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FANS CONSULTATION GROUP – OPERATIONAL MATTERS

Following on from the last FCG meeting, the Trust with other supporter groups met with the club again, this time to discuss operational issues with the respective department heads. Here is a summary of the matters that were discussed on 6th December.

Fan Representatives

Jonathan Fear            Vital Villa

John Gillett                  Lions Clubs

Karl Bowater              Aston Villa Supporters Trust

Kris Carr                        Aston Villa Supporters Trust

Joanne Mckibbens  Aston Villa Disabled Supporters Association

David Michael           My Old Man Said

Scott Jones                 Villa Talk

Steve Gough              Aston Villa Independent Supporters Association

Apologies:

Nick Sanders              avillafan.com

Daniel Rolinson        Villa View

Dave Woodhall         Heroes & Villains

Club Representatives

Paul Tyrell                    Chief Corporate Affairs Officer

Ian Dimmock              Operations Director

Tommy Jordan           Communications Director

Wes Johnson              Head of Catering

Lee Preece                   SLO

This meeting had been arranged following the previous FCG held with Christian Purslow on 13th November.  At Christians request, and in agreement with the FCG, Christian wanted to ensure his involvement with the FCG ensured open consultation and discussion on higher level strategic areas of the club.  Going forward, the FCG will meet bi-annually with Christian for consultation on strategic club matters, and then bi-annually with Senior Exec staff to consult on operational matters.

This meeting was arranged to discuss the operational elements of the agenda not discussed in detail by Christian at the FCG held on Tuesday 13th November – notes for which have already been circulated.

The agenda items raised for the 13th November by the FCG fan reps are shown below, with the club’s responses & relevant discussion points shown in italics.

 

Items outstanding from 13.11.18 agenda

  • Lions Club use of the Holte Pub. High prices, slow service, no food on offer, not open for midweek fixtures is discouraging members from using the facility.

The club recognises that the Holte Pub is not the “home” that Lions Clubs used to enjoy when housed in the Dave Targett Suite in the Doug Ellis Stand (closed since 2016).  Prices are the same as the stadium and other facilities and cannot be changed.  There is no kitchen facility within the Pub making increasing food provision difficult, and without a significant investment in restructuring the layout bar service and the overall experience will remain challenging.  There are no immediate plans to invest in the Holte Pub at present, and until significant investment is made the club understands that patronage of the facility will be discouraged for some. 

The Pub does not open for evening matches (it would be challenging to run the facility profitably for night matches (as we recognise Lions Clubs members, despite best intentions may be unable to arrive early enough in large numbers) making no facility available for Lions Club members.  We were asked if Lions Clubs could be allowed access to the Holte Suite for evening matches.  The club would only be able to do this at the expense of season ticket holders and subsequently we do not feel this is appropriate to do.

The Dave Targett Suite remains closed on matchdays but is now being used on non-matchdays by the Foundation for delivering educational programmes.  There is no immediate plan to reinstate the Dave Targett Suite for Lions Clubs and consideration also needs to be given to the use of this mezzanine level and the benefit that could give to the experience of fans using the Doug Ellis Upper Tier.

  • Disabled: Can we have an FCG sub-group created to tackle the ongoing disable supporter & team issues with a commitment to at least two meetings per season?

Absolutely – the SLO will arrange a meeting for January with the FCG invited to attend, as well as AVDSA reps (Aston Villa Disabled Supporters Association) and AVIDS (Aston Villa Independent Supporters Association). 

  • Catering service speed and organisation always comes up…costing the club potential revenue and we’re losing support from the stands during games with hoards of people leaving from the 35-minute mark onwards to actually be served.

Also, queues at the Holte Suite are a problem (many don’t go in as it simply takes too long to get through the doors.)

e.g. The catering in the Doug Ellis lower is a shambles. One of us has to go down on the 40-minute mark to join the queue. Several times we have still not been served by the start of the second half. Other clubs seem to manage this task that constantly eludes the Villa.

Catering: why are they incapable of introducing a simple common sense approach to serving beers before the game and at halftime…they could quite easily determine demand and have a few hundred pints pulled for a much quicker service.

