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The Albion Assembly: June meeting

22 June 2015

A look back at the most recent meeting of the fans' forum

APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE: 11 members (including vice chair Hannah Weaver) were unable to make the meeting. Of those, two, have decided to hand in their notice due to a change in their personal circumstances. 
It was decided that the Committee will seek to replace the two members. 
* Update on concessions query/season tickets (1)
* Stewarding/matchday operations (2)
* On-line ticketing (3)
* Subsidised away travel (4)
* A ballot system for disabled supporters away from home (5)
* Voting on different kit designs (6)
* Free/subsidised tickets for school kids/links with schools and community  (7)
* Vending machines idea to limit queues at half-time (8)
* Celebration Statue (9)
* Any Other Business (10)
1. On the subject of concessions not being allowed in the central parts of the West Stand, Martin Swain revealed that 50 fans (who would be otherwise entitled to concessions) would be affected. Of those the Club had received 'half a dozen' emails from supporters complaining that they were in the non-concession area. "They are the best seats in the house...and we do not feel as a Club we can offer them at the reduced rate". There was no confirmation whether those people had renewed their season tickets. A question was asked about new season ticket holders. There was a suggestion the turnaround of renewals was very quick which impacted on people who would like to budget for season tickets. MS acknowledged this, adding that the Club announced it later because of uncertainty over Premier League status - last season prices remained the same so it wasn't an issue. 
2. A question was asked about supporters' concerns regarding stewarding - posted via social media to @wbafcassembly. MM gave a detailed explanation of the match-day operation generally and stewarding specifically. The Club have 275 stewards on a matchday (not including car park or people working on tickets). All stewards undertake 'National Safety of Spectators' qualifications (which include modules on First Aid, customer care, Fire/Stadium evacuation, discrimination, conflict resolution etc) and each year 30-40 new stewards are recruited. 
"Stewards have full-time jobs...typically they might have worked from 7am in the morning, come straight to us from work...I won't deny some stewards can get ratty with supporters, in the same way some fans get ratty with supporters. But all stewards are accountable - if they do something wrong, they are dealt with by a disciplinary process," he said.
MM confirmed he had removed 'several stewards' - who can be identified by the numbers on their jackets – for this reason.
Regarding supporters MM added: "We all come to the game from all walks of life but when we go into the stadium we all become football fans,” he argued. “And I have ejected and banned solicitors and bank managers for trying to run on the pitch......there is a different culture in football stadia to other places...the way people talk and behave is different.." 
MM confirmed the Club would take on board comments about stewards swearing to supporters. "Any complaints about stewarding...please write in and we will look into it."  
There were claims from the floor that 'Hi Vis jackets' sent stewards on "power trips,” a point acknowledged by MM, but he added that "hopefully 90 per cent are really good.”
MM mentioned the importance of stewards ensuring gangways were not blocked, citing the recent cardiac arrest in the game against Chelsea.
“Without those gangways being clear, we would not have been able to reach the gentleman so swiftly,” he said.
The supporter had written to the club expressing his gratitude and the Assembly members placed on record their appreciation of the club’s efforts in the incident.
3. In discussing on-line ticket sales, MS responded to reports of complaints by revealing that more than double of the recent renewals had been sold digitally as opposed to at the counter.
He also said sales were on course to at least equal and possibly surpass last season’s total in excess of 18,000. Most issues were down to user-error, he said and confirmed the system was being updated. 
The Club were praised for bringing back the Loyalty scheme. 
MM warned fraudsters that they risked their Hawthorns visits by trying to get around the system.
He said: "One 24-year-old who was coming in on an Under-18 ticket...we clocked him and he has been banned for six years to reflect the six years he was coming in for a cheaper rate...there has been an element of some supporters pushing their luck and we will be cracking down on this." (The supporter concerned did not pay back the difference - hence the ban). But it was acknowledged such supporters were 'cheating' other fans. 
4. MS told the Assembly that this will not be extended to more than one per season although it was acknowledged how excellent the support was at the Crystal Palace game. The Assembly will review other avenues of subsidising. One of the reasons for the reluctance to do this is because it helps the home side sell more tickets, hence giving them more money. 
It was confirmed that each club is given £200,000 for the Away Fan experience which clubs are free to use for either their own travelling fans or visitors. 
MS said the free away travel to Palace used about £60,000 while the balance helped towards the cost of reciprocal budget ticketing with other clubs. It was noted by one Assembly member that Free Coach Travel was of no use to many Albion fans who live distant from The Hawthorns.
Subsidised tickets, rather than transport, would be better appreciated and the Club will pursue this popular venture once more.

