Villa Supporter Gripes, Tackling Villa Park Transport Issues and Communication Breakdown

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Aston Villa Fan Consultation Group Meeting – December 2021

The latest Aston Villa Fan Consultation Group (FCG) meeting took place at Villa Park on Tuesday night, this week. The meeting was requested by the FCG group, after seeing several ‘consultation worthy’ actions over the past month were undertaken by the club without any actual fan consultation. A case in point being the recent introduction of Socios fan tokens and the ticket resell diktat issued to fans.

The below notes were a series of topics/issues sent ahead of the meeting, but were actually answered in writing by the club prior to the meeting.

For transparency, these are not from the actual discussion and don’t necessarily represent the tone of the meeting, which was both cordial, open and honest.

They are mainly specific operational issues, so apologies if they aren’t presented in the most digestible form. Some of the issues are items that should be tackled as they occur, rather than being stored away for such meetings when time is precious. They are also not necessary the views of every member of the group. MOMS for example, didn’t have an issue with the club wishing ex-Villa captain Gareth Southgate a Happy Birthday on social media.

The eventual meeting itself, as well as covering the topics in the notes, focused on the role of the group moving forward and need for improved communication in-between meetings from the club (which MOMS highlighted as a key issue for the group to be a success).

We also went into deeper detail about the on-going transport issues in regards of getting home from Villa games (there’s certainly a role for Villa fans in writing to their MPs and the council to seriously force the issue), it’s universally agreed that the infrastructure is not fit for purpose.

If anybody has any questions on any of the below, just leave a comment below or via social media.

UTV

Club Responses to FCG Issues – 7th December 2021

The Consultancy Group Role


We don’t feel that the club is making best use of the consultancy group, or engaging in effective consultancy. There have been a large number of ‘customer’ issues this season, many of which could have been avoided with better communication or use of consultancy.

Can the club clarify their objectives in using the group and how we can help improve interaction between the club and supporters?

Answer:

We believe FCG provides an important forum for regular dialogue and engagement between the club and a group of our supporters. In recent years (since the takeover of the club by NSWE / V Sports) the club has sought to extend the opportunity for the widest possible representation on FCG, having both suggested and welcomed the addition of groups such as Punjabi Villans, Villans Together and Villa & Proud. 

An example of where we believe the relationship between FCG and the club serves a mutually beneficial purpose is that in the New Year, Christian Purslow would like to bring to FCG the re-development plans we have been working on for Villa Park. This would be done ahead of the beginning of any planning process and before we go out to consultation with the entire fanbase.

Next year we would like to discuss the further extension of the representation in FCG , so we can continue to engage with the widest possible cross section of our support. For example, currently FCG has only one female member and nobody under the age of 21.

However, the club has listened to the concerns of the FCG and are committed to ensuring more regular dialogue with FCG reps in between our formal meetings.

The FCG reps have also agreed to ensure that they meet as FAN reps prior to any meeting with the club to agree on the most important items that need to be raised with the club.


Socios


At a previous meeting, the club agreed with the groups concerns on Socios and informed us that you would not be looking to engage with them. What caused the change in the clubs position?

There are concerns around exclusive Socios content and activities like the renaming of the road at Bodymoor Heath, which give the Socios member a say in supporter activities that isn’t offered to season ticket holders. That causes us an obvious concern. Socios website states that their members will get VIP access to games, votes on club decisions like shirt designs and rewards like signed shirts and player access. Can you confirm your plans in terms of the offers you are likely to make available to Socios members?

On an ongoing basis, given the concerns around the collapse of Football Index which lead to fans of many clubs losing money and given that Socios are a risky, apparently unregulated financial product, registered in Estonia rather than the UK or EU, are you intending to maintain the clubs relationship with them in spite of fan concerns? 

Answer:

At the FCG meeting with Christian [Purslow] on 10th December 2019, we were asked – in a wider question – if we had any plans to associate ourselves with Socios. At that time, two years ago, we didn’t have any.

Every Season Ticket Holder was given the opportunity to claim a free Socios token when the partnership was launched in September. This would give STHs the same opportunity to interact with the club on that platform for no cost.

Socios provides our supporters with another, different, way of communicating an opinion on matters pertaining to the football club. Those subjects will tend to be substantially different to those in which we are in regular dialogue with FCG on. This new method of interaction via Socios is complementary to – and not detrimental to – any other form of dialogue the clubs has with supporters. This includes the established relationship with FCG.

Socios is a platform which has partnerships with football clubs across Europe including Barcelona, Juventus, AC Milan, PSG, Everton, Arsenal, Manchester City and AS Roma. We constantly review our arrangements with all partners.


