Albion Assembly, October Meeting, The Hawthorns, 18/10/2018, 7.30pm
Club staff in attendance: Martin Swain (MS), Mark Miles (MM), Simon King (SK), Rob Lake (RL), Drew Williams (DW), Dave Bowler (DB), James Mackay (JM).
Apologies: John Homer, Kev Candon, Jayne Gazey-French.
New members: MS welcomed seven new members to the Albion Assembly; Ross Higgins, Ashley Nock, Josh Haskey, Paul Bridges, Carl Burkitt, Mercia Buddle and Mollie Mae Smith.
Hannah Weaver’s involvement in agenda item selection
The Assembly asked why Hannah Weaver, the Assembly Chair, was involved in the selection process of agenda items. Hannah stated that it gives “greater transparency” to the agenda and means the club cannot “cherry pick” topics for discussion. It also meant that items which can be dealt with via email do not reach the Assembly for open debate. MS suggested creating a small sub-committee to aid Hannah in her selection. The Assembly agreed and would take appropriate action before the next meeting.
High beer prices
The Assembly was curious as to why beer prices had been raised prior to the start of the new season. SK stated that there was an increase of 10p from £3.90 for £4 year on year - but it came with the introduction of a premium lager. But he believed that in comparison with other clubs, £4 for a pint of premium lager was not unreasonable.
Issues with service in the Smethwick End
The Assembly again raised complaints about service in the Smethwick End which remained slow and, often taking 20 minutes either side of half time.
SK explained that the club used agency staff in concourses and had suffered in the past from “no shows.” This was a contributing factor to any slowdown in service across the stadium. The Smethwick End was also a congested area with fewer outlets available. Significant six-figure costs would be incurred in any attempt to resolve this in a redevelopment. SK also stated that improvements were always being sought with improved training for staff ahead of a match-day shift.
MM believed contactless payments had helped to speed up concourse service but admitted the restrictions of space were a long-term problem in resolving these complaints.
Hot drinks in the BRE
Queues for drinks in the BRE were also raised by one Assembly member who wanted to know why and hot drinks were no longer being offered on the ground floor. SK admitted he was unaware of this and would look into it as a matter of urgency.
‘Carling Late Bar’ no longer offered
The Assembly wondered why the post-match bar had been cut from the match-day experience this season. SK regretted the idea had not worked and stated that it was stopped simply because of a lack of numbers. The Club were losing money on the project - averaging an attendance of 60-70 people each game - and it was not viable to continue.
Water issues and toilet facilities
The Assembly said water pressure by half time in the BRE and East Stand was such that toilets did not flush nor taps work. MM stated that this issue has been raised before and promised the maintenance team would investigate as a matter of urgency. It was possible that the problem was an external issue with water pressure provided by the mains supplier if the problem was being experienced in a couple of stands. This would be investigated, said MM.
The Assembly welcomed stoma friendly toilets in the West Stand and asked if these could be extended to the BRE.
MM stated that bespoke accessibility toilets were in the division between the West Stand and the BRE (as well as in the East stand and SW accessible concourse) but would consider adding more signage to direct people to those toilets. The Assembly also raised the issue of fathers using toilets with their daughters. MM identified a family toilet in the West Stand for such purposes but the Assembly raised the prospect of bespoke ‘gender neutral toilets’ in the future. MM welcomed the idea and promised to give it full consideration.
Substitutes not shown on screen for team announcement
Questions were raised as to why the names of substitutes were not shown on the big screen in the final team announcements before kick off.
SK explained that pre-match announcements and activities were strictly timed and under EFL regulations, the Club had 60 seconds less for pre-match content as the teams emerge from the tunnel. There was simply not enough time to accommodate the substitutes on the big screen, he said. But they were shown 20 minutes prior to kick-off and intermittently during the game.
Potential for a big clock
Some Assembly members complained that the game time on the big screen was quite small, disappeared during adverts and was not visible at ‘blind spots’ in the East Stand. SK promised this would be reviewed for future home games. The issue of the clock ‘disappearing' between adverts was rectified a couple of games ago.
Unauthorised use of our official crest
The Assembly expressed concerns that a far-right group was seen marching with a banner bearing the the Club’s crest during recent marches in London and Sunderland.
