The minutes from the latest Albion Assembly meeting can be found below.
Albion Assembly (AA) Meeting – The Hawthorns.
Thursday, October 5, 2023 – 7pm.
The following minutes are a general summary of the meeting and contain no direct quotations from those in attendance.
Club staff in attendance: Managing Director, Mark Miles (MM), Director of Communications, Ian Skidmore (IS), Supporter Liaison Officer, Cindy Joyce (CJ), Director of the Albion Foundation, Rob Lake (RL), Head of Marketing, Rachel Rankin (RR), HR Business Partner, Sam Foxall (SF), and Matchday Operations Manager, Gary Wallis (GW).
Apologies: Matt James, Clare Sidaway, Ann Staniland, Chloe Lane, Iain Bate, and Sandra Hughes.
Ian Skidmore opened the meeting and advised Sean Watts was absent, so Sam Foxall would be taking the minutes on this occasion. IS introduced club staff and gave an overview of the updates they would be providing. He then handed over to Mark Miles.
MM confirmed there were currently NDAs in place which limited what he could say regarding investment/sale. However, he also confirmed he is speaking to a number of parties interested in investing in the club and expects this process to have concluded no later than the end of the season. MM stated he is aware of several credible parties and is in regular dialogue with the owner regarding this subject. Any decision relating to the sale of shares will be made by Guochuan Lai, but MM will make recommendations to him.
MM added he remains in formal correspondence with WBA Group regarding the outstanding Wisdom Smart loan, however there is no date for repayment at this time and, should this not be repaid by the time of a change of ownership/investment, it would likely be dealt with in that process.
MM also confirmed that the club will still look to be active in the January transfer window, to help the continuing process of reducing the wage bill. This is likely to be the case irrespective of any investment/sale.
Football & Governance
MM confirmed there are currently discussions taking place between the EFL and Premier League around the redistribution of funds. A key element of this is likely to be a reduction to wage expenditure with the emphasis on clubs becoming more financially sustainable and not reliant on owners.
MM said the club did not do as much business in terms of 'ins' and 'outs' in the summer window as he had hoped. He stated there are good working relationships between himself, Carlos Corberán and Ian Pearce, and the football technical board continue to meet on a monthly basis.
After follow-up questions, MM gave an update on the women’s team and confirmed they are integrating into the club and train frequently at the Training Ground. MM said he meets regularly with Siobhan Hodgetts-Still, who is fully committed to the ongoing development of the team.
MM added there was a high turnover of players in the summer, but the team are now settled and have a new home ground at Redditch. He spoke about their recent game at The Hawthorns and asked for the group to support SHS and her team as much as possible.
Discussions were had around how to increase the visibility of the women’s team at men’s games, including the showing of highlights on the big screens and the possibility of a ‘double header’. However, it was recognised the latter may not be possible due to operational restrictions. MM committed to continuing to look at ways of making this possible.
With regards to the Academy, MM advised there was a good mixture coming through - and Carlos is looking at players he can integrate into the squad.
MM advised commercially the club is in a positive place with approximately 18,400 season ticket holders, which is a significant uplift from last year. A third of those are under the age of 20, compared to the previous average age of 58.
MM confirmed partnerships continue to work hard and are ahead of budgets, and they are pursuing interest with outside businesses wanting to get involved with the club. He added that hospitality was also ahead in revenue and covers. Conferences & events are continuing to grow, too, and the current growth has seen levels return to how they were pre-Covid.
MM gave a brief update on the ‘Vision and Values’ project, and how it not only reflects the great history and heritage the club has, but how it also looks forward to the future. He also stated the video launching this season’s home kit now had 3.2 million views on X (formerly known as Twitter), which helps when showcasing the business to outside parties, including potential investors.
Discussions were had around sponsorship of the kit and the four positions available (shirt front, back, sleeve and shorts). MM advised there are strict regulations around them, saying Albion currently utilise three out of the four, and partnerships continue to look at all other revenue streams available.
Further discussions were had around raffles rather than auctions, as these are not open to everyone and normally attract higher prices/bidders. However, it was noted the reason for the auctions was to generate as much income as possible, and previously raffles had not been as successful as envisaged.
Gary Wallis gave an update on the stewarding team. He began by confirming training had been carried out with all stewards, and that work continues on positive engagement - which is positively impacting match days, thankfully resulting in very little poor fan behaviour so far this season.
GW also spoke about the fan behaviour sub-committee, which seeks to try to carry out educational work on the effect of behaviour, whether physical or verbal, explaining a positive response had been received after some of the work completed with previously banned fans. He confirmed the club and Foundation are working together to put a series of programmes in place to reduce poor behaviour and enhance the family atmosphere.
