ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB SUPPORTERS CONSULTATIVE FORUM 2009/2010 SEASON

Meeting held at 11 am Saturday 19th September – Boardroom – 4th Floor, Highbury House

Attendees
Barrett, John – Silver Member Representative
Beale, Richard – Arsenal Supporters Club Representative
Beattie, John – Arsenal F.C
Brent, Graham – Club Level
Campbell, Sue – Arsenal F.C
Case, Max – 16-21 yr Old Representative
Docherty, Amanda – Arsenal F.C
Futerman, David – Shareholder Representative
Frost, Ben – AISA Representative
Gazidis, Ivan – Arsenal F.C
Harrold, Ian – Arsenal Supporters Club Representative
Hayes, Stephen – Family Enclosure Representative
Hayward, Richard – Gay Supporters Representative
Herlihy, Raymond – RedAction Representative
Manek, Ameesh – Ethnic Minority Representative
Miles, David – Arsenal F.C.
Miller, Raymond – Red Member
O’Brien, Michael - Arsenal F.C
Perry, Mike – Over 60 Year-Old Representative
Roberts, Elliot – Electoral Reform Services (Chair)
Saving, Trevor – Arsenal F.C
Smith, Jill – Arsenal F.C.
Szabala, Jan – Arsenal Supporters Club Representative
Thater, John – Gold Member Representative
Worsell, Ivan - Arsenal F.C.


TICKETING

What was the level of season ticket renewals for this season?

Contrary to what a lot of people may have heard, we had less than 1,900 General Admittance season ticket holders not renewing for this season. This is higher than we’ve seen in recent seasons, but we do have 47,000 on the waiting list for season tickets and these tickets were sold to people on that list. There were some high up on the list who maybe hadn’t budgeted for being offered a ticket for this season; hence we went further down the waiting list than the number of available tickets.

In terms of the re-location of season ticket holders, there are tiers of priority for moving seats e.g. for Medical Reasons, so there will be requests from fans to move to different parts of the stadium that we won’t be able to facilitate. We obviously can’t guarantee that we can offer people who want to move a better seat than the one they have already! However, we are able to sometimes deal with requests from season ticket holders who wish to sit together, if they are not too concerned where they sit.

There are other scenarios where we can deal with cases on a one-to-one basis e.g. a season ticket holder who wants to bring a junior gunner to a game, but there’s currently no technical system available to do this on a substantive scale. Ticket allocation interacts with many other platforms and networks e.g. access control so it’s not a simple thing to put in place.

We have just under 25,000 silver members, 76,000 Red Members, 22,000 Junior Gunners and 1,400 Disabled Members. All of our club level tickets have been taken up for this season and we have a waiting list for next season as well – so, even with recent economic climate, we’ve done very well in maintaining our supporter base and the sales of tickets.

Can the club explain the allocation of away tickets for Champions League games? In terms of ticket sales for champions league games, it’s difficult to know when the tickets will go on sale.

For the Champion’s League away game at Alkmaar, emails went out on Wednesday 2nd September, advertising that tickets will be going on sale from Friday 4th September. Our process for allocating these is they first are offered to away scheme members and then to season ticket holders and other members with high levels of credits. We had some calls on the following Monday from away scheme members stating they had missed their chance to buy these tickets. There are time constraints on when we sell these tickets - We have to put these tickets on sale far enough in advance to ensure that all appropriate travel arrangements can be made,. In terms of the communication channel, emails are not always the best way of getting information out to members (spam filters etc), so we would advice fans to regularly check Arsenal.com for ticket updates. We will look at different ways of communicating how we sell all away tickets and who we sell them to in the future.

Can we have a European Away Scheme?

We will look into this and revert.

The price of the away ticket for Villarreal was 80 Euros – which seemed excessive can the club look at potentially subsidising these prices?

The UEFA rule is that they can’t charge us any more than they would for their own fans in that area. In reality, some Clubs sell mini-season tickets to their own supporters (which are considerably cheaper per game than the away ticket price that away fans are charged) but UEFA rules do not prevent them from doing this. We’ve stated to UEFA that we think the spirit is wrong in relation to this issue. Compounding the issue is the large decline in the relationship between the Euro/Pound. Away ticket pricing is something that is always on our radar.

In terms of subsidy, there are many groups of fans who feel that the tickets they purchase should be subsidised. In terms of away tickets, these are set by the rules described above – we have made numerous representations in the past.

We’ll take a look at the difference in pricing between postal and on-line ticket applications.

In terms of our Ticket Exchange Scheme, we still feel its appropriate to provide this service internally – there are 3rd party suppliers who can administer the process for a charge, but a the time we introduced the scheme, we weren’t amenable to the potential sell-on of tickets at inflated prices – instead the system we have is integrated into part of our membership offering.

How is the extended family enclosure scheme going?

It’s doing reasonably well and it has allowed Red Level members to buy tickets alongside Junior Gunner members (who can buy at the concession rate). It is flexible and we’re aware that the demand may not always be there, especially for home Champions League games. It is marginally more expensive in the upper tier, but Cannon Club members are also able to purchase tickets at concession prices.

