A look back at the recent meeting of the fans’ group
DATE OF MEETING: Thursday, May 11 (The Hawthorns)
Apologies from Lisa Walton, Bryan Malsbury, David James, Andrew Benbow and John Homer.
Club officers in attendance: Martin Goodman (Chief Executive - MG), Martin Swain (Director of Communications - MS); Mark Miles (Director of Operations - MM); Simon King (Chief Commercial Officer – SK); Drew Williams (Media Manager - DW), James Mackay (Supporter Liaison Officer - JM), Hannah Weaver (Albion Assembly vice-chair – HW)
ACTION POINTS FROM PREVIOUS MINUTES:
- BME membership
MS reported that following the Assembly’s unanimous approval for an automatic election of four new members from the BME community, further progress had been made by the launch of Apna Albion – ‘our’ Albion, a body not exclusive to, but clearly reaching towards the area’s significant Punjab Sikh community.
This was given a successful first outing at the recent Vaisakhi Mela celebration in Handsworth Park where Apna Albion volunteers and Albion staff gathered nearly 400 names of people interested in joining this new supporters’ group.
Gurdial Singh, an Assembly member and now the Albion Foundation’s engagement officer, reported that the project was making exciting progress and stressed that it was intended Apna Albion would be welcoming to members from all communities and faiths.
- Swansea allocation
The Assembly had urged the Club at the previous meeting – following some reduced allocations at some previous away games – to take up a full allocation for the final game of the season at Swansea. MS confirmed that this had indeed been the case (2,069).
- Official end-of-season dinner
SK explained that the Club had endeavoured to organise an official awards night and plans were in place for an event to be staged at The Hawthorns and, indeed, his staff had already started selling tickets. However, the difficulties of fixing on a permanent date became insurmountable owing first to the postponement of the Manchester City game, and the comparatively late re-scheduling for this week, and the switch in the Chelsea game for TV broadcasts. In the end, the plans had to be abandoned.
“But I certainly think it’s something the Club should stage and we have all the best intentions to plan something special for next year,” he said.
- Official website update
MG reported that Albion were on schedule for a new website will be launched on June 6 and that there were positive hopes for it representing an improvement on the current site and confidence it would be a much better product to offer to supporters.
Questioned as to whether or not it would offer different language options, MG said that there had not been time to incorporate this in the agreement but that this would be part of discussions going forward.
MS said the Club intended to offer a further up-grade of the new site in a year’s time which would represent a further improvement for users.
- Big screen update
The Assembly had asked for up-dates on the big screens at The Hawthorns which the Club and MG confirmed that Albion were planning to replace the current two screens during the summer. There may be a shift in the positioning of one of the screens but the Club was optimistic they would represent a significant advance on the matchday experience for our supporters. It was intended, he added, that they would be in place by mid-August.
- Camera positions for live matches
The Assembly had raised complaints from West Stand ticket holders whose view of the game had been obstructed by a new camera position, at the mouth of the tunnel, for a recent TV game. MM confirmed that the complaints had been noted and cameras have not and would not be used in that position again.
ASSEMBLY MEMBERS AGENDA ITEMS
- Season ticket prices
The Assembly raised a wide range of criticisms and questions about the recent announcement of season ticket prices for 2017-18.
Kev Candon, of the Disabled Supporters branch, said that he had been contacted by a number of supporters unhappy that the club had not made bigger cuts with so much money from the media deal now available.
Another member, Dan Watts suggested not enough had been done to attract younger fans.
And although the introduction of the Under 11s £45 ticket for the West Stand was applauded, members felt the club had shot itself in the foot by restricting the offer to just one stand.
MG said he would gladly cut ticket prices by half if all 20 other clubs did the same but that was not a reasonable expectation, certainly at the bigger clubs who had no problem selling out, and if we did it on our own “we would be in difficult position.
“We all get Sky money, but if we cut our prices and other clubs don’t then we’ll be the ones disadvantaged,” he said.
He added that Albion had adjusted prices this year and if the Club didn’t sell any more tickets, its revenues would go down accordingly.
He also pointed out the importance of growing Albion’s commercial income as. Most fans will be eager for us to spend everything we have improving our playing squad but the strict FFP rules placed a limit on our spending proportionate to our revenues. Increased commercial revenues effectively meant more could be spent on players, he explained.
The Club had also looked at what similar clubs of similar size had charged and had implemented other benefits including easier credit by lowering the threshold of approval.
Richard Jefferson agreed that this represented a positive for supporters and asked if it could be given greater prominence in Albion’s publicity.
MG agreed and this would be one to action when the season tickets were re-launched next month.
Richard also lodged disappointment that the season ticket prices had been announced without any specific consultation with the Assembly. He wondered if a specific ‘focus group’ could be set up from Assembly members to be consulted on ticket prices.
MS said that as the pricing structure was a repeated feature of Assembly discussions, the views of supporters had been almost ‘drip fed’ into the Club and were inevitably taken into account during calculations.
He also said that the Assembly had been critical on the previous occasion the Club had acknowledged the group’s contribution in the decision to re-introduce concessions in the West Stand wings two years ago.
However, MG acknowledged that the idea of a focus group would be welcome although – as pricing plans were established in January – it would need to go ahead by the end of this year. It was agreed that such a meeting would be held in December.
MG also gave a broad hint that another bone of contention raised by the Assembly – the Category A £39 match ticket – would be tackled.
