Following securing promotion back to the Premier League at the end of May, this was the first opportunity that AVST and other supporter groups had to meet with Christian Purslow.
Here are the matters that were discussed on 11th June and details of the attendees.
Joanne Mckibbens, Aston Villa Disabled Supporters Association; Mo Razzaq & Peter Warrilow, Aston Villa Supporters Trust; Joe Costello, Heroes & Villains; John Gillet, Lions Clubs; David Michael, My Old Man Said; Scott Jones, Villa Talk; Daniel Rolinson, Villa View; Jonathan Fear, Vital Villa.
Christian Purslow, CEO; Paul Tyrell, Chief of Corporate Affairs; Lee Preece, SLO.
General Football Landscape
1) Clarification on FFP position since promotion.
The press has run stories regarding the club’s FFP position, inferring that despite promotion, outstanding issues remain with possible points deduction. Obviously in the eyes of most Villa supporters, promotion was the prime remedy for the FFP situation. Can you please outline the situation as it stands and address these press stories (or scaremongering)?
Mr Purslow informed the meeting the EFL Finance Department has confirmed that, subject to the final audit of our accounts, Aston Villa’s 2018-19 accounts are compliant with the EFL’s Profitability and Sustainability Regulations.
2) Derby County revealed recently they sold Pride Park to the club’s owner Mel Morris for £80 million last year to have it leased back. The press and other CEO’s have suggested Villa had plans to do the same, especially if they failed to win promotion. Is the fact that there is a subsidiary company called ‘NSWE Stadium Ltd’ linked to this in any way?
Aston Villa’s assets – the football club, stadium, training ground, Academy, retail store etc. are commonly owned by companies controlled by Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. The Club and our owners have no intention whatsoever of selling the stadium to a third party.
3) The European League has been a hot topic behind the scenes in the past month with several meetings across Europe taking place. The Premier League are against it as it potentially devalues their competition both financially and in terms of prestige.
The debate has become more relevant for Aston Villa now they have been promoted and may have potential entry due to their historical European success. What is the club’s stance on a European League and its potential impact on the Premier League and the club?
The Club 100% support the statement made by the Premier League at its meeting on June 5 as follows:
“The Premier League and our clubs today unanimously reaffirmed our strong opposition to the proposed reform of UEFA club competitions from 2024, which would alter the structure, calendar and competitiveness of league football.
“We believe the proposals – particularly the suggested format and qualification criteria – would be detrimental to domestic leagues across the continent.
“There was unanimous agreement that the domestic game should continue to be the priority for professional clubs, and any changes to the football calendar must respect the requirements of domestic competitions.
“Critically, qualification for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League must continue to depend on current domestic performance.
“The clubs have asked the Premier League to now work with UEFA, fans and other stakeholders across Europe to identify constructive proposals which improve European club competitions without harming domestic football.
“Premier League clubs will represent these views at the European Club Association meeting in Malta on Thursday and Friday (6 and 7 June).”
Since the statement, other major European Clubs, such as Bayern Munich and other in Spain and Italy, have also expressed similar sentiments to those of the 20 Premier League clubs.
4) Squad building in the shorten transfer window.
With 10 permanently contracted players off the books and further essential loan players now departed, Villa don’t have the luxury of significant continuity across what you’d consider the first team.
While it offers up a great opportunity to reset the squad and free up the wage bill, there’s obvious holes in the squad now with substantial player recruitment needed to up both numbers and quality.
A mass overhaul of players contributed to our relegation three seasons ago and likewise has led to the failure of promoted teams in recent seasons – including a Fulham team, who impressed in the season they were promoted.
With a shorten transfer window now in play – both to buy players and bed them in – what progress has been made and how do you see the landscape in terms of Villa being competitive next season and hitting the ground running in the Premier League? Is there an overall ethos in approach? Obviously market forces dictate wages, so what precautions can we take to avoid deadwood players on high wages, as in previous years?
