Fans' Forum minutes: 21/10/06
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CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB SUPPORTERS CONSULTATIVE FORUM 2006/ 2007 SEASON
Meeting held at the Lord Attenborough Suite, Chelsea F.C. Hotel, at 11.00am on Saturday, 21st October 2006.
ATTENDEES/ group represented
- Alexander, James (season ticket holder)
- Bacchus, Gary (Blueandwhitearmy.net)
- Brown, Toby (Cfc.net)
- Fiorellino, Trizia (Chelsea Supporters Group)
- Gibbins, Jason (member)
- Gourlay, Ron (Chelsea F.C. Commercial & Venue Director)
- Greer, Gary (branch)
- Hine, Lenny (16 - 21 age group)
- Hine, Tom (member)
- Marriott, Bryan (family section)
- Michaelson, Bob (exec member/ box holder)
- Monasingh, Marc (member)
- Newby, David (Chelsea F.C. Marketing Manager)
- O’Brien, John (branch)
- O’Callaghan, Terry (branch)
- Paul, Dennis (over 60 age group)
- Pickering, Trevor (Chelsea Supporters Club)
- Smith, Graham (Chelsea F.C. Head of Ticketing)
- Trenter, Peter (home & away season ticket holder)
- Weller, Jim (season ticket holder)
- Regan, Andy (Electoral Reform Services, Chair)
- Greenberg, Simon (Chelsea F.C. Communications Director)
- Kenyon, Peter (Chelsea F.C. Chief Executive)
- Polk, Jamie (disabled section)
(Action points are in bold and underlined.)
Chair: Welcome to the first Forum of the season - especially to the new members of the Forum.
(All Forum members introduced themselves.)
CHANGES TO THE MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING/ MATTERS ARISING FROM PREVIOUS MINUTES
(No changes to minutes.)
Club: On the action points from the last meeting, what do you want the East Stand report for? Some of the points from the report have been implemented.
Fans: Access to the upper tier is an important issue.
Club: One of the problems last year had been congestion in the concourse area with the family section. The situation is better, possibly because the kiosks now face the pitch rather than the concourse. While this has meant a big improvement in facilities for the family area it means alcohol can no longer be sold and there have been some issues with this. The Club has come up with some ideas on how to resolve these problems.
Fans: Congestion has improved, but it’s still taking too long to get in generally in the East Stand. We’ve been told to arrive earlier - but how much earlier is feasible?
Club: We’re aware that access to the East Upper is not great. We’re looking into a new access system for the stadium which would involve replacing all turnstiles at access points. This project is advanced and the Club is currently looking at two major pitches for this work. It will probably be introduced at the beginning of next season and will be the major project for the stadium next year. It’s a huge investment for the Club.
Fans: Will this mean more turnstiles or wider turnstiles?
Club: A speedier turnstile activated by a chip in the team card - rather than having to hand the card over to be swiped and then allowed through.
Fans: We had this in the Shed Lower a while ago.
Club: Yes, it was tested there, but then taken out as it didn’t fit with the rest of the systems and there were also turnstile shaping issues. The reduction in congestion would come from the speed of the new turnstiles rather than the size of them. More information should be available by the time of the next Forum as there are only about three companies that could handle this type of contract.
There was also an action point on the issue of considering unreserved seating and the possibility of writing to fans in a section of the ground about vacating their season tickets to have unreserved seating there. We will be starting that process in the next couple of months because we have quite a few other questions we would like to ask. There are issues in there about the family area and about how many tickets members can buy and when.
Fans: What are the issues with unreserved seating?
Club: One potential problem is that family groups might be separated depending on when they arrive, and if they arrive early they’d have to remain seated to keep their places. Also potential congestion problems which could in turn cause problems with the police and Fulham and Hammersmith authorities.
Chair: To put it in context for new Forum members, there was no formal vote to advocate this, but rather an idea for the Club to look into.
Fans: One possible benefit would be to improve the atmosphere by making it easier for groups of people to sit together at matches. At present this can be difficult due to restrictions on the number of tickets that can be bought per member. The idea came from the possibility of creating a singing area.
Club: Before we write to the fans, we need to contact the Council as such matters are part of our licence. The problems would arise if people arrived late and wanted to sit together.
Fans: Why? You would still have the same number of seats and tickets. This system worked in the days of the benches because friends would arrive early so we could sit together and start singing 40mins or half an hour before kick-off, thus building the atmosphere.
Club: If noise comes from the Matthew Harding Lower, will they give up their season tickets for it to become unreserved seating?
Fan: This area already has good atmosphere - wouldn’t it be better to create a good atmosphere somewhere else? It is very frustrating to sit in an area with little or no atmosphere and tickets in the Matthew Harding Lower are hard to get hold of. Lots of members can’t afford season tickets and would really enjoy being able to sit with fellow members. Surely the stewards could help with seating.