First discussion point raised was the apparent removal of a sign at one of the low-level counters in Trinity Middle & Lower concourse area, reminding fans to leave the low-level counter access free for Disabled fans.  AVDSA have membership cards that should help staff identify fans with disabilities that need access to the counter (not every disability is visible).  Condiment stations can also end up on low-level counters again restricting access for those that need them.  It benefits the club and service for all if condiment stations are away from counters, so this will be investigated.

Pre-pouring pints was discussed.  At every draught kiosk (with the exception of one kiosk in the Holte) pre-pour does take place.  Not every fan is prepared to accept a pre-poured pint – we oblige with a freshly poured if requested.  We certainly don’t have areas for a few hundred pints to be poured and stored before service as suggested in the agenda – space is limited and stocks soon sell out.

There was a request for staff to be more urgent and work quicker, particularly at half-time.  We will ask for a push on this.  However, we are sure fans understand that no club is going to cope with demand at half-time.  The point was made that the Holte Suite houses a capacity of 650 fans pre-match and 800 (without tables) at half-time.  The concourse areas of the lower Holte serve a seating area of 7,500 – without much more space and many more units, half-time will always be a challenge.

Bottles were raised – our focus is on more draught provision.  One point made by the club was the challenge of how often we open.  One quick poor machine that would pour 12 pints a minute costs £20k, and it is difficult to see a return on that kind of investment when only used on matchdays 25 times a year.

Vending machines have been introduced before but then taken out as they have not been successful. 

Other matters discussed included staffing, pies, would pre-paid tokens that could be exchanged at tills help. 

It was concluded that there clearly a combination of items that speed up service and we will do the best we can.  Paul Tyrell will look to visit concourses at half-time to see some of the issues first hand.

With reference to the Holte Suite queues, the flow of season ticket holders into the suite has to be managed so that we have an accurate count of attendees and we do not exceed the room capacities (stated above).  Once the suite is full, some people queue to take the place of anyone that leaves.  This may explain occasions where the queue does not move – no one can enter until somebody leaves.

  • Can the price of AVTV Live for fans abroad be re-visited as a lot of our games were on Sky last season and therefore blacked out? Also what plans have been put in place to up the service after many issues at the start of this season? Are there any plans to up the quality/offering of the service. The FCG has been told before, AVTV streaming service runs on a limited budget, but there is still scope for improvement.

Clearly, the deal with the EFL and the clubs provision, prices charged etc came out of the summer.  Paul gave the group a definitive promise – should the club remain in the EFL the service will be better next season.  The price was set at the start of the season and the question was asked if the price could be reduced to £5 for 2019 as fans are not seeing the benefit of the extra pound being charged by the club.  Our preference is to use the extra £1 to focus on delivering the best service we can for the remainder of the season.  We are not making money on the service and would be running at a loss if we reduced the charge.

Since being at the club, Paul Tyrell has invited industry experts to come and assess the service provision and would like to use the next operational FCG to show the work that has been done and the options available going forward.

  • At the last meeting, it was announced by the then CEO that two link-ups with European clubs were to be announced by the end of last season/summer. Nothing happened… Update?

It was confirmed that no links would happen and this is not something the club are looking to pursue.

Additional Points (if time) from 13.11.18

  • Social issues – single-use plastic, are the club looking at this issue?

The club is aware of this issue.  It was also referenced during pre-pour discussions that we are looking at more draught provision.

  • Social issues – free tampons in ladies, other clubs are doing this.

On being made aware of clubs looking to tackle period poverty, the club had felt that there are areas around Villa Park that would benefit from our support in this area.  Our Foundation has been looking at ways to support period poverty via our local community links.  We are happy to reconsider this approach and will look to use the next FCG to explore the best options in more detail.

  • Pride Rewards issues: Could the rewards be dumped altogether and return to cashback. Or could better rewards be offered?  Could unused Pride Reward points be donated to Acorns in some way at the end of the season?

Feedback on Pride Rewards noted and something that will be considered in the New Year.

  • Pan disability team treated differently to the academy teams – they have to buy their own kits whereas the academy, from kids to ladies get the full kit supplied. They also don’t get awards, they have to pay for their own awards and ceremony.