“We are still looking at our matchday prices but haven’t finalised plans yet,” he said. “But I agree - I think £39 is too high for certain matches.”
On the subject of the Under 11s initiative being introduced to other areas of the stadium, MM explained that the Club’s strategy had been to focus on developing a family atmosphere in the stand it felt was most suitable. Family-friendly facilities, which would be improved for next season, were a feature of the West Stand.
But the idea had not been ruled out for other stands.
Asked about the progress of season ticket sales, the club confirmed that they were still running ahead of any sales for the same opening weeks of a selling period since and including the return to the Premier League in 2010.
Lizzie Hayward asked if there could be a return to free Cup tickets for season ticket holders but MG said this was not planned.
“Hardly any clubs adopt this idea anymore; don’t forget we have to play 50 per cent of receipts to the away club,” he said.
MG also said the prospect of subsidised away travel was still being discussed for next season.
- What are the plans to release the Behind the Badge documentary?
MS reported that the Club’s intention all along had been to use all four episodes as a launch feature of its new website in early June. This would go ahead.
Albion were aware that some fans had already watched the episodes on streams across different platforms but were hopeful that there would still be plenty of interest in viewing what it felt was a unique insight into the Club’s daily running building up to match days.
The new website would boast a free subscription service for all its video output.
The Club had also approved the Premier League’s video production outlet to offer the films to its broadcast partners in its many overseas territories.
- Albion Foundation day
John Gough asked for an up-date on the annual Foundation Day (v Southampton). Foundation Director Rob Lake thanked all volunteers on the day described it as a “huge success” both in funds raised and the growing profile and awareness of the Foundation.
He said there was a “night and day” difference over the attitude towards the Assembly under the Club’s new regime and he felt the Foundation had never felt closer to its parent club.
“We ended up with an income of around £9,000,” he said. “The Football club supported us hugely which was great for us all.”
It was agreed that when the final totals had been confirmed, a round-up of the day’s achievements would be published on the Club’s website.
- Catering around The Hawthorns?
The issue of the quality and accessibility of catering at The Hawthorns was raised by several members with familiar gripes – queues in the stands for service – once more a problem.
MM said work in the summer will be done to try to resolve problems through the purchase of mobile carts to be used selected places.
Contactless chip and pin machines were now in the concourse to help to speed up sales and a trial of queuing barriers in the East Stand would be.
The Hawthorns is be its size restrictive on space in some areas but portable beer sales units would also be introduced next season.
MG said that a demand for a change in beer suppliers could not be considered until the season after next.
- M5 roadworks
Questions about the roadworks and their potential for making access to games ever more difficult were lodged by several members.
MM said the Club had been working with the relevant authorities for a number of years. A number of agreements had already been put in place such as all scheduled night matches for the 16/17 season played before work started - to ease problems.
More work had been delayed until after Chelsea match.
“There is nothing we can do to stop repairs on the motorway,” said Miles, “but we haven’t been standing by doing nothing. We have done an awful lot to reduce the impact wherever possible.”
SK said there were plans to keep open the East Stand concourses and give fans the chance to stay and have a drink and watch live TV games while the traffic eased.
- Could the Club confirm it paid a living wage to staff?
SG confirmed Albion do as part of a Premier League-wide agreement.
- Why has the Albion Assembly Twitter page been inactive?
The Assembly member who operates the account said it had been out of action owing to technical issues. It was planned to be up and running again by the time meeting minutes are made public.
Unfortunately, at the time of minutes publication, this has not yet been possible but continues to be looked into by support services.
Update: This issue has now been rectified (June 14) and the Twitter account will be active once again going forward.
- Improving the Hawthorns atmosphere
A sub-group is proposed from within the Albion Assembly to discuss these ideas under what is now a largely new board at the club.
The Sub-committee consists of Supporter Liaison Officer James Mackay, Albion Assembly vice-chair Hannah Weaver, Foundation Engagement Officer Gurdial Singh and Assembly members Sarah Atkinson, Alan Cleverley, Lizzie Hayward, Richard Jefferson, Dan Watts, Warren Stephens.
- Can we bring in flags to The Hawthorns? Could giant flags return?
MM said that provided they have a fire safety certificate while, under the same proviso, MG agreed it would be a good idea to bring back giant flags and suggested a fans competition to design one. This was approved and will be discussed at the first sub-committee meeting.
- A “Breaking down Barriers” monument.
This idea followed a meeting between MS and a group of supporters recently who were enquiring about a statue for the “Three Degrees team.” MS explained that it could form part of a bigger project which the Club was in the final throes of presenting to the board for approval wrapped around a major celebration of Albion anniversaries in 2018.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
- Introduction of James Mackay as Supporter Liaison Officer
James, the Club’s multi-media officer, had been appointed the Club’s SLO and will be the link between supporters and the Premier League. He will attend SLO meetings and Albion Assembly meetings. Supporters are invited to contact James with any issues which he will then take to the Premier League. He can be contacted at email@example.com
- Administration costs for an away season ticket (£55). Why is it so high?
MG said that this was an historic charge but he would look into it
- When will the new 2017/18 kits be available
The Club planned a kit reveal before the end of this month after which it would be immediately available.
PROPOSED DATE OF NEXT MEETING: Thursday, September 7.
It was agreed that the Assembly would approach the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick to discuss the prospect of holding the next meeting there.