Supporters Forum - 5th December 2015

Arsenal Football Club Supporters’ Forum
11am – 12.30pm December 5th 2015
Board Room
Highbury House

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

Arsenal attendees:
Arsenal FC (Chair) - Mark Gonnella
Arsenal FC - Ivan Gazidis
Arsenal FC - Mark Brindle
Arsenal FC - Charlotte Kenny
Arsenal FC - Alun Francis
1.     Minutes of the last meeting were read and agreed.

Mark Gonnella (MG) pointed out that improved signage of rows and seats had now been completed in line with previous suggestions from AISA and other supporters. 

2.     Update from Ivan Gazidis

Ivan explained that the league was more competitive than ever with more clubs having the funds to build strong squads. That makes the league as a whole more compelling but more difficult for any of the big clubs to dominate. He said the league is wide open and we are well placed. He pointed to the fact the bookies, who always provide a dispassionate view, have us as second favourites for the title. He said there was a belief and desire within the club to push on and that remains the case.

Turning to injuries, he pointed to the fact we have invested heavily in increased data analysis and expert staff to reduce the likelihood of players getting injured. When you look at the long-term injuries we have currently, these were all as a result of impacts in training or games, something which it is difficult to control. He said he was confident other players would step up but he explained that a lot of work is going into the January transfer window and if we can find quality additions we will invest.

Turning to the commercial side of the club, he said we had strong momentum with partnership deals recently announced in China and Ethiopia and more in the pipeline. This continues to be important for the club as the increased commercial revenue is one of the ways we can gain a competitive advantage over others. He explained that our commercial revenue has doubled in three years and we continue to develop in this area. Overall the club is in a good position. We have built a strong squad that can challenge for the title, we continue on a positive path and want to be title contenders.

Responding to a question about wearing of the third kit, Ivan explained that it was intended to be worn in all away cup games. He had made a decision for us not to wear it against Spurs in the Capital One Cup due to local rivalries which meant we wore it away at Norwich. This was all part of the delicate balance that has to be struck between tradition and the commercial considerations of the modern game.

Robyn Boparai asked whether there were any synergies between Arsenal and other sporting organisations owned by our owners. Ivan explained there were and these cross a number of areas with tangible benefits. This included commercial activities where we get support on a number of important levels. 

3.     Update from GayGooners (Dave Raval)

Dave Raval explained the group had been established with the support of Arsenal and has the ultimate ambition of creating an environment within the game that would enable a Premier League player to come out. He said the group believed that to achieve this it was important for fans to come out. He said the GayGooners now have more than 500 members, with a third being female, and there is a global membership. It is the biggest LGBT fan group in the world and other clubs are now following our lead. IG congratulated the group on its work and emphasised the core values of the club are about inclusion and of being a welcoming place for everyone.

He also stated this is a core personal value and is proud of the work we do. However there is still a long way to go and the club will continue to work hard to break down barriers with the help of our fans.

Lesley Williams asked about whether any progress had been made in terms of identifying fans involved in racist chanting on the train back from Norwich. Mark Brindle explained he has been liaising with the police on this to identify the culprits. IG said this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable and these people are not welcome at the football club. 

4.     Questions

Lars Lundstedt – Oversees

TV selections are being made later and later for each season which is a source of huge frustration for supporters, both domestic and overseas, who find it harder and harder to arrange travel and accommodation due to both increased cost and decreased availability as the fixture date approaches. What can the club do to work towards selections being made at an earlier point in time?

Mark Gonnella said we fully understand the concerns of supporters but this decision is in the hands of the broadcasters. They are aware of the concerns of clubs and fans.

Lesley Williams - AST

Recently on national radio a recent ex England player commented on the “hardness” of the training pitches at London Colney when asked to speculate on Arsenal’s lamentable injury list. He claimed after training with England at Colney he always ached more in the joints than after any other training. He claimed the hard sand based pitches were an issue for players. Can the Club comment on this suggestion and detail any evidence it may have to refute this claim?

Mark Gonnella said that like much of the speculation around our injury situation this is nonsense. Our pitches are very much within the recommended guidelines. They also point out that players get used to training on a particular surface day in day out so will notice any subtle differences when they train elsewhere. Importantly though their bodies get used to the surface they train on regularly. That is the case with our players and Colin Lewin and his team are confident there is no link between the pitches and injuries. Obviously we are all frustrated by recent events but if you step back and look at it we have been unfortunate. IG said there was no evidence that pitches contribute to injuries but we always continue to monitor the situation and bring huge depth of thought and analysis to bear so we can identify any common themes should they arise.

