This week saw the first Fan Consultation Group (FCG) meeting with a view to the 2017/18 season. Attending amongst others Villa CEO Keith Wyness, back from his recent FA ban and also the new Operations Director Brendan McGlinchey (formerly of Southampton, Liverpool and Wembley).
Below are the answers to the proposed ‘minutes’ that were provided to us before the meeting took place. I’ve added immediately below some additional discussion points that came up in the meeting.
The overall picture seems to be that the club are now up and running in terms of the process of improving the infrastructure of Aston Villa, from ticketing to catering, that has lagged behind in recent seasons. The new staff including, Brendan McGlinchey and Commercial Chief Luke Organ, have been overseeing the overhaul of the systems, services and commercial front of the club, which should fundamentally improve the experience of going to see Villa.
It’s an on-going process, but you should see improvements already in the upcoming season.
The Match Day Event
Match days will be now organised as individual events in terms of the entertainment and happenings on the day. The council has granted permission for the use of Holte End car park to serve street food and host live music and other entertainment. At the moment, this will be considered on a match-to-match basis. The idea is create more dimension to the match day experience.
Some issues that are not detailed below included Wyness discussing the approach to any North Stand redevelopment. They would take certain bits of the plans that Randy Lerner had previously had drafted up, but there will be differences too. There would be an increase in capacity. In practice though, promotion to the Premier League is the fundamental catalyst for such plans to move forward.
Wyness agreed with MOMS that the stadium is in desperate need of a PA & sound system overhaul. This is on the long-term agenda, although moves will be made to try and improve it in the short-term where possible.
One supporter representative raised the issue of Under Armour’s hunting division in the US – basically, clothes and accessories for people who go out killing animals – and how they were very uncomfortable with that. It’s something that MOMS and others also have concerns with.
Wyness admitted it was a bit of a surprise to him when he first discovered this branch of Under Armour’s operation. It didn’t seem he was too comfortable with it, but suggested it is not easy to find a major kit supplier that is completely ethically sound. A case in point, being the criticism levelled in the past at the likes of Nike and Adidas, over their alleged sweatshop production processes.
Overseas Streaming Service
Further details are below, but it will set up on a ‘Pay For View’ basis rather than an season subscription. Because broadcast games (i.e. Sky TV etc) are excluded from the agreement, so it is impossible to calculate the number of games available for an annual subscription package.
FCG Minutes and Answers
As well as David Michael from My Old Man Said, there was:
Anne-Marie Fern (Heroes & Villains), John Gillett (Lions Clubs), Ian Stokes (Vital Villa), Michael Steede (Avillafan.com), Peter Warrilow (Aston Villa Supporters Trust, Mo Razzaq (Aston Villa Supporters Trust), Steve Gough (Aston Villa Independent Supporters Clubs), Daniel Robinson (Villa View), Scott Jones (Villa Talk).
Keith Wyness (Chief Executive Officer), Brendan McGlinchey (Operations Director), Tommy Jordan (Head of Media & Comms), Lee Preece (SLO)
- With the promised Capital investment from Compass, what is planned to improve the infrastructure to ensure staffing is more efficient, in-order to avoid pinch points on match day?
Investment is being spent on catering retail, looking at the service triangles and replacing equipment to improve the transaction times.
- The club announced Heineken as their new beer partner last year. However, with the changing culture of beer drinking in Britain with a focus now on craft and local beers, what is being done to address this?
Although craft beer sales are on the increase this still only represents a small percentage of what we sell. The demand for regular beer products represents about 95% of our beer sales so we will always ensure that we have a product range to meet this demand. We are in discussions with Heineken to explore what craft beer products we can introduce for the coming season as we want to ensure that we are trying to cater for all our fans requirements.
- To improve the match day experience around Villa Park and catering offering would the club consider holding a trial street food event?
We have had the Holte Car Park licenced so that we can hold events like this on a match day and it’s something we will be looking at for next season. This is not something we can do every match as an event like this takes time to build up, something the club will be looking to grow over a few seasons.
