Mo Razzaq – Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust
Peter Warrilow – Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust
Gary Kilburn – Lions Clubs
John Gillett- Lions Clubs
Jonathan Fear – Vital Villa
Anne Erskine – Avillafan.com
Dave Woodhall – Heroes and Villans
Scott Jones – Villa Talk
Steve Gough – Aston Villa Independent Supoorters’ Clubs
David Blick: My Old Man Said
Aston Villa Football Club representatives:
Why was the Villa shop closed in the city centre?
It was sad to see the shop close. However, we were set to lose about £1.5 million on merchandise, with the city centre shop contributing to the problem as the lease was too high (way above city centre market rates). Retail is dying and technologies taking over. We need to be more strategic and tactical with our retail presence, maybe with pop-up shops for key times in our year (kit launch and Christmas, for example).
We understand retail has been licensed to Fanatics. For how many years is the deal?
We’ve got a three-year review option but it’s a five-year term.
As a club, if we’re back where we want to be it may be viable for us to take it back in-house and build our own retail operation. I’m not a big fan of that because we’re a football club and I felt that Villa was like a catering business playing football. I don’t see us getting involved in growing big empires which are not football-related. My focus is to get Bodymoor back on track – getting the right people in the right place, spending resources on the Academy, for example, as opposed to retail or catering.
Does the deal with Fanatics negate the £1.5 million lost immediately?
Yes. It makes a positive contribution straight away and will lead to more revenue for the club. I’ve always felt if staff are working in retail, they should be working for a retail company that gives them proper training and career advancement. Those who have transferred to Fanatics will benefit from this.
Back to the city centre shop. There needs to be some sort of presence. Unless fans go to Villa Park, how will they know about Villa?
We don’t believe the shop was the way to achieve that presence. We need to tell the Villa story in different ways and be more strategic.
When we launch season tickets, you will see over the course of the next five weeks a lot of noise in the city. There are meetings in the diary with Birmingham City Council to look at buying advertising space or bringing in advertising space solutions that they share with us.
You mention more strategic ways of delivering a presence in the city. Have you got an idea of what those are?
We’re doing a lot of work on social media and in many areas we are ahead of other clubs. We can’t divulge the strategy but Luke (Organ) has been doing a lot of work with his team. Technology is the relevance to young people these days, using that to teach the Villa story. All of you who have kids know that it’s not one screen, it’s two or three at the same time and that’s where we have to be in terms of ‘millennials’ and reaching younger fans.
We have got to make certain that Villa Village is adequately stocked. I’ve been told by someone who visited recently that stock levels weren’t good.
That’s something I’ve picked up on, having operated in retail before. We are addressing our buying patterns, using analytics performed on what remnant stock we’ve carried over from last season and adjusting our ordering patterns for that. Currently, the stock in the shop is spring/summer stock as opposed to autumn/winter. So we’re holding the wrong stock at the wrong times of the year and we’re addressing that via Fanatics. They’ll open us up to a much broader opportunity of buying and reduce our costs.
The club has also outsourced the catering operation. There have been complaints from fans regarding the catering service provided throughout the stadium. Is that being addressed?
We selected Compass after a very strenuous process because we believe them to be the best in the market. With regards to the complaints we are seeing, we need to give Compass time to bed down their operations. We are clearly monitoring operations and the feedback we receive closely. One indicator we have seen already is an increase in spend per head from £2 to £3, so some elements are moving in the right direction.
Every match day we’re getting feedback, which we urge you to continue. We can’t improve what we don’t know.
Compass Group do Edgbaston very well. It’s a big job to change so why now in the middle of a season?
When you have got to do something there is always going to be a first day. We felt we should get it done and get into it!
It also gives the guys at Compass some time to understand our business. There is a break in the contract (as there is with Fanatics) if they don’t meet our service requirements. However, we expect everyone to benefit from their expertise and improved match day experiences.
When you go to the rugby at Coventry and get a pint, you have a plastic glass with the Wasps details on it and you pay £1 for that and a lot of people just leave them afterwards. It’s a good way to persuade people to part with more money and not cash their glasses.
Luke was commercial director at Wasps so he knows all about those.
Are there any plans to be radical with the season ticket price structure?
We’re about to announce season tickets. It will be very aggressive in terms of pricing, understanding the need to attract the younger fans back into the fold. We don’t want to give it away tonight but you should be happy with the packages that we’re offering.