Conor Runswick – 16-21 year old Representative

In the foreseeable future, will the club be investing in the facilities at Meadow Park or looking to purchase a more functional ground to improve the performance of our U21’s, U18’s and Arsenal Ladies sides. 

Ivan Gazidis said we have done a lot of work to improve the facilities at Meadow Park and we have a good relationship with Borehamwood. However we always look at all options and having a purpose built facility in the long-term is among the things we would consider.
Conor Runswick – 16-21 year old Representative

How many of the current squad have contracts which the club is looking to renegotiate this season and how does the club intend to restructure the player’s salary policy and collective wage bill in order to achieve this? 

Ivan Gazidis said this is something that we give a huge amount of thought to and we are in as good a position on contracts with few key player contracts imminently expiring. In the future he said it would be about striking the right balance between retaining key players in an environment where agents will be looking to get the best deals for their players with the new broadcast deal in mind and providing sufficient flexibility to bring in new players as required. 

Conor Runswick – 16-21 year old Representative

What are we as a club doing to salvage grass roots football in the local area and improve coaching where the FA has been failing? 

Mark Gonnella said there are numerous areas where the club makes a contribution at grassroots level. These include the following: 

We have upgraded 13 astroturfs locally and deliver football coaching at all of the sites which are on estates and in parks. The landmark project is Market Road which has been the largest ever capital investment into a grassroots facility in England. We have also just opened The Hub.

Through Arsenal in the Community, we have a huge coach education programme which ensures that appropriately trained coaches are delivering football to hundreds of local youngsters. These are our part-time coaches as well as those on our BTEC, Foundation Degree and Gap Year programmes. AITC runs a grassroots league which sees 40-50 teams of 400-500 youngsters playing across 4 local venues every Saturday morning. The best players from all our community projects are picked to represent AITC across all age groups in various local grassroots leagues. The Gunners Fund through Arsenal Foundation has supported various grassroots football teams with funding. Islington Football Development Partnership is funded by AITC which covers Islington Ladies football.

David Barnett – Disabled Supporters Representative

I would like to know how many tickets Arsenal supply for disabled away fans split between visually impaired, ambulant and wheelchair places. Also how much do the club charge for these tickets.

I would also like to know whether there are any Premier League clubs that do not supply any tickets for away disabled fans.

Alun Francis said 13 wheelchair user and enabler places and a minimum of 9 visually impaired/ambulant disabled supporter and enabler places have to be provided by home clubs. At the request of the away club this amount can be increased to as many as they require. Also, it is left up to the away clubs to divide the allocation between visually impaired and ambulant disabled supporters. As with tickets for home disabled supporters, disabled away supporters pay half price and there is a free place for their enabler. There are no Premier League Clubs that do not provide an allocation for disabled away supporters.

David Sharp – Over 60s Representative

How does the club define "seniors", and what exactly are the present discount options available to seniors for all the various ticketing arrangements and membership schemes that the Club operates?

Are there any discounts available on merchandise? What are the plans for improving this situation?

Mark Brindle said that to qualify for a Senior Citizen membership you will need to be 65 years of age or over on 31st August of the season you are joining for. In respect of season and match tickets, concessions are available in our Family Enclosure for Senior Citizens at 57% discount of the full adult price. MG said we will continue to look at this as part of the broader discussion around rewarding loyalty. IG said this would be reviewed as part of the work to analyse how we will use the money from the new broadcast deal although he pointed out there are many competing demands with regards to that funding.

David Sharp said he would be keen to re-visit this subject in a year and was also happy to discuss models for the future which could support pricing for seniors.

Sam Blackman – Red Action

Around now there will be meetings to discuss how the new £5bn TV deal will be spent. This new deal could mean around an extra £50m for Arsenal alone. Can you tell us anything about how the club will be spending this extra sum on top of the huge amount it has already been receiving? Might we expect some help for matchday fans both home and away? Investments in grassroots? 

Ivan Gazidis said final decisions have not been made but he is confident there will be further investment to reduce the cost of following Arsenal away from home. He said it is also clear there are lots of demands on this money – including demands that Arsenal compete for the best players - and we will be looking to reach a reasoned and balanced outcome.  

