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Supporters Forum - 12th September 2015

Arsenal Football Club Supporters’ Forum

Meeting Minutes

Arsenal Football Club Supporters’ Forum
12th September 2015
Meeting in board room
Supporters’ Forum membership 2015/2016

16-21 Year Old Representative *- Mr Conor Runswick
Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic * - Mr Martin O’Donnell
Arsenal Supporters Club – Overseas * - Mr Lars Lundstedt
AISA Representative - Mr Daniel McCloskey
Disabled Supporter - Mr David Barnett
Club Level - Mr Mick Coppock
Family Enclosure - Mr Daren Nathan
Gold Member * - Mr Mike Maloney
Red Member - Mr Conor Kielty
Over 60 Year-Old * - Mr David Sharp
Ethnic Minority Representative * - Mr Mohammad Haider
LGBT Supporter Representative * - Mr Dave Raval
RedAction Member * - Mr Sam Blackman
Shareholder * - Mr Michael Francis
Away Scheme Member * - Mr Soran Hourami
AST Member - Mr Steve Cooper
Women's Representative * - Ms Robyn Boparai

*New Member

Arsenal representatives

Arsenal FC (Chair) - Mark Gonnella
Arsenal FC - Ivan Gazidis
Arsenal FC - Sue Campbell
Arsenal FC - Mark Brindle
Arsenal FC - Ivan Worsell

Minutes

1.     Mark Gonnella (MG) welcomed the new members, a photograph was taken of the group and minutes of the previous meeting were agreed. MG stated an outstanding item on concessions for Over 60s would be put forward at the next meeting
 
2.     Purpose of forum
(MG) stated the aim of the forum was to maintain a dialogue between the Club and fans, to develop further understanding of key issues affecting supporters and provide an opportunity to share and discuss new ideas
 
3.     CEO Overview
Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis (IG) provided an overview of numerous activities undertaken across the club during the summer. Major development work continues at Hale End/Colney and other significant projects include IT infrastructure, work on the pitch, installation of new floodlights, LED boards, control room and refurbishment of the Royal Oak on Club Level. There were launches of the home and away kits, a week-long tour to Singapore where we won the Barclays Asia trophy, the organisation and delivery of another successful Emirates Cup and a memorable return trip to Wembley to retain the Community Shield.
 
IG also spent time explaining the club’s long term strategy, the competitive landscape and outlined the approach taken on ticket prices over the period we have been at the Emirates Stadium. This shows that in real terms, prices have gone down by 20% versus inflation. At the same time we have more than doubled our commercial income, with now almost 30 partners, while broadcast rights have made a significant impact.
 
He explained that investments have and continue to be made in the stadium, our youth academy, London Colney, ticket exchange, social media and business infrastructure. He also pointed to developments in our medical and sports science approach and capability and our analytics.
 
He said the Club is making progress across every aspect of our activities and looking at the make-up of the squad he stressed the importance of our improved financial ability to attract and retain key players. He said that through discipline we have avoided the mistake of compromising on quality simply to spend money and focused instead on ensuring that we retain our best players with long term contracts and making judicious acquisitions which strengthen the squad. The success of this policy can be seen in the quality of our signings over the past three years and the obvious strengthening of the quality and depth of our squad. That progression is not a given.

 
As we have seen in a number of cases in recent years, spending on players who do not add real quality and/or depth is not a guarantee of forward progression.  It is often engaged in under pressure and if it is not done with strong discipline it can lead to compromises, which ultimately can compromise the quality of the squad rather than add to it.  Spending because funds are available rather than because there are players the manager believes will add to the team’s ability to succeed is not a viable long term strategy.  He also stressed that while the transfer window focus on player signings was understandable, it is important to remember they are only one part of the puzzle of success. The investments the club is making in player retention, youth development and signings, scouting, training facilities, medical, psychological and fitness support and analytics, among other things, have been a significant focus for the club and each play a critical (although less public) role in the club’s progression. 

4.     Questions

Steve Cooper (AST)
Arsenal is in a very strong financial position and it is of course disappointing that the transfer window has closed with the signing of only one established first team player in Petr Cech. Arsenal has built a strong squad and a huge majority of observers believe that just one or two more good additions would have strengthened the chances of winning a first title in twelve years. No one wants Arsenal to buy players just for the sake of it, but we do want to see the money that the club has being invested to make the club stronger. This isn't an issue that affects just one transfer window and seems to indicate a wider structural issue. In recent years Arsenal have overhauled both their Academy and their medical set-up. We urge the Board to now open a full review into its arrangements for scouting and purchasing players. A review of this type is a good governance practice and can only help Arsenal to become stronger. The AST would like the club's response to this. In addition who decides whether a price of a player is too high or not?
 