- There is a lack of half-time entertainment. What is being done to re-introduce fan competitions?
Every aspect of the matchday experience, we are attempting to improve. We want to ensure that fans are not only entertained by the football but at everywhere they turn on a matchday. Halftime entertainment is something that is dependent on personal choice and is therefore difficult to please all parties. We will conduct some research to determine what people want to see and then look into reintroducing it if the desire is there.
- There has been positive move by changing the music building up to the start of kick-off. For example, Hi Ho Silver. Is this going to continue and what will be the entrance music for the forthcoming season?
As mentioned above, we want to improve the matchday experience for the fans, but also improve the atmosphere for players. It is a careful line to tread to ensure we’re pleasing fans but we’re also getting players suitably fired up to go out and perform. We are currently looking into developing an AVFC Spotify playlist that we’ll encourage people to follow. We will use this in the build up to matches and will take feedback on what songs our fans would like included. The entrance music we will need to discuss with the first team Captain.
- What is the likelihood of the Lions Club re-opening in the Doug Ellis Stand?
No likelihood for 17/18. The Holte Pub will remain available for Lions Club Members for weekend matches. The Pub is likely to close for mid-week matches with the Holte Suite Mezzanine being used as an alternative.
- To support the Project B6 fan funded flags initiative; can the club please provide concourse signs on the exit of the Lower Holte & North for the return of flags to a designated drop off point in addition to a stadium announcement pre & post-match?
We recently met with Project B6 and will support their venture in any way we can.
[The club also said that it would support any other groups with ideas that were feasible].
- With heightened security levels due to terrorism, what is the club doing to improve security when supporters have been able to smuggle in flares which have then been set off in the ground?
Searching is a hot topic. To be brutally honest we have had complaints from those who do not want to be searched and of course have other fans concerned that there is not enough. The reality is that we have to abide by laws. We cannot search an under 18 the same way as an adult and even then until we can strip search, this is the strongest deterrent we have. We have a really strong relationship with the police and always react to any intelligence or new ideas. This is as powerful a tool as any other security method.
We are investing in further training for all of our stewards as we understand the need to continually develop. The use of dogs is another option but again they have limited ability and limited time windows that they can operate in.
- At the Leeds United away game last season there was overcrowding and altercations with the police as well as stewards after a flare had been released as supporters tried to exit via the emergency exits. The overcrowding and handling of supporters created a safety hazard. Can the club please request a report from Leeds United of what happened that evening?
As a club we did not get involved in the investigation as it is not our place to do so. They operate under their own safety certificate as do Aston Villa. I know the LUFC safety advisory group were involved along with the local police and that really positive action was taken including the removal of seats and widening of gangways. To that end, as a club, we just need to be satisfied that the laws that apply to all clubs are being monitored and adhered to and we have no reason to doubt that.
- Print at home tickets attract an admin fee. Considering the cost of printing the ticket is at the expense of the supporter, can the club please explain the basis of this fee?
2017-18 will see a change in the booking fee structure, including the introduction of no booking fee for print at home tickets purchased on-line. Full details will be announced in due course.
- Supporters continue to experience problems accessing the online ticketing website. What is being done to address the server capacity to cope with the extra traffic?
As has been recently highlighted, we have a new ticketing software system being launched week commencing 10th July. This answer applies for question 12 & 13.
- Not all ticketing requests can be serviced by Ticketmaster and some supporters have to be re-directed to the club. Can the club please be transparent on the ticket service offering as this isn’t clear when dialling in?
See answer to 11.
- When away tickets are released on-line the qualifying criteria does not feed through in a timely manner to supporters’ accounts. As a result supporters often experience delays in being able to purchase tickets contrary to the criteria advertised.
See answer to 11.
- With more supporters being directed towards on-line ticketing for its added convenience, when will disabled supporters be able to purchase tickets on-line?
The new system will enable disabled supporters to purchase on-line.
- How will the Away Scheme work this season and how will the club be consulting on away ticketing for the forthcoming campaign?