Sam Blackman – Red Action

This may have been raised by other members, but can we please get an update on the home credits proposal? The club have promised to work on this and RedAction supports the other fan groups on this and feels this is very important for rewarding fan loyalty and filling the stadium.

Lesley Williams - AST

Is there a timeline in relation to the decision about the “home credit” implementation and upgrades to the Ticket Exchange? 10,000 empty seats against Zagreb and at least 5,000 empty at every game do not reflect well on Arsenal or the people in charge of addressing this.

Mark Brindle said home credits are part of a much broader piece of work we are doing around defining recognition. This has to be done considering many aspects of what it is to be a supporter and is far from straightforward. This will also have implications with technology and services stadium-wide. He said our aim is to always have a full stadium. Our no-show rates are significantly lower than the estimate. We also believe the Zagreb game was unique with attendance definitely impacted by the dreadful events in Paris. In terms of Ticket Exchange we continue to invest a great deal of time and effort with our technology provider. Last year c.57,000 tickets were sold, with an average 10% increase seen this season.  Ticket Transfer has also seen a growth of 35% on average per fixture this season compared to last. IG added that we continue to do a lot of work on Ticket Exchange which is leading the way in the game. He pointed out that some of the suggestions around the exchange were not necessarily the most effective way to move forwards. Charlotte Kenny said that we are currently testing a cash back facility on the exchange which we hope to have up and running soon.
Mick Coppock – Club Level

Home Credits - any update on the Home Credit Scheme that will reward home fans for when Cup Final tickets are allocated?
Daniel McCloskey - AISA Representative

Have the Club had any discussions with the Football Association to seek an increase in tickets allocated to the finalists? Similarly have the Club discussed the matter with other Premier League clubs, particularly those who have similar numbers of season-ticket holders to Arsenal?

Mark Gonnella said this will be announced on Monday. We have made some small changes which will improve the situation and we also continue to work with the FA to make more tickets available for finalists. IG said that the FA leadership had assured him they are working towards making more tickets available to participating teams.

Sam Blackman – RedAction

Away credits - Many fans have complained to me about how the current away credit system has an unfair disadvantage on younger/newer away fans that haven't got the credits but are still keen to attend. There are many members on high credits who buy simply to get the credit and have no intention of going themselves. I know some games go to 0 credits and this is where they need to start but when you see away games such as West Brom, Aston Villa and Leicester all sell out at above 20 credits and then the amount of spare tickets you see online almost immediately, there's clearly an issue here. I know it's a tricky system to manage, but are there any thoughts as to how to improve this? I'm not suggesting photos and names on every ticket because that wouldn't be manageable but there must be a way to help fans get onto the credit ladder.

Mark Brindle said we always take the largest allocation offered to us by the opposing team. Over the last two and a half seasons 20 away fixtures have gone on sale to any Platinum or Gold member with zero away points. In respect to the policing of tickets being passed on, there are sites we monitor to catch this type of behaviour. Really the only way to address this is to have tickets collected at the venue with ID which provides its own logistical challenges. Ultimately it is also up to supporters to help us police this so if you do find people selling tickets online, we would ask them to bring this to our attention so we can take the appropriate action. Charlotte Kenny said that the challenge in this area is to come up with a system which is fair to all. This is something we look at on an on-going basis and everything has and will be considered. 

AST Lesley Williams

There are often lots of complaints about seats with restricted views at other grounds, quite often not even advertised as restricted view, such as at Chelsea and Crystal Palace. Can the club collect data from other clubs or our fans, or both, on which rows and which sections is restricted view, and make that public when tickets go on sale? Can Arsenal’s SLO also make a report on the situation and raise it with the Premier league. Alongside this will Arsenal support proposals to end pricing categorisation for away fans? 

Mark Brindle said there are a number of clubs which offer restricted views and these are clearly marked on the ticket. The only other time you might encounter ‘a restricted view’ is when everyone else is standing and as they are standing out of choice the clubs do not have to advertise the seats as ’restricted view’. Even at Palace if everyone sat down there would be no restricted view. If you do have particular problems at a ground let me know and I can follow up if possible.
Ivan Gazidis said that on the final point about pricing categorisation for away fans, this continues to be discussed at the Premier League but no decision has yet been made. It’s complicated to say the least. What is good for one set of fans is not so good for others. That said he was confident there will be an increased advantage for away fans but we don’t know what form that will take at this stage.