We have produced some detail to answer this point which will be emailed separately to the FCG.  This explains the full picture and addresses some of the suggestions within this question.  Our Foundation has greatly increased the levels of support given.

Not discussed:

  • Trains after midweek games – is this something we can have an influence on?
  • Social issues- High fat, salt, sugar goods big on using football as a marketing platform.
  • If there is to be no City Centre store, is there 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?
  • Proactively organised discounts or free seats for under 16s at pre-selected games (including daily stadium tours linked to history) distributed via local schools (throughout the WM and beyond) rather than empty seats in games. The next generation of support needs to be grown. Visibly proactive in the community. Make what is done visible in the media, act like the largest club in the Midlands. Aim to never have less than 35 000 in the stadium for league games. Empty seats tell a story. Wolves will sell out every home game.
  • Years ago the Villa flag and the opposition’s flew above the Holte pub. It looked great to bring it back
  • Can we get some new ‘big’ screens installed which are actually, er, ‘big’? Ours is an embarrassment and you can barely see anything from the Upper Holte.
  • Could the new owners re-open the VMF Restaurant situated at Villa Park? It was an excellent community project that showed the club in a good light.
  • The new queuing system in operation where you have to go through a funnel before the turnstiles – slows everything down.

 On-going Issues From Previous Meetings… Any Updates?

  • Disable Seating Quota – What are the 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.

As per item 2 from the main agenda, the club will present a full picture of the Disabled seating quota and the work required for us to achieve compliance with the Accessible Stadia Guide.

  • Stadium Redevelopment – obviously North Stand redevelopment is promotion-linked. Any plans for the ground or the shop in the meantime?

There are no plans in the short term.

  • Wifi issues – Any developments? We missed out on 5G trial.

O2 Update

“O2 is absolutely are committed to supporting Aston Villa with the city of Birmingham being one of two (Manchester being the other) whereby O2 are investing heavily.”

 O2 reached out to Vodafone to request support for DAS improvements at Villa Park

– it’s worth noting that the SLA is 8 weeks so we are only a couple of weeks into this…..we have raised a priority response.

EE Update

AVFC now has direct contact with the senior executive team @ EE who have been totally supportive in mobilising network specialists to assist

Network engineers have performed intensive network testing in and around Villa Park on match day. Engineers have collected a significant amount of data and are analysing that data and will contact ID with options and next steps.

  • BadgeThe current badge is always brought up. Some associate it with bad times and a very unsuccessful spell for the club. If there are ever plans to change, can the FCG be utilised to consult with so we don’t get into the same mess this re-branding brought?

There are no plans in the short term.

 Not discussed:

  • Seat Exchange System – Can the club provide a seat exchange system that doesn’t allow ‘legal touting’ of tickets at ridiculously high prices? Ticketmaster is following Twickets by doing something similar now after a growingly bad reputation for running ticket scalping operations.
  • 50p Booking Charge – Concern about the 50p put on every ticket and what it is for?

Other discussions:

Ian Dimmock showed the group video footage of the first goal celebration versus Blues in blocks R1 & R2.  The club will need to take some steps to ensure the safety of everyone attending in these areas which we will be implemented across the next few matches.  Anyone directly affected by our actions will be contacted accordingly.  Further measures may be required in the future.

Tommy Jordan outlined the support from the Foundation and first-team players over the last few weeks – some details will follow over the next few days.  These included a group receiving a tour of the Training Ground, players & the Manager supporting the cubs Xmas party and player involvement in selecting the six fans to receive half-season tickets as an appreciation of going through difficult times.

Swansea ticket information will be shared shortly.  Paul Tyrell outlined the appreciation the club has for the amount it costs to support the club so closely after Xmas and hopes the prices will be seen as a reflection of this.  He also outlined that the club had politely declined an offer for the match to be screened on BBC Wales as it would have resulted in the game being moved to the Sunday.

Ian Dimmock confirmed that the improvements made to the PA system are for the provision of Digital Amplifiers to allow the technical team to control volume levels from one source.  Up to now, technicians would have to physically move to each stand to react to noise levels.  This is part one of the required upgrade.