Meeting held at Millennium Suite 3, Chelsea FC at 10.30am on Saturday 24th September 2011
Opening remarks: The Chair welcomed new members to the Forum. There are still vacancies on the Forum for at least one more supporters club representative from the UK (to ensure at least two supporter club representatives), and for the disabled place. The Club said that those groupings have their own meetings so may consider that their concerns are dealt with separately to the Forum.
The Chair requested that email discussions are kept to the minimum so the emphasis for debate is at the meetings.
MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING
There were no changes to the minutes. Replies to previous action points were as follows:
Star on a Stool events: The Club have reviewed the packages. The next event on 13 October will be £18 including a free drink. Proceeds will go to the Trust.
Wall between West Stand and Shed End: A vote took place on the mural options in the summer and the new mural is in place. Forum members were happy with the design.
Badges: There have been additions to the range of badges on offer. The range will continue to be reviewed.
UCL away tickets: The two hour pre-kick off ban on collection of these tickets is being relaxed today by the Club. This will be reviewed on a match by match basis.
Peter Osgood Statue: There are no current plans by the Club to light the statue. There are issues with the neighbours regarding lighting at night.
Standing at matches: Patrick Coffey put forward a document to assist the discussion. Fans are arguably more likely to sing if they stand. Stewards can be over-zealous in asking fans to sit down in the Matthew Harding Lower Stand.
The Club said that Keith Overstall, the Club’s head of security, is aware of complaints from fans who want others to sit down. The number of complaints has gone up recently. Some clubs have had allocations cut due to persistent standing amongst away fans. The Club has to adhere to laws and regulations and must therefore enforce sitting at matches. There are no plans for the “Standing Roadshow” to come to Stamford Bridge.
Atmosphere overview: The Club is limited as to what more it can do to assist a better atmosphere. The Club can’t introduce ideas – such as unallocated seats – that will result in empty spaces, as discussed last season. At big matches, such as Old Trafford last week, our fans can be really loud. Having an area for singing does not address the problem as a whole. The team don’t sense there is a problem generally.
One fan said that the manager recently called for a better atmosphere. Fans agreed that it is largely for the fan base to improve the atmosphere.
Microphone: One fan proposed having singing fans with microphones, as in Barcelona. Large and therefore successful clubs don’t generally sing much around Europe: succeeds breeds complacency. A sterile atmosphere doesn’t look as good on TV and therefore doesn’t enhance the Club’s appeal.
Cleaner songs: Some fans considered that cleaner songs may encourage others to sing, especially younger fans and their parents. Stoke for instance seem to have cleaner songs.
Singing areas: The Club said there have been atmosphere sub-committee meetings in recent years but new initiatives are not coming through. We tried a singing area for one of the cup finals and that area didn’t sing; non-singers went there to be amongst those that do!
Flags: The Club said that flags were tried and were very popular at first. Once other clubs either followed or criticised us, fans said they didn’t want them so much.
Player appeals: Fans respond to players requesting that they sing.
The Club will ask players to request fans to sing.
Stewarding: Many Forum members mentioned their stewards as being extremely helpful including at: West Lower Gate7; East Stand generally and Terry at the East Lower in particular; Emma in the Shed Lower. The common theme is that reasonable and friendly stewarding greatly assists stewards and fans. The Club said there are around 1,000 stewards around the ground and it tries to ensure continuity of stewards in particular sections of the ground.
COMMUNICATION WITH THE FANBASE
The Club said that the Forum is, in some people’s perceptions, representative of only the views of those attending from fan groups. Social networking has allowed the Club to receive a huge number of other views and they don’t necessarily chime with those expressed at the Forum. The main issues discussed each year are still ticketing, atmosphere, tickets for 16-21 year olds and booking fees.
The Club said there is now a fan base with 75% between the ages of 14 and 25 worldwide. During the recent Asia tour, our Club, Liverpool and Arsenal played against the same Malaysia select team. 85,000 came to watch our match – the largest crowd and very much the youngest profile of the three attendances. The Club must focus on how to incorporate that support. Turnover in our store in Hong Kong on a match day is the same as turnover at the Bridge on a match day. The Club is now massive in Asia and that is starting to generate substantial revenue. The Club questioned whether their interests are represented at the Forum as overseas developments have not been discussed prior to today.
Fans confirmed that they want to have more two-way communication with the Club and are happy to hear more/ contribute more about worldwide developments for the Club.
