Fans' Forum minutes: 03/10/04
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CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB SUPPORTERS CONSULTATIVE FORUM 2004/ 2005 SEASON
Meeting held at Chelsea F.C. on Saturday, 3rd October 2004.
Below are the minutes from the first Fans Forum which was held on 3rd October 2004
Club: Welcome to the first Chelsea Fans Forum. The Club sees this as a major development, enabling us to take a broader view of the requirements of fans.
It has been constituted independently by Electoral Reform Services.
Present today are key officials of the Club who will try and attend regularly. We will also bring in other relevant officials for specific topics in future meetings.
We look forward to a more constructive relationship with fans than perhaps has been the case in the past.
Chair: Firstly, some background on the Forums. The current model that we use was developed for Manchester United and later Arsenal in recent years.
In total there were 399 applications for the Forum, which is an excellent turn-out.
Re timing of the meetings, we need an early start due to the other duties of Club officials before kick-off time.
In meetings, it is important that the Forum respect each other's decisions along the way. Minutes are taped and sent out within a couple of weeks of the meeting, ideally with notification of what the next topics will be. I am happy to circulate any documents with the agenda that are with me by then.
We request that all formal communication is undertaken at the Forum. Although we have e-mail addresses for everyone, it is only reasonable to assume that meetings are the focus for the Forum. In terms of changeover of personnel on the Forum, we will probably have a two year rotation term starting after the first two years. So at that point, half the Forum (decided by lot) will be replaced, with the other half being replaced a year later. That ensures both continuity and the introduction of new ideas.
Please ensure that I am notified of changes to addresses and e-mail to ensure communication for the future.
(All present at the meeting introduced themselves to the rest of the Forum.)
SUGGESTED TOPICS FOR THE FUTURE
Fans: Firstly, branch tickets for home matches: we don't get juvenile tickets any more which makes home matches very unattractive for families. The cost of juvenile tickets generally needs looking at anyway.
Secondly, away tickets: Chelsea seldom seem to take the full allocation for a large number of away games. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that fans will read that away matches are sold out. Hence they won't apply in the future. Branches also have to get their allocation for away tickets through the box office now rather than through separate administration at the Club.
Deterring away support means that fans can't get to matches through lack of tickets, and the team don't get the support we want them to.
Club: We want as many away fans there as we can get. There are of course limits to the numbers of away Fans: 10% up to a maximum of 3,000 per match. We are sometimes also offered two sections and can take one or both, as we offer to away teams in the East Stand. But we do insist that the away club here covers the cost of the entire allocation that they choose to take.
There may have been an ad hoc basis to this in the past, and we will certainly look into it. If there is a genuine demand to attend away matches, we could try and get a commitment from our supporters to take those tickets up. We may even be able to review the allocations that we have so far chosen to take for this season.
We want a clear process that it is transparent for all matches. If the demand is there, we want the same as the fans do on this issue.
Fans: Branches also have problems with the position of tickets, which seems to vary for home matches now. It can be easier to get decent seats on the internet. It is increasingly hard to "sell" branches to local supporters outside London.
Re touting, one recently was advertising 400 tickets to the Liverpool match.
Club: Supporters clubs, membership and ticketing have perhaps been seen as separate aspects at the Club in the past. We are now trying to tie the three together within our administration structure.
We are also conscious of the touting issue, and making great efforts on that. We follow through leads ourselves so if tickets are advertised in the press or offered by touts, we buy them up and follow through to where they came from. We cancelled 1,000 memberships last season for fake I.D. and touted tickets. We also harass ticket touts to try and ensure they can't sell them. We also film touts.
Fans: Season ticket holders and members have details on the website - branches don't get coverage on there. There is a £9 discount from membership with no magazine - not a great deal.
Re touting, the Club could better advertise the methods the Club are employing - that should help with the problem.
Club: We do want to improve the touting problem - more fans should get the tickets directly through the Club, which will hopefully hit the demand for tout tickets.
Fans: For away tickets, there are a few issues. Firstly, it would be useful if credit card statements would specify which away match the amount refers to. Secondly, it would be useful to know well in advance if someone has been successful over away tickets. Thirdly, for European matches, there is still a requirement to collect tickets from the box office which is a huge waste of time and money.
There also doesn't seem to be a facility to purchase tickets for individual European away matches without buying a package. For fans living a long distance from London, there is no attraction in travelling to away matches in Europe with a 6am start at Gatwick.
Club: Re delivery of tickets, we had a bad experience with the numbers of bags that disappeared for the Zola tribute match. Perhaps if special delivery or a similar facility is in place it could be used.
Re European matches, we do try and sell packages first. However, if there are any tickets left over they can be made available without the travel package. We decide how many go to Chelsea Village Travel and how many go elsewhere.
Fans: There are other problems with the travel packages. There are the issues of travel times, police escorts, limited time to see the country you are travelling too, poor hotel deals or flight deals. These factors can deter fans from the official packages.
Club: We will publicise the quantities for away allocations.
For European matches though, there may be segregation reasons for not taking a full allocation. It could also be that we can't arrange enough packages to go with the tickets we want to take for European matches.
