Context

Below are the notes from the Aston Villa Fan Consultation Group meeting of this week. MOMS and some other members of the FCG group felt this meeting was a chance to refocus the group and reaffirm the club’s commitment to it.

Recent scheduling had been a little ad hoc, so we felt there should be more structure, principally so that key annual decisions the club makes – season ticket prices, away schemes etc – should at least have some consultation from the group (and in turn, the club’s supporter base).

Also, some of the members of the group need to up their contribution in the process and in their communication of the concerns of their respective fanbase.

Since the meeting timed with the publication of the club’s latest financial results, we also requested some comment from the club on them.

Although the response from the board below was a pretty standard affair, there is a consensus, the club is trying move away from desperate season-to-season blind promotion hope to building a platform that will hopefully lead to a sustainable base to launch a promotion worthy team from.

The group welcomed Villa’s new Chief Commercial Officer, Nicola Ibbetson, for the first time. While she is obviously analysing the landscape of the club from a commercial point of view, regardless of her previous employment at both Chelsea and Manchester United, Ibbetson certainly seems to mirror the pragmatic approach of Villa’s CEO Christian Purslow.

More opinion to come from MOMS on the meeting, but in the meantime, here’s the notes from this weeks FCG meeting, as provided from the club.

Aston villa lion design

AVFC FCG Agenda – March 5th 2018

Fan Reps

Daniel Rolinson       Villa View

Anne-Marie Fern     Heroes & Villains

David Michael          My Old Man Said (MOMS)

Joanne Mckibbens   Aston Villa Disabled Supporters Association

John Gillet              Lions Clubs

Nick Sanders          Avillafan.com

Mo Razzaq             Aston Villa Supporters Trust

Neil James             Aston Villa Supporters Trust

Mark Goodwin         Aston Villa Independent Supporters Clubs

Scott Jones            Villa Talk

Jonathan Fear         Vital Villa

Club Reps

Paul Tyrell               Chief of Corporate Affairs

Nicola Ibbetson       Chief Commercial Officer

Tommy Jordan        Communications Director

Lee Preece               SLO

Main 10-point Agenda

At the end of the below 10-points, there is also an on-going business section, which the club can address in the meeting itself and/or update in written form in the minutes that follow the meeting.

The club’s notes/responses that all have signed off on are in bold italics.

General club concerns

1)In the meeting of 13th November, that Christian Purslow was present at, we reaffirmed the need for the role of the FCG to be one of constructive dialogue between fans and the club. 

This was triggered in part due to the lack of consultation on the controversial away season ticket scheme, that the FCG/Away group could have had input on.

Since we’ve had the promise in the November meeting of a spin-off heritage meeting, that was meant to take place in the following weeks – it’s never been mentioned again. 

Also, the previous methodical timing/structure of the Away Fan Consultation subgroup has broken down – one of the suggestions for the latest potential meeting date we were given, provided 48 hrs notice.

We all want the FCG to be a constructive practice and not a box-ticking exercise.

Can we get the club’s point of view on how they see the role of the Villa FCG?

Following an extensive discussion within the group, it was agreed that there is a need for more structure and planning to the schedule of meetings for the benefit of everybody involved with the FCG.

Furthermore, FCG members and club representatives resolved to ensure that future meetings provide a reasonable opportunity for members to discuss major topics. The significant change to the structure of meetings will mean the FCG will be able to give their input into key subjects or issues in a consultatory manner, before the club makes any decisions. An example of this will be to receive FCG opinion on Season Ticket Pricing before the club makes a final decision for the 2020/21 season.

We will endeavour to schedule future meetings at the appropriate times of the season in order to facilitate this new approach.  Now our new Chief Commercial Officer has joined the club, we are in a position to hold our first ‘heritage meeting’ in the next few weeks.

This will be a positive step forward and was unanimously recognised as a substantial improvement on the current Q&A system.

2)The club’s financial results have been/will be published this week. Can the club give an overview of them and how they relate to both the ‘Profit & Sustainability’ (FFP) situation and the club’s long-term strategy?

This will give the club the chance to provide some context to what has happened in the last year, after the period of the results and temper any outside analysis of the results.

See item 3

3)Since relegation from the Premier League, we’ve been living with a season-to-season hope of promotion. In relation to the financial situation, it’s increasingly obvious due to poor results, the club will again start next season in the Championship.

From our experiences in the Championship so far, it has also become increasingly clearer to see why recognised larger clubs such as Leeds, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday have spent a decade to two decades in this league.