The Villa Cash scheme has changed. What is the update on that and what can be done about communicating the changes better to fans?
There will be a new loyalty programme introduced next season where fans will accrue points in many ways, from social media interaction to entering the stadium on match day. The programme we are devising will include a dashboard for you to see how many points you accrue. We are looking to tighten up what we deliver, to ensure there are tangible benefits to your loyalty.
What prompted the Villa Cash decision?
The actual utilisation of Villa cash has significantly reduced over the years. 90% of the Villa Cash used is spent on season ticket renewal, which shows it is a narrow programme. We want the new scheme to broaden the benefits you enjoy.
The number of communications I’ve had from Villa has been minimal, if that. Will anything be done to address this?
There was a presentation from Luke’s team this morning, looking at our demographics and how we are communicating with each group. It’s amazing to see the age profile of who opens email and who doesn’t. We need to understand how to deliver communications across our fan base.
I was involved with the marketing company that did research on the loyalty programme. Did you glean anything from it?
Communication was one of the big outcomes. We are currently reviewing our communications, but you will hopefully see personalised communications from us about your experiences. We have information we are not using so hopefully we will be much smarter with how we use it.
Could we do anything with tickets for schools?
There are regulations via the EFL that restrict ticketing offers. If we can overcome these hurdles and have the right ticketing partner then schemes such as tickets for schools can be delivered.
Could tickets for schools be extended to local non-league clubs?
We should have affiliate pubs, clubs, schools, a university programme and relationships with big employers and schemes that offer cashback opportunities for local organisations that help us get back into our local area.
It is fair to say we’d lost our way in the city. We’ve got a very aggressive plan to take it back.
You say ‘right ticketing partner’. Are we looking to outsource ticketing as well?
It’s already outsourced and it has been for a number of years to Ticketmaster.
What has changed with the way mascot places are allocated?
Three JV-Life members get access to mascot privileges, six are paid and two free spaces come from the foundation. For those who pay, the cost includes £75 worth of vouchers for kit, programme, autograph books, £70 for seats and a hospitality package. The purchased spaces have sold out for every single game. We can look at readjusting the balance between paid for and JV Life.
That wasn’t publicised enough. It seems to be a paid privilege now.
We can re-communicate this.
Would it be possible to include a friendly with Watford in our pre-season in memory of Graham Taylor?
We have a major pitch reconstruction project in the summer which will prevent our hosting a pre-season friendly.
Can you tell supporters where we are playing pre-season?
We should have our plans confirmed shortly and there is no reason why we cannot communicate the schedule to fans. We are likely to be heading to Germany and Portugal.
Would Steve Bruce take part in a fans’ forum?
I can’t speak on Steve’s behalf but I see no reason why the two of us couldn’t do one together at the beginning of next season.
Could you provide details on what the fixed and floating charge over many Aston Villa related companies registered as Companies House in favour of HSBC (Nov 16) means to us? Some people have concerns.
Let me put any concerns to rest. When we bought the club in June there was £29 million of debt. That’s been written off and paid for totally. The HSBC charge is purely a £5 million working overdraft that we use accordingly. There’s no debt apart from that.
Is the club doing anything to improve Wi-Fi and phone reception during matches?
We had Ian Dimmock, our head of IT, and other members of staff travel over to Cisco (American multi-national technology conglomerate) to see three examples of the best stadiums in the world. Nobody has cracked a full stadium yet when everybody is on their phones at the same time. We have plans to improve connectivity as we go forward.
Could you provide an update on safe standing?
We hope the Premier League will approve safe standing at their summer meeting and then push the government accordingly. Whilst we are waiting for legislation to change, we will be looking to consult with fans to understand what we should do if and when we have the choice to introduce safe standing at Villa Park.
What is the club’s attitude towards the city’s Commonwealth Games bid?
I met with the Commonwealth Games group to look at the feasibility of the games in the city. We have lots of games experience in the management team here at Villa Park: people who have worked on previous games. We are fully supportive. There won’t be a new stadium built, that’s clear, and they’ve asked us what they could use Villa Park for.
There is possibly going to be a major redevelopment project which I’m calling ‘The Sports Quarter’. The city and the club are looking to put our land assets together to build offices, residential and commercial areas that would work for sports governing bodies. That’s ongoing and that could be the legacy from the Commonwealth Games.