Digital output, AVTV and Communications


Using the club website remains a difficult experience, largely due to the way in which Fan IDs and emails are used to facilitate log in across the various aspects of the website group.

Users are often confused that they are logging into areas they think they are already logged into or having to log into multiple areas to get to the part of the site they need.

The processes to recover log in ID’s or to correct or change any detail can be tortuous and often involve having to make calls to the support teams. Many fans are unhappy about having to create email addresses for small children and then having to have separate log ins and details in order to manage those accounts.

What steps are being made to improve the websites and the confusing and complicated log in and fan ID processes?

Within AVTV there are a number of concerns around content. 

At a previous meeting we were told that Season ticket holders would be considered as members by default – but we now have content within AVTV that is exclusive to members and cannot be accessed by season ticket holders.

At the beginning of the season, an advertised product was U23 games, it became quickly apparent that this meant home U23 games only and it’s since transpired that due to broadcasting limitations it’s not possible for all of these games to be made available – does this devalue the product?

Most recently, there was the shocking decision to charge anyone without an AVTV subscription, including season ticket holders, £2.00 to watch the introductory press conference with the manager. This can’t have produced a huge amount of revenue for the club and was received particularly badly by the fanbase – one season ticket holder described it as feeling less like being part of the pride and more like being part of the prey.

What will the club be doing to clarify the content available to different levels of supporter and at different subscription levels going forward?

Highlights and full match replays are a welcome opportunity for fans to see games they’ve missed and provide the value in AVTV, however, despite repeated requests from supporters the club still insists on including the result in the description of every match package, taking away the value of watching a game you’ve missed.

The club still have Jack Grealish as one of the icons to click in order to buy tickets, despite fans on a number of digital channels asking for this to be changed. 

The club wished Gareth Southgate a happy birthday across its social media channels despite his unpopularity among the fanbase. 

There’s a very definite feeling that there is no one on the digital channels listening to fans. 

How can the club improve this going forwards?

Answer

We do not believe this criticism to be justified.

From a standing start, we have established Villa TV as a professional and reliable product which receives positive feedback from the wider fanbase. We have upgraded our commentary team and stream as many games as we are able to this season, based on broadcast restrictions in place. Coverage of our U18’s Youth Cup journey was a highlight last season. 

We believe Villa TV to be priced competitively and the premier product on the service – Villa TV+ -to be good value at £1.99 per month [cheaper than a matchday programme].

We will look at continuing to clarify the levels of content available to each tier of subscriber.

The three tiers are as follows:

  • VillaTV+  – subscribers pay £1.99 a month and receive the following:
  • U23 Home Matches Live (when PL broadcast restrictions allow)
    • The club has only not been able to broadcast one match live; as we have worked hard to make sure fixtures are played outside of the PL restrictions.
  • FA Youth Cup Matches, home and away (when FA broadcast restrictions allow)
    • The latter stages of the competition (semi and final) cannot be shown live on club channels.
  • Full match re-runs of 
    • All Men’s 1st team matches (home and away)
    • All Women’s 1st team matches (home and away)
    • All U23 Home matches
    • All FA Youth Cup Matches
  • Exclusivity windows to watch content first.
    • Weekly 1st team press conference (2 hour exclusivity window).
    • This is on an ad hoc basis, such as the Steve Gerrard unveil press conference.
  • VillaTV free registered content (by signing into your account):
  • Extended Match highlights (10 minutes+)
    • All Mens 1st team matches
  • Ad hoc content
  • VillaTV Free to view
  • All other content
    • Short Highlights (2mins)
      • Mens 1st Team
      • Womens 1st Team
      • U23 
    • Pre match interviews
    • Post match interviews
    • Player features
    • Archive matches
    • Historic features

We decided to create a window of exclusivity for live coverage of Steven Gerrard’s first press conference to those supporters who bought a monthly subscription. They received a live feed of the press conference as well as the above package of monthly content. The first 15 minutes of the press conference was also carried live on Sky Sports News globally and we then made the entire press conference free for all on the basic Villa TV platform at 12 noon.

With regards to posting the result of games when we play highlights / full match replays, in a modern digital age, there must be very few supporters who do not know the result of a game when we are able to broadcast footage – sometimes this is the following day due to holdback restrictions.

With regards to Gareth Southgate, are we really being asked why we wished happy birthday to a man who played 191 times for the club and is now the national team manager?


Ticketing


Season ticket delivery – whilst we appreciate that the shortened summer period made this difficult, it was still disappointing that season ticket cards hadn’t been delivered by the start of the season.

