The Trust and other supporter groups met with club officials on June 24th for a virtual Fans Consultation Group Meeting with Christian Purslow.
Here are the matters that were discussed and details of the attendees.
Peter Warrilow & Mo Razzaq, AVST; Joe Costello, Heroes & Villans; Jonathan Fear, Vital Villa; Nick Sanders, avillafan.com; David Michael, My Old Man Said; Steve Gough, AV Independent Supporters Club; Nilesh Chauhan, Villans Together; Guri Nandra, Punjabi Villans; Sarah Breslin, Villa & Proud.
Apologies: John Gillett, Lions Clubs; Scott Jones, Villa Talk; Joanne McKibbens, AV Disabled Supporters Association
Christian Purslow, Chief Executive Officer; Paul Tyrell, Chief of Corporate Affairs; Adam Lowe, Interim Chief Commercial Officer; Lee Preece, Supporters’ Liaison Manager; Tommy Jordan, Communications Director.
Agenda items created by Fan Representatives received in advance and shown in italics. The submission began with the following thank you that was noted and appreciated by the club.
Thank you: The FCG would like to pass on their thanks on behalf of themselves and their members to the owners, the CEO, manager, and all staff, for the fantastic progress being made at Aston Villa, especially considering the Covid-19 situation.
The five-year plan on the pitch and commercial revenue developments off it: CP shared earlier the regret of how the last season panned out, after the promise and progress of the first half. With a good foundation in place already, is this summer’s transfer recruitment about getting the club into a position to challenge for qualifying for European football next season?
Clearly, the club would not want to comment on specific transfer business. However, qualifying for european football is very much part of our strategic plan. The Board, Manager & Players are all aware of our ambitions. We are approaching the fourth season with our owners. We have significantly reduced the average age of our squad, considerably improved the quality of our squad, and have a squad that is worth considerably more then we paid for them. The scale of our recruitment has reduced each year allowing us to focus on quality and to keep improving.
With our club now re-energised and ambitious, what plans are in place to close the gap revenue wise with the likes of Spurs?
Off field performance is no different. We recruit the best people and strive to continually improve. Commercial aspects are dominated by TV revenue. Qualifying for european football would provide opportunities to drive more revenue.
With a growing season ticket waiting list and development with our stated ambition of competing at the top end of the league in mind:
Are there any updates on the plans for expanding the capacity at Villa Park?
We all know we have a unique stadium, four stands built at the turn of or before the 21st century. The first step of development is to understand our limitations and see what we can do to develop and improve. The waiting list is a key tool in assessing the need to increase capacity. The time scale for improvements would likely be between two and ten years with several stages to this process.
Is there a perceived period of ‘on the pitch’ success to trigger such stadium plans?
We have gone from mid-table Championship to mid-table Premier League in three years, which has led to our first waiting list for season tickets. Our fans have clearly bought in to our on-going improvement. Once the aftermath of Covid has settled down it is likely we will need a bigger stadium, and as stated, this would require a long-term strategic development involving three or four key stages along the way.
How big is the season ticket waiting list?
The waiting list currently sits at over 13,000. A well-run commercial operation will ensure that we cleanse the data on our waiting list to ensure the demand for season tickets remains genuine.
And how quickly does the club anticipate being able to meet demand? The club is encouraging people to join it, but some of our members have asked if there is any point and how long the wait is likely to be?
It is too early for us to be able to predict how long it will take to meet demand. We are at the very early stages of dealing with a waiting list, but we would urge anyone who is interested in becoming a season ticket holder to join. We will ensure we engage directly with those fans who are unsuccessful this season ensuring we remain in touch and offer other opportunities where we can along the way.
Do the club recognise the need to have a cap on the % rise of season tickets/tickets each season, so that fans do not effectively get large increases with some being priced out of the game, as the club become more successful? It is easy to notice the key component missing during Covid, to the ‘product’ was the fans after-all.
Aggressive price rises are not part of our commercial strategy.
Some fans have been unable to renew on-line, and telephone lines are always down.
90% of renewals have been transacted on-line. Covid has provided the shortest window for renewals we have ever experienced. Coupled with phenomenal demand for renewals this has led to our phone lines being inundated with calls and enquiries. We have used our social media accounts to advise fans and will continue to do so.
Some fans are also having difficulty floating tickets between family members and have had applications to transfer season ticket names refused.
Any requests we receive are judged with compassion, whist striving to maintain the integrity of operating with a waiting list.
