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Supporters' Forum - September 9, 2017

Arsenal Football Club Supporters’ Forum
10.30am – 12 noon September 9th 2017
Board Room
Highbury House

Supporters’ Forum membership 2017/2018

16-21 Year Old Representative

Mr

Connor

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

Ms

Sarah

Coppock

Over 60 Year-Old

Mr

David

Sharp

Ethnic Minority Representative

Mr

Vik

Dattani

LGBTQ Supporter Representative

Mr

Dave

Raval

RedAction Member

Mr

Sam

Blackman

Shareholder

Mr

Michael

Francis

Away Scheme Member

Mr

Soran

Hourami

AST Member

Ms

Lesley

Williams

Women’s Representative

Ms

Robyn

Boparai

Arsenal representatives

FC (Chair) - Mark Gonnella
Arsenal FC - Ivan Gazidis
Arsenal FC - Sue Campbell
Arsenal FC - Mark Brindle
Arsenal FC - Alun Francis (apologies)
Arsenal FC - Ivan Worsell
Arsenal FC - Charles Allen (apologies)
Arsenal FC - Charlotte Kenny

Apologies:

Ms Sarah Coppock
David Sharp
Dave Raval – Joe White alternate
Anne Hyde – Tom Head alternate
Lesley Williams – Simon Hill alternate

  • Welcome and agree minutes of previous meeting (Mark Gonnella)
  • Ivan Gazidis overview
  • Questions
  • AOB
  • Date of next meeting

Ivan Gazidis overview:

IG spent time explaining the club’s position and responded to many of the key questions which had been submitted in advance. The discussion on footballing matters lasted for an hour and 15 minutes and it was agreed other outstanding questions would be answered in writing through these minutes.

He said that since the last meeting we had won the FA Cup for a record 13th time at Wembley (and subsequently also won the Community Shield), and renewed the manager’s contract but at the same time had experienced the disappointment of failing to reach the Champions’ League for the first time in 20 years.

He said that we had made a disappointing start to the league season, particularly referencing the nature of the performance at Liverpool, but he believed we would step up over the forthcoming games and show that was not the real Arsenal at Anfield.

Turning to the transfer window, he said there was a great deal of misinformation which abounds (for all clubs) during the window and in a volatile environment this can inspire strong emotions. He said that it was important that the club keep focused on its aims through the transfer window rather than the noise surrounding it. Definitive assessments were always made at the end of the window but the reality of any transfer window could only be assessed as the season played out and we get back to the football. After the international break and the close of the window, the focus would now turn to football as opposed to football opinions.

He said the only objective measure of transfer performance over time was league performance versus spending. Against that objective measure, Arsenal has consistently outperformed spending over a sustained period. He said the aim over the summer had been to only make changes if we could add quality to the existing group. We signed two top class players, a record signing in Alexandra Lacazette and Sead Kolasinac, who was in the Bundesliga best XI last season.

At the same time, the squad size had grown in the absence of sales in recent seasons and so a number of players were sold and loaned to reduce the overall squad size and/or to aid in their development. He said each decision was made based on our football objectives, our future aspirations for individual players and an assessment of the young talent progressing into the first team squad. This progression remains an important part of our strategy.

He said we made a decision early in the window to keep Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil and the only way we would consider an offer for either would be if we had a world class replacement. That did not happen. In the past we had been criticised for selling the likes of Robin van Persie and he understood that. This time round we are in a better position financially and we're able to make a different decision. These decisions were based on football before finances.

He explained there were three constraints on Arsenal during this transfer window. The first as always was available cash. The amount published in our accounts as held in the bank at year end has to cover all our annual costs, and provide a substantial cash reserve to cover the bank covenants we have under the terms of our stadium financing. The second was the Premier League financial regulations, and in particular the wage cap which restricts how much a club can increase its wage bill each year against revenue. The third factor was UEFA's Financial Fair Play which looks at a three year financial picture. Significant losses can create an issue in future years and the club plans both short and long term.