Sam Blackman - RedAction

I have been asked if there is any procedure in place for those who want to get into Block 6 and the surrounding blocks at renewal time or is it simply a lottery? Some have suggested maybe a waiting list for this area would be fairer. Last meeting you revealed the very small number of tickets that are available there at renewal time but it may reassure people that they are waiting in a queue if they have requested to move there.

Mark Brindle said there is a procedure and supporters have to write in every season to request the move and we will keep a record. However the number of people requesting to move into this area far exceeds the amount requesting to move out which makes it very difficult to relocate people. 

Connor Kielty – Red Member
With tickets for most of big games you can always find them being resold via various Ticketing Sites for around 4 times their face value- These are tickets that are often sold out or have been sold out even before reaching Red Membership level. Is there a way of the club being able to clamp down on this?
Mark Brindle We are constantly working with the Police to tackle the issue. If people buy a touted ticket and send it into us we will follow it up. Charlotte Kenny said this issue is not isolated to Emirates and sadly is widespread across the events industry. She encouraged people to go to ticket exchange but stressed we continue to work hard to identify people touting tickets.

Mick Coppock – Club Level

Season Ticket Prices - with Club Level prices normally announced in February, can the club confirm that there will be no increase for next season?
Ivan Gazidis said we have not made a decision yet. He said pricing had dropped 20% in real terms over the time we have been in the stadium and prices have been held flat six times in the last eight seasons. He said we would continue to make reasoned and responsible decisions with regard to ticket prices going forward. 

Robyn Bopari – Women’s Representative

What actions can be taken when season ticket holders sell their tickets to away fans causing an uncomfortable environment for home fans, especially families? What is the role of stewards in this case?

Mark Brindle explained tickets in Premium are transferable which is part of the issue here. Stewards are well trained and have to strike a difficult balance between keeping order and the risk of inflaming a situation. This has to be judged on a case by case basis.

Michael Francis – Shareholder Representative

At the risk of boring everyone I’m going to raise a question which was asked at the AGM but not satisfactorily answered in the view of most people that were in the room. What services have KSE provided which justify the £3m fee Arsenal paid to them in the last financial year? I appreciate the Chairman said they could not be “codified” but it does not seem unreasonable to expect a little more detail and perhaps some examples of the “strategic and advisory services” KSE gave even if the specifics are difficult to quantify or articulate. Can you also clarify whether or not there is a contract between Arsenal and KSE to provide this advice? At the AGM, the Chairman said there was “not a written whatever-you-wanted” in answer to this point, but that would seem remarkably bad practice. Finally, we are now over six months into the new financial year, so can the Club give any indication as to whether the “strategic and advisory services” have continued and therefore a further fee is likely to be paid? 

Ivan Gazidis Ivan Gazidis said the issue got confused at the AGM, in part due to the emotional atmosphere with some people shouting from the floor, but pointed out there has been an agreement in place.  The reason this has come about at all is because the chairman did not believe it was good governance to receive services without paying for them. We pay what the Board determines is a fair market value fee for the services we get across a wide range of areas. 

Michael Francis – Shareholder Representative

Considering the amount of money the club invested in building the new stadium and the burden it has been since the move, interested to know what the club’s thoughts are on West Ham’s arrangement to move into the Olympic Stadium and whether it could be viewed that they have gained an unfair advantage over other Premier League clubs? 

Ivan Gazidis said our focus with regard to stadium development is on ourselves. 

Michael Francis – Shareholder Representative

At a recent AGM it was asked if on a selective match by match basis a shareholder could be drawn at random to receive two seats in the Directors Box. On the basis that the Directors Box rarely appears full (apart from Cat A games) would the Club please reconsider this request? 

Mark Gonnella Said the box is full for all games and indeed on many occasions we turn people away. The box is used to entertain the visiting club, commercial partners and potential partners and football dignitaries as well as providing seats for match officials, visiting coaches and scouts. You may see empty seats on occasions. This will be when people do not come to the game as originally planned.

Conor Runswick – 16-21 year old Representative

Can we be given update on the club’s efforts to ensure their external contract staffs receive the London Living Wage?

Daniel McCloskey - AISA

It was great to hear the Club are paying all full-time and part-time staff rates above the London Living Wage and that the recent maintenance contract went to a company who pay at least the LLW. We hope that the Club will use their good offices to achieve similar undertakings from the organisations/companies who hold other contracts when they come up for renewal, such as those for cleaning and catering.