How successfully does the club feel the helpline centre is working, there are stories of people still having long waits to get through.

We have recently invested in new technologies in this area. The average call wait on a non-sale day in August of this year was in seconds. It unavoidably spikes on a ticket sale day and the maximum call waiting time can be significantly longer. However, this compares favourably to previous years. We are working on ways to continue to flatten these call times, including getting flexible staff to work during mapped busy periods and we’ve also piloted voice recognition, but this we feel still has a way to go. There is a marked move towards on-line purchases of tickets and we have to be aware that this is likely to be the area that will see major investment in the future.


ARSENALISATION

Can the club give an update on the Arsenalisation of the stadium?

The first core installation was put up over the last few days. Several of the cores are due to be fitted shortly. The large majority of the cost in developing these is in the hardware, so in years to come there is the opportunity to change the large pieces of artwork. In the lower concourse, the greatest moments are now on display – we haven’t finished work on the mural as yet as we need to ensure the right materials are used. We also selected the tiled walls with a gold cannon on a red wall and these will also be up and ready in due course. We will also be putting the time-line on the wall around the stadium on the lower concourse and we will start work on this before Christmas. We’re really pleased with how all the developments look and the feedback from the forum was really useful in developing these ideas. There are some time and logistical constraints on naming the quadrants but we want to involve the forum in inputting ideas for a roll-out for next season.

We will be having an internal meeting shortly to discuss how to celebrate the 125 year anniversary of Arsenal.

We still have the installation of the clock as an objective, but because of the rigging requirements there are very few windows of opportunity during the season to get this done.


STADIUM ATMOSPHERE

Away from big matches, can the club do anything to further improve the atmosphere at games – can you think of any reward system or try out moving fans from block 6 to block 19 for a lower profile game?

Block 19 is very close to away fans, but it could be something that could be looked into, although we not sure that moving blocks of fans around the stadium is necessarily the best way of doing this. There are other things we’re looking at – philosophically, we’re always looking at ways to improve atmosphere.

We also need to do something about the obscene chanting both by away fans and our fans at times.

Part of the issue is that maybe fans don’t identify as readily with the current crop of players as they have done in the recent past with iconic players such as Vieira or Henry – so there aren’t as many songs about players as there has been in the past.

One of the challenges that we have as a club is that if we’re seen as leading on these issues, they don’t tend to be as effective. We helped in generating the atmosphere at the Champions League Semi-Final last year and we got great feedback about that, but ultimately success helps in generating a great atmosphere and creating a new generation of idols. In terms of the players, there is a self-reinforcing issue in that the players may not celebrate as jubilantly with fans as they feel it may not be fully supported and fans may not show their full support because of these muted celebrations. This is an area where the club could help, in suggesting to players that they show their appreciation to the fans in an organised way before the game, as they did against Portsmouth. It will also take leadership from fan groups in ensuring we can break down this cycle. For example, fan groups and blogging sites could organise a competition to come up with the best song for a player, and the club could arrange for the winner to meet the player. We also organise various events for supporters clubs as well. We have over 200,000 registered supporters, so it would be great to get some ideas from some of these fans to strengthen the player/supporter relationship.

We as fans need to be aware that there have been a lot of changes in a short space of time at this club – we’ve moved stadiums (which has meant a new group of fans coming regularly to the stadium), a lot of the players have changed, the organisational structure of the club has changed, so there are a few things that need to embed themselves.

We did have 3 Q&A sessions at our recent member’s day and we feel this worked well and it will be something we will develop in the future. Generally, we felt the member’s day this time around was an improvement on previous years. Any further Q&A sessions, would be something that could strengthen the relationship between fans and players. We regularly have players visiting charity and community projects as well as the study-support centre, soccer schools having signing sessions and so on.

We need to integrate our younger squad players into this culture of meeting and regularly interacting with fans, this will then build the fan/player relationships of the future.

The younger players on the fringes of the first team are part of the overall fan engagement process that we have. We try and keep our youth players away from the limelight as we want them concentrating on developing their footballing skills. We’re looking at ways to cement these young players into the ethos of the club when they sign their first professional contract. We’re in a better position than most other large clubs in terms of developing our players internally up the ranks and we feel we’re developing players who have a deep affinity to Arsenal.

What’s the latest position on having banners at club level?

The Gradient at Club level is not very steep, so if any banner was to be unfurled from the bottom of club level, it will impinge the view of fans at the top part of the lower tier, who may want to watch the players coming onto the pitch. If there aren’t any concerns about safety in relation to having banners displayed, we will be actively supporting the development of this. We’ll look at setting up a sub-group to look closely at developing this area. It might be an idea to come up with what are acceptable sizes for banners in terms of safety and we are liaising already with some fan groups on this – although there will be different sizes allowed in different parts of the stadium.. Again, we wouldn’t want to prescribe in advance what could go on the banners.