Applications were sent out week commencing 19th June to Away scheme members who had attended the minimum number of games last season (18 out of 23). The letter states that these are to be returned by 30th June to guarantee inclusion on the scheme for 2017/18. No change in application fee of £25.
This left us with some scope to increase the size of the away scheme membership if we chose to go in that direction. Unfortunately, once the fixtures were released, away games 5, 6 & 7 were Burton Albion, Wolves and Blues, and our big concern was that a season ticket holder could sign up having been to no away games at all last year, get their tickets for these games and then drop out of the scheme. Whilst they would lose their £25 admin fee they would be able to attend these games where as someone who attended 15 away games last year might not have enough games to guarantee a seat.
We have contacted members of the away consultation group and they have unanimously agreed with the proposal to limit new members to season ticket holders who attended a minimum of 15 away games last season. Whilst ideally we don’t want the away scheme to become a closed shop we think it is extremely important that loyal supporters who attended numerous games last year have priority over new members.
Supporter Engagement & Welfare
- Following the introduction of Villa Support Twitter account, what other channels is the club considering in order to drive effective supporter communication? For example, has it considered a Facebook Q&A or an enterprise live chat solution?
We monitor Facebook messages and are currently scoping a ChatBot technology partner to better help serve queries out of hours. Live chat is not an option currently due to staffing but we’re always investigating options to enhance and open the communications channels.
- What progress has the club made in transmitting live feeds of games (U23s) from Facebook to AVTV for those that do not have social media accounts?
U23s games in the 17/18 season are currently under contract review but we hope to be able to bring as many as possible to our audience online and via social channels. This will utilise open platforms that do not require accounts for access.
- Can the club please provide supporters with an update on the forthcoming new loyalty program?
The Club have invested in a new loyalty programme, available through web and app, which rewards fans for online engagement and for spend with the Club. We are also introducing a new e-cash system, which is integrated with the rewards scheme, and allows fans to spend at Villa Park, and beyond, with their season card. More news on both will be released in July, launching in August.
- What is the club’s alternative to the EFL’s iFollow? Will UK based supporters who spend time overseas whether for work or vacation have the opportunity to purchase access to the streaming service?
We are currently sourcing production partners to help deliver an excellent live experience to overseas fans, matching and exceeding the quality of that made available via the EFL’s iFollow platform. How many games will be available remains an unknown due to broadcast games being excluded from the agreement.
- What is the club doing to support fans with autism?
For example, Middlesbrough have set-up a special sensory room so that children with autism can attend matches.
We are working to see if a similar facility to that provided at other stadia (such as Sunderland & Watford) can be created here at Villa Park. Our North Stand Boxes are being explored for this.
- When can supporters expect the club to reveal the new shirt sponsor?
The two-year deal with Intuit QuickBooks will conclude later this month. A new main partner (one year deal) will be announced on July 1.
- When will supporters be able to purchase the 2017/18 kit and how will prices compare to last season?
The new Aston Villa/Under Armour shirt will be revealed on July 1 with fans able to view the home and away offering. There will then be a one-month pre-sale period with supporters able to receive, collect and buy both kits at the end of July. The price will remain the same as last year.
- What’s the update on safe standing?
The Club are preparing a piece of research to understand the attitudes of fans towards rail seating and how this might impact upon their matchday experience.
- Where is the club at in terms of increasing the provisions for disabled fans?
- Is it adhering to the deadline of Aug that was set when we were in the Premier League in 2015?
Regrettably, we will not meet the deadline of set in 2015. However, we are currently working with individual wheelchair users to provide access to our North Stand Boxes which will increase our provision by 12 wheelchair spaces for 2017/18.
- If not, when do we expect to meet the requirements?
There is no specific date at the moment but clearly a return to the Premier League will accelerate our plans.
- Apart from the North Stand, what other areas of the ground have been identified for increasing disabled seating?
A new development of the North Stand would clearly be an opportunity, but areas such as North Stand Boxes and Doug Ellis Boxes (along with the project in R Block) have been identified so far.