The Hawthorns, Thursday, September 7, 2017, 7.30pm
In Attendance: Martin Swain (MS), Richard Garlick (RG), Mark Miles (MM), Simon King (SK), Rob Lake (RL), Hannah Weaver (HW).
Minutes: James Mackay (Supporter Liaison Officer)
Apologies: Christiaan Wallett, Andrew Benbow, Dan Watts, Gurdial Singh.
Resignations: The Assembly had received the resignations of Lisa Walton owing to personal reasons.
Action points from previous meeting
- ‘Behind the Badge’ was released upon the launch of the new club website for free behind a subscription wall with WBA TV and had been warmly received.
- On the issue of the match-day experience at The Hawthorns, the Club thanked the Assembly for its contribution and backing for new features - the two giant screens now installed, up-graded concourse food, a post-match East Stand bar and new visuals. All had been the subject of much discussion at Assembly meetings.
- The Albion Assembly page (@WBAFCAssembly) had been revived but Dan Watts had indicated he could no longer administer the page.
Richard Garlick Q & A on the transfer window.
Garlick’s opening remarks stressed that he was part of a bigger team, all of whom played a part in what was largely considered to be a successful transfer window.
He stressed how difficult it can be to keep deals private with the increase in social media users and the involvement of the press. If another club finds out about a deal through the media, they may make a move for that player as well.
MS said that the Club had to keep its dealings private which led to increased fan pressure and subsequently the potential for rash-decision making. Assembly members indicated that a lack of communication was frustrating but understandable. They agreed that the media attempted to generate interest and a lot of information published was “preposterous".
As an example, RG described how the Grzegorz Krychowiak deal became a tense affair because of the influence of the media.
“The news leaked just as he was arriving in the country,” said Garlick. “I was at the airport to meet him, our CEO Martin Goodman was then his ‘bodyguard' at the hotel until Tony arrived having dashed up the motorway . . . we did not and dare not let him out of our sights!”
Asked why there was no option to buy in the Krychowiak deal, RG explained that a loan deal with a view to buy was never an option for a player bought for £28m by PSG just the summer before. Had that been an option it would have increased the risk of losing the player to other top European clubs. There was no loan fee.
The Assembly asked about Jonny Evans and whether there was a danger of the club accepting the bids made for him. RG said the club was mindful about letting a player go without a suitable replacement lined-up.
He said bids made for Jonny were serious but "not serious enough that the Club needed to consider." With the market the way it was, Albion were never going to accept a bid that did not meet market value or that wouldn't allow the club to replace Jonny appropriately. MS indicated that Jonny’s attitude was exceptional throughout the transfer window.
The Assembly were puzzled about why Sam Field had not been sent out on loan when other players had got great opportunities.
RG agreed that there was competition for places but Sam had been nearer to the first team than the majority of the other youngsters. There were options for Sam in the window but they were ultimately regarded as unsuitable. The club would not loan Sam to a club which didn't have the right environment for him, he explained.
RG said Sam wouldn't suffer from not going out on loan, pointing to training alongside Barry, Livermore, Krychowiak and Yacob as particularly good for his development. “The January window may offer a bigger opportunity,” he added.
The Assembly asked about a lack of cover for Ben Foster. However, RG said that Alex Palmer had been identified as a keeper of great potential and had not gone out on loan while Myhill had always proved to be very reliable as cover. He added that an emergency loan would be available if needed while there were also goalkeepers available on a free transfer.
The Assembly asked about the transfer of Kieran Gibbs and why he was unwanted earlier in the window.
RG said that had the final price from Arsenal been the first offer there would have been no issue.
The Assembly asked if there had been a focus on bringing in more European players and RG confirmed that TP liked players with Premier League experience. But, because of the prices of domestic players, he acknowledged that sometimes the club had to “roll the dice” on international buys. That said, any deal was double-checked by the scouting system while Tony Pulis’s contacts allowed him to perform appropriate due diligence on any proposed purchase.
The Assembly asked about the change to close the transfer window before the season started. RG said the club voted ‘for’ the proposal on the basis that it protected the integrity of the competition and that he believed the rest of the world were waiting for the Premier League’s decision.
He believed other European leagues would follow suit and did not expect the change to affect the club in any way.
RG also discussed Financial Fair Play and its constraints on Albion, reminding members that the Club could only increase its wages capacity through commercial revenue increases or player trading profits.
RG indicated that even if the Club’s owner Guochuan Lai wanted to invest £200m it would be pointless because of these restrictions. Commercial deals had to represent market value or the PL would be alerted - it was not possible to massage the figures with inflated deals.
