A look back at the recent meeting of the fans’ group
DATE OF MEETING: Wednesday, February 22 (The Hawthorns)
Apologies from Neil Reynolds, Dean Walton, Ann Staniland, Adam Penn, Chris Jones, Penny Homer, Andrew Benbow, Jayne Gazey-French, Heidi Zoeller, Amanda Hume, Christiaan Wallett, Selwyn Owens and Dan Watts.
Club officers in attendance: Martin Swain (Director of Communications - MS); Mark Miles (Director of Operations - MM); Simon King (Chief Commercial Officer – SK); Drew Williams (Media Manager - DW).
ITEMS ON AGENDA:
- BME membership
- Responses to agenda items
- Safe standing update
- Albion Archive update
- Hawthorns accessibility update
- Any other business from the floor
- Date/time of next meeting
1. BME MEMBERSHIP
The Assembly approved, by a unanimous vote, the election of three new members recruited to approve membership from the BME communities.
MS said the Assembly was anxious to reflect through its membership the diverse ethnicity of its supporter base and it was hoped the new recruits - Kuldeep Auijla, Dev Pal, Sukh Gill and Clive Thomas - would add to the Assembly’s effectiveness and ability to represent an ever-widening breadth of the community.
2. RESPONSES TO ADVANCE QUESTIONS
Q: Assembly members continued to receive queries about the Club’s loyalty points system – which decides priority ticket sales for high-demand fixtures - and a further explanation was requested.
DW explained that 1,000 points were awarded for season ticket purchase and further 500 for renewal from previous season (Season ticket renewals = 1500, new season ticket holders = 1000). These totals also applied to fans purchasing away season tickets.
There were five points awarded for each league fixture ticket purchased in the current season and the season before as well as 10 points for each cup game.
The club roll over points from the previous season only. The Club tried to balance the twin aims of rewarding loyal season ticket holders while not discouraging new fans.
MS said that the Club were more than willing to task the Assembly with devising a different system if a “fairer” version could be found. But the members agreed that the current system was as fair as could be reasonably expected.
Q: Why for big-demand away games do the poorest-positioned tickets go on sale first often?
DW explained that away tickets are sold in an order strictly dictated by the opposing club. “We have no say in it,” said MM. “We can’t complain because we do the same for away fans at The Hawthorns.”
Q: Will we take full allocation for last game at Swansea?
The club was aware of the popularity of the final fixture and “it would be difficult to believe we wouldn’t,” said MS.
Q: There have been complaints about the take-up of the smaller allocation, 1,800, for the forthcoming game at Everton. Why did we not take the full 3,000?
The decision had to be taken at the end of January and it had to be informed by past and present sale trends.
In the last three visits to Goodison Park, tickets were heavily undersold - 1,294 out of 1,800 in 2016, 475 out of 1,800 the season before that and 1,188 out of 1,800 in 2014.
MM explained the Club could take a certain number of a total allocation by sale or return without any financial penalty but the moment the allocation tipped over 50%, it went to sale only – leaving Albion obliged to buy the rest.
He said it had taken a lot longer to sell the West Ham fixture than we anticipated and all the evidence suggested that is the right number.
“It has to be a balance between availability and satisfying supporters while not making a repeated and significant financial loss,” he said.
MS added that the decision had to be taken at the end of January against a backdrop of away fixtures which had also been significantly undersold.
Q: While the decision to offer free coach travel to Burnley was welcomed, what prospect of free coach travel for the entire season?
CEO Martin Goodman and Simon King, the Club’s newly-appointed Chief Commercial officer, were undertaking a thorough review of Albion’s entire ticketing strategy intent on examining all options and solutions to tackle dwindling away attendances.
MS said it was expected that the Club would be able to make their plans clearer by early April but this was something that would certainly be examined.
Q: Will the Club stage its own end-of-season dinner?
MS explained that the change of management regimes had triggered staff changes – incoming and outgoing – which made tackling the major workload of planning such a night difficult.