We have a highly competent player-recruitment structure led by Jesus Garcia-Pitarch, Dean Smith and Christian Purslow. While we will not discuss specific details in public, we have very clear plans on player recruitment and multiple options identified for each position. We will be supplementing the core of the squad with new talent who will fit our playing style. Dean’s commitment to this playing style was a key element that made him the outstanding candidate for the Head Coach position and we are committed to ensuring that watching the Villa will be a source of pleasure and entertainment win, lose or draw.
Upgrading Villa Park – inc. concourses, disabled places & stands
5) There’s no doubt that Villa Park needs many upgrades, as currently there are parts of it that aren’t fit for purpose. For example, some of the concourses are way below par and actually restrict the club’s actual matchday revenue potential.
Then of course, we don’t currently meet the amount of disable places regulated by the Premier League. On the issue of upping the disable supporter places…will there be a temporary structural solution sought (what time frame do you have to meet the regulations?) or will it be part of bigger upgrade like a stand upgrade?
Speaking of which, if all goes well on the pitch, when do you foresee the long-mooted North Stand re-development finally happening? Will it be linked to attracting a substantial naming rights partner, as well as increased attendances?
What immediate improvements can we expect in the forthcoming season beyond the improved PA system that has been signed off on? Are there short-term basic improvements at Villa Park planned before the season kicks-off like painting of the gates & sprucing up North Stand area?
The principal focus of our capital investment across the summer is to ensure compliance with Premier League regulations for the first match of the season. Substantial work is being undertaken at this time to achieve this.
We are already advanced with our plans to improve the PA system in this timeframe and we will also be replacing the in-stadium big screens this summer. There are no immediate plans for wholesale changes to the stadium, although we are developing three hospitality areas, two of which have been out of use for three years, plus the concourse in Upper Doug Ellis. We are very aware that many of our other concourses and parts of the exterior of Villa Park require attention and we are working on plans to improve these areas in good time. With regards to Accessible Facilities we will also improve the current provision, which was compliant with EFL Regulations. The rules relating to these facilities in the PL are more demanding and we will work closely with the league to ensure we meet our obligations in the required timeframe.
Youth & Academy
6) Can you please give us some details of specific policy or changes of direction in terms of the development of Villa’s youth players? We were told by NSWE, when we first met them last year, that one of the first things they did was inject some money into the academy. We’ve had recent successes with the likes of Jack Grealish, Andre Green and Keinan Davis, in particular, contributing to our recent promotion. How do we turn something that can be viewed at times as ‘token gesture’ to a real production line for future first team talent? Is there potential to become something like an Ajax of the Premier League?
The club is in the process of appointing a new Academy Head (announced following the meeting as Mark Harrison from WBA). The key for success is leadership and having our Head Coach, Sporting Director and Academy Head investing in the same strategy and style of play. We believe we now have this in place.
Update on boosting profile/footprint of the club in the city of Birmingham.
7) Any progress on meeting with Birmingham Airport and other such ventures?
We’ve established contact with Birmingham Airport. We will update when appropriate.
Sponsorship & Kit Availability
8) In terms of shirt sponsorship, while you have previously stated that betting sponsorship is not ideal, there’s obviously the issue of getting the best deal for the club. Apart from the monetary side of the coin, what are the other benefits of the W88 agreement?
The one-year agreement with W88 is a fantastic deal for the club in terms of an uplift in revenue compared to the last agreement – especially given the short space of time since confirming our return to the Premier League. Although the decision to partner with them was primarily financial, we believe that as the Club re-establishes itself on a global platform they will be a significant contributor to raising our profile, especially in Asia.
9) Do we actively seek separate sponsorships for the U-23’s and lady’s team shirts? And also kids shirts?
Yes – we are actively seeking sponsorship of our ladies and children’s kit in what is a difficult market.
What about local universities – what about extending the deal with Aston University to include U-23 shirt sponsorship?
Following discussions with Aston University, it’s clear that their focus is on delivering to the community, rather than a shirt sponsorship.
Do we have a sleeve sponsor lined up at the moment?