When it comes to player contracts, he explained each case was managed on an individual basis based on on-going analysis and discussions and information which is not in the public arena. Yet criticisms were made without any of that information. In addition he felt that increasingly agents would be advising players to see out their contracts as financially that would be more beneficial for them in a market where transfer fees are escalating dramatically. No club is perfect when it comes to contract management and we strive to get better but between Arsène, himself, Dick Law and the deal team, we have many decades of high level experience in making these decisions.

Turning to questions about changes made during the summer, he explained, that we had spent time reviewing our football operations. There has already been change, he said, but change doesn’t happen overnight. So far we have brought in a new High Performance Director, Darren Burgess, Jens Lehman has joined the coaching staff, and Per Mertesacker has been announced as the Head of the Academy from the start of next season. We are also looking at our contract management structure as Dick Law returns to the United States. Looking back a couple of years we have brought in psychologists, have transformed the analytics function, have re-vamped our youth scouting programme and our academy and have invested £40 million in our facilities at London Colney and Hale End.

We believe we have a strong squad which has the capability to compete for more titles. The club remains respected around the world for the way it conducts itself and the way the club is run.

Responding to further questions about our ability to compete for the league, IG said he understood concerns, particularly post the Liverpool performance, but he believes we have the quality to perform much better. He believes the overall direction of travel is positive and the challenge is how we get from where we are, which is ahead of where we were four or five years ago, and move from our FA Cup triumphs to competing for the Premier League title. We will continue to work to get it right and the evidence will ultimately be on the pitch.

Questions

Martin O’Donnell – Domestic Supporters’ Clubs

The Managers Contract

Did the board consider ‘not’ offering Arsene Wenger a contract extension, or would a replacement only have been looked for should the Manager have chosen not to renew his contract? Was there ever a Plan B and could that Plan be implemented in 2 years’ time?

At what point did Arsene Wenger sign the renewed contract and why did this take so long to announce, considering the detrimental affect it had on the team’s failure to achieve a place in the Champions league.

Players Contracts

The running down of the player’s contracts seems to be an annual problem. It appears to leave the club in a situation where we cannot get the full market value (crazy as it is!) for players that are sold, affecting our finances, our credibility in the marketplace, our media perception, our playing performances and the fans morale. Why is Arsenal's policy seemingly so different to other clubs? The prices Liverpool are quoted for Coutinho and what we are quoted for Sanchez is quite different and therefore financially detrimental to the club. Surely this is not good business? If this model were carried out in other forms of commercial business, with great respect ‘heads would roll’.

Catalyst for Change? (Also asked by Simon Hill – AST)

When Ivan Gazidis described the Catalyst for change at the end of last season, was there a plan in place which hasn't been met or was this a comment to appease the fans?

Simon Hill – AST

Can you explain what you expected to achieve when you talked of being a 'catalyst of change' at the Club in the spring. Who or what prevented you from subsequently doing much?

Key Targets

Do the owner and/or the board set ‘on the field targets’ each season and are there any repercussions should these key targets not be met?

Connor Runswick – 16-21 year olds Representative

Why was action not taken to drastically reduce our wage bill over this and previous transfer windows to allow for reinvestment elsewhere in the team?

We have 6 first team players out of contract in summer 2018. Given our current wage bill how will we be able to renew these contracts without breaking the Financial Fair Play rules?

In 2014 the club bought StatDNA for £2 million to improve our data analytics and assist our scouting department. What benefit has this brought to our transfer dealings over the last 3 years?

Vik Dattani – Ethnic Minority Representative

The Club have said on numerous occasions that its ambition remains to be amongst the elite clubs around the world and compete to win major trophies.

