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Supporters Forum - March 14, 2015

Supporters Forum

Meeting Minutes

Arsenal Football Club Supporters’ Forum - 14th March 2015

Attendees
AISA Representative – Daniel McCloskey
Arsenal FC (Chair) – Mark Gonnella
Arsenal FC – Ivan Gazidis
Arsenal FC – Ivan Worsell
Arsenal FC – Sue Campbell
Arsenal FC – Mark Brindle 
Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic – Mick Padfield
Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic – Paul Ellis
Arsenal Supporters Club – Overseas – Angel Georgiev
AST Member – Simon Hill                 
Club Level Representative - Mick Coppock
Gay Supporters Representative – Zitta Lomax
Red Member Representative – Connor Kielty
REDaction Member – Tony Bernhard-Grout
Shareholder Representative – Lesley Williams

1)     Minutes of previous meeting were approved. It was agreed to table a discussion on Over 60s’ concessions at the next meeting

2)     Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis gave an overview of the season so far. He said everyone at the Club had been disappointed with our start which had been compounded by injuries and the integration of new players into the team. However, it had been hugely encouraging to see the emergence of young players such as Hector Bellerin and, more recently, Francis Coquelin, and it was clear that the squad was growing and developing in an encouraging way.

He said significant investment was continuing into scouting and coaching operations and explained the board recently gave the go-ahead for a major rebuilding programme at Colney and the final phase of modernisation works at Hale End. These are investments for future progression and will give us top level facilities which will help attract, retain and develop young players.

Talking about the new Premier League broadcast deal, he pointed out that there is an on-going Ofcom inquiry into the sales process which is expected to conclude in the next couple of months. He added that, while we would not know the outcome of this process for some time, there were significant and understandable demands around how clubs use any increased finances, including ticket pricing, support for the grassroots game and the London Living Wage. At the same time there is also an expectation more money will be invested in players. He explained it was likely the Premier League would agree further financial controls and that the right balance would be struck. In terms of ticket pricing, he reminded people that prices had been held flat in five out of the seven seasons he had been with the club, with two inflation-only rises in that time.  Ticket prices had therefore decreased in real terms over this period and this was an indication that the Board had been restrained and balanced in this area. He recognised some fans are struggling financially and said he was confident further efforts would be made to reduce the costs faced by travelling fans in particular.

Ivan singled out the Arsenal in the Community team for special mention as they celebrate 30 years of service. The team delivers valuable projects which reach 5,000 people a week. Over the years 1.3 million people have directly benefitted.

Finally, Ivan asked for support from the forum to help stop an increase in reported discriminatory behaviour by supporters. The Club is concerned about anti-semitic chanting, particularly at away games, and is taking action to apprehend offenders.

Questions and answers

Mick Coppock, Club Level Representative

It has become more noticeable during European Champions League games that there are an increasing number of away fans finding their way into Club Level with full colours on. Isn't this against the Club Level code of conduct? Against Galatasaray earlier in the season there was, I believe, numerous incidents with away fans, which led on one occasion to an AFC Season Ticket being removed from the stadium. What does the club plan to do with this on-going situation/problem?

Mark Gonnella (MG) said that away fans would often come into the stadium without showing colours and then reveal them during the game which makes it difficult to monitor. In terms of the ejection of an AFC season ticket holder he explained this was not done lightly and was based on firm evidence.

With some possible Cup Finals on the horizon, can the club confirm if it will once again be rewarding away fans when it comes to the Cup Final ticket allocation? This has been discussed previously and the club advised that it was to introduce a "Home Credit" System that rewards Season Ticket Holders who regularly attend home fixtures, year after year. Any update on this position?

Ivan Worsell (IW)  Explained that the policy that will be applied for the FA Cup Semi v Bradford/Reading is the same as  last season.

At the last AGM it was agreed that the club would conduct a review of the current cup semi/final policy,  aimed at exploring other types of reward metrics including 'Home Match Credits', 'Away Match Credits', amongst other things.

The aim is to understand if there is a fairer solution than the current way of allocating tickets for a cup semi/final, ensuring no-one is disadvantaged. Another part of the project will look at the technology and operational requirements that would be needed to facilitate. This is on-going and once the findings are known of course they will be shared with this group.

