MINUTES from the Albion Assembly January meeting on Thursday, March 15, 2018.
In attendance: Martin Swain (Director of Comms), Richard Garlick (Director of Football Administration), Mark Miles (Director of Operations), Simon King (Chief Commerical Officer), Rob Lake (Director of The Albion Foundation).
Club media staff: Drew Williams, Dave Bowler, James Mackay.
Apologies from: John Yeomans, Sarah Atkinson, Iain Bate, Heidi Zoeller, Dev Pal, Lizzie Hayward, Keith Garner, Hannah Weaver, Shin Aujla, Paul Kent.
Discussion of questions pertaining to the future of the Club
Mr Lai's plan going forward
The Assembly asked for clarity on Mr Lai's plan for the Club. RG confirmed that since returning to the Club as CEO, Mark Jenkins had visited China in the last week and that Mr Lai maintains the same long-term commitment to the Club.
He wants to build the Club, move forward and create a clear plan that will be sustainable in the Premier League and which related to both on and off-field matters. "He wants a plan for the long term and not one to provide a quick fix only to be followed by relegation again," said Garlick.
Lai was not looking to take any drastic, knee-jerk reactions should the Club drop out of the Premier League.
RG believes that the Club needs a clear model on how to operate in the coming years and remained committed to long-term stability and not a quick fix. In terms of Mr Lai's work with the Albion brand in China, RG conceded that relegation would make it more difficult to market the Club abroad.
Implications of relegation on The Albion Foundation
The Assembly asked if The Albion Foundation would be adversely affected by relegation to the Championship. RL stated that there would be financial implications as the Foundation received funding from the Premier League which would fall as a result of relegation. But RL confirmed that there was cash secured for the next two years and that TAF staffing levels and projects would not be unduly affected.
Future of The Albion Assembly
The Assembly sought clarification on its future after changes at senior management level. MS stated that the new CEO had no desire to change the operating status of the body. There was still a commitment to drive the Assembly forward, starting with a membership audit in the coming weeks. MS said the Assembly remained a vital form of communication.
Future of Download Albion
DB stated that the plan for Download Albion had not changed. The next phase in the digitisation of the Club's history, which would see ancient minute books transferred from hard copy, was around 50% complete and could be finished by the end of the season. The bigger issue still facing the Club related to where the content would be hosted once completed. This would naturally be tied into Albion's future website plans.
Update on search for a new Chairman
RG confirmed Mr Lai wants to have closer links to the Club and that the summer was likely to see Li Piyue, already a director of the football club, installed as the new Chairman. As a result, Mr Lai will have a closer influence on operations while there were also plans going forward for MJ to visit China on a monthly basis. RG acknowledged that the distance between the owners and management was a problem both sides were eager to improve.
Parachute payment clarification
RG said that parachute payments were calculated based on a percentage of domestic and overseas money received into the Club. This was valued at 55% in year one, 40% in year two and 20% in year three. He confirmed that all first-team players - excluding 'young' players - were operating on 'flexi-down' contracts. The Assembly asked if the Club was 'financially sound' and if it would have to sell players in the summer at lower prices. RG said that the Club was not under pressure to sell and would only do so when it served the Club's best interests.
Future of non-playing staff should the club be relegated
RG stated that the Club does not operate with a large staff and has no need to lose staff en masse after a relegation. There is, of course, a chance to see if departments are performing at their maximum - not as a consequence of relegation but as part a total 're-boot' of the operation. The Assembly said they expected a review of the operations of the Club at the end of the season whatever division it found itself in.
Why is it that loyalty points are not used for executive travel?
The Assembly wondered why loyalty points were not used for executive travel. SK acknowledged his was a fair question. But he stated that executive travel affects a very small proportion of Albion fans. Only 100 tickets of an example 2,200 ticket allocation were given towards executive travel - around 80 of which go to corporate members in the first instance. This would therefore not have a large knock-on effect on the loyalty points scheme.
The future of the loyalty points scheme, he said, was one of the items he would be discussing with MJ in a forthcoming review.
Liverpool FA Cup tickets and Assembly criticism
It was suggested that the Assembly had been "thrown under the bus" over the 1,800 allocation of tickets - as recommended at a previous meeting - for the FA Cup game at Liverpool because of the fierce criticism on social media which followed the publication of the last minutes.
MS and MM disagreed strongly, with MS saying that the tickets issue was, instead, a perfect example of the value and work of the Assembly.
He said the Assembly's advice proved to be 'spot on' in Albion's calculations and saved the Club the embarrassment of a thousand (or more) empty seats and "a significant cheque" being handed to Liverpool. Albion would have sold between 100 and 150 more tickets at best, he said.
Why do online ticket bookings incur a booking fee of £2 when phone or in-person sales do not?
MM stated that the booking fee was £1, not £2 and was implemented by the booking company through the internet portal. There was no immediate solution to this.
Has the work of the season-ticket sub-committee been lost after the departure of Martin Goodman?
The Assembly were grateful to be included in discussions around season-ticket pricing but were concerned that Martin Goodman's departure would render the discussions void. MM and MS confirmed that those deliberations had not been lost in the calculations for the ticketing plans going forward.
Safe standing update
MM stated that safe standing discussions were still ongoing with football licensing authorities and at government level. A decision would be made, across the UK, once these discussions had come to a conclusion. MM confirmed that WBA remained open to the possibility of safe standing in The Hawthorns and was still willing to operate as a pilot scheme in the future. It is, to the Club, an effective way to monitor persistent standing in a safe manner.
Will the Club look to offer stadium naming rights from next season?
SK confirmed that there were no plans to rename The Hawthorns. He said there would be little value in the idea for sponsors because the traditions and age of the stadium would ensure it would only ever be known as "The Hawthorns."
Complaints about speaker in East Stand Lower, Block G
Complaints had been submitted around a speaker in the East Stand Lower. MM said that it was likely the problem was caused by the quality of the pre-recorded content on the big screen. Assembly members agreed that pre-match music and sound had improved notably since the issue was raised at the last Albion Assembly meeting.
Potential for 'flag day' before the end of the season
SK confirmed that there were plans in place to boost Hawthorns atmosphere - as with the clappers earlier this season but that thoughts now would be to reserve the initiative for the opening of next season. JM added that Megan McBurnie, Albion's marketing manager, was taking the lead on this and would contact any Assembly members interested in helping out.
Improvement of phone signal strength or provision of free WiFi
MM stated that it was difficult to improve phone strength due to the number of different networks. In ground WiFi was not viable at this stage because demand would defeat what would be a very costly supply. He viewed a future scenario where the arrival of 5G would provide a more likely solution.
Are there plans to improve the club shop?
SK believes that the Club shop had improved its range of products in recent years and was making good progress. Sales reflected this. The Assembly stated that there were concerns about the array of products for women. SK confirmed that 'mystery shoppers' visit the Club shop to review it and feedback was acted on where possible.
When are the roadworks scheduled to finish between J1-2 on M5?
MM stated that roadworks were scheduled to finish in Autumn 2018.
Any other business
The Assembly asked for an update on plans for pre-season. The Club could not provide any details on its plans for pre-season.
Thursday, May 17, 2018.