Fan led Government review: With the government review of football underway, how does CP view the proposed idea of some fan representation at board level and the concept of ‘golden shares’ when it comes to legacy decisions?
Christian Purslow is due to be interviewed by Tracey Crouch MP as part of the Government led review. Everyone employed at Villa Park should be part of an ongoing process of engaging with fans and treasuring feedback. We already have an excellent relationship with the FCG, hosting a minimum of two meetings with Christian Purslow, as well as Operational FCG meetings on numerous matters across the year. We are a club that listens to our fans.
With regards to the “golden shares”, the club has been instrumental in introducing an Owners Charter for all PL clubs that prevents legacy decisions being taken without fans consultation, ensuring sanctions for clubs that fail to do so. The Premier League is generally very good at self-regulation, something that will be improved greatly by the introduction of the Owners Charter.
Kneeling: What position, if any, are the club taking on the kneeling issue should it continue next season, including if there are any plans in place should any booing occur.
It is crucial that some level of unity exists across clubs. There has been unity this season which has been extended by the England team. It is likely a review will take place after the Euros with our players being involved to identify plans for 2021/2022 season. We abhor booing of any sort whether it be England or Villa.
VAR: Has the reported PL club & player review of VAR been completed yet? What was the club’s and Villa player’s input and have those concerns been addressed satisfactorily for next season?
As part of a PL review, Dean Smith and the club have had the opportunity to sit down with the PGMOL to give our input. The club believe we should take the lead from the Euros where the process clearly works well and there are many lessons in how this has been structured that could improve use of VAR in the Premier League. The margin used to define offsides has been increased in favour of the attacking side which should see the number of goals disallowed significantly reduced.
Other items discussed:
Christian asked the group for feedback on difficulties the club had experienced with social media in relation to reactions from certain groups in response to club Equality, Diversity & Inclusion messaging. It was recognised that the club can use our platforms to educate.
The club also raised caution with fans expectations that we are all set to return to full stadia when the Premier League resumes. There is ongoing debate in relation to the use of COVID passports (proving a fan has received both jabs). The results of major test events will also be significant.
The agenda items that follow were submitted to the club, and our answers were provided in advance of the meeting to allow more discussion with items 1 to 5.
Questions submitted by Fan Representatives received in advance are shown in italics. Club responses are shown below each question.
COVID: We recognise the ever-changing picture with COVID restrictions, but are there back up plans in place should a reduced capacity be required at Villa Park and if so, what are they?
Yes. We are confident that the evident success by using ballots for Chelsea and Liverpool would stand us in good stead should this be required.
Updates on mobile connectivity and wi-fi – is there an ETA for 02 (Virgin)
EE 4G/5G full system is installed and operational at Villa Park. First main testing opportunity was the Chelsea game. Just prior to kick off, one segment of the system suffered a power issue therefore reducing capacity to Holte and Trinity. Engineers located the problem and resolved in advance of the Youth Cup final the following day. With the system fully functional for this game, the test data was very positive. Electrical redesign is being considered for the system to reduce possible power issues moving forward. O2 / Virgin have not joined the system yet, discussions on going.
Any updates on plans to update the ticket office?
Refurbishment of our ticket office will be part of our overall plans for developing Villa Park. When we can update FCG we will do so at the earliest opportunity.
Updates on disabled facilities and capacity increase plans. Is there a date that club have in place to become fully compliant with current regulations?
We will increase accessible seats for next season by 16 per cent. This is the first in what we envisage will be a three-stage process. The work carried out this summer will end the need to have both home and away supporters mixing in Trinity by creating 13 new accessible seats in the visiting section of Doug Ellis Stand. This frees up much-needed seats in Trinity for home supporters and we will continue to utilise some additional space in North Stand for home supporters. We are grateful to Joanne who has provided us with some useful information that is being incorporated into the design.
Our plan is to further increase accessible seating capacity next summer for home supporters which involve substantial construction work which has not been possible to deliver this summer primarily due to COVID related issues in the construction industry. The number of new accessible seats will be confirmed after consultation with the Sports Ground Safety Authority.
The uplift in accessible seat numbers to meet current regulations needs to be part of the development of our overall plan to upgrade Villa Park. Should the capacity of Villa Park increase, the number accessible seats will also increase. Therefore, the two must go hand in hand. We will update FCG in the coming months of our progress.
Updates on inclusivity/diversity initiatives
Lucy Keeling – Our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, will brief FCG at the next meeting but we are delighted to confirm that the club has been awarded Preliminary Level of The Premier League’s Equality Standard for the first time. A great amount of work has gone into achieving this and we would like to record our thanks to those members of FCG who have helped us get to this level. The work continues.