Simon Hill AST, Tony Bernard Grout REDAction

MANAGING STADIUM ATMOSPHERE TO ENHANCE TEAM PERFORMANCE

Every Premier League manager and player will tell you a loud supportive crowd can influence the outcome of a match.  The tempo rises when a crowd gets animated and most teams, including Arsenal, perform better.  With such a strong and obvious correlation we find it hard to fathom why the club has invested so little in improving the singing and chanting impact of home fans, especially given so much is spent by clubs on health, wellbeing and psychology to give players those 1% performance improvements all modern coaches like to talk about.

The recent survey of match day fans sponsored by Red Action, the AST, BSM and The Gooner asked questions about participation in singing, age, seat location and the number of games attended.  The results clearly showed the most active groups are under 21 years of age and located in the Clock End and North Bank lower tiers.  The survey pulled in 2000 match attendees and a high proportion of active singers (47%) which is not surprising given the “loyalist” following of the fans groups.

70% of under 21’s were very active in chanting compared to 49% of under 40’s and 30% or less for over 40’s and over 60’s.  These fans are understandably concentrated in the Clock End lower tier but there is also a strong over 21 presence in the North Bank lower tier who are very active.  This reflects price, availability and past initiatives to improve atmosphere and is in many ways not surprising.

The Club needs to recognise that not all fans participate in the same way. Many, many fans don’t want to stand or sing or be near people who do and the club must recognise that all fans are not the same. Matchday fans are not a homogenous group and not all should be viewed as just “consumers” but participators in the match and the TV spectacle.

The suggestion would therefore be that the intent of creating home fan designated singing sections at both ends be explored. The REDsection goes some way to fulfilling this at the North Bank end, but more needs to be done in either the Clock End lower tier (where there are no current season ticket holders to move) or in Block 19 to facilitate the build-up of atmosphere. It is acknowledged that the Young Guns initiative is a step towards encouraging a younger demographic in the stadium (a necessary move with a view to the long term), but 12-16 year olds need to feed off slightly older youths, as in isolation they will find it difficult to develop a real influence in the stadium, in terms of ‘outsinging’ nearby away fans and helping to build the home support into more of the ‘pressure cooker’ feel that the Arsenal players have been shown to respond to.  

Having a group of 1500 fans intent on backing the team vocally in two distinct areas of the lower tier would have a huge impact on atmosphere and help inspire the Young Guns enclosure if one were positioned nearby. We would suggest discounted pricing like that which other clubs offer for under 21’s is introduced as part of the changes with guaranteed seat availability for part of that age group (perhaps even instigating as a dedicated membership group for these areas). If there were to be 1500 seats in each section, 500 places in each could be offered to an under 21’s membership group, for example.

It is acknowledged that such a section in the Clock End lower would have to be sacrificed for certain domestic cup matches, but if season tickets were offered there, they could be for Premier League and European matches only, with holders enjoying equal priority with silver members regards booking for domestic cup matches regarding seats elsewhere in the stadium.

Further down the line, in the event that legislation is changed with regards to safe standing areas, the proposed areas, are obvious locations for the introduction of this initiative, given the obvious evidence that those who sing the most at the Emirates, in the REDsection, seem to prefer doing so on their feet.

Additionally, if the proposals from the Football Supporters Federation, supported by many club supporters’ organisations, to place a universal cap on the amount charged to away supporters, the idea of whether relocating away supporters to the upper tier will assist the home side’s advantage can be looked at by the club.

We welcome the opportunity for the club to work with the interested parties to make changes in the stadium which will assist the players on the pitch to perform in a positive and vocally supportive atmosphere.

IG stated that everyone wants a better atmosphere in the stadium and it is something the Club has worked hard on over time, along with supporters’ groups. However, the enforced movement of fans within the stadium based on the preferences of some is a significant challenge. He pointed out that the recently opened Manchester United singing section is not fully subscribed and that Arsenal is not yet fully subscribed in its own Young Guns Enclosure. He was in favour of looking at what can be done to see how we can promote atmosphere but it is clear there will be some very challenging trade-offs between fans in trying to set up a singing section.

AST is very pleased that the Club is freezing prices for next season as it wrote to the Board to propose. Can the Club give more rationale as to the reason for this decision and the likely longer term view on prices, especially with such healthy increases in commercial and TV revenue?

