The news that Aston Villa has closed its city centre shop at the weekend is potentially disturbing news and perhaps offers a warning to the potential direction the club could be heading, if things don’t improve on the pitch fast.
The club’s website states the closure will allow the club to ‘further enhance the retailing offering going forward’. That’s currently something of an oxymoron at face value.
Of course, there is the chance there maybe a new site in mind for a new city centre store, but it’s more likely to be a cost-cutting exercise. Maybe it’s just not economically viable and online sales has taken over?
As many who has visited the News Street store in recent months would testify, it had been run with a skeleton staff and was also seen closing at lunch-times.
MOMS saw first hand a few months ago the issues the shop was experiencing, popping in to pick up an extra ticket before heading to Villa Park for a Fan Consultation Group meeting with Villa CEO Keith Wyness and owner Tony Xia. There was just two staff having to work both floors of the shop (including one of them selling tickets who had been trained on ticket sales the day before) and they looked liked they’d been worked to the bone and were visibly flustered from their day.
I asked the staff why they were understaffed and I was informed of the situation and that the promise of extra help hadn’t materialised.
You couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. I offered to bring it up at the meeting with the club I was heading to, which I did.
Obviously, things have gone from bad to worse since and the shop seemingly only stayed open to take advantage of the Christmas period.
Despite having a prime city centre spot, it would suggest interest has waned.
At the beginning of this season, after spending big in the transfer market, many fans felt that promotion was a formality, but with the club currently sitting in the bottom half of the Championship table, reality is starting to bite. The shop closure is further proof of this. If Villa were achieving moderate success in the Premier League, it could be argued that the shop would have stayed open.
The club currently stands at the cross roads with a sign post offering two directions – one is promotion and the other is Championship limbo (see Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest).
The next 12 months or so are fundamentally important to the club going forward, the time for complacent expectation is over.
Speaking of Villa’s presence in the city centre…
I remember last season talking on the phone to one of the organisers of a leading Manchester City supporter group I know. I rang him up to get his insight on David Bernstein, the former Manchester City chairman who was joining the Villa board at the time. The City fan was told me he had visited Birmingham recently for work and had noticed there was very little, if any, presence of Aston Villa around the city centre.
‘If you get off the train at Manchester, you’ll see the presence of Manchester City or United within about 30 seconds. It’s everywhere in the city centre,” he said. “Apart from that small shop you have, you don’t see anything connected to Villa.”
He certainly had a point. I’ve always wondered why there wasn’t more promotion and presence of the claret and blue gospel in Birmingham? Maybe it was traditional Brummie understatement and reserve, but in terms of promoting your wares in the big and brash age of the football industry today, it isn’t doing the club any favours.
For example, if the Bullring shopping centre was in Manchester, they’d more than likely be a City or/and United shop in it.
Remember MOMS Chinese New Year Story? Villa’s presence at the Chinese New Year celebrations last year in China town in the city centre had been a small tarpaulin stand with a table manned by Tony Xia’s assistant to be. We were at the time a Premier League club.
It seemed to be a token gesture by the Villa marketing department. If they wanted to engage the community and potential new fans, with a bit more imagination they could have embraced the opportunity and had a more memorable presence at the celebrations.
In the end, it turned out to be a missed opportunity considering the Chinese takeover months later.
It’s time to live up to the Villa song “The City is Ours”.