Fans said that the Forum should be better publicised. Apart from the announcement that applications are open the Forum gets little publicity. For instance the results of the application procedure did not appear to be not publicised. The Club should also better promote Forum successes and could summarise where the Forum and Club are on major issues. It has taken four years for the 16-21 year old issue to be resolved so the Forum has made a difference with that.
One fan responded that fans who go to match are going to be most concerned with the match day experience.
The Club will publicise forthcoming agenda items and advertise links to the Forum members for feedback/ comments.
The Club said it is aware of the loyal matchgoing fan base and there is a lot of work undertaken in the community and with the Olympics etc. Therefore the Club’s reach is immense away from match days. Last season we had the largest number of televised matches amongst Premier League (“PL”) teams. Once fans follow the team a lot will stick with us. The Club already has supporter club meetings but it would be useful for the Forum to hear more from fans around the world including what they want from the Club. The Club will develop new models of communication over time.
Forum members said they appreciate they are limited in the extent to which they can speak for worldwide fans. However many fanzines/ fan sites have a lot of feedback from their overseas followers and representatives at the Forum are very aware of the overseas contribution. New Forum members need to explore issues that may have been discussed previously as they may not fully realise what was decided at previous meetings.
The Club will consider the role of the Forum and how to best incorporate the worldwide fan base.
One fan commented that last season’s Forum was very successful over issues including the Star on a Stool reductions, not needing to show documentation for away Champions League (“CL”) travel, 16-18 ticket prices, choice of away ST seat positions, the opportunity to miss one match as a CL away ST holder and not have to leave the scheme, and review of the two hour window limit for collecting CL tickets.
The Club said it wants to get the naming rights in place for next season. If the right partner is not found it won’t proceed.
There are no announcements to make on either relocation or increasing the stadium capacity. Amongst the board there is an awareness that it will get harder to compete with our current capacity but this is why the extra revenue from worldwide support will help. The fact that we are in a vibrant part of such a popular city is an appeal worldwide. We don’t rule out future development or a move if the right opportunity arises.
One fan proposed that, as a means of promoting the Forum, helping fans with practical match day questions or allowing them to raise issues for the Forum, a desk on match days could be set up. This could be a very useful link between the Club and fans. The ticket office is basically the information centre on a match day at present and a fan information area would get a high profile presence. It might be necessary to have a Club official on the stall as well.
Fans and the Club considered that there are already links to the Forum via the Club website but that an information point in the ground could be developed. It could close at say 1pm for a 3pm kick-off to avoid overcrowding approaching kick off.
The Club will consider the possibility of introducing a Fans’ Embassy/ information point and what its precise remit would be.
CL TICKET PRICES
Some fans considered that new prices are too high given there is a 33% increase in prices. This is a 66% increase for CL prices over two seasons. One fan claimed that the Club had to use widespread advertising and gave away a large number of free tickets to achieve the crowd size for Bayer Leverkusen. It was galling to hear in the pubs of others who received free tickets.
One fan expressed disappointment in the wording of the ticket price announcement generally last season which implied that the Forum backed the new prices, whereas the Forum had said that only a small increase overall could be justified. Those increases were too great.
The Club responded that the 16-21 year old concessions were introduced to help many fans and during the discussion fans said they would accept an increase to help pay for it. There has only been one official email complaining about the CL price structure since then. The Club has set the strategy for CL prices and it won’t change for this season. The Club has to consider revenue for the season as a whole. It is prepared to address a situation where we don’t get a full stadium but it expected the prices to still provide for a full stadium for CL group games.
Another fan agreed that the 33% increase was too great and should be reviewed. This is an opportunity for the Club to show it takes on board feedback from the Forum. One fan suggested that if prices are maintained then more concession tickets for 16-18 or 21 year olds could be introduced for CL matches.
The Club said there is only two and a half weeks to sell those CL tickets and that a full house is hard to achieve in that time period anyway. It is not possible to say we would have sold out if prices were much lower. We won’t state how many free tickets were given out but our Corporate and Social Responsibility (“CSR”) programme is substantial and there is a cost to that. Tickets went to the Academy and some of the foundations. We give tickets to our charity to help with that. The Club increased Carling Cup prices and still got a very good crowd. It is up to individual fans if they can afford a match and it is up to the Club to ensure the ground is as full as possible. Bayer Leverkusen and Valencia are very big teams in Europe and the prices are lower than PL matches.