How does the Club evaluate its standing, bearing in mind we:

  • Exited Champions League at Round of 16 for the seventh season running, with the latest defeat being 10-2 on aggregate)
  • Finished in 5th place (18 points off the leaders) and therefore now in the Europa League
  • Won the FA cup again, which is great but admittedly, “not the trophy we want”
  • Offered a 2 year extension to a Manager who clearly divides fan opinion

What is the financial position of the Club? Are/were there more funds available to strengthen the team this summer?

Given the increased Broadcast revenue and Sponsorship opportunities, but more importantly, the failures of last season, why is it that we are in ~£30m profit for the transfer window? Is there any truth in reports that:

  • Stan Kroenke’s other ventures require leverage on the Club’s assets
  • We were/are at risk of breaching the Premier League cap on wages
  • Lack of Champions League revenue required a positive net spend this summer
  • The Club have insisted they have a team that is hugely experienced in transfer/contractual dealings and that StatDNA is a great advantage. However, why is it that
    • Mustafi (a first choice centre back target bought at record fee) was almost loaned out this summer? (According to reports and an Inter Milan Director only a failure to agree wages with the player stopped this deal.
    • Perez (a player on the radar for some time and not a panic buy) has been loaned out – and was ready to be sold had the fee been met according to reports
    • Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere, are all in the last year of their contracts – is this really an “ideal situation”?
    • There are many players, reportedly on too high wages, who seem unwanted/unsellable i.e. Debuchy, Jenkinson, Campbell, Chambers – and only Gabriel and Gibbs were sold to trim the “heavy squad”

Might it be best if the Manager didn’t comment at all on whether a player will stay or not going forward?

  • On numerous occasions, players have been sold despite the previous stance of the Manager - with the latest example being that of Alex Oxlade Chamberlain.

Simon Hill – AST

In light of the poor team performances, not making the champions league, flat commercial revenues and a mismanaged transfer window will you offer to forego any bonus this year?

Answer - Mark Gonnella

Ultimately we have a remuneration committee consisting of non-executive directors which decide compensation payments.

SH claimed the club was going backwards against others in terms of competing to win the league.

Daniel McCloskey questioned the overall strategy. IG reminded people that we have a self-sustaining approach. The money we make is reinvested in the club. Our aim is to play attractive, exciting football and to compete for the biggest trophies in the game. In addition we have a strategy which includes production of players through our Academy. Strong progress is being made in that regard. What is key for the future is our ability to do things better than others in the game which is behind the changes made in the summer.

Following further discussion the forum agreed other previously submitted questions would be replied to in writing through the minutes.

Simon Hill – AST

The AST has previously commissioned independent governance reports into how Arsenal was run. (Please table that report for everyone at the forum to read). That report made several key observations including that there was not enough strategic planning, that the Board did not have enough of the right skill sets and that too much power was concentrated in the hands of the manager leading to a lack of accountability.

Please can you comment on the governance arrangements at the club including on why it is possible for the manager to be reappointed against the wishes of the independent members of the Board and also on when Arsenal will improve their governance arrangements including through appointment of new Board members.

Answer – Mark Gonnella

You are making some unfounded claims with regards to the manager’s appointment. In terms of the AST governance report, we are fully aware of the recommendations. We are comfortable, without being complacent, that our governance approach is in line with what is expected of a football club of our standing.

AST analysis shows there is plenty of available cash for strengthening the team. The last transfer window could have seen almost £100m net spent on players. Please explain why these resources weren't invested in the team.

Answer – Ivan Gazidis

These figures are inaccurate.

Steven Downey – Club Level

Direction of the Club

I imagine that this will be the focus of the meeting and there is no point listing real or perceived failings; others will provide a more comprehensive list, I am sure. My question is just this: given that we finished 5th last year, have the same manager and, based on the first 3 games of the season, have all the same failings in the team, what is the Club’s plan for winning the league this year?

Anne Hyde – Disabled Supporters Representative

Season Ticket Waiting List / Memberships

Can the Club explain why for the able bodied have the option of either joining:

  • the Waiting List for Season Tickets at a cost of £15.00 (redeemable against your first season ticket purchase) which does not entitle them to any membership benefits and/or;
  • join as a Red Member in conjunction with the Season Ticket Waiting list.