Ivan Gazidis said everyone who works for the Club is paid above the London Living Wage including stewards and matchday staff. The rates for all our employees already exceed the government's 2020 national living wage target. It also goes beyond the Premier League’s recent resolution on the subject.

The issue relates to the wages paid to their employees by third party contractors.  On that subject, the living wage forms a part of our renewal discussions as third party contracts come up for renewal.  For example, our recent maintenance contract with CBRE contains an undertaking by CBRE that their employees are paid at least the London Living Wage. 

Our cleaning contract comes up for renewal next year and it will be part of those discussions. Our catering contract is a long-term contract but we are involved in on-going discussions with our catering supplier.

Robyn Bopari – Women’s Representative

There have been several incidents of violence in 2 London derbies this season, what can be done differently to prevent their reoccurrence?

Mark Brindle said we work closely with our colleagues at other clubs. For instance the work we did behind the scenes with the police and others before the recent game at home to Spurs helped reduce the problems and there was nowhere near as much trouble as there had been at White Hart Lane. In terms of incidents at Highbury Corner around the West Ham game, he said the police were aware and we were working with them to identify culprits.

Daniel McCloskey - AISA Representative

How have the recent horrific events in Paris affected the Club's matchday operation? What impacts will the changes being introduced at the Emirates Stadium, including the reduction in police numbers, have regarding the safety of all spectators and staff?

Mark Brindle said the systems we had in place for Zagreb will continue for the foreseeable future. We need people to get here early and there have been some changes for today to try and reduce delays. We are working closely with anti- terrorism experts, police and the council to make things work.

Lesley Williams - AST

Earlier this season the AST raised the issue of the Club’s approach to squad building. Our suggestion is that an independent review be taken into the Club’s arrangements for scouting and signing players. Now it’s early December and we see the impact that having a small squad, and one that is injury prone, is having on performances and results. Arsenal is in a very strong financial position and yet the transfer window 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 that has affected Arsenal for several seasons. We once again urge the Board to now open an independent review into its arrangements for scouting, bidding for, and then purchasing players.  A review of this is best practice governance (and may conclude that current practices are good) and to do so and can only help Arsenal to become stronger. The AST would like an explanation explaining why an independent review by experts isn’t a good idea.

Ivan Gazidis said we keep our processes under constant review and that the reason we are in contention to win the league this year against rivals who have far more money than us is because our work and our processes have been very good in recent years. We have given Arsène a huge amount of support in identifying and recruiting players and we have had a tremendous record of success in recent seasons in recruiting top class players at reasonable value. He pointed to the fact that our recruitment and contract team has decades and decades of experience between them but ultimately the club believes Arsène has to be the final decision maker on what players to recruit. 

He said it is clear we are on a good trajectory and the AST’s own survey of its members supports that, with optimism high. That said he accepted we are not perfect and that the question was really about whether we should or should not have signed additional players in the summer. That is something that is discussed robustly internally but the fact that some observers may disagree with the outcome of those processes does not make the processes faulty.  They are the very processes that have produced so much success in our squad signings in recent years.  He does not agree with the assertion that there is an independent expert not currently employed in football who would or should be able to access all our confidential internal information and productively tell us or our manager how to do our jobs.

Conor Runswick – 16-21 year old Representative

The Board does not currently publish its agendas or minutes from its meetings. In future what measures are being taken to address this inherent lack of transparency?

Mark Gonnella  As a Club we are very open about our business. We discuss all aspects of the club in forums such as this one today and we hold an Annual General Meeting. Ultimately you would not expect any other organisation to disclose the details of board meetings. That would release confidential information into the public domain and make it difficult to do business. CR accepted that but pointed out we live in a world where more transparency is needed.

Sam Blackman – Red Action

Next September Arsène Wenger will celebrate his 20th anniversary as manager of Arsenal. I'm sure we're all agreed that there should be a proud celebration of the club's most successful manager in some form, perhaps a testimonial or other event. Are there any early thoughts/plans in place for how we can mark the occasion? 

Mark Gonnella This is something we will look at but Arsène is not a fan of personal milestones. It would also be worth fans considering a tribute. We are open to ideas on this so let’s discuss at our next meeting. 

Next meeting:

Mark Gonnella said the next meeting will be held before the Crystal Palace or Norwich game in April, depending on TV selections.

Meeting closed at 12.40pm