The Assembly asked about commercial deals and renaming the stadium as a possibility but SK said that any deals are unlikely to be ‘game changing’ sums over the course of year.
Special item 2
Stewarding at Albion v Chelsea
Because of the high-profile nature of the final home game of last season - and well-publicised trouble - Director of Operations MM gave the Assembly a viewing of never-before-seen film footage of the Birmingham Road End in the moments which followed Chelsea’s goal.
He explained that while stewards came in for criticism that night, the film redressed the balance as it clearly showed staff swiftly tackling the trouble which erupted after the goal.
“I know the game was a long while back now but this is the first chance we have had to show this footage and I felt it only fair for the stewards who you can clearly see going in where it can hurt and tackling offenders,” he said.
He said the club did all it could before the game to stop Chelsea fans entering the stadium. Subsequent investigations had revealed a big touting ring in operation with people buying memberships for £5 and then buying and selling tickets for bigger matches.
MM said more than 60 memberships had been cancelled and the users banned. Others, including fans from both Chelsea and Albion had been prosecuted by the authorities.
The Assembly asked about away fans in the home end for other games. MM explained that sometimes it was wiser to leave an away fan in the stand - a judgement call on whether taking action would potentially make an incident more dangerous.
Assembly members also noted overzealous celebrating in the executive area. SK admitted it was very difficult to screen the executive ticket sales because these were often used for winning new clients - for whom a game such as the Chelsea match would be a prime event.
Baggies Travel, membership scheme and Assembly purpose
There was widespread criticism of the Club’s decisions to raise membership fees and award added loyalty points to fans travelling on its official coach service.
Members couldn't understand why extra points were given to those fans while other supporters travelled independently from different parts of the country did not receive these “bonus" points.
The Assembly also asked why it had not been consulted on the issue.
Dave Holloway, who runs the Baggies official coach travel, said that only one away allocation was sold out last season and he had supported the idea to give incentives, including a subsidy, to travel on the official coaches .
But also he made the point that anyone who used the coaches on a weekly basis would already have the loyalty points to get tickets.
MS said the idea was mentioned at previous Assembly meetings and MM said the loyalty points will have no impact on the order of priority for ticket purchase.
The incentive was aimed at those who travel on the coaches less frequently and had the goal of improving away attendances which had been falling.
SK acknowledged the Club would be undertaking a widespread review of the loyalty points system. He explained that Albion drove loyalty points solely through ticket sales whereas other clubs added points through other touch-points with the the club - retail, events etc.
He also admitted that the Assembly should have been kept informed on plans and ideas for the loyalty points for away travel scheme. He said potentially a new solution which ticks the boxes for everyone should be discussed.
MS raised the issue that unofficial coach travellers had started to undercut the official travel and said it was like allowing a person to sell “knock-off” souvenir shirts outside the club shop.
But it was agreed that the knock-on effect of the new incentive was that other fans who travel independently felt penalised. The motives were not questioned but it was acknowledged by all at the Club that the changes had not been communicated properly.
MS said he did not know how the system could be improved in the immediate future but that the total maximum value of 200 loyalty points would not affect ticket distribution. The Assembly paid tribute to the hard work of Dave Holloway does to run the coach travel and make sure that fans get to away games legally and safely.
On the membership increase, the Assembly accepted that it was a deterrent to stop touts from purchasing multi-memberships in order to buy tickets en masse - as has been the case.
SK explained the Junior Baggies’ offerings were upgraded to reflect an increase in price and it was felt the adult membership price should follow.
MS highlighted the problem of the Assembly not meeting between May and September when the Club frequently delivered pricing announcements for the next season.
It was agreed that meetings in the summer months would help end this period of non-communication while regularly group e-mails would also be welcome to raise such issues in the future.
MS said that there would always be business the Assembly could not be consulted over but that the value of an Assembly “to hold the board to account and question and challenge decisions” was one of its core purposes. But improving the flow of information and consultation should still be a focus. The Assembly was happy for MS to make a judgement call on what needed to be articulated to the members before a decision was made at board level.
On positive notes, the Assembly wished to thank the club for the changes and improvements made to the disabled facilities in the ground. Concourse improvements were also noted, as well as the tribute to the late Les James at the Stoke City game. MM also noted that the Throstle was back in its familiar pride of place and illuminated - and noted that the concourse improvements had been long championed by the Assembly for which it was to be commended.