MG suggested that this had already been covered by IG in his opening remarks. This was agreed by the forum.

Can the Club provide more detail about the consultancy services Stan Kroenke provided for his £3m fee? Is Ivan Gazidis addressing the reasons that this capability cannot be delivered by the in-house executive teams?

IG stated that the fee was paid to Kroenke and Sports Enterprise which is one of the largest, most respected and successful sports organisations in the United States, operating in the most sophisticated sports business market in the world. Their central team has extensive experience in the finance, digital, broadcast, ticketing, stadium operations, facilities and analytics areas amongst others. At Arsenal we have a very good and capable management team but we run a tight ship based on the scale of our operation and it would be irresponsible not to draw on this additional expertise that is available to us.  In terms of any future fees, that would depend on the nature of the services provided.  It was a proposal by the Chairman to pay a fee for the wide range of services provided to Arsenal Football Club by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment. He felt it was good governance to pay a fair fee for these services.

The Premier League is currently reviewing the issue of Away Fans at certain clubs always having to pay category A and the option of a fixed maximum price for away fans. As Arsenal’s away fans are discriminated against in this way at every game they go to will Arsenal support this initiative?

IG said we promoted and supported the initiative to provide support to away fans. As we get nearer to the new TV deal, he is convinced we will get support from our fellow clubs as we did previously to do something further that will make a difference. It is not yet clear what form that will take.

As the Brent Cross and every out of town Arsenal retail store have now closed down, can the club confirm that no further opening are planned? What was the cost of breaking the lease at Brent Cross?

MG, speaking on behalf of the retail director, said focus is on building our online retail operations both here in the UK and further afield. We now have international operations in China, Indonesia and the North America which are performing well. We will not go into the financial specifics of the ending of the Brent Cross operation. That said we kept the exit costs to a minimum and acted quickly and decisively once it was realised the store was not working as well as we had expected.

Conor Kielty, Red Member Representative

Is there any update on the contract situation on Diaby?

MG said there was nothing to update.

Why has Arsène stopped sending the manager's post match email. It was always a positive note; which was nice when we had won, and important when we lost. The current format for email information lacks that insightful match analysis.

MG explained that the number of people opening the manager’s post-match email had dropped to very low levels which suggested it was no longer relevant. The view was that fans see the manager’s interviews either on tv, radio, on Arsenal .com, or in the newspapers so the email is no longer needed.

The end of the 2018 - 2019 season will see Arsenal complete 100 years unbroken in the top flight of English football, the circumstances surrounding Arsenal's "election" to the top flight are 'interesting'. However the fact remains that when Football recommenced after the Great War in 1919 (1919-1920 season) Arsenal were in the top flight, and they still are, The next longest serving team is Everton who were promoted in the 1960s. Do the club intend to celebrate this centenary either at the end of the 2018 - 2019 season or at the start of the 2019 - 2020?  

Mark Brindle (MB) said the 100th anniversary is indeed a significant milestone in the club’s history and will be recognised at the time.  

Lesley Williams, Shareholder

Have Arsenal had any further views about having kiosks for their lottery bearing in mind there is a charge if someone buys a ticket using their credit card.

MG - This is a purely an on-line lottery so is not possible.

Paul Ellis, Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic

The Cesc Fabregas banner on the way to the ground. Might it be a good idea to remove it before the Chelsea game in April?

MG pointed out the banners on display on the Ken Friar and Danny Fiszman bridges were chosen by these two men to mark their all-time favourite Arsenal players. As a result no changes will be made.

AOB

Zitta Lomax asked for clarification of the Club’s position on the London Living Wage.

IG pointed out that all our employee’s remuneration packages exceed the requirements of the campaign. The main area of discussion relates to our contractors such as Clean Event and DNC. He recognised this was an issue our fans care about and it is something we will look at further.

Tony Bernhard Grout asked why it was not possible to buy yellow and blue scarves in the Armoury and whether any commemorative memorabilia would be produced for the semi-final?

MG promised to find out the answers to those questions.

MG reminded the forum that some members were due to stand down at the end of the season and also stated that proposals for future format of the forum and meetings would be brought forward to the next meeting.

Date of next meeting is to be confirmed.

Meeting closed at 12.30pm.

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