Yes – we expect to announce this soon (subsequently announced BR88 after the meeting)
10) While this would normally be an operations level question, the outsourcing and the Fanatics deal was presented to us previously as the solution to the historical late availability of the kit being on sale to fans. Again, throughout this season and towards the end, availability of most sizes was poor. Also, the train of thought previously was that Villa were lower down in priority for the likes of Nike, when they provided our kit. Yet we have had delays with whoever provided our kits since Nike. This seems to suggest the buck stops at the club…
We can’t comment on how the Fanatics deal has been presented in the past, however, we are confident that the Kappa partnership will supply us with the appropriate levels of kit to meet demand. Aston Villa is of very high priority to Kappa in their football portfolio.
Kappa have expressed a desire to meet with fan representatives to consult on kit design for season 2020/2021 – this is something the club will be happy to facilitate.
Potentially related to the above kids shirt sponsorship…Acorns have informed us that they hope to have a new relationship with the club before the season kicks off. Will there be a major ‘public facing’ relationship in place or will it simply be linked through the Foundation?
Yes, our relationship with Acorns has been re-established. They will be our Official Charity Partner for the season and we will give them extensive support. An idea was raised to see if donations to Acorns could be made when purchasing tickets (“click here to donate” type option). This is something the club will explore.
Additional Points (if time… if not, questions to be addressed in minutes/notes)
More commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Except from a modern slavery statement for the clubs supply chain and any other part of its business, there are no obvious signs of work being done for a more sustainable future. Most major companies and brands are investing in a sustainability strategy. I see no reason why a football club should not do the same (not thinking about economic sustainability here). Done right, a sustainability strategy will create loads of positive publicity, and also attract new fans and sponsors. But most importantly you’re doing the right thing for the future of all. And lets not forget the influence this club has on millions of football fans all over the world. Some companies appoint Sustainability Officers – who at the club currently oversees and keeps an eye on such concerns?
This is something the club will investigate.
Transparency of process and an independent hearing needed for the appeals process of club-imposed fan banning orders – especially after outside agencies such as the English Legal System and police have found the party not guilty. See Manchester United as an example of good practice – appeals process is on their website and they have independent representation on their appeals panel.
Following questions raised by FCG members in recent months, we have evaluated our current system, procedures and appeals process in this subject. We believe our approach to be reasonable, fair and robust but are happy to look how other clubs, including Manchester United, operate and give it due consideration.
Measures the club will make sure tickets are affordable in the Premier League (season tickets back on sale date)?
We compare ourselves to the most relevant competitors to ensure we’re reasonably priced. We have 20,400 supporters who have already benefitted from discount season ticket pricing via the Early Bird Scheme.
Reward scheme – improvement in rewards. What about discount or cash rewards?
We will continue to add to our rewards programme through new and exciting products.
Away scheme – will there still be unlimited returns? There are tales of people who had been to 16 way games missing out on the Albion game to people on the scheme who had returned 18 tickets during the season.
There are many pros and cons of approaching an away ticket scheme and we are happy to discuss all aspects of such a programme. We ask FCG members to form part of a focus group to discuss this in more detail. Our first meeting on this matter is the have an Away Ticket Consultation Group meeting on 20th June and would welcome any contribution from the FCG.
On-going Issues From Previous Meetings… Any Updates?
Seat Exchange System
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 plan that we will share with you in due course.
Any developments from meetings with providers?
We are still in discussions with our current providers (Vodafone and EE) and are confident that both will be able to provide an upgraded service for the new season. FCG will be kept updated.
Can we get some new ‘big’ screens installed which are actually, er, ‘big’? Ours are an embarrassment and you can barely see anything from the Upper Holte.
We will be replacing the current screens with new, fit-for-purpose ones in time for the start of the season.
More of an effort for visiting teams
Improvement of concourse decoration/personalisation? Years ago the Villa flag and the opposition’s flew above the Holte pub. It looked great.
We will look into it.
Next generation of fans
Pro actively 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.
We take the next generation of fans very seriously and plan to extend the family area for next season, along with continuing to run the Villa Cubs scheme. 11% of the Cubs members uplift in the early bird window to become new 19/20 season ticket holders.
– High fat, salt, sugar goods big on using football as marketing platform.
– Single use plastic, are the club looking at this issue?
Single use plastic bottles are now being banned at BMH. It is a good start and we will look to build on it.