Marketing and branding
Assembly members raised the “bland” external Woodman Corner and felt it was a missed advertising/promotional opportunity. MM said the Club were aware of this and it was under discussion for improvements - but he could not promise it would not be a while before those plans came to fruition.
MS also noted that improvements were made at The Hawthorns and the Training Ground and that there was not a bottomless pot of money available summer by summer.
The Club were also criticised for “impersonal” marketing communications. SK acknowledged this and declared much more personalised “comms” as his intended way forward.
On questions about testimonial plans for Chris Brunt and James Morrison, MS said the Club were waiting to hear from the players about which options they preferred against a backdrop of a crowded end-of-season schedule which included possible World Cup commitments.
The recent signing Grzegorz Krychowiak sparked questions about the Club’s engagement with the region’s Polish community.
RL said the Foundation was in contact with a community group of chiefly Polish heritage and based at West Bromwich Town Hall and there were plans to invite a significant group to the Watford game.
One Assembly member, Warren Stephens, had set up a Polish WBA Fans Facebook page and found a West Bromwich Albion Polska which had close to 1,000 members. MS said that Grzegorz would be happy to help engage with a Polish fans group and the Club intended to pursue this opportunity. This was an initiative the Club intended to pursue.
The Albion Foundation and mental health
Answering questions about the Albion Foundation’s work promoting mental health and raising awareness, RL spoke of a new phase of the Club’s partnership with the mental health charity Kaleidoscope, which began in February focusing on a project called Upfront.
It offers three stages - preventative build-up, resilience for young people around social media and pressures in their social life; a second phase of rehabilitation for people with significant mental health issues and support for staff within the club.
The third phase would be to offer a service to fans and TAF are in year one of a potential three-year project. Darren Moore is a patron of Upfront and Kaleidoscope.
RL conceded that mental health was a growing epidemic within all communities and one on which the Foundation had to devote an increasing focus.
The Club would be supporting Kaleidoscope’s annual dinner on October 6 and Assembly members would be welcome to attend.
Assembly members described the empty seats in the Woodman Corner as “embarrassing" and "an awful message" to be screened on TV. Could something be done to fill those seats as a priority?
MM explained that as much as the Club try to drive fans towards the vacant areas picked up by TV, the empty seats behind and/or poor weather saw fans migrate back from the front rows.
The Ticket Office proactively tries to fill empty seats at the front of the East Stand in the Woodman Corner although as a viewpoint it is hampered by the setting sun. MM confirmed the club also gave complimentary tickets to children and school groups in these areas to encourage younger fans.
Albion overseas fans’ group
Dean Walton introduced the idea of an overseas fan group on the back of the Premier League Asia Trophy Tour to Hong Kong.
There was a lot of good bonding between fans, players and board members, he said, and he wanted to help build on it.
He indicated that setting up a committee to liaise with the club for tickets and travel to overseas games would be useful going forward - a liaison group for fans travelling abroad to follow the Baggies. MS said that Dean will draw up a framework for the club to take forward and any further input was welcomed from the Assembly.
LGBT fans’ group
MS was delighted to introduce two founding members of Albion’s soon-to-be-launched LGBT fan group - making the Club the first in West Midlands to formally sanction LGBT supporters club.
MS said that the group should have a representative at the Assembly and this was unanimously approved by the Assembly membership. The group will be called “Proud Baggies” and will be launched in the build up to the forthcoming home fixture against Watford.
Any other business
There was a complaint from one member about the East Stand toilets which he said made him reluctant to take his daughter.
MM said this was one of the reasons why the West Stand was being encouraged as a family stand but the member could use a radar key toilet in the East Stand. Stewards were aware of this problem.
Ticket allocations were again raised with the Brighton total criticised as the Club hadn’t taken the full amount available.
MM said 3,000 tickets would not have been sold for Brighton - the Club had only just ‘crept over’ the line to sell out the smaller allocation after it had gone to general sale.
This remained a familiar problem for the Club and he challenged the Assembly to answer the dilemma facing him for the forthcoming away game at Leicester - to be televised live on a Monday night.
MM said that he had two options for the allocation which had to be decided before the West Ham game - either 1,260 or 2,254. The Club would have to pay for any tickets left unsold from the higher allocation. The Assembly agreed unanimously that the Club should take the smaller option - but urged Albion to take the full allocation (3,000) for the trip to Wembley for the Tottenham away fixture. This would be taken into account when the ticketing options were received from Tottenham, he said.
Thursday, November 9, 2017