IG stated he was frustrated by the tone set around the transfer window in that we had in some way “lost” the battle. He pointed to clubs who have spent all their money in the past without obviously improving their squads. He referred to his earlier comments relating to developments across all aspects of the club, many of which have improved our ability to identify and recruit players and said he was satisfied with our approach. He stressed that we have a robust player strategy which was delivering squad progression – even when criticism was inevitable. This involved strong player identification through robust analytics and scouting, good contract negotiation to retain players, strategic thought to the progression of players within the squad as well as the addition of players who can add to the overall quality of the squad.
He said money was available for spending and it will get spent, but only when the manager believes, on the basis of all this input, that it will make a difference to the squad. He stated that in the last three years we have signed 16 players. Only one, Podolski, has left. All those players have and continue to contribute to the squad.  This represents an excellent level of success in our new player signings and that doesn’t happen by accident.
 
He stressed the ambition is to compete to win the Premier League and to win the Champions League. He recognised that when competing against teams with greater spending power that is a difficult thing to do. He also pointed out that as the squad improves, the challenge of recruiting players who will make a significant difference becomes increasingly difficult.
 
In terms of who decides how much to spend on a player, he said the manager has the full backing of the board and the owner Stan Kroenke. Analysts, scouts, finance staff are involved but ultimately there is a discussion between the manager and IG to make a final decision. As the manager, Arsène is the ultimate decision maker on the football side and IG does not believe in models where players are imposed on the manager. He re-assured the group that everything is done to build a competitive squad and do it in a way which protects and takes the club forward over the long-term.

Steve Cooper (AST)
The AST had previously raised with the club a concern that FFP was impractical and wouldn't work and that Arsenal was placing too much emphasis on it. Can the club comment on the implementation of FFP and how it sees the football economy developing. Will it support more revenue and spending controls placed on all clubs so that less pressure is put on fans to pay ever-increasing salaries and transfer fees?
 
IG reminded people that the club’s strategy is the same with or without FFP - to develop our commercial revenues and to invest the increasing revenues efficiently into the short and long term development of the club. That is the self-sustaining business model of the club.  So there is no downside to the club in supporting FFP.  Reliance is not placed on it.  FFP is not and never has been part of the club’s strategy. It is not in our strategy documents and it can't be because we don't control either the content of the regulations or their enforcement – UEFA (and the Premier League with respect to its own regulations) are responsible for making sure it is enforced. Having said that, we have been and remain proponents of FFP for the good of the game in England and across Europe and we are supported in this by the European Clubs Association and clubs across Europe. He pointed to figures which show FFP has had a positive effect with the net losses of European clubs falling from a high of €1.6bn in 2011 to €487m last year. Finally he asked what AST’s alternative would be? Does it believe the club should withdraw its support of FFP?  Not to support FFP doesn't help the club in any way so we don't understand why AST has an issue with our advocacy of FFP. It's not clear what AST's position on FFP is.
 
Steve Cooper (AST)
Football clubs were set up for the benefit of supporters (the very successful German model manages to maintain a close sense of this in the modern world.)

 
If a club exists to benefit supporters, why sit on a cash pile that grows larger every year, and is disproportionately large compared to every other Premier League club?
 
Shouldn't the funds either be invested in the team or used to benefit the supporters that provided them (directly or indirectly) by lowering ticket prices or other similar initiatives?
 
IG said the money will be spent but it won’t be spent just because it’s there. It will be spent where the manager believes it will add significantly to our squad strength. He said this was a particularly difficult window with a lack of quality available in certain on-field positions which could be seen in the general behaviour in the market. In terms of ticket prices he understood the perspective that fans will always want us to spend more and charge less but we had been careful with prices over time as previously discussed.
 
Mick Coppock (Club Level)
It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain tickets for away games and in turn gain any away credits for your membership. This then becomes an issue when applying for match tickets for Semi-Finals and Finals, as Members simply to not have enough credits on their account to warrant a ticket for such a big game. The current system only benefits those who travel to away games, but the bigger problem now, is that even if you wanted to attend say five away games this season, you simply cannot do that as most credits needed to apply for a match ticket, are at least ten credits plus.
The issue of rewarding home fans more has been brought up at these meetings previously and the club have acknowledged that a home reward system needs to be put in place. As we enter a new season, can we please be updated on the current status of this project? I know of many supporters in Club Level, now paying thousands of pounds for their Season Ticket and who have been following their team for thirty/forty years plus, on a regular basis, who now feel betrayed. 
 