Surely it shouldn’t be the case that people should queue for a paper ticket on the first matchday having purchased the season ticket six weeks earlier.

How will the club be addressing this in future?

Matchday ticket resale – fans have questioned the three week period between returning the ticket to the club and payment. 

Why does the club hold on to this money?

The online process for returning tickets can be confusing and difficult. How is the club looking to improve on this?

Ticket exchanges and communication – the clubs communication on fans exchanging tickets was very poor, the tone was threatening and adversarial and the message was confusing.

The communication was difficult to understand, initially giving fans the impression that they would be punished if they attempted to give their ticket to their brother and that this was now not permitted under any circumstance.

The club had to take to Twitter to clarify a number of things around the new regulations and there is now a better understanding of the way that the exchange system works.  However there are a lot of fans who won’t have seen those clarifications and will have taken the original communication at face value. The result is that those people are now simply ignoring the options because they feel they’ve been threatened for something they consider to be a right.

What triggered the initial communication and why was it presented in such aggressive language?

What is the club’s intention in the new rules? The rules seem to be set up more for the benefit of collecting Fan ID information than for the prevention of touting.

Answer

Regarding Season Ticket Delivery – We are not aware that there were any significant issues – there are always the inevitable ‘lost in post’ replacements and late seat move requests that need to be fulfilled. The only difference this year was processing the opportunity for fans on the waiting list to purchase. This was done in small tranches with a time window to give those fans at the front of the waiting list ample opportunity to purchase a Season Ticket first. This meant processes didn’t close off until nearer the start of the season than anticipated.

Regarding Matchday ticket resale – The process does advertise that it can take 21 days but not in every case. The process is manual as it involves a  BACS transfer that has to be keyed in with correct bank details. On average it has taken 16 days (including non-working days) rather than the advertised 21 days.

GameMatchDate refundedDays taken
Newcastle 21/08/202106/09/202116
Brentford28/08/202115/09/202119
Everton18/09/202128/09/202110
Wolves16/10/202103/11/202118
West Ham31/10/202116/11/202116
Brighton20/11/2021not yet raised

Regarding Ticket Exchange – The process is straight forward once you have logged into your own on-line account – it’s just a single-click process and can be easily reversed – bank details are securely stored once you have entered on the first occasion.

The overriding principle is to have consequence to fans looking to buy tickets and sell for monetary gain so we have only, and will only, issue penalties when evidence that is regularly supplied by fans from social media platforms is verified – it is not intended to be used in any way to remove the ability for a STH passing his/her ticket to his/her family/friend for one off usage. There is a process for doing this and by contacting the ticket office season ticket holders seats can be reassigned to friend/family. This facility is currently being tested so that it can be completed on-line.

In addition, this helps us combat the regular complaints we receive about away attendees being a closed shop – fans purchase away tickets to maintain booking history and go on to sell the ticket.

The language used to present the new measures was not intended to be aggressive but it was intended to be hard-hitting.

It was shared with all members of the FCG by Lee Preece on 21st September in advance of being published and received minimal feedback. We suggest that in future, the Club gives FCG more time to consider issues and initiatives such as this and suggest a 72 hour timeframe for FCG to respond back in matters such as these.

Communication Channels and Twitter


Someone on @AVFCsupport on twitter does a really good job of clarifying and confirming club communications. Unfortunately, the audience for that is only a small proportion of those that get the original communications. 

The twitter service is good, but that it has to operate in the current way should tell you something about the quality of your initial communications. 

Why aren’t the club using groups like this one as a testing ground for communications prior to issuing confusing information?

Answer

We are grateful for positive feedback across our fanbase to the @AVFCsupport account.

We have been discussing internally improvements such as establishing a live chat service to broaden the availability of our Twitter support account. Sometimes fans will not read all the information in our announcements clearly or there could be additional questions. A large amount of the work @AVFCsupport does is clarifying information that is readily available elsewhere.

An example of the club using the FCG as a testing ground for communications prior to issuing was in sharing the Waiting List Terms & Conditions. Changes were made to this document following feedback from FCG.


Season ticket Holder Value


There’s been a noticeable change this season in the way in which season ticket holders are valued now that demand hugely exceeds supply on season tickets.

The season ticket holder has always been the premium supporter, part of the club, but there are now an increasing number of areas where content is not available to season ticket holders or where offers are only aimed at members at various levels.

At a previous meeting you had told us that the season ticket holder was a member by default, but there seems to be an increasing drive to get season ticket holder to consider buying memberships.

Can you confirm that this isn’t the case and clarify the membership status of season ticket holders?