Some of the speakers underneath club level can’t be heard very well.

It has to be remembered that these are enhancement and not main speakers. We do have engineers regularly checking them and we are aware that there are some spots where the output may not be heard very clearly.

---

Can the club ensure that fans chanting obscenely are removed from the stadium?

We have a policy that if we can clearly identify people mis-behaving or chanting obscenities, then we will take appropriate action, as we have done numerous times in the past .

Does the scenario of fans leaving early upset the players?

It does and we have to be honest and state that it’s a problem we’ve had (although there are similar issues at other clubs) for a while. Thierry Henry stated on numerous occasions in the past that it upset him to see fans leaving early – the problem appears more stark now as we have a much larger stadium. We are aware that to some extent this is because people need to catch trains etc

There is a cultural change in how fans interact with the game they’re watching - You can see at matches that fans don’t always pay the game 100% attention and are using their mobile phones etc.

As a club we’re not going to be able to stop these and other cultural changes taking place. We’re going to be more imaginative in allowing fans to interact electronically in terms of what’s happening at a game and use these new technologies to help engage with people. If you think back even just 7/8 years, fans didn’t used to interact with each other via community sites/blogs etc and I’m sure most fans at least occasionally log into these.


CURRENT SHARE OWNERSHIP & BOARD COMPOSITION

About the club in general, I’ve been identifying areas where we’ve needed to strengthen our management team to ensure that the massive potential that has come from all the changes over the last few years is fully realised. Trevor Saving has been brought on board to improve internal operations and also how we interact with our fans. That includes constantly reviewing who the face of Arsenal is, especially on match day; this covers stewards, Delaware North (the Caterers) etc – we’ll be looking at how we can improve fans interaction with this front-facing part of Arsenal.

We’ve also recently hired Tom Fox on the commercial side.  He is one of the best regarded Sports Marketers in the United States and has experience with Nike and the NBA in the Far East (Tom speaks Mandarin). We also have a new General Counsel, Svenja Geissmar, who’ll be starting on Monday.  In addition, Dick Law will assist Arsène and me in managing our player contracts proactively and strategically.

We will be announcing our results shortly – I can confirm that the club is in a very strong financial position and the Board is continuing with its policy of re-investing all money generated for the benefit of the club – again none of the money the club makes will be paid out in dividends. In terms of spending on players, we have bought 2 players recently (Arshavin & Vermaelen) who Arsène has identified as being essential parts in the development of the team.

Any rudimentary cost benefit analysis of how you develop your team will show that expenditure on transfers is a very inefficient way of improving a squad. Of course, there are times when you must invest through transfer spending – when you have to because don’t have internal talent resources and must import them or when there is an exceptional talent that adds significant value to the squad.  But importing players is relatively expensive and provides competitors with funds.  Not surprisingly, therefore, although there is a strong correlation between salary spending and performance, analysis shows that there is almost no correlation between transfer spending and performance.  Despite this, the media will talk only about transfer spending in the transfer window as the only indicator of success or ambition.  This is a very simplistic view.

 We have invested in our player pool in two ways in recent months – through two significant acquisitions in Arshavin and Vermaelen and through investment in extending (to date) eight first team player contracts. Our strategy has been to develop our talent internally, to build rather than to buy.  However, that’s not to say that we won’t buy players if Arsène thinks they will be a valuable asset to have. We as a board regularly have meetings with Arsène about player development and potential signings. As you will see from the financial results, we do have money available, but Arsène will act responsibly and will not spend money just because it is available.  He will spend on transfer fees only if there is someone available in the market who he believes will make a strong, positive contribution. We are a public company so we publish our accounts to the world and everyone can see for themselves what our financial position is.

The Board has been very clear in its strategy in that it wants to continue to be self-sustainable and maintain the traditions that Arsenal has and, to my knowledge, all of the major shareholders who are not currently on the Board share that view.

It seems very likely that Highbury Square will deliver a profit to this club – because of the ring-fenced nature of the contracts, it cannot affect the club negatively – although how much that profit will be and when it will be delivered will depend on the property market over the forthcoming months. Importantly, keeping the Highbury Square development under club control has allowed us to maintain the heritage and history of the club in the development (e.g. the Marble Halls have been preserved for posterity).

In terms of share ownership, they haven’t been many changes since we last spoke about this. All the directors who are shareholders are in a closed period and cannot buy shares until the accounts are released. We are in discussions with AST about setting up a share save scheme whereby fans can buy partial shares.

There is a wider existential question in football at the moment in terms of how clubs interact with fans and questions around the philosophy behind this interaction. We believe the connection between fans as a community united by a common tradition, vision and set of values is at the heart of what makes a club great and that simply winning trophies, while always important, is not enough by itself.  We believe that, by keeping the club on a stable financial footing that does not rely on outside funding for its continued existence, we can be very successful, not only in the near term but in the long term. 

Meeting finished at 1.15pm

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 26 Oct 2009