For the disabled they only have the option of joining as a Purple Member. The Disability Liaison Team have two separate waiting lists for Club Level and the rest of the stadium but Purple members have been told that they have to renew their Purple Membership each year in order to stay on the Season Ticket Waiting List. There is no mention on the Disabled Supporters Information Page about how to apply for season tickets and the different lists.

The Purple Membership Registered Disabled Supporters New Application for 2017/2018 mentions different memberships available such as Purple Lite / Purple Full but the there is no explanation as to what the differences are.

The Red members have an option of paying annually or by direct debit. Can the Club consider having the same options for Purple Membership (providing suitable proof of disability is provided).

Can the Club consider having a Season Ticket Waiting List similar to the able bodied and to be more transparent about memberships available?

Answer – Alun Francis

Season ticket waiting list. The disabled supporters’ waiting list is free of charge to join although our current policy is that disabled supporters have to maintain their Purple Membership in order to remain on the waiting list. However by being a Purple Member disabled supporters benefit from being able to apply for concessionary match tickets for themselves and free tickets for their enabler

We have recently merged our disabled supporters Club Level season ticket waiting list into one main list with those supporters who have expressed an interest in having a Club Level season ticket highlighted accordingly.

While we don't currently advertise the Disabled Supporters Season ticket waiting list on the disabled supporters’ information page, information about how to join the disabled supporters’ waiting list is sent to all new Purple Members along with information about the other benefits of Purple Membership.

Purple full and Purple Lite membership mirror that of Red membership ie Purple Full includes a membership pack and Purple Lite doesn't and as with Red membership there is an option for Purple members to add subscription to the Arsenal magazine to their membership.

However the DLT will consider adding further information on the above to the information on Purple Membership section of the disabled supporters’ information page subject to space being available on the page.

Website

Many disabled supporters have commented on how difficult it is to find information.

Can the Club consider having tabs on the Disabled Supporters Information Page with headings such as Membership / Ticket Information / Season Tickets / Match Information / ADSA?

Also could there be a link on ‘The Arsenal Membership’ page to information about Disabled Membership?

Answer – Alun Francis

We will look to make these adjustments and improvements subject to available space.

FA Cup Tickets 2017

For the FA Cup Semi Final and Final this year, disabled fans had to wait at least two weeks after the able bodied to know whether or not they have been successful in getting tickets? Can the Club ensure that the disabled fans hear at the same time as the able bodied for all future events?

‘The Emirates FA Cup Final – Tickets’ page had no information for disabled supporters. Similarly there was no information for disabled supporters on the ‘FA Cup Final Screening at Emirates Stadium’ page nor on the email that was sent out to everyone.

It would be useful for disabled supporters to have a link on the main pages for future events to the disability information.

Answer – Alun Francis

Regarding the FA cup final and semi-finals, the application process for disabled supporters did take longer than for other supporters largely because of the need for supporters to complete and return a booking form by post or fax.

However the DLT and the Box Office are currently rolling out an online booking system for disabled supporters which is already in use for Purple Members to buy match tickets for home games this season and also for season ticket holders to purchase their season ticket places for the Carabao cup game and therefore should we reach a final or semi-final this year disabled supporters will probably be able to register for tickets online and receive quicker confirmation of whether or not they have been successful.

Robyn Bopari – Women’s Representative

My agenda item is a request for a presentation on how the team's plans to manage the hectic schedule of a Thursday Europa games followed by weekend Premier League games. This is the first season for all most two decades that Arsenal is in the Europa. What is the impact on the players, how can they avoid injury and fatigue?

Answer Ivan Gazidis

Obviously this is an area for the manager. We are confident we have a strong and deep squad that will be able to compete across all competitions and he will manage playing time accordingly.