With so many players at the end of their contracts or loanees, a substantial rebuild will be needed for Villa this season. A conservative estimate would be, it’ll potentially take two seasons to rebuild a team that might challenge seriously for promotion.

What will be different from the club’s approach going forward to the fast building legacy of failure in this division?

Note – answer combined for items 2 & 3

The recently-released accounts for the year up to May 2018 describe a challenging time for the football club.

Since that period, Aston Villa’s future was further placed into jeopardy until it was purchased by two extremely well qualified and successful international sports businessmen. They have subsequently invested a significant amount of their own cash to clear all debts and to pay the bills for this season and beyond.

A very experienced CEO has been appointed with a new Sporting Director and Head Coach also joining the club and the new management team have begun a structured process of rebalancing the club’s financial position and playing squad.

The new ownership group will continue to support the club financially while it rebuilds with a new strategy centred around lowering the age profile of the playing squad, reducing the wage bill, giving home-grown players more opportunities and complying with future FFP regulations.

Our target is to re-establish Aston Villa as one of the country’s top performing clubs.

4)Next season’s kit manufacturer and sponsorship?  Are they in place or is it a case of waiting for mathematical certainty in terms of what division Villa are in?

Plans are well advanced in both respects.

Security

5)The club has started to use hand-held body scanners. They seem to be being used sporadically. Considering the poor standard of searches at the turnstiles, what value are these delivering?

A range of searches are available to us at any time at the discretion of the Club to meet the specific need at that time. Searching is an ongoing developmental skill that we look to improve match after match. This is acknowledged by BCC who look after our safety certificate.  

6)We understand that there was a fire in the away end during the match versus West Bromwich Albion.  What was the cause of the fire and what risk assessment measures have been taken?

The fire in the away end was a very small incident and well catered for within the risk assessment. There are no additional measures required. We have qualified ex-senior firefighters here every match who oversee the risk assessment.

Tickets

7) 

  1. Away scheme that was launched this season – what are the plans for next season?

We understand the away ticket scheme has caused consternation in some quarters. While the changes made this season were done so with the best of intentions, Nicola is looking into this matter in some depth and will feed back her views to the group asap.

  • How successful has the kids for a quid (Sheff Utd) and friends for £10 (Derby) been? What are the plans for next season to maximise ticket sales to fill Villa Park?

Initial data is positive but requires more extensive analysis. The club has recently appointed an experienced data analyst who has been tasked with this.

  • Can the club please advise us on why there are generally no concessions in Zone A and how the cut-off criteria for exceptions are determined? How often is this reviewed?

It is primarily a commercial decision but are happy that we extended the opportunity for long term STH in the areas to keep their seats if they qualify for a concessionary priced season ticket and have held the seat consistently since 06/07 will have their discount maintained.

The club informed the FCG of our intention to introduce an Under 3 policy for the 19/20 season allowing Under 3’s to access Villa Park in the Family Enclosure.

Media

8) Tone of Villa’s social media is still a concern

For example, the relentless ‘Jack Grealish is back’ hard sell has been a bit cringe-worthy and has potential negative spin-offs.

Dean Smith may have to start him against Derby or face a supporter backlash.

It’s reaffirming the narrative that Villa are a one-man team and hyping up a player that may lead to ill will and disappointment in the summer (see Fabian Delph).

Also, the constant boasting about opening the Upper Trinity, as if it’s some kind of achievement is embarrassing and provides ammunition for supporters of other clubs. 

Example – ‘Upper Trinity is open yet again – for the ninth time since Dean Smith joined in October’.

We made it very clear at the last meeting that we believe tone to be crucial in club content and marketing, however subjective this area may be.

The (very successful) campaign around the return of Jack was totally co-ordinated within the club. The manager was entirely aware of what we were planning and was very comfortable with it – confirming that Jack would return on club media early in the week.

There is always an element of risk when marketing anything which relates to on-pitch matters, but we are very happy with how the campaign was executed.

On selling the top tier of Trinity, we will ease off that particular line of messaging while not ceasing to remind people we are the best supported team in the Championship.

9) What is the Club doing to improve AVTV after the poor reviews of the match streaming service?

We believe there has been a considerable improvement in our streaming service since the Autumn. The club has made further investments into the technical support system of AVTV while remaining mindful of the restricted commercial opportunities streaming provides following the completion of the final EFL /Sky broadcast agreement.