Fans responded that the PL is generally more popular at least at the group stage and that the Club gets mocked when it can’t fill the ground for CL matches. Another fan stated that Manchester United charge £42 for CL matches. Some fans asked for the reintroduction of an ST for CL matches at a reasonable rate per match.
The Club responded that the problem with STs is that so many fans get moved to a non-ST seat and may want to wait to see if they can buy a better seat if they are moved. Some fans said they would accept that risk if STs were reintroduced for these matches.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
STs: The Club said that as per previous seasons, only 1,000 – 1,500 chose not to renew. We still have 25,000 ST holders. The loyalty points number did drop but we still sold all those available. One option in the future is to keep more ST seats back for concessions.
Lifts: In the East Stand disabled fans have to walk down as there is no steward to operate the lift from outside. The Club will rectify this.
Finance/ Financial Fairplay: The Club provided an overview of the new rules and summarised that income must match outgoings. A €45 million loss is allowed over two years. Then the maximum loss is €45 million over three years followed by a €30 million maximum loss over the next three years, so it is a gradual change. There is a financial control panel under UEFA in Switzerland headed by a former Belgian Prime Minister so it is being treated extremely seriously. It will be interesting to see how the authorities implement this in practice. There may be warnings given out for transgressors first of all. However we don’t intend to take that risk. Players bought at great expense to break the rules may be banned from playing by UEFA.
The Club is aware that fans want to know more about the rules and how they will affect us. The Club will publicise the new rules.
We need a team that will keep competing. The owner can’t keep bankrolling the team so Financial Fairplay helps concentrate financial planning. We need to be in a position to be self-financing having spent a lot in a relatively short period to be successful on the pitch. We have brought in major new players and with a new manager as well, the style is developing on the pitch.
We can spend money under the rules on our academy or on the stadium but the emphasis is on a club’s turnover not all being spent on salaries. Clubs can do what they like if they are not in European competition.
Manchester United has introduced advertising on dugouts and on training kits. Each club has a different approach and we are satisfied with ours. At the present time our contract for playing and training gear is sold to Samsung. We are also conscious that some fans don’t want to pay out for three kits so definitely wouldn’t want to buy more.
The Club stated that broadcasting rights are split between Europe and the PL. Those are pretty constant as long as we are successful. Strangely our profits increase with better League finishes but with some competitions such as the Carling Cup, the Club doesn’t make a profit due to running costs and bonuses, for instance.
In the stadium, every corporate box on offer in the East and West Stands is sold out this season for the first time in five years. We have a full stadium for most games. The extra c.35,000 seats at Old Trafford gives them an extra £50 million revenue each season. They also have double our 5,000 corporate seats.
That apart we want to encourage sponsors to appeal to our fan base. The Club’s “reach” is immense. We have just appointed a managing director to develop the CSR programme in Asia and are the first club from our league to have an office there (in Singapore). We have an agreement with the Asian Football Federation to work with 46 Asian countries to develop our work in areas such as coaching, education and nutrition and we have our contacts with Samsung and other sponsors there. You will see the retail side really expand in Asia. We are Adidas’ number one team worldwide. Manchester United have one million credit card holders in Korea but may be based on having a Korean player.
Transfers: One fan asked whether the Club should still pay very large transfer fees for one player; the recent example being Fernando Torres. The Club responded that it would continue to do so when appropriate and is sure that his true quality will continue to be come to the fore.
Summer tour: We won’t be in Asia next summer not least due to the major summer championships – we have 11 players probably at the European Championships which finish around 1st July. There is also the Olympics in late July/ August. If we travel abroad fans want to see the biggest names playing so we will just be honest as to who we can bring.
There are no plans at present for a pre-season match at Stamford Bridge; apart from first team matches there are also junior matches here anyway. The priority for travelling is getting the team prepared for the season and the commercial aspect comes second. The facilities in Seattle were phenomenal so that is an appeal. In Asia it’s extremely hot and if it rains there are problems with travel.
The Club would consider any proposals for testimonial matches though it can be difficult to find space in the calendar.
Large screens: One fan asked when the large screen would be replaced. The Club commented that one screen was replaced recently and the screen that was fine in the summer is now broken. The replacement screen should be in place by Christmas.
QPR away: One fan asked why away ST holders are being given the top tier there and another asked why tickets aren’t being sold by loyalty points. The Club responded that the top tier is viewed as having the best seats. As regards loyalty points the ring fenced matches are decided long before the season and this match isn’t on the list.
The meeting ended at 12.30pm.