What and how is the mental impact on the players, manager and staff, arising from the difficult start to the season being managed? What support is the team being given? What can fans do?

Answer Ivan Gazidis

We are working with the players from a psychological perspective throughout the year – in good times and when things are tougher. A key part of being a professional at the top of the game is your ability to remain resilient and not let outside factors impact performance.

That is not easy but it’s something the players are used to. In terms of the fans we know they want us to be successful. To get them behind us we need to perform on the pitch and we can then move forward together.

Connor Runswick – 16-21 year olds Representative

Has the club considered investing in eSports in the future? eSports revenue is estimated to reach £1.5 billion by 2020 and clubs such as PSG, Manchester City and West Ham all currently have their own pro players.

Answer – Mark Gonnella

This is something we have considered and are monitoring closely but we do not have any current plans in this area.

Martin O’Donnell – Domestic Supporters Clubs

Forum Extranet

I have submitted many questions today on behalf of the Domestic Supporters Clubs and I appreciate that covering all of the Forum members questions in two hours is a challenge. On that point has there been progress with the suggested introduction of a Forum Extranet where we can all submit and debate some of our questions and where Arsenal can respond to them over the intervals between our meetings? That will allow more time at the meetings to talk about other Arsenal related matters with less pressure on time.

Answer Mark Gonnella

We hope to include this in the development of our intranet internally but this will take several months to complete. As stated many times, questions should be submitted to me or Roxanne or Mark Brindle as they arise to make this a more productive meeting.

Pre-Season experience

From Arsenal Football Supporters Club – A Gooners personal experience.

A poll in the media recently said that over two thirds of supporters that actually go to matches feel that their clubs do not care about them. They feel that the clubs are more interested in the global market than the homeland ones. I know where they are coming from.

Two articles in the recent issue of Gunflash were written by Gooners both resident in Australia, about Arsenal’s pre-season tour there. They both say that Arsenal were praised by the Australian media, who commented that when Arsenal do something, they always do it right.

However, there are around 20 English Gooners who always go on pre-season trips at great expense wherever in the world they may be.

Arsenal know who they are. The club could quite comfortably let that small number of loyal supporters have advance ticket and venue information. But no, we had to find out the details for ourselves, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Australia and China, but I had to rely on the Perth Gooners for match tickets, and when I arrived in Shanghai, I had no idea where the fans party was being held, let alone how to get a ticket for the event. Arsenal’s travelling followers have a very good reputation and never do anything to tarnish the club’s good name.

So please, come on Arsenal, give us a helping hand come summer of 2018.

Answer – Sue Campbell

We did advise the groups that we knew about events and provided details of tickets and even obtained tickets for the groups if they wanted them to various events.

If there were members of the London SC travelling we would have helped them but they did not advise us of any plans.

Allocation of Home Tickets for supporters Clubs

raised by Arsenal Dover.

We recently held our AGM and one of the big issues discussed was the fact that over the summer Arsenal informed the Supporters Club that for the vast majority of home games this season our members would be allocated seats in the upper tier. Why was this decision made? We feel that it will affect the atmosphere within the stadium by moving a large section of regular and vocal fans from the lower tier and it was also felt that it was to try to cover over some of large spaces which were visible in the upper tier last season.

Answer – Ivan Worsell

The Club committed to fully comply with the accessible stadia guide by the start of the 2017/2018 season. Consequently during the summer the Club Installed a number Wheelchair Platforms with the majority of these being located in the lower tier it was inevitable that the impact would be significant loss of seats. This impacted a number of season ticket holders who had to relocate and took seats from our family enclosure which we have since replaced. This ultimately affected the number of seats available in the lower tier on a match by match basis. Although we would like to allocate all supporters tickets in preferred location/prices we are simply unable to do so.

Posting out Away Tickets

raised by Arsenal North Wales, Arsenal Scotland, etc.

Please explain why away tickets are posted out later this season than previous seasons? Can this be improved please?