Ivan Worsell (IW)
IW accepted the difficulty relating to getting away tickets which is linked to the number of tickets we receive as a club. In terms of cup final tickets, we have been looking at three elements, season ticket tenure, away tickets and the added factor last year of consecutive finals. He said the data shows that the current system is still the most favourable to long-term season ticket holders although he recognised the problem really stems from insufficient tickets for semi-finals and finals for the competing clubs. We will look further at supporters who were unsuccessful in both ballots to see what can be developed to avoid this should we get into back to back finals in the future. In terms of developing a home credit system, he said work was continuing but we need to be sure that if we implement anything in this area we do not undermine other services we have developed such as ticket exchange and ticket transfer which creates further issues around touting.
 
Conor Kielty (Red Member Rep)
Has the club discussed the possibility of owning a club abroad (such as Man City & Melbourne/New York City) with the obvious advantages being able to spread the global brand & ethos of the Club with the opportunity to send players on loan or recruit new additions.
 
MG said this was an interesting development but is not currently something we are proposing to explore. Our focus is very much on building the Arsenal name around the world and we have had considerable success in this area.
 
Martin O’Donnell (Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic)
Would the Club consider issuing an explanatory statement or report after each Transfer Window that outlines to some degree the process of the transfer activity, without going into specific Players or naming of other clubs?
 
Perhaps in this way, the Statement could help to give some answers to the Supporters while also dispelling the myths, rumours and untruths that are aimed at Arsenal. I feel that this would help to preserve Arsenal’s image while engaging with the Supporters on a very volatile topic.
 
MG said this is a good idea but extremely difficult to implement in practice. The gossip around the window is driven by self-fulfilling agents and media and engaging in any kind of commentary is counter-productive. The only advice he could give was to work on the basis that it is all nonsense until we announce a deal.
 
Robyn Boparai (Women’s Representative)
Why some are away games shown at members' away screenings and others are not? 
 
Mark Brindle
We try and arrange screenings for matches that are not being televised with certain exceptions like the FA Cup final which was a screening for 25,000 people.
 
We have recently refurbished the Royal Oak to make our screenings even more comfortable. This season we start with the game vs Leicester.

Robyn Boparai (Women’s Representative)
What assistance is available to members who are not disabled but require support?
 
Mark Brindle
The Disability Liaison Team is always happy to provide advice and information to any supporter, whether or not they are a Registered Disabled Supporter (Purple Member).

 
Supporters can contact the Disability Liaison Team on 020 7619 5050 (9.30am to 5.00pm Monday to Friday) or email disability@arsenal.co.uk.
 
Robyn Boparai (Women’s Representative)
Is it possible to have more variety in the food and drinks options at Emirates? 
 
Mark Brindle
We are always looking to develop our menus working closely with DNC and welcome suggestions.
 
Daniel McCloskey (AISA Representative)
Any news on the signage for the seats to allow easier access to supporters that I had correspondence with John Beattie about, over the course of the summer?
 
Mark Brindle
This is in production and we are waiting an installation date. This is expected very soon. The company has taken quite a while to produce but this is partly due to each sign being different. The signs will go on the ground showing which side of the aisles seats are located.   
 
Daniel McCloskey (AISA Representative)
As Arsenal’s target is to be a top 4 team in Europe and we have qualified for the Champions League for a record 18 consecutive seasons what travel services does the club offer fans to attend European away games, as the website is not very clear. In particular Dynamo Zagreb? I note that Manchester City travel provider is Thomson Travel and they were offering packages to their European matches last season with this Travel company.  
 
Mark Brindle
As the Club now manages its travel arrangements in-house, no longer working with a Travel Provider/Partner, the Club does not have the ability to SELL arrangements that include a flight. In order to sell arrangements that include a flight, by law, you must be in possession of an ATOL licence, an officially regulated travel specific operating licence offering financial protection of your travel arrangements – which the Club obviously do not hold. We did try to work with Travel Counsellors back in the 2013/14 season, offering packages to numerous European fixtures, however the uptake was extremely poor & made the viability of offering travel arrangements going forward impossible. For clarity, where an offering is possible to use train or coach, the Club can sell these types of arrangements & will continue to do so going forward.
This is the position for the foreseeable future, however should this change, we will of course be communicating this. 

Daniel McCloskey (AISA Representative)
As Arsenal away support is considered to be one of the best in the country with every away game sold out, does the club give any feedback to the home team concerning the treatment of Arsenal fans along with views from the Stand that arsenal supporters are in. In particular I was at the Crystal Place match and there was a smell of paint as you went through the turnstile, also the view from the main stand was awful. I was at the back of the stand and you could not see clearly one end of the pitch or the television replays on the large screen. Arsenal fans do pay a lot to attend away games but do not always get the quality product that they should be entitled relative to the cost of the match ticket.
 