Fans: It is notable that the Club has removed the "Buster" wording from the ticket envelopes, presumably so they are less likely to be stolen.
It would also be useful for season ticket cards to be upgradeable at the ground - so that the scanner can also recognise which extra matches have been paid for. This would cover the Carling Cup matches for instance.
For internet purchases, would it be possible to register whether there has been a purchase or not on submitting details.
Club: We don't have the facility to upgrade season ticket cards at present - we can only scan information at the ground.
Re internet facilities, we too would like to move to real time purchasing. At present in effect the internet is being used as a fax facility. We want to be sure that the system works first, not least with a massive number of applications at any one time when they are on sale.
We will also abolish the "three groupings of batching" system. We will make matches available on an individual basis in the future. This has pros and cons but overall we feel it is fairer - and will help to introduce the real time internet aspects.
Fans: Can the fans have an input to who the new Club sponsors will be?
Club: It is an internal matter for the Board to decide on.
Fans: It would also be useful to contribute to centenary celebrations.
Club: We are launching something today, including details of the decision-making structure for the celebrations. This will be the first of many updates. It would certainly be useful to have the Forum participate in suggestions.
Fans: Branding issues would be useful, such as the Club badge, Club identity, new strips, white socks!
Also, health and safety issues would be worthwhile to discuss.
Club: The Club would want health and safety issues notified to us immediately.
Fans: Player events outside the capital for away games would prove very popular with branches especially. Maybe reserve players could turn up.
Club: It can't happen the night before a match as the manager wouldn't want it. After a match they tend to head straight back to London. However, there is an important issue of fan access to players, and also supporting branches in other ways, perhaps with events.
We could do with reviewing our supporter club structure anyway, with the Forum contributing.
Fans: Attracting younger fans is also important. That could tie in with membership/ branch issues. We would also like to look at the Club's disabled policy.
Club: The customer charter, charities and community issues are worth looking at as well.
THE STADIUM/ MATCH ATMOSPHERE
Fans: One of the major problems in the stadium is clearly the positioning of away supporters at Stamford Bridge. When we travel to away games, at Newcastle and Old Trafford for instance, away fans are not in a prominent position in the ground. At our home matches, away fans can make a massive impact on support for their team.
Club: We are aware of concerns about this. There is nowhere else in the ground we can give the split between 5% and 10% options for away fans as we do in splitting the two East Stand lower sections.
Fans: Couldn't a partition be introduced for another area of the ground, such as the East Upper?
Club: Partitions are not encouraged, access would be a problem in segregating fans there, and also there would inevitably be seats in-between the two groups of fans that would have to be left empty.
We have commissioned a report from the country's leading stadium company to look into East Stand access. We are also looking into increasing seating in the ground. The only possibility for further building at present seems to be the North Stand.
We have the opposite problem at present, in that we have had difficulties selling out games, much to our surprise. We would be interested in hearing what fans here feel about the possible reasons.
Fans: The tickets are too expensive. Also, there is not enough publicity that there are seats available - the Club should highlight availability more. Supporter clubs could do with earlier booking.
Club: We all want a full stadium, not just for revenue reasons. The best atmospheres tend to be from full stadiums, so if communication is a problem, this is something we can address.
For European matches, we have had an area for UK-based supporters of the away team occasionally. This worked well for Besiktas, but we are open to suggestions on this. We certainly don't want away fans in home areas for European matches.
Fans: So many of our matches are on TV at present. This must be a deterrent for attending matches, not least when kick-off times are difficult, such as lunch time starts in Middlesbrough.
Club: We have positively discriminated towards Chelsea fans this season. We had to change our policy back from one ticket per member to four tickets per member though, so for whatever reason the take-up wasn't there. We are sure the fan base is there.
We have reduced prices significantly for the Carling Cup tie though: £20 for adults and £10 for children. Tickets are only just on sale so we're not sure yet how successful this has been.
Ticketing should come up at the third meeting of the season prior to the Board deciding on next season's prices.
Fans: Administration charges on each ticket seem unfair and must be a deterrent.
Carling Cup matches in half term (last season and this) will probably help encourage families to attend.
For the first European matches last season, there was a 30% discount for all tickets together in a batch. They therefore cost £138 for a set last year. This year they are £234 - this is a massive increase, which again can't help sales. Fans are bound to be more selective.
Re atmosphere specifically, a recent poll on one of the fanzine websites showed clearly that fans wanted a 10-15 period without non-Chelsea pop music being played. Fans want to build up their own noise levels prior to kick-off.
Club: We would be happy to experiment with that last suggestion today.
There will have to be a short Premiership anthem for a short time, but that apart it sounds fine to try.
Re the DJ, we are also aware that volume was not loud enough last week to announce the minute silence for the Russian massacre.
Fans: Scarf waving looks impressive as well to create atmosphere. The important aspect is not to make atmosphere tacky. But banners and colour would really help the spectacle. There used to be a sizeable "Pride of London" flag going round the fans in past years.
Club: The "Pride of London" flag was going to be fire-proofed at one stage but we don't think this was done - we would be made to comply with that by the authorities, even though we have a no-smoking stadium now.
We will take this up with the safety committee.