Updates on our celebrations for the league cup winners, European Cup winners, anniversaries, the former having been somewhat ruined by COVID.
Adam Lowe, our Interim Chief Commercial Officer, will update FCG at the next meeting.
Environmental Sustainability: Do the club have plans to improve our environmental record, having come bottom of the league in a survey last January? https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/55790760. The group has previously asked about the club’s plans in terms of sustainability across its operation.
We are developing a Sustainability strategy and have identified a member of the executive team to champion sustainability across the club.
Since the last survey was undertaken, the club has introduced the following initiatives:
Waterless urinals being tested.
LED concourse lighting being installed with automatic motion sensors.
BMS (Building management system) controlling the lighting and heating across the stadium and training ground to provide services to occupied spaces only, rather than heating or cooling large unoccupied areas.
Centralised control of all TVs across the estate to ensure they are not left running in unoccupied spaces.
Recycling stations installed across all office spaces and will also be trialled on some concourses.
Fanatics are in the process of moving to a supplier that provides a recycled see-through carrier made from entirely recycled materials.
Levy are working on new processes to reduce single-use plastics.
Secondary sales: How will the club be dealing with secondary sales of season tickets – for instance, could a ST holder who cannot attend a match let a friend/relative use their ticket, but no one can buy ST’s and sell them for profit on a game-by-game basis?
There are no plans to use a secondary selling agent. We have the ticket exchange facility we operate internally for STH to surrender their seat for nominated matches and receive cashback.
Price rise now and future: Some members have been annoyed at the season ticket price hike, (P8?) with no advanced warning or consultation. Is there any reason for the price rise whilst seemingly saying there were to be no increases this season?
Christian will address the question of Season Tickets as per Item 2 in main agenda, but it should be noted that we had the third cheapest adult season ticket last season and were the fifth cheapest across all adult pricing in the league.
Kit Launch: Are there any dates yet for the kit launch and is there a confidence of availability of sizes, and fixes to the quality issues, that have arisen for so many previous seasons launches?
The new training range will go on pre-order next week and be available in store mid-July. The home kit will go on sale in mid-July, scheduled to coincide with the end of the Euros as the focus moves away from international football and back to club football. The away kit will then follow a couple of weeks later in early August, with third kit in late August.
Re Availability, we sold a record number of shirts in 20/21 and are not aware of any major issues on kit availability until Easter, which is to be expected in the annual cycle. Through to Christmas availability ran at 95%+ and we then had further deliveries in Jan and Feb for the first time to top up stock levels. Any other short term availability issues on certain sizes related to covid pushing demand online while the store was closed. We have increased the level of shirts we have by a further 20% for the coming season to match the increasing demand. There were availability issues on training range with some critical shortages – Fanatics acknowledged they under-brought in this area and so the number of units has doubled ahead of this season on those items. Additionally, there will be an injection range in November and a new spring/summer collection is in development too.
There have been no major quality issues reported on any technical product across playing teams, or retail, across the 20/21 range. Retail returns relating to quality issues are at their lowest levels since Fanatics took over in 2017, which was the final year of the Under Armour partnership. There have also been negligible returns relating to peeling.
Pre-season: What plans are in place for pre-season friendlies, and can any be held locally so fans can attend, Covid restrictions depending?
We will be able to announce very shortly at least two trips to local clubs in pre-season with the home clubs planning to allocate tickets to our supporters and are still working on the rest of the schedule. As with all clubs, COVID protocols are still challenging. All our games will be available on Villa TV.
Lions Club: What are the arrangements for Lions Club members, is the plan for the Holte Pub still to be used, or can they go back to the Lions Lounge on Witton Lane?
Lee Preece has provided this answer directly to the Lions Club network.
FA Youth Cup: Would it be possible for the FA Youth Cup winning team to be on the pitch at half time for our first home game so fans can congratulate them?
We will look at this, but it is highly likely that at least some of the winning team will be in the squad for that first home game and some could be on loan at other clubs.
Fan Zone: Is there any possibility of a fan zone with street food at all/or more home games after the success of the one at the Chelsea home match?
Adam Lowe will update FCG at the next meeting.
Membership Scheme: Is the membership scheme ongoing, we cannot see details of it on the official site?
Adam Lowe will update FCG at the next meeting.
Date of next FCG scheduled to be 8th July (date and time tbc)