Mark Brindle
As Supporters Liaison Officer I produce a report on each and every game with reflections on the behaviour and treatment of our away fans.

 
This report is read by all of the senior management team and any major issues are followed up as a result.
 
I am in contact with my equivalent SLO at the host club before and after the match to discuss any potential issues and also to provide feedback after the game.
 
Crystal Palace is a case in point in that last season there were problems at the point of entry as several of the turnstiles did not work for a period of time. There were also issues inside the concourse in that the actual floor was very rough and uneven and the toilet facilities very poor.
 
Palace had taken into account our feedback and no doubt the same views from other visiting clubs along with the suggestions made by ‘Visit Football’ who review all the grounds from a more neutral point of view.
 
Turnstiles were open earlier and were all working, the concourse had been re-concreted and painted (hence the smell) and new toilet facilities had been provided as well.
 
I did discuss the paint smell with my opposite number and the simple fact was that they had so much work to do in the ground over the summer and with it being a very short break they were still working on things right up until the day before the game.
As far as the view is concerned unfortunately there is little we can do on this one as many of the grounds we visit are very old in comparison to the Emirates and do not have the capability of providing the quality of sight lines etc that we are all used to here.
 
If anyone has any comments / views on specific away matches please feel free to email me through their thoughts after the game. 
 
Mo Haider (Ethnic Minority Representative) 
Though I understand the negative responses this suggestion may attract from some, due to the moderate financial outlay during the transfer window, are there any plans or considerations for the club to contribute financially or socially to the refugees who are currently in need of support, similar to the commitment recently made by Bayern Munich?
 
Mark Gonnella
The club announced yesterday that it will donate £1 from every ticket sold to Saturday's game to Save the Children's Child Refugee Crisis Appeal. There will be a number of activities taking place on Saturday and the game will be attended by Save the Children's CEO, Justin Forsyth.  Supporters will be encouraged to donate £5 by texting HOPE to 70008.As a reminder, we have been working with Save the Children to help Syrian refugee children since 2012 and have contributed nearly £400,000 to date to help these vulnerable young people. In 2014, £146,000 was raised through a specific auction lot at The Arsenal Foundation Ball to build child friendly spaces in response to the Syria Crisis.  Most recently this has been followed up by an innovative pilot project to develop two football pitches in the Iraq refugee camps, which saw a donation of £118,000 to bring this project to life which will be completed by the end of 2015.  On Tuesday this week and thanks to PUMA, 100 boxes of Arsenal kit arrived at the camp where our pitches are currently being built.  Here in the UK, Arsenal in the Community continues its work with the organisation, Freedom From Torture.  The project brings together survivors of torture who have sought asylum in the UK for football training and English language workshops. It uses football as a tool to improve participants’ physical and mental wellbeing.  Most recently, the club donated its FA Community Shield award of £27,000 to continue and develop the fantastic work with these vulnerable people.
 
Mo Haider (Ethnic Minority Representative)
Provided it can be achieved with the consent of existing ticket holders, is the club happy to work towards creating a designated singing section, in order to assist fans in improving atmosphere at Emirates Stadium? 

Mark Brindle
The club are always happy to promote and encourage supporters who want to create an atmosphere as our ongoing commitment to REDaction and other supporter groups’ initiatives proves. The RED section was launched when we first moved over to the stadium as a place where like-minded souls could congregate and was heavily promoted at that time. When it comes to renewal time all supporters are given an option on their renewal form to move their seat if they wish to. It’s a very simple process to apply for a move which just involves clicking a link on the email. This summer we had 72 requests to move into the RED section but only 3 to move out of it. The club did investigate with Ticket Master the idea of supporters moving seats on a match to match basis 3 years ago and unfortunately the technology to enable such a system was not available and that is still the case now.

MH urged the club to do more to develop the singing section and develop a long-term plan to build atmosphere
 
Steve Cooper (AST)
Now that the Premier League has adopted the AST suggestion of paying the living wage can Arsenal explain when all of the people working at the club will receive this including cleaners, retail and hospitality workers?
 
Mark Gonnella
We already pay above the living wage for all our employees. This includes workers like stewards who work for us on a seasonal basis which goes well beyond the Premier League resolution. The Government has now introduced a national living wage target and our suppliers, together with others in their industries, will be required to meet the new living wage standards. This is something we fully support. 

Date of next meeting        
Saturday December 5. Prior to Arsenal v Sunderland (subject to TV selections)