Ticket prices frozen but a cashless Emirates is coming: the Arsenal Fans’ Forum

stadiumreflections

AISA report on the Arsenal supporter’s forum – 17 February 2020

The second forum of the season was held in the boardroom at Highbury House on Drayton Park (below right). It was a packed room with representatives from various fans groups including AISA, AST and Red Action. Mark Gonnella chaired the event and both Raul Sanllehi were present along with several members of the stadium team and Vinai Ventkatesham joined us via video link (as he was at home nursing a cold).

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Raul gave an opening update on where he feels Arsenal are at the moment and, as ever, he was very upbeat.

He said the spirit Mikel Arteta had instilled in the players is ‘contagious’ and heaped praise on the way he had picked up the mantle of managing after Emery’s departure. Dubai and the winter break ‘was fantastic’ for everyone, he said. Arteta had had no pre-season so this was his opportunity to develop some ‘team building’.

The warm weather was good for health and fitness, and it was good for the 2 new signings, and for team dynamics generally. As a result (and certainly after Sunday’s game) Raul was feeling very good about our prospects for the season. He really is an irrepressibly positive person – at least with us!  Vinai added that everyone is with Mikel, from the youngest squad members to the most experienced.

Mark then moved us on to the agenda and there was an awful lot to get through so I don’t intend to cover everything. This is mostly just the highlights.

At the last forum we’d had a good discussion of safe standing and it was picked up tonight because Vinai had promised we’d revisit it. John Beattie spoke to this and said that the club had looked at safe standing (better termed ‘rail standing’’ he said) and reiterated what we’d been told previously.Unknown

This will NOT increase the capacity at the Emirates, in fact it is likely to reduce it. They called in a Dutch private company (The Stadium Consultancy) who agreed that there would be a loss of seats (and revenue).

John pointed out that our capacity is fixed anyway, as we have to be able to get everyone out within 8 minutes regardless of whether they are sitting or standing (with rails). Sight lines are affected by standing and this impacts our license with the local authority.

This is a new report, Arsenal are only just evaluating it, and there is lots to consider going forward. So they will come back to us but I’d personally be amazed if the club decided to go forward with safe standing. I didn’t get the feeling anyone within the club is keen and the legislation has not been passed yet anyway. However, they are watching what others do (like United) so it’s not impossible.

We then moved to discuss a paper on improving the atmosphere that had been circulated by AST. Akhil spoke to this and in particular I think his argument for some sort of Home Credits was quite persuasive. I’ll take this back to the AISA committee for more discussion but personally I think it has a lot of value.

In essence what AST are proposing is that ST holders are rewarded for either going to home games or for making sure their tickets are used if they can’t go. There is no penalty for not going, just an incentive for doing so.

Vinai says this is one of Arsenal’s top 10 key priorities, adding that it’s been knocking around for too long and we need to act on it. Everyone agrees we need a full stadium to back the team.

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Ivan Worsell then spoke about the ticketing systems in place and the trials they’ve been running to improve sales, limit touting, and aid a better access to the ground. The enhanced ticket exchange (letting you buy/sell up to 3 hours before a game) seems to be working although most sales are still ‘traditional’. They have a new person working on improving fans services (Omar), so hopefully AISA can talk with him before too long.

I asked about the initiative they announced at the last forum of sending push notifications to Apple devices to speed up ground access. Ivan said that they have been rolling out push notification at Club level, have updated all the gate readers, and are looking for full deployment by the end of the season for Gold members (ST holders), working with Apple. Next season they will move on to Android devices. It could be a game changer in terms of speeding up access. maybe even with away fans/grounds if the other 19 PL clubs get their act together.

There was lots more discussion around the creation of new loan manger’s role; on the problems of youthful excess in Block 26; on progression from attendance figures; on contracts (‘we don’t comment on individual player contracts’); on WiFI coverage; and on the returnable flags.

We then moved to catering and the fact that the Emirates is moving to be cashless from 1 March (the West Ham home game), something AISA raised.

On catering and the limited options on offer Tom McCann said that they were looking at options to create a more diverse (and tempting) catering offer but there were problems. Not, he said, with Delaware North who were not ‘blockers’ in his opinion. Instead the issues were around space and getting in and out of the stadium. Simply, we can’t fill he interior concourse with pie stalls etc. because of the pressure of having thousands of people in there.

However, they are looking at this and I think we should continue to press for more reasons to get in early and stay later. Better and more interesting (and affordable) food and drink and a more conducive environment would help encourage people to leave the pubs and enjoy a half day at the Emirates  perhaps. This would help the stadium team who generally have to cope with 42,000 of the 60,000 crowd who arrive in the 30 minutes before KO.

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I raised the question of going cashless and said this would impact a significant number of our members. Tom was sympathetic but not minded to change this. He pointed out that most people have a debit card, even kids as young as 11 can get them. So I don’t think we’ll win on this although I will be interested to see what happens if sales fall or the WiFi fails.

Suzanne (the Women’s Rep) made a very good point that this might impact poorer fans who get tickets through donations for example. I was reminded of the homeless guy at the rugby recently who was taken in by someone who had a spare and treated to a fantastic day out. Football is a sport that has largely priced out the unemployed and poorest but they deserve a chance to see their team as much as any of the rest of us. Something AISA might campaign more about in the future perhaps?

On that note the good news – announced exclusively tonight – is that there will be another freeze in ST prices next season. Hardly a surprise given the state of the team’s progress this season but welcome nonetheless.

Sadly I have to end on a less positive note. Mark Gonnella (in response to a question) told us that the annual fans event at the ground would not happen this year, or likely in subsequent years. The last one had been a PR disaster for the club he said. Vinai said it was supposed to be a chance to reveal Edu and to listen to fans but it turned into a shouting match and meant that Liam Brady and then Joe Montemurro’s talks were overshadowed and (in Joe’s case) mostly ignored.

I did challenge VInai on this, pointing out that many of us present did listen to the talks and that the abuse of the evening was perpetrated by a small (if noisy) minority. I think Arsenal accept that but why would you put yourself through that again if you don’t have to?

And they don’t have to.

Raymond (from Red Action) was correct in saying that it was ‘a moment in time’ but it was a moment in time that came on the back of an orchestrated campaign a season or two earlier to get rid of Arsene Wenger, followed by widespread criticism of the board and owner, and the WeCareDoYou campaign.

The Supporters Forum is a very positive place for Arsenal fans to be represented by the likes of AISA, AST and others and it is private and controlled. I can see why the club have taken this decision but I am upset that the actions of some people have allowed the club to take it. The event was poorly organised and not well thought through but I had hoped we could talk to Arsenal and help them do this better next season.

My hope now is that through the forum and the actions of fans everywhere (including on social media) we can build a new level of trust that allows events such as that to happen again at some point in the future. Trust works both ways after all.

Arsenal don’t have to hold forums like this one tonight, nor do they have to listen to fans’ groups. I very much appreciate the fact that they do. We should hold them to account and demand more and better, but we also ought to acknowledge that we are all on the same side and we all want to same thing, which is for our club to prosper.

Victoria Concordia Crescit

Drew Gray (AISA Chair)

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