Also…

BBC WM provides match commentary for the AVTV subscription service and at the same time broadcasts are available for free in the local area. With commentary being free via local radio, what is the club doing to make this available similarly free to supporters outside the BBC WM area who can’t access digital broadcasts due to rights issues?

We can not commercially justify making BBC WM commentary free for listeners outside the immediate area.

Stadium

10)What is the club’s policy on restricting alcohol sales to away supporters and if there is an alcohol sales ban to Villa supporters away, is this reciprocated?

Alcohol sales for away fans are only available in the Lower Tier of the away section (provision is not feasible in the Upper Tier due to limited facilities).  Each match, a decision is taken based on intelligence received from West Midlands Police and the host force of the away team, taking in to account factors such as away fans conduct at previous matches.  This is not something that would be automatically reciprocated.  We would expect each club we visit to carry out a similar assessment prior to our fans visiting their stadium. 

Update on smoking sections?

Sections in Holte Lower and Holte Upper continue to operate at half-time, and our match versus Derby saw the trial of a smoking area for fans using the Trinity Middle & Lower concourse.   

On-going Issues From Previous Meetings – any Updates?

Wifi/mobile issues

Any developments from the club’s recent meetings with operators on improving mobile phone connectivity? 

EE have done a complete survey, waiting for design to come back. The design will incorporate service for not only EE customers but also O2 and 3 customers. It is not WiFi but mobile 4G services which is easier as no login etc for fans.

Vodafone users are already covered by the system in the stadium.

No timeframe yet on an install but hoping to push for the first quarter of the new season. This is a circa £1M investment by the mobile operators and not AVFC.

Seat Exchange System

Any movement? Can the club provide a seat exchange system that doesn’t allow ‘legal touting’ of tickets at ridiculously high prices? Ticketmaster are following Twickets by doing something similar now after a growingly bad reputation for running ticket scalping operations.

We have a resell facility ready to launch, which we will announce to fans soon.

Disability Group

Has a date for a Disabled Supporters Group meeting been fixed?

Any updates on plans to bring Aston Villa fully within the disabled seating quotas which is an area we’ve been massively behind on for a number of years and we’ve flagged this up several times in FCG’s under the previous management.

While we are in the EFL will remain compliant with their regulations regarding the total provision for disabled supporters and making 10% of them available to away supporters.  A meeting date is being circulated to FCG group to explain the extensive projects to increase wheelchair spaces.  The planning for the introduction of a Sensory Room is in the final stages and we are looking to introduce a Changing Places facility for 19/20 season.  

Social issues – update?

  • High fat, salt, sugar goods big on using football as marketing platform.
  • Single use plastic, are the club looking at this issue? Premier League/Sky initiative.
  • Free tampons in ladies/alternatives – both Wolves and WBA are now doing this.
  • More vegetarian options.

The Aston Villa Foundation are working on a number of healthy eating projects in our local community and also take part in the PL/Sky initiative.

We introduced free sanitary products into womens’ toilets for the Derby County game and will continue to monitor how that is received.

Trains

Trains after midweek games – is this something we can have an influence on? 

We have recently established contact with West Midlands Trains and have begun a positive process of communicating and sharing information.  We are receiving data such as train times (including specials) which we will endeavour to communicate prior to each match.  For the first time, we are also receiving data on the number of fans using train services from Aston & Witton station.  

They have appropriate contact details for our social media team here at Villa Park so we can be alerted on matchday if something needs to be communicated to fans.

The rail bridge at Witton Station is in desperate need of a new coat of claret & blue paint. Any update from Network Rail on this and whether the club is prepared to pay for the renaming of Witton Station to Villa Park.

No update from Network Rail.  

Will the 20% off deal with Virgin Trains for season card holders & claret members carry on to next season?

Will depend on Virgin Trains review at end of season.

Pride Rewards

Will there be any improvements or updates to the Pride Reward scheme next season?

We are not looking to radically change the rewards programme, however we ’re looking at ways to bring new rewards for next season.

Lack of city centre presence

As well as a lack of Birmingham city centre presence, any further thoughts in finding a way to extend out ticket buying options as many find it inconvenient to get to Villa Park to buy tickets but also, not all are online. Is there a scope for a city centre ticket selling partner?

The inexorable move to paperless ticketing makes physical locations less and less viable but the club will continue to examine options.  Club presence at Birmingham Airport was raised as well as our involvement in the Commonwealth Games 2022.

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