5. It was put to the Assembly that loyal fans should be rewarded. It was claimed a rota system would not be fair for those supporters. Introducing a bonus system for Disabled fans was mentioned.

6. This was not part of the marketing strategy of the club’s kit suppliers Adidas, said MS.
It was also mentioned that an increasing number of fans might be growing bored of red away shirts. It was pointed out that because nine clubs play in red, there might be a need for a third kit. 
It was revealed that 'some extravagant ideas' were discussed as a potential away kit before it was decided to retain the red design.

7. The Club already do this on a match by match basis through the work of the Albion Foundation, said MS. But he acknowledged that the need to strengthen the bond between the club and the Foundation was vital going forward.

8. The Club are unaware of any other clubs who provide vending machines. There was a concern that faults would simply delay people more. Regarding queues for food, MM revealed they were smaller in the West Stand where there was a greater counter space per person. Mobile sellers have been considered. A hot dog seller was successful. It would not be suitable for alcohol due to the law that prohibits fans from consuming alcohol within sight of the pitch. A recent Football Supporters Federation survey had Albion to be above average in all respects for away fans. In some areas they were very good. 

9. The club had not supported this initiative from the outset and that stance would not change, said MS. This did not reflect its view of the famous team the statue saluted. Indeed, it was added, the Club were mindful of the 40th anniversary of the signing of Laurie Cunningham in two years and were already planning for that event. 

* A concern was raised that gangway TVs were causing congestion at the end of the games as fans stopped to read results. It was noted from the floor there would be complaints from supporters if these were switched off. However MM promised to monitor this next season to gauge whether there are any notable issues. 

* A disabled supporter wrote to one Assembly member asking whether plastic ponchos could be provided for fans who get wet in the East Stand. MM raised doubts that disabled supporters would be rained on from their prominent position in the stand.


Part Two
1. Sponsors' update. MS explained that the club and Intuit QuickBooks had parted amicably. The Club wanted a deal which reflected a sixth successive season in the Premier League and were in the final throes of concluding such an agreement. 

2. Indian Super League. The Assembly were informed of the 'fantastic' event hosted by Albion which saw all the Indian Super League clubs entertained at The Hawthorns 
"As a result of that (day,) we now have received three offers of collaboration," he said. These developments are still in their infancy but 'extremely positive'.

3. The Assembly were shown a short film of the Fan Zone area and Hawthorns pub which was now deep into its renovation, 
The Assembly were advised that the Fan Zone would be very much in its infancy during August, September and October and would continue to develop during the season. Some of the plans in place will not be up and running by the start of the season. The Hawthorns pub will be leased to a 'High Street' chain, with a heritage-themed building including 'subtle' references to Albion.

4. It was revealed that Hannah Weaver's idea of an 'Albion Induction' booklet for players was being adopted by the Club. The booklet, which will be handed to players when they join, will include a brief history about the Club. There are also plans for the players to be 'more indoctrinated' into the Club with this booklet, but also to be shown the vast memorabilia collection. The Assembly were informed that the players were very impressed with the Supporters Club end-of-season function. 

NEXT MEETING: Wednesday, September 2 (7pm for 7.30pm start).

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