It is frustrating to receive them within 6 or 7 days before match day. We need to sort out concessions, groupings, etc and then re-post some out to members far afield without having to use expensive special posting options. For us who work full time, doing this work for our members is very time consuming. Speaking for myself (Martin) I had to do a round trip of 96 miles to hand deliver tickets for the Liverpool game as they arrived too late to risk posting again to our members. It was cheaper and less risky than posting them.

Answer – Ivan Worsell

We endeavour to dispatch away tickets as soon as possible. We have sometimes had to go on sale before we actually receive the tickets which does make the process seem longer – this is often the case at the start of the season. We will do all we can to ensure this is done as quickly as possible to allow for onward distribution.

Errors in identifying Memberships

raised by several Supporters Clubs

Some Clubs have reported that the Membership Department have being making errors in identifying the names and/or membership numbers when Ticket requests are made. This has led to the Membership Department stating that those memberships haven’t been renewed and as a result some ticket requests have been cancelled. Can this be addressed to avoid this happening please?

Answer – Ivan Worsell

We obviously try to avoid mistakes like this. If you can let me have further details then I can look into it further.

Query about passing on tickets

email issued to all Supporters Clubs.

Quote from Arsenal Bulletin: “Tickets will only be made available to members who renewed or joined the Arsenal membership before 12:30pm on Friday, August 25th, 2017 only. We have made this decision following consultation with the Police and to ensure we are in line with crowd segregation requirements. We do apologise for any inconvenience this causes. Please note visiting supporters that purchase a ticket in the home end for this fixture are likely to be ejected from the stadium. Please make sure your members are aware that action would be taken against anyone who is found to have passed on a ticket to a visiting supporter.”

The question is – Has this been an isolated problem or is this a larger problem that we can help with? If it is an isolated problem the Supporters Clubs feel that the bulletin paints a broad brush over all of the clubs, which is unfair. The Official Supporters Clubs take great care to ensure that all tickets are handled in the correct manner to protect Arsenal and the Supporters Clubs.

Answer – Ivan Worsell

It was certainly not the intention to cause offence. This was meant just a general message to prevent any segregation issues.

Steven Downey – Club Level

Former Players in Club Level:

Query or comment for your fan's forum representative. Is it possible to arrange more forums/interaction with AFC legends; as this is a great way of embracing the fans and getting us to spend more time in the bar and restaurants etc.

Answer – Mark Gonnella

This is something we look to do on an occasional basis and this will be part of our plans this season.

Club Level Half-time drinks

1st game of the season, ran out of drinks at half-time. Again. The manager on duty that day (apologies, can’t remember his name) was helpful and apologetic but it is hard to understand how we can get this wrong over and over again. It seems unnecessarily antagonistic in the light of the unfair season ticket price increase for this year.

Answer Mark Gonnella

On the below, would be interested to know where that was the case – if it was in the Woolwich, that would make some sense. We trialled a new policy in the Woolwich whereby we offered bottles rather than pints – members get the same volume of beer in a bottle vs. a pint but the upside is that it can be opened minutes before HT rather than having to start pre-pouring lots of pints as soon as the first half kicks off. It was the first time we did it and what we learned is that people take more bottles than they would have taken pints so we ran out of beers – this is being rectified for the next game and we’ll make sure we have much more.

Daniel McCloskey – AISA Representative

Two of the dates for the Europa League group games were wrong on the website. Also the Disable Supporters page regularly has wrong, incomplete, or misleading copy.

Answer – Mark Gonnella

The date was simply an error which was corrected. In terms of the Disabled Supporters’ page we will look to improve the information in that section.

Due to the increase exposure of Arsenal FanTV and the comments coming out of the programme, has the club have any thoughts on engagement/ dialogue with this programme?

Answer – Mark Gonnella

Let’s be clear this channel is nothing to do with the club and they make that clear on their website. We fully recognise and respect fans’ rights to express their views.

AOB

Date of next meeting – to be confirmed