take a long time to get it to just how you want it.

It's great that when we introduce something new, you look afresh at what you already have in place and how you can improve it. As a Club, we're always looking forward, indeed 'Forward' was our Club's first ever motto. We're aware that we've got the best stadium in the world but we're always looking at what's next. The external players mural has gone down very well but currently you can't see it at night games - we're going to be installing lights in the next couple of months and that will add to the atmosphere at evening kick-offs.

Also in terms of matchday interactions with fans, we have about 1,300 Delaware North staff in the stadium and we know we have lots of opportunities to deliver what fans want as part of their overall experience. We've engaged with their senior management about how to improve the fan experience in terms of catering. .

What feedback are you getting from fans in terms of catering?

We're aware we don't please everybody and we have had mostly positive but some negative feedback - it's very difficult to please all fans that use our catering facility, from general admittance to corporate hospitality level. However, there's not a stadium within the UK where I would say we want to replicate what they do. We're usually in the top two or three of surveys in relation to this, but we're in the top two or three of a pretty average bunch - our level should be Arsenal. It's not in the Club's interest to sell average fare to fans as ultimately they won't purchase it - we accept that we can improve in this area, but we do also get a lot of positive response. Food quality, choice, speed of service and pricing are all inter-linked and we want to get these all right. We are looking at different options - We recently tried a different food option and delivery in the Legends Bar at Club Level and this went down very well and this enables us to work with Delaware and continually evolve what we do in terms of catering. There are operational boundaries and constraints to overcome when we experiment with new food options but we will work around these.

Some of the banners that where on permanent display last season were removed over the summer - we've been told that people need to erect them prior to and remove them after each game - what is the reasoning behind this?

For a number of different reasons we can't leave them there permanently but we want the banners there on match days and we'll work with RedAction to come up with a solution to this.

Other Business

Equality Awareness Day

We have an on-going diversity initiative called Arsenal for Everyone and as part of that, there's a working group within the club who have on-going contact with Kick it Out who come up with ways to celebrate and promote diversity in all aspects of the club. The date is set for October 16th this year for the game against Birmingham and it would be great if forum members can let us know over the next few days ideas they may have in relation to promoting this.

Can the Club explain the thinking behind their previous engagement with the Israeli Tourist Board?

We had a one year deal with the Israeli Tourist Board two seasons ago, which has now expired. We all know that the Arsenal community is a very diverse group of people who have strong views - we as a Club are apolitical - the common theme that brings is all together is our love of Arsenal and we don't take a stance across a wide variety of issues. We try to embrace all groups who are Arsenal fans and have for example also been involved with some work within the Palestinian community. It's not an easy line to tread in that we can be criticised for taking a step or for not taking a step, but we always think very carefully about where fans' values are. We don't want to upset our fans.

Can we set up an on-line forum for all of us to log in at any time and discuss with each other what are the key topics to cover at these meetings , as well as work together outside the forum - we need a full time supporters representative.

Jill Smith is the dedicated full-time representative in relation to dealing with on-going fan queries about ticketing. The forum can cover several topics in substantial detail but shouldn't be clogged up with specific queries about ticketing for specific matches - these are obviously important and there are other avenues other than the fans' forum to raise and deal with these topics. As there are only three meetings a season, it's to your benefit to raise the particular points outside the forum as we as a Club are able to deal with them more directly and efficiently - this forum is to discuss patterns of topics and larger themes. We will be publicising again the dedicated email addresses on an on-going basis. We're also taking photos of new members today.

There was a discussion on Match of the Day a couple of weeks ago when the presenter was talking about racism in football and at the end of the discussion he stated it's a shame we can't talk in the same way about homophobia. We as a Club have trail-blazed in other areas over the years and we should also take the lead on this topic, not just in terms of policy but also in action. Some Football League clubs have agreed to fly the rainbow flag at their grounds to be a part of LBGT month in February. There are many other things that the club as an employer can do and whilst this is a cultural issue, I believe that we as a club are in a good position to raise awareness on this topic. People listen to Arsenal.

We as a Club have discussed this as part of our understanding of diversity and our campaign of Arsenal for Everyone. We are a football club and football comes first, but we are also a club and we need to represent and support all sections of our community. Everybody is welcome at our Club and that there is no openly gay professional footballer does illustrate that there is an issue inside the game. We will continue to evaluate ways in which we can support this and other important social issues.

Can the Club give us an update on the financial situation?

We are in a very fortunate position in that our shareholders do not demand a dividend return on their capital investment in the Club - shareholders choose Arsenal not purely for financial reasons and we recognise that. We have made a profit this year and all of that profit will be reinvested into the club. But this is not our end objective. Our objective is to make the members of our Club community feel proud to belong to and one of the most important aspects of this (although not the only aspect) is how we perform on the field - most of the money we make goes on just that. The rest is invested in projects and infrastructure which may not bear fruit for 5-10 years - we take a long-term approach, almost uniquely for a football club. We understand the frustration of some fans in that we don't spend £25 or £30 million on a player but this is how a good club can maintain its independence of ownership. We also have to state that most of what you may read in the media in relation to transfer activity is utter nonsense. We are very well financially positioned as a club and in terms of the future, our young talent stream and our financial stability mean we can look to the future with confidence.

The meeting finished at 1pm.

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 20 Oct 2010