MS stated that the Club were fully aware of the issue and had met with an equally-concerned “Stand up to Racism” in recent weeks to discuss viable responses. He said that the Club were wary of raising publicity opportunities for what remained a comparatively fringe group but that should not be mistaken for complacency. This also was the firm advice of both the PL and EFL at this time.
It was felt that the Club’s strong positioning on equality issues protected it from serious connection to such a group but that the Albion remained extremely watchful.
‘Downgrading’ of the Fanzone
The Assembly asked why the Fanzone had been ‘downgraded’ and SK said that the cold, hard realities of finance were at the heart of changes.
Keeping the Fanzone open was one of the challenges of relegation, he admitted. Approximately £200,000 per annum was spent on the Fanzone, not for commercial gain but to improve the fan experience. He said rather than close the Fanzone because of financial pressures, the Club were delighted to keep it open after a sponsorship offer from Blind Monkey, partner of The Albion Foundation.
The main “downgrade” had been closure for midweek fixtures, when visitors were generally down compared with weekend fixtures, and the absence of stage and live music. But SK said costs simply would not allow for this even accounting for the Blind Monkey sponsorship. The big screen remained with the stage returning for more high-profile fixtures on a game-by-game basis. He said the Club and sponsors were still fine-tuning the service inside the Fanzone and improvements had been made on the speed of service and the number of outlets.
Ticketing: booking fees, ‘download and scan’, loyalty points, admin costs
Booking fees: MM stated that there is a license fee on the ticketing software which is what is charged back to the customer. It was commonplace across football clubs, he said.
Download and scan: MM confirmed that 18 months ago the Club replaced all the turnstile systems. It was now possible for fans to place their phone under the scanners to gain entry into the stadium when using an individual match ticket barcode.
In the near future - “most likely next season,” he said - the Club planned to be able to operate a ‘near frequency contact’ system for tickets. This would work with both Apple and Android hardware.
Loyalty points for half-season tickets: Half-season ticket purchases would bring 500 loyalty points, half of the value of the full season-ticket. Any individual issues should be raised with the ticket office.
Admin costs: Away season-ticket holders were charged administration costs at point of purchase and then also when redeeming an individual ticket for away games. MM said this will be reviewed before next year’s launch of tickets.
Increased participation for children
The Assembly asked if children’s facilities - specifically games consoles - could be expanded into other areas of the stadium from the West Stand. MM said this was purely a space issue but would be discussed in greater detail at the next meeting.
Screening of All Blacks game
Sections of the Assembly wondered if England v New Zealand could be shown on the Fanzone big screens before the game against Leeds United at The Hawthorns. SK said that it would be a tough one to call and Soccer Saturday may take precedent for a greater majority of football fans. MS conducted a flash poll in the room and the consensus was that “Soccer Saturday” would take precedent.
Filming cap presentations live for the big screen
JM stated that cap presentations have been shown on the big screen for all but the game against Reading, during which technical issues defeated the camera service. Going forward, the interviews with former players would be shown on the big screen and then made available on the Club’s media channels.
Whole game shown in concourse to reduce congestion
The Assembly said there was congestion in the Smethwick End without any TV footage to watch. MM and SK said it would ensure video content was shown after the final whistle to alleviate this issue.
The owner’s long-term plans for the Club
MS this would be an issue for senior football figures to discuss with the Assembly at a future meeting. But he believed Mr Lai’s position had not changed since the change of ownership - that Albion should remain well-run and self-sustaining and return as quickly as possible to competitive position within the Premier League.
He said that he believed the Club’s new Sporting and Technical Director Luke Dowling would be happy to discuss more football-related matters at the next meeting, pending availability.
Any other business
MM announced that the Club was in a process of eliminating single use plastics. This involved removal of plastic bags from club shops and recyclable cups in hospitality suites. He hoped to have the buy-in of the Assembly into supporting the initiative for which more details would be revealed shortly.
Answering questions about Albion and Aston Villa match days clashing, MM explained that this was simply a consequence of three west Midlands clubs operating in the same division. He did not believe it to be a security issue but the Assembly raised concerns about traffic congestion on journeys to the stadium. Regrettably, the club could not impact this in any way, said MM.
Thursday, January 10, 2018