MM invited comments on travelling stewards and behaviour, which returned positive feedback from the group.
Discussions were had around the placing of stewards and what plans and procedures were in place to deal with medical emergencies following the recent incident at Leyton Orient. GW assured the Assembly that the club have the necessary practices and resources in place to deal with any medical emergency.
Rachel Rankin gave an update on matchday atmosphere, with four members volunteering to become involved in the sub-committee after the previous meeting. She said a lot of the feedback received was facilities related and that the club have had a good start to season, with no negative comments so far.
RR stated they are working hard to engage fans and are continuing to explore new activities, and a meeting will be arranged with the sub-committee by the end of the month to investigate this further.
IS said, following the request at the last meeting for volunteers to be involved in consultation for next seasons kit, only one member had come forward.
RR advised this process was moving steadily along and hoped to have further developments in the next couple of weeks. However, she could not share details of this at the time.
Further discussions were had around what can be put on the kit and stock availability.
The Albion Foundation
Rob Lake provided a comprehensive update on the Foundation, which included the PL funding for specific projects. He said there were three funded projects, Primary Stars (schools delivering PE and teacher CPD and interventions around behaviour), Inspires (around secondary school) and Kicks (free offers to deliver coaching on evenings, weekends and holidays in the local area). RL advised the monitoring report showed they had received exemplary for all three projects for the first time, also stating the capability code of practice was exemplary - receiving 91%.
RL said three current Albion players, and one former player, were off to the Powerchair World Cup in Australia - and encouraged the group to watch the videos (available here).
He then confirmed the next Foundation Day would be held at the home fixture against Plymouth on Saturday, October 21. The day is designed to encourage fans to get involved and become part of the family, and RL explained the different programmes available.
RL advised a strategy was being launched in the new year with a focus on ‘Go Local’ and ‘Grow Your Own’. He gave an update on the player appearances and read out the positive feedback that has been received.
Furthermore, he gave an update on the Sustainability Group, and the work carried out to reduce single use plastic bottles, increase biodiversity and grow vegetables.
RL also gave a brief review of the women’s team and ETC (Emerging Talent Camps), which have now come back under the Foundation.
Elsewhere, he confirmed they are currently working with Proud Baggies to launch their own team, and assisting the recently launched All Access Albion group. And, lastly, RL said The Foundation was an integral part of club which feels more valued than ever - explaining how everyone is looking to become more integrated, with shared services being implemented as and where possible.
Conversations were had around the ticket prices and whether these could be changed depending on the game or opposition. MM said prices have to be confirmed to the EFL at the start of the season and, once agreed, cannot be changed. MM explained that Albion offer flat ticket prices, however other clubs may offer category pricing and do not have to stipulate what games fall into what category of pricing. He also confirmed the club must charge away fans the same equivalent price to home supporters.
The progress of Junction 1 was raised. MM advised there have been conversations with the local council and any applications for enforcement charges have to be made to the Government, though he was not aware of any further developments at this stage. MM expressed his frustration at the lack of progress.
Post-meeting note: on Tuesday, October 10 the club received email confirmation from Transport for West Midlands detailing works to “install new traffic signals and CCTV which will enable better traffic management, improve traffic flow and improve the air quality around the Interchange”. The club is yet to receive any communications from Sandwell Council regarding these plans.
Rail strikes were also raised as a concern and GW advised the new Director of Transport had been very proactive in trains both running and stopping at The Hawthorns.
A member asked how kits are selected to ensure there are no issues for colourblind spectators. IS explained kits are selected by the club and approved by the EFL, who use specialist software to detect colour clashes. If the EFL identify a colour clash, they then ensure the away club change to an appropriate kit, and this is done well in advance of a game. IS added that match officials select their kit based on the colours worn by both teams, including goalkeepers.
RL confirmed another ‘Legends’ game would take place next season against Wolves and held on Sunday, September 8, 2024.
Feedback was given on food availability in the disability area of the West Stand. IS committed to looking into this. Members asked if the screens on the concourses could show what was happening on the pitch at half-time. IS said that while this was possible, he expected many fans would wish to know what is happening at other games and that Soccer Saturday would be preferred by many.
A member said he had bought a B71 junior membership, but stated the club’s retail staff had little understanding of the product. RR agreed to look into this to ensure all retail staff have a better knowledge of products on sale.
And finally, MM suggested that any minor issues can be raised between meetings, and members should not hesitate to inform the club, requesting they email SLO@wbafc.co.uk instead of waiting for the next Albion Assembly.
Date of the next meeting: Thursday, February 8, 2024.