How was the run-out song at Villa Park chosen? Can we change it?
There are several ways we could try and approach this. At the start of the season we asked Tommy Elphick to choose the music. We are aware that many are underwhelmed by the choice, and will see if we can arrange a fan vote.
Can we paint the Witton Bridge in Villa colours?
We will look to contact Network Rail and will even offer to buy the paint!
There have been problems with the website. Are there any plans to improve or upgrade it?
We are aware there are problems. We have a third party helping us with the maintenance of the website operating without any SLAs (Service Level Agreement). SLAs need to be introduced. We have 73 ‘sprints’ running with them at the moment, each ‘sprint’ being a mini project to develop the website. We are aware of issues with the indexing of content as we can see how many clicks we lose where people get lost. The website is something we continue to work through.
Could more Under-23s/Under-18s matches be screened live on Facebook?
We recently reached 6.5 million people on Facebook when we showed our recent FA Youth Cup match versus Broxbourne Borough – that’s half our usual monthly reach and a huge success. We received 1.5 million views – more than Chelsea versus Hull. We had 30,500 interactions and 745,000 minutes watched (12.4 thousand content hours). The top bracket for views was males aged 19-34 so when we talk about targeting, this is where we need to start moving towards. UniLAD, the partner we used, will be here again on the 22nd February for our FA Youth Cup match against Manchester City. We’ll be looking to see how we develop this area.
Is there any way to make this available on AVTV?
We are speaking to our tech team, looking at how we can take that feed and put it on AVTV.
Can games not broadcast on national television be streamed for overseas fans similarly to how Newcastle United and Fulham have done this season?
My understanding these are time-shifted broadcasts, not live. We can broadcast a match behind the AVTV pay-wall but we can only do that 12pm the next day. This is something we can trial.
Even if it’s time-shifted, you can’t stream a Sky game. We’ve been on Sky more than any other club in the Championship home or away. There’s an EFL meeting on Thursday about the broadcasting of matches.
Why are some car parks closed?
Official car parks around the area are operated by third parties and the decision to operate is theirs. There is plenty of spare capacity each match in the official car parks for those who wish to opt for secure off- street parking. The club is also offering off street parking at our Brookvale Road Car Park (on the junction of Tame Road/Brookvale Road) as the buildings on the site have now been cleared. This will include the opportunity to purchase a season parking pass for 2017/2018.
Can the club work with the West Midlands Combined Authority to improve/incentivise public transport to game?
We’ve got that meeting coming up. From a marketing point of view, we’re looking at engaging local rail and looking at buying advertising space. We know our heat maps, so we could look to create a bundle of travel passes for fans to and from Villa Park. These type of arrangements can only be done in tandem with the local authorities.
Is there any update on the North Stand/area regeneration?
I’ve had one major meeting with the council already on the whole Villa area regeneration and we talked about the North Stand. The biggest constraint is the transportation links at present. The road system is the biggest problem we have to solve before we can go and build any extra capacity within the ground and that’s where we’re a way off. You won’t get any more capacity until those issues are solved. This fits into the whole redevelopment of the area.
Do you have an update on the upgrading of disabled facilities at Villa Park?
It’s going to be done because it’s the right thing to do. It is part of the budgets I’m looking at.
What steps are being made to work with the local community?
We’ve hired a guy called Guy Rippon who heads up the Aston Villa Foundation and Guy has been fantastic. Within a year or so we are looking for our Foundation to be a shining light in terms of the work we do in the local community. At the next FCG meeting, we’ll get Guy to do a presentation to show you what we’re doing in the community. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Could the VMF restaurant be re-opened as part of this?
This can be considered as part of our whole community approach. When you see Guy’s presentation, we think you’ll be pleased.
Could you expand on the club’s commercial links with China?
There are a number of sponsorship deals we’re looking at announcing fairly soon. There is nothing controversial – no re-naming of Villa Park or anything like that – just good, sound commercial relationships. We’re starting to progress into other Chinese companies too. We’ve also got more Chinese staff here and we’re starting to lead the way in terms of being able to market in China.
When does the sponsorship deal with QuickBooks end?
At the end of this season. We’ll shortly be announcing who will be on the shirt next year.
Is there a chance that the Lions Club in the Doug Ellis Stand will be re-opened?
The Lions Club facility is very much on the agenda.