Club: We don’t want to be obstructive at all. Firstly, let’s speak to the Council - if we get the OK from there, the only areas that can be considered for the project are lower tiers, so are we saying the Shed End?
Fans: Yes, Shed Lower.
Club: We will report back on developments with unreserved seating.
Chair: Re action points, there was a suggestion from the last time we played Barcelona away for the Club to publicise problems for our fans there. The Club later clarified that it was not their intention to publicise these as they didn’t want to exacerbate the situation.
Club: David Barnard and Simon Greenberg had a meeting with Barcelona about the up-coming away game and we registered our concerns about the treatment of our fans - it will be registered again when we arrive on the Monday.
Club: The whole operation has become much more technical particularly after the partnership with Ticket.com, this why Graham is here as head of the whole ticketing operation and Eddie Barnet who used to be the head of the box office now reports to Graham, as the IT side is now so much more relevant.
Chair: In case you are not aware of the fact, Simon Arthur is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the Club at Stamford Bridge. Ron now has responsibility for stadium issues.
Club: Simon Arthur is no longer a Director. He will still be involved on a consultancy basis. He was heavily involved in the project at Cobham, which is due to finish March-April next year and will remain involved on a part-time consultancy basis until then.
Fan: Away season ticket holders have encountered problems when trying to buy tickets via the website. One fan tried to buy his ticket for a particular away game, but the Club site was down for maintenance. When he was able to access it he had had his privilege withdrawn, There are others in the same situation.
Club: We had one problem with the site that did not affect away games - and this has yet to be proved otherwise. We have to advertise that the site will be down in advance and there was one occasion when we knew it was down, but it was not planned maintenance. However, as far as we are aware it did not affect away games. We spoke to CSG about this and we are not aware of when it went down. How many people are we talking about?
Fans: We understand there have been a lot of mistakes made by the box office this year and we have to accept that, put up with it and get it fixed as best we can. So when an individual misses a deadline by mistake or for a technical reason, everyone should be given a chance - they shouldn’t just be thrown off the scheme and charged £25. Graham said 100 people have been thrown off the scheme so far this season - for some people it’s their own fault. However, the promised e-mail reminders have not appeared so unless you spend a lot of time on the website you have to remember your ticket deadlines.
About 15 people have been in contact., we agree we don’t want people pushing their luck, but one chance each would seem fair.
Club: The forms were sent out making it clear that the policy had changed this season and that people had to go onto the website themselves. For the Middlesbrough and Blackburn games we nearly lost 500 people, which would have halved the scheme. The Call Centre went through the list and contacted or left messages for all concerned. The scheme lost people who hadn’t realised what they had signed up for and everyone else contacted the Club with credit card details, explaining they had forgotten and accepting that they had used their one chance. However, someone contacted us recently who had missed the deadline - and with the new system the Club can tell well someone has clicked in - and who then said well he’d been let off for Middlesbrough and Blackburn. We could have thrown the people off the scheme after the Middlesbrough and Blackburn deadlines, but chose not to.
The scheme actually helps the Club because it can sell the majority of away tickets - 1,000 - in one hit, so we’re not trying to kill the scheme as may have been claimed. There have been legitimate reasons for people leaving the scheme and these have been investigated. The Club can now monitor the website for problems and so far the only game where there has been a problem was for Barcelona. Ticketing could see who was entering the site we contacted those people to help them. Now, when people say the system was down, the Club can check to see if this really was the case.
Fans: There was a case a mentioned to Graham where someone could see the ticket on his account, phoned the box office, but still had no luck and so went to the box office, but was told he was too late.
Club: He bought his ticket too late - 3 days after the deadline. We checked it. We have millions of requests like this and 95% of people are trying it on. We will get it wrong sometimes, but I would rather deal with the 5% personally than discuss the issue here for 15 mins. This is the widest policy of any football club for ticketing and it is designed to benefit the fans with an eye on the big fans.
Fans: Could we draw a line at this point, contact all the fans affected and have an amnesty? You say it’s been discussed at the Forum and it won’t be again. You would have the support of fans groups here who are contacted via the websites
Club: My concern is that the policy that has been online since April indicates that tickets go on sale 28 days before a fixture.
The Club will send emails out to provide a last warning to away scheme members to renew..
Fans: Graham has worked really hard and has dealt with lots of the problems brought to his attention. However, there have been problems with delivering tickets to the right addresses and this has been accepted and it would be nice for the Club to accept that it too is fallible.
Club: When the new system came in it was hoped that groups could sit together. Service for home games has improved considerably in terms of speed of service, