Arsenal Football Club Supporters’ Forum
11am – 1.00pm September 10th 2016
Supporters’ Forum membership 2016/2017
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 Supporters - Ms Anne Hyde
Club Level - Mr Steven Downey
Family Enclosure - Mr Ryan Maskery
Gold Member - Mr Mike Maloney
Red Member - Mr Connor Kielty
Women’s Representative - Ms Robyn Boparai
Over 60 Year-Old - Mr David Sharp
Ethnic Minority Representative - Mr Vik Dattani
LGBT Representative - Mr Dave Raval
RedAction Member - Mr Sam Blackman
Shareholder - Mr Michael Francis
Away Scheme Member - Mr Soran Hourami
AST Member - Mr Steve Cooper
Arsenal FC (Chair) - Mark Gonnella
Arsenal FC - Ivan Gazidis
Arsenal FC - Mark Brindle
Arsenal FC - Ivan Worsell
Arsenal FC - Alun Francis
Steve Cooper – Lesley Williams attending as alternate
Dave Raval – Angus Moorat attending as alternate
- 1. Welcome and agree minutes of previous meeting (Mark Gonnella)
- Mark Gonnella (MG) welcomed new members: Anne Hyde, Steven Downey, Ryan Maskery and Vik Dattani.
- Minutes were agreed. MG proposed that in future members submit questions as they arise so answers can be provided in a timely fashion rather than wait for the forum to come round. Questions should be sent to Mark Brindle (MB). This would allow us to make the meetings themselves more productive in terms of showcasing and raising new ideas and going into more detail on specific areas a required. Forum agreed this was a good way forward.
- David Sharp thanked Ivan Worsell (IW) for making contact with him over concessionary prices for senior ticket holders.
- Ivan Gazidis overview
- IG talked about our transfer approach which remains focussed on identifying and developing young players while competing for top talent who can further strength our squad. The ambition remains to be amongst the elite clubs around the world and compete to win the major trophies.
- Last season was a disappointment he said and is not what we are aiming for. However he pointed out that the squad is stronger than it was four or five years ago and of course identifying and adding the quality needed to further improve becomes progressively more difficult as the quality of the squad rises. He said our team involved in transfer dealings is hugely experienced. He likened the transfer window to being the pilot of a plane being buffeted by winds, with passengers in the back getting nervous about the direction of travel. You can see the runway and know where you want to land but the passengers can’t and begin to shout. The situation is further complicated by agents and other clubs putting out agenda-driven information which has no basis in fact but which reinforces their fears. Our role during this period is to stay focussed on that runway, keep our nerve and focus and make sure that our objectives are reached. He said the situation is exacerbated because we are unable to share information around what is actually happening at risk of jeopardising transfer deals.
- After all the summer activity he felt we had done well, signing Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding early on, signing our first choice centre back target Shkodran Mustafi and also adding Lucas Perez. The latter had been on our radar for some time and we are pleased to have made a strong addition. He also pointed to the signings of Kelechi Nwakali and Takuma Asano as good acquisitions for the future.
- Importantly, we have again not made any major player sales and that means the squad is much deeper. It is also younger through the addition of players which means the overall balance of the squad is better.
- Off the pitch work continues on the developments at our Colney training centre and the Hale End academy. The academy is now a world class facility which will be a great home for our young players to develop.
- The Emirates Stadium pitch has been re-laid including new heating systems which give us another 10 years’ life in the playing surface. In addition new TV screens have been installed throughout the stadium.
- He explained that during the summer the Champions League discussions had resulted in some changes but nothing particularly radical. It will continue with 32 teams, same format with some changes to how the money is given out. He said that Arsenal were never advocates of a breakaway Super League.
- Finally he pointed out our overarching aim is to make people proud of their club. A key driver of that is winning trophies but it is also about the good we can do as a club. He paid tribute to the fact £1 million is being donated by the Arsenal Foundation to develop pitches in Islington, Jordan and Somalia as a result of the Legends’ game. The investment will make dramatic differences to childrens’ lives and is something everyone connected with the club should take a lot of pride from.
- Ravi Bopara asked if we would be repeating the Legends match in future.
- IG pointed out that we raise significant funds for The Arsenal Foundation every year and we would love to do it again. However it would be important to ensure we could deliver a successful event, with top players to any future game.
- Daniel McCloskey asked what IG’s view was on the manager’s comments about us not being ready for the first game.
- IG explained that after a summer including the European Championships, very few teams are fully up to speed due to the late returns of players.
- DMc also questioned our early season results since the advent of tours.
- IG said that in the modern commercial environment all teams are travelling in pre-season. This helps generate revenues from our partners which lead to us making further investments in players. All major clubs are doing this and we work hard to minimise the impact on our preparation.
Connor Kielty – Red Member Rep
Do we have a plan in place if Wenger decides to go at the end of the season?
- IG said that it would be a big challenge when the day arrives that the manager leaves. A lot of work has been done on infrastructure in recent years which will help insulate us when we make that difficult transition. He confirmed there is a plan in place but we obviously do not talk about it publicly. He reinforced the fact everyone is currently very positive about the direction and looking forward to the season.
Daniel McCloskey - AISA
Season tickets at Arsenal are relatively expensive and the discount offered to season-ticket holders is relatively insignificant and by far the lowest in the Premier League. With the increased broadcast revenues available we believe that the annual discount that is offered to season ticket holders should be gradually increased; that the Club should introduce a loyalty scheme that provides discounts for all season-ticket holders when purchasing additional tickets through the Friends and Family service and that outside of ticketing, there are other ways in which the Club should demonstrate its appreciation of long-term supporters, for example (I) 20 year and 40 year badges, (ii) annual events for a random selection of say 100 season-ticket holders, (iii) occasional free vouchers for the Club shop, (iv) free entry to the Club museum.
- IG said we had frozen general admission season ticket prices for 9 out of 12 seasons and we are very conscious of what we do on prices. We are not looking at particular discounts for season ticket holders but loyalty is something we are looking at. We have made developments to our Membership Rewards programme, which now has discount offers from our Club partners, exclusive events (e.g. Members Day), training ground visits and competitions to win unique signed items. In addition, to mark our 10 year anniversary of moving to Emirates Stadium, all those who have been season ticket holders for the entire 10 year period will receive a unique gift. He said we are open to further ideas on the best ways to recognise individual supporters’ loyalty.
Daniel McCloskey – AISA
A membership category should be introduced to recognise and reward supporters who travel to every away game in the UK and often beyond. Perhaps it could be called yellow membership, recognising the achievements of the club when players have worn yellow shirts and the affinity that supporters have to that colour. There are a range of benefits that could be introduced, many could be related to travel and other costs incurred by away supporters, and some could be extended to away supporters who purchase tickets on a match by match basis.
- Ivan Worsell said we currently offer travelling fans a number of benefits. Tickets are priced £26 for each PL away fixture which is £4 below the £30 Premier League Price Cap. We provide competitively priced coaches to all domestic games, and we have provided additional support/subsidised travel to fans when there are known travel restrictions. As an example we are offering £10 coach tickets to the forthcoming match against Nottingham Forest.
Soran Hourami – Away Scheme Member
Taking into consideration that away tickets are now £30 (with Arsenal reducing this further to £26), what plans are there to enable more fans to go to away matches and not have them all sell out to 35+ credits (as an example)
- IW accepted this is challenging. Access to away games is running at the same levels as last season in terms of credits required. We continue to take the largest allocation of tickets we can for away match fixtures. Our Away Ticket Policy allocates tickets based on away attendance which, due to the volume of requests received from supporters who meet the qualifying criteria, can make it quite challenging for others to build up credits via specific fixtures of their choice rather than those that are available after sales to qualifying supporters.
- Over the last two seasons there have been 17 away fixtures which were available to any season ticket holder. When we have discussed this before at the forum, supporters who built up their attendances have had to do so by attending games such as Sunderland/Newcastle away. People generally felt this was the fairest solution.
- IW said there are no immediate plans to change from our current policy. We have an impossible task with such a small number of tickets and any change would need to be something supporters discuss and agree upon.
Angus Moorat said the away scheme is very difficult join and people were protecting their position on the scheme
- IW said it is very challenging and we could consider looking at changing the policy but this was originally put together by fans for fans as it was seen as the fairest way forward.
- IG stated on the broader issue of loyalty he was open to looking at this further to agree broader principles but whatever can be done needs to be done in full agreement with the fans.
Lesley Williams – AST
Last season according to those figures there were more than 160,000 empty seats at home games. The AST has consistently pushed for a home credit system. This has been discussed at several forum meetings and we have been told this is being looked into. Is there any progress and can we have an update and likely timetable for action?
With regard to the ticket exchange can AFC explain why it is not fully utilised as is shown by the actual attendance figures produced by the police? What can be done to make the fans more willing to use the exchange? Steve Cooper used TX a lot last season and found it very good other than the charges.
Daniel McCloskey - AISA
The ticket exchange and transfer arrangements introduced by the Club are very welcome; further improvements are needed to increase the number of supporters who are actually inside the stadium when matches take place. The figures recently published by the Metropolitan Police show that there were over 150,000 unfilled seats at The Emirates Stadium during the 2015-16 season. There are tens of thousands of Arsenal supporters who would love to attend matches, especially for games that have lower prices, but can't get hold of tickets. Arsenal operates a successful Ticket Exchange but improvements to the scheme are needed to help ensure that more seats are filled at future matches. In addition the Club should consider setting up a discrete ticket transfer scheme for Arsenal away supporters, which would help to alleviate safety and security concerns.
- IW said the figures released by the police are not the complete picture. It is not clear when these figures were collected and are not consistent with our own figures. In terms of filling the stadium, he said Ticket Exchange (TX) is working well; 77,000 fans used the service last season and 25,000 seats were transferred. This represents a growth of 13% on TE and 64% on transfer.
- We have developed the cashback service for this season to make it easier for people to get their money back quickly. We are confident this will drive usage and initial figures this season are up on last year.
- By Christmas the service will be fully optimised for mobile and tablet devices, which will also help to drive usage.
- Our strategy is to continue with getting the service up as early as possible which will give a greater chance for season ticket holders to post and sell their seats, this in turn makes more seats available for members to purchase. Clearly we will continue to use all Club channels to promote.
Lesley Williams – AST
Silver member tickets are released two months prior to the fixture but it sometimes occurs that the on sale day may be a day when Arsenal are playing abroad and fans are at those games. They cannot book their tickets and lose out. Eg Villa away went on sale the day before the Barcelona away match. (this may apply to red members as well). Can more care be taken/consideration given to when tickets are released and in particular to avoid being released on the eve of or day of European away games?
- IW explained that during the course of the season we have 290 days where something will go on sale and 305 different sale periods during this time. As a result, scheduling the sale periods is a challenging process. In addition the two months in advance for Silver and one month for Red is well known so does create a communication issue which is further complicated when we do not have Champions League dates before booking some of the sales slots.
- In future we will be more mindful (where possible) of potential clashes of sales with possible away fixture dates.
DMc asked if an email could be sent to remind people that tickets were on sale.
- IW stated that we used to do this but have been trying to reduce email as that actually drives people to opt out of emails in the first place. He said relevant information was included in newsletters to avoid overwhelming fans with communications from the club.
Martin O’ Donnell – Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic
Ticket Master – From the previous meeting, has there been any update on the question about preventing pre-queuing for online ticket purchases?
- IW said that to move away from the current process would be to the detriment of the overall service due to the overwhelming volume on the site. This process allows TM to manage the rate at which people hit the site ensuring that the sale is smooth and error free. The bottom line is that they continually clear the queue down until the optimum time before the sale.
Connor Kielty – Red Member
I had an email from a Red Member who is increasingly frustrated at not being able to purchase tickets due to them being sold out by the time it reaches Red Level while others at higher levels often loan their Card out to non-members, they have asked is it possible that membership cards have IDs on them so this restricts this from happening and therefore increase the chances of actual members getting a chance to purchase tickets?
- IW said Gold level members may use the transfer service to pass to a friend. Silver and Red memberships are non-transferable and should be used by the named holder. Stewards do spot checks periodically and this is what helps us identify people who purchase tickets via unofficial sources e.g. ticket touts.
- In respect to photo ID, although a good idea it is not a practical solution due to the different types of access medium we have to gain entry into the stadium, such as print at home, standard paper tickets and in some cases mobile, which would have no ID.
Daniel McCloskey – AISA
The club have recently scrapped a 'discretionary' scheme which for many years has enabled gold members to take sons and daughters to matches on an occasional basis. We are dismayed at this decision; call on it to be reviewed and for a new scheme to be introduced, which would be a benefit for all season ticket-holders. The Club does much good work to encourage the attendance of younger supporters but this seems to be a short-sided decision made simply for administrative convenience. We are also disappointed in the way that the decision to end the scheme was (not) communicated at all to supporters or supporters groups.
- IW Firstly we do apologise – it is not our aim to upset our supporters. This facility started off as a very small number of requests and has grown significantly over time; leading to many requests coming in on the day of an on sale over the telephone and being treated as a standard service rather than what was initially a gesture of goodwill. Although we do appreciate from time to time there may be a specific case for this we need to respect that we have other levels who sign up specifically for this area.
- We have since implemented a new process which means that any request should be made in writing and will be considered on a case by case basis.
It would be a great boost to the noise (support) level if the club would issue 'clackers' - the sort that Leicester fans use- for home games. We need a club 'song' - played at start. (Whatever happened to 'the wonder of you?')?
The sound system is poor- it's hard to hear what anyone says on the screened interviews whether live or pre-recorded.
- Mark Brindle Clackers: We have spoken to supporters’ groups previously about this and similar ideas to create noise and the overwhelming response has been against this. However we recognise the need to work with fans to improve atmosphere. The ideas need to come from the supporters. Let me know any ideas.
- Song: Again this needs to be something that comes from the supporters themselves and we listen and try to play any requests they may have. This season REDaction have asked us to push Baba O’Reilly by the Who and also to give ‘Good Old Arsenal’ a more prominent and regular slot in the pre-match build up. Both these songs will be played again today. The idea of an ‘anthem’ is a regular discussion we have with fans and the vast majority state that there is no reason to try and search for something that would suit all when we have a song (Good Old Arsenal) that has been around for 45 years and that everyone associates with us. TWOY we received lots of dislike for the song when it was played and when we phased it out hardly anyone complained.
- Sound System: We are looking to improve the sound quality in the stadium. If you are in a particular area that you cannot hear things please email me in with your seat details and we can take it forward from there.
David Sharp asked if it would be possible to put captions on pre-recorded material which would help.
- MB said we would look at that.
Anne Hyde – Disabled Supporters’ Rep
There were problems at Leicester and Watford with regard to positioning of disabled supporters. What can be done to improve the situation as the experience is not satisfactory?
- MB said he has spoken to those clubs. Watford had had a problem with building works being delayed.
- Alun Francis said he was also in contact with his counterparts at the clubs.
Disabled Supporters are at present unable to renew their season tickets on line. We understand that proof of disability is required but this could be emailed to the Disability Section or uploaded with the renewal. The majority of supporters now use technology rather than posting. What is the reason for the Disabled Supporters unable to renew on line and can this be looked by the club for the forthcoming season?
- AF explained this is being looked at but we need to find a solution which meets all disabled supporters’ needs including those who are blind and visually impaired. It would also need the capability to take account of enablers’ memberships/tickets.
Lifts – Whilst the lift system is better than 2 years ago for Disabled Supporters, the process is too dependent on the steward operating the lift and their experience. The lift near 127 hardly ever has the priority service key turned on even though the steward has a key. This causes delays both prior and after the match.
Lesley Williams – AST
There are concerns about the use of the lifts. At the moment it seems that people override the call to stop at a floor. Also anyone seems able to use the lift causing those who are disabled or unwell to wait for a very long time for the lift. In addition Arsenal personnel use the lifts when they have their own lifts. Can something be done about this? As you know Steve Cooper had a problem with the lifts recently and he says that those manning the lifts on match days frequently override the call sequence.
- MB said we have installed an additional lift at ef this season and we are looking to do others. We will reinforce operating procedures to stewards. There were some changes in positions this season which may not have helped on first game.
- There are no staff lifts so not sure where this idea has come from. Staff have designated times when they are not to use the lifts and this will be stressed again.
Seating Arrangements – Able supporters are able to create groups together so that their tickets are grouped together. Disabled Supporters do not have this option at present so that they can sit next/near to their friends. Could the Club look at ways that a Disabled Supporter could either sit with a fellow Disabled Supporter and/or an able supporter?
- MB said we are looking at this as part of the disability audit in conjunction with the Box Office.
Bag Searches – Enhanced security is inevitable to ensure the safety of everyone at matches. However, some Disabled Supporters may carry certain toileting aids that they would not necessarily wish anyone to know about and certainly would not want to show to the public. Is it possible for better training of stewards at disabled gates and perhaps a modesty screen or room to conduct a bag search?
- MB said we will investigate this but any room would have to be outside the stadium. We do have a disabled bag policy which was handed out.
Robyn Boparai – Women’s Representative
Why are children not searched and their bags not checked by security at The Emirates?
- MB said we do conduct searches on Under 18s but there are strict safeguarding requirements which have to be met. This includes asking parents/carers for permission to search minors.
Martin O’ Donnell – Arsenal Supporters Club – Domestic
As usual, there has been much speculative reporting, misinformation, gossip and negative publicity surrounding the transfer window and these have resulted in our own supporters raising many questions in respect to the intentions and objectives of the Board of Directors and the Manager. Arguments have broken out amongst the supporters on social media (and more frequently in public at games) forming a wide divide between the supporters who wish to attack the Board of Directors and the Manager and those who choose to maintain their support. There are also of course, those who maintain a dignified silence. The division amongst our Fans needs to be healed. Never since the 1960’s has our motto’ Victoria Concordia Crescit’ been more appropriate.
Some of the responses from the Club have been poorly received and have created even more furore. For example, Arsène Wenger’s statement concerning the Club’s 600 employees, following the Leicester City game. We understood the point made but we can agree it backfired dramatically!
I believe a major factor is the poor communication between the Club and the Media. We touched on this at the last Forum Meeting when Ivan Gazidis conceded that such as Mr Kroenke and himself (Ivan) are perhaps not natural orators when confronting difficult and ‘charged’ media interrogation. I might add Mr Wenger in that comment as he is clearly annoyed with some ‘live’ questioning and often retaliates. We on the Forum can do some work to get the message out but it is not easy against the general tide of discontent.
So the question is – Would it be advisable to have a recognised full time Club Spokesman to work directly with the media? Someone who is skilled with the media, liked by the fans and media and who most importantly knows and believes in the Club’s vision and who could speak truthfully on all matters. This person would be fully briefed daily on the Club’s position and be backed with the necessary statistics and truthful facts by a small team of media watch professionals who would gauge the mood of the media and the fans and anticipate any questions that may be put to the club. But moreover make regular statements to respond to the questions from the fans and get the Club’s true message out to the fans, without media interpretation or spin.
Who could do this? Who would want to do this? The ideal would be someone of the stature of Bob Wilson, an Arsenal Legend and highly experienced sports and media commentator. But I very much doubt that Bob would do this being long retired now. But Bob would be my benchmark.
The younger Arsenal Legends such as Lee Dixon, Martin Keown and Ian Wright all have the sports media skills but based on some of their comments are not aware of the Club’s vision and objectives. Perhaps if they were, could they, or someone like them be ideal spokespersons for Arsenal?
- MG accepted this is a good point and something we are looking to improve. We have a difficult balance to strike. The key spokespeople are Arsène, the players and Ivan.
- At the moment the media are jumping upon the undercurrent of negativity amongst some fans. However he said we will work to ensure key commentators, ex-players and others, are better informed about what we are trying to achieve and how.
- Ultimately the manager and CEO have to be the people speaking publicly. They know all the sensitivities and can discuss club affairs in the most appropriate way. We are not helped in the summer when we do less media and the void is then filled by others.
Robyn Boparai – Women’s Representative
The Premier League 2 games are very popular with families, is it possible to have more of these games at The Emirates?