For smaller banners, there are three issues. Firstly, no sticks are allowed with flags. Secondly, sponsors would not be happy with their adverts covered up throughout a match, and thirdly, banners can't be draped over the rotating adverts for obvious reasons.
Fans: Perhaps the Club could get involved in having a competition for new songs.
Club: We are considering that for the future.
Fans: Another issue is how long it takes to get into the Matthew Harding Stand. We have to pass our season ticket cards to stewards at present.
Club: In tests, we have found that it takes longer for fans to insert the cards properly themselves. The Teamcard is being evaluated at present. We could move back to a proximity card to maybe assist fast entry into the stadium. This is all part of our feasibility study.
Fans: It is difficult to entice fans into the ground early when prices are so overpriced for food and drink - £1.70 is too much for a small bottle of water.
A problem in the corporate area is those who have little interest in watching the match and specifically, turn up ten minutes after the start of a half and leave ten minutes before the end of a half. This is annoying to those of us who want to watch the match.
Club: We will remind fans in the corporate area of times to ideally be in their seats.
Fans: There is an inherent problem in that many of the fans' songs are racist or sexist. They are a part of the Club's history in many ways though.
Club: We are obviously aware of the problem and do have complaints about it. There is legislation about racist songs so it is a criminal offence, and we do remind fans occasionally. It is difficult to stamp out altogether much as we want to. We are left with the choice of booting out hundreds of fans - a logistical nightmare - or trying a more subtle approach.
Fans: The manager could make requests in his programme notes over the anti-Tottenham lyrics in particular - fans are more likely to listen to him.
Club: Jose will be the Club's ambassador in Anti-Racism week anyway. We also have Black History month coming up: We will feature the development of black players at the Club in the magazine.
Fans: Re atmosphere, it is difficult to encourage the crowd to sing well when fans assume we will win a particular match. This has become quite evident at Arsenal and Manchester United in recent years. Scoring against big opposition or in exciting games is certainly more likely to encourage noise volumes.
Perhaps it would help to have singing areas for those that want to?
Neil Barnet could help match atmosphere by encouraging fans in specific stands to sing. Alternatively, a more famous fan such as Suggs may have more success in encouraging singing.
Could we also have more information on the screens? It is often difficult to hear PA information so the same information on screens would be really useful, be it presentations on the pitch by Neil Barnet or substitutions during play. Also, if there is more noise in the stadium, there will be less opportunity to hear the PA anyway.
Can contentious decisions be shown on the screen? Alternatively, the screens could be used to encourage support at corners etc.
Club: We are aware that PA sound is not consistent around the ground.
There is a variety as to what other clubs show on their screens. The manager was annoyed recently when our players watched the replay of a scoring chance instead of getting into position.
Fans: In the past there seems to have been more interaction between the team and fans during matches. Players and coaches can encourage support during a match, such as during player warm ups at the side of the pitch during play.
Re ground configuration: What is the aim? Is ground relocation being considered.
Club: Our aim is for a 50,000 stadium. We are certainly confident of demand going up over the next few years. The difficulty we have isn't just the configuration of the stands, but rapid access/ exiting. There is no ready-made answer. We are also identifying restricted view seats and dealing with those.
It is difficult to become as big a club as we want to be without a bigger capacity.
At some point there has got to be an evaluation of that done. We're not there yet and we won't be re-evaluating for the next few years.
Fans: The stadium could do with more of an identity.
One idea may be to have a mural of Chelsea players through the years along the East Stand wall - this could be part of the centenary celebrations.
Club: We don't want fans or the football world to think of this area as Chelsea Village. The whole site in practice is Chelsea F.C. and the other businesses are all part of the Club - we want to start emphasising that aspect.
The changing rooms/ tunnel area now has a large Chelsea F.C. sign - we are gradually going to rebrand to push this.
Fans: The team used to alternate their pre-match warm-up between the Shed End and the Matthew Harding. That encouraged families to arrive earlier and we would appreciate if that can be reintroduced.
Club: We will also ask the team about alternating the warm-up ends.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Fans: What is Roman Abramovich's view of Chelsea at the moment?
Club: He is very committed to what we are doing. He is clearly a very passionate fan already - he watches most games. We all know that what we are doing is a long-term plan. The announcement of the new Academy is testament to the background investment that is going in to the Club, not just purchasing first-team players. We don't want to buy half a new team every year. We want to turn a profit in five years, inclusive of all the investment that has gone in.
Fans: As there has been a ban on fans watching training, the player day was introduced. That seemed to be very successful - will it be repeated?
Club: We learnt from it and would like to do it again, perhaps at half term. We think we made the right decision with autographs not being signed there as it may have led to a crush. We provided free autographed posters instead.
On a different subject, we will start an independent fan satisfaction survey which will become an annual event.
Chair: A further suggestion is to have Chelsea TV hold a debate during the week after each Forum with two Forum members and possibly a Club official. This would cover the same issues as the Forum, and perhaps have fans phoning in.
Club: We may also start a Forum zone if the demand is there for fans on this group to communicate through the official website.
Fans: Thanks to the Club for introducing this Forum.
(The meeting finished at 1.30pm.)
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