However, MS said there was a new enthusiasm within the Club to stage ‘a grand finale’ and given the way the season was shaping up, it would be sad if something wasn’t in place. MS said it was due for discussion at the forthcoming board meeting and an announcement would be made as soon as possible.
Q: Could the Birmingham Road End be renamed the Astle Stand?
This provoked a general debate among Assembly members about the difficulty of deciding which players merited such honours. While no-one doubted Jeff Astle’s place among the Club’s legendary figures, how do you decide a ‘pecking order’ among so many others?
The Assembly felt this was not a priority for the Club at this stage but it could be a topic for fans to engage in in the future.
Q: What plans, if any, are in place to compensate STHs if it turns out match-by-match ticket purchases turn out to have been cheaper this season?
MS: By the time we get to the end of the season, they will be ahead – but the Club acknowledges it will be a tight margin. This stems from the best of intentions as the Club tried to lift attendances with attractive offers but we are very aware of the value and loyalty of our season ticket holders. The issue was included in the wide-ranging review of our ticketing strategy underway and due for board level discussions. One member also added it was likely a child's ticket would work out less attractive.
Q: Can you give us an update on the Club’s official website?
MS: There will be a new website from July 1 at the latest. A deal had now been agreed with website providers. This was one of the projects held up during the takeover process but by the summer of next year we expect to have a further, improved version which will be much more user-friendly and offer a significant upgrade on the Club’s digital output.
Q: Any news on the big screens?
MM said the stadium will have more investment this summer and over the coming years and the big screens remained high on the agenda. More details would be available shortly.
3. SAFE STANDING UPDATE
MM confirmed he would be keen for Albion to be involved in a pilot scheme should that become applicable. He spoke of his recent visit to Celtic, where safe standing has been introduced, but stressed that changes in legislation would be needed to permit a change and that could only go ahead if a safety case was made in its favour.
“It is right to look at options which is why I went to Celtic,” said MM, “and it was very impressive. We should be keen to explore it because I think at some point a club will be allowed a trial. But there will be significant costs involved.”
He said Celtic’s 3,000 seats had been a £500,000 project so it is unlikely it would make tickets any cheaper. MM also said the Smethwick End would be the most obvious setting for any such changes and added: “If an amendment to the law was made, I’d be keen for WBA to be at the forefront and be involved in a pilot scheme.”
4. ALBION ARCHIVE UPDATE
Dave Bowler, who is leading the Club’s Archive project, reported there was even greater enthusiasm for this under Albion’s new management team and, with the support of CEO Martin Goodman, he had started work categorising the board's minutes books from historic events. There was also huge interest from China in the Archive and memorabilia, with the prospect of some items being taken to China for exhibition.
5. HAWTHORNS ACCESSIBILITY UPDATE
MM said that all PL clubs agreed to meet accessible stadia guide 18 months ago and Albion had embraced this and were about to complete the first phase of works.
The Club would be increasing wheel-bays from 145 to 171 although it would mean some STH at the front of the West Stand would have to be moved.
Further bays would be created in the close season while he stressed improvements to facilities including catering and toilets were also scheduled.
Kev Candon, of the WBA Disabled Supporters Club, had toured the changes and praised the Club for its pro-active approach to Accessiblity. “I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen,” he said.
6. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
*Club conceded that the banners were proving difficult to maintain in the East Stand car park because of the high winds – and preventing plans to add more to the Birmingham Road stanchions. This despite the frames being designed for such weather.
MM also said that plans for a further brightening up of The Hawthorns during the close season were being drawn up.
*Complaints continued over the queues for refreshments in the Smethwick End outlets out the back. MM acknowledged the problem and would consider different schemes to try to alleviate it.
*A new camera position for the Manchester United live TV game prompted complaints about blocking the view of some West Stand spectators. This camera – placed at the centre of the tunnel to capture the players’ walk-out – had been placed at the request of the broadcasters. MM confirmed it would only feature in live broadcasts but acknowledged that an alternative would be explored.
7. PROPOSED DATE OF NEXT MEETING: Thursday, May 11.