- MG said this is dependent on the first team calendar. We recognise it’s popular with a small number of fans and will continue to host games here when possible.
October is breast cancer month, is it possible to have an event prior to one of the home games to show the great support Arsenal already provides and create awareness?
- MG explained we are inundated with requests to support initiatives such as this. As a result we tend to keep our focus on club driven programmes such as Arsenal for Everyone and the Arsenal Foundation activities. However we will look at including something on the breast cancer initiative.
Lesley Williams – AST
In the minutes following Forum meetings there are usually items where AFC state they will report back later on. This often fails to happen. Could someone take on the responsibility of actually reporting back within a reasonable timeframe?
- MG said that having taken a look back at last year’s minutes there was one outstanding item. This related to the Ticket Master point which Ivan Worsell answered earlier.
- He said he was I am confident the vast majority of items get an appropriate update but he will look to improve the process and ensure this is more robust moving forwards.
Lesley Williams – AST
In March 2015 the AST, at the forum meeting, through their representative Simon Hill, put forward research and proposals for helping to improve the atmosphere at home games. Ivan said that we were “pushing at an open door and that the club would look at what can be done and report back”. As yet there has been no response to the research and proposals. When can this be expected?
- MB explained we continue to work with supporters’ groups on ‘improving atmosphere’ and we welcome any ideas anyone has on the matter.
- Last season in conjunction with supporters groups we produced several ‘tifo’ style displays at the big games, and we also utilised the stadium lights more effectively in the build up to CL games. We also provided flags for the Community Shield and the Ladies’ FA Cup Final and we continue to invest in ‘surfer’ flags for home games.
- We intend to develop all these ideas and more over the coming seasons, but we do feel that the ‘best’ ideas come from the fans and we will always work in close co-operation on any suitable plans.
- He said the AST’s research and proposals largely centre on a second ‘red section’ at the Clock End but any such proposal would cause considerable disruption to supporters in the family enclosure.
Lesley Williams - AST
In this summer’s survey, 67% of the fans said they were in favour of the introduction of safe standing. This has been introduced at Celtic and the football league support trials. The
Premier League and Manchester United’s MD are attending a presentation at Celtic Park on this. Previously Ivan Gazidis and Arsène Wenger have indicated their support. Can you confirm that Arsenal still support a review of the rail seating option and will the Club look at the Celtic trial directly themselves?
Sam Blackman – RedAction Member
This season sees the introduction of 'Safe Standing' Rail Seating at Celtic's Celtic Park, please can you give us an update on Arsenal's stance on Safe Standing? Is it something we will be looking to actually implement if requests continue from fans? Have we looked into how easy it would be to install Rail Seating? And will Arsenal monitor the success of Celtic's new standing area as an example of its usage in the top flight?
MG said Mark Brindle attended the recent trial at Celtic and stadium safety officers will also be reviewing the concept at a meeting in the near future. As we have said before this remains an issue for the Government of the day as crowd safety is an issue of national importance and the introduction of safe standing would require a change in the law. We will continue to monitor developments.
Daniel McCloskey – AISA
Arsenal's unique history has always been an integral part of the club and much valued by all concerned. We would welcome an official club forum that allows aspects of the club's history to be discussed by supporters who are most interested in this area withe Club, and could help to bring to the forefront many of the hidden heroes and stories that are little known and deserve wider circulation.
- MB said he was happy to look at this but questioned what format it would take? Open to further suggestions.
David Sharp – Over 60s Rep
Given that the "new" EFL Trophy can include Premier League Category One Academy teams this year as an experiment, why did Arsenal opt out? Surely an opportunity to play some different teams would provide useful experience for the Academy players?
- MG said we looked at the proposal carefully but the overall view was that the level of competition and number of games across a season was sufficient to help our players develop.
- You must remember that we are also involved in the Champions League Youth competition which gives our younger players important experience.
Lesley Williams praised the service she had received from the Premium Hospitality team after losing her tickets for today’s game.
Date of next meeting
MG suggested it would be in early December, potentially around the Stoke game. This would be dependent on TV selections.
Meeting closed at 1pm/
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