Answer

Season Ticket Holders will always be at the heart of the club and there is absolutely no intention for that to change. The majority of Season Ticket Holder benefits have remained as is, including juniors receiving a free gift etc. We have removed the benefit of free access to Women’s games, as we feel that devalues the growing popularity and sporting success of the Women’s team.

We are trying to grow our fan base to help support the club’s ambitions for on-pitch growth and part of that is offering a variety of services to a wide range of fans – including membership. These are complementary, and not of detriment, to Season Ticket Holders benefits.

We have introduced a ‘claret lite’ membership, which never previously existed, that contains membership benefits but removes ticketing benefits (as they aren’t applicable to Season Ticket Holders) at a cheaper price. Previously if a Season Ticket Holder wanted items that a member received they would have to pay for a full price membership that included ticketing benefits which were of no use to them – so we wanted to introduce this to gauge interest. 

Season Ticket Holders still receive access to Pride Rewards where things like signed shirts, exclusive events etc are available and the club are looking at creating tiers within Pride Rewards whereby Season Ticket Holders would have top tier access with other fans at various levels below.

Season Ticket Holders will also continue to receive exclusive access; for example an upcoming in-store event will be invite-only for them.

We believe our Season Tickets offer extremely good value, with our benchmarking showing us as having the 5th cheapest average adult season ticket price in 19/20 (being the last easily benchmarked season).


Transport


It was reassuring to hear Mr Purslow’s comments on addressing the situation around transport issues at Villa Park. Fans are obviously concerned around transport at games.

Whilst we understand that solutions to this aren’t directly under the clubs control, what steps are you taking to work with the various authorities to address the problems with trains, roads, parking and public transport around the ground on matchdays?

Answer

Senior club personnel including Mr Purslow have met with Andy Street (Metro Mayor) and executives of West Midland Trains in the last two weeks. We also have approached Birmingham City Council’s Senior Management Team for a meeting. The current train service into and out of Witton and Aston is limited and too often disrupted. The Club wants to work with all stakeholders to find short, medium and long term improvements. It is clear that an integrated transport policy is required to service Villa Park and we are doing everything we can to bring all stakeholders together to work on achieving this.

Kit Supply Issues

In the summer, there were issues at the club shop where fans were unable to buy personalised shirts due to a lack of availability of I’s and E’s for over a week during the peak purchasing time. Given that we signed players called Ings, Bailey and Buendia, that’s particularly disappointing.

Kit supply is a recurring issue and repeatedly answered as being a result of unexpectedly high levels of demand, how many times can we be surprised by levels of demand?

What is the club doing to prevent this happening again?

Answer

Regarding ‘I’ and ‘e’ shortages, there was a delay in letters arriving from a supplier in the Far East. This was due to a COVID outbreak that caused the factory to shut down the whole production process. This impacted supply to all Premier League clubs. Production was subsequently switched to Norway and stocks were received. Neither the club, nor Fanatics, had any control over this, and it had minimal impact.

The only kit supply issues relate to how fast the Away shirt sold out. The initial drop of stock sold out before the second had chance to land. This equates to half of our total season stock selling through in just four weeks after launching at the end of July (the equivalent took 3 months last year). The subsequent drops were air freighted in to speed the process and arrived in the first/second week of September – meaning only a very minor period of stock disruption.

No other shortages of replica have been reported, there has also been a significant top up order placed on all three kits and also a large increase in full quantities for next season.


Update on Phone Signal at Villa Park


Phone signal on the EE network is reported as being improved, can the club update us on any work ongoing with other networks?

Answer: 

EE have been collecting performance data from the cell sites inside the stadium. The performance data has been supplied to O2 as requested. The plan is for O2 to join the system to improve coverage for all O2 customers. The EE project team have reached out to O2 for an update. 

EE are also boosting the external 5G coverage in the coming weeks, in order to provide increased reception across North Stand car park and Trinity forecourt areas.

Concourse & Kiosk Queuing Issues


It has been reported to us that there seem to be issues around the queuing for food and drink kiosks in the Upper Doug Ellis stand. 

Is the club aware of any particular issue in this area and is this being addressed?

It has also been noted that in a number of areas in the ground coverage of other matches is no longer being shown prior to kick off. 

Is this a conscious decision on behalf of the club and will it be possible to get coverage returned in those areas?

Answer

The Upper Doug Ellis has limitations on space and supply. We will always look to maximise both space and opportunities for food & drink there, but are mindful of the restrictions the structure places on us.

As stated in our pre-match guides published on our website, the TV coverage inside concourses is currently restricted due to covid protocols, as the authorities discourage congregation in indoor areas. When circumstances permit we will return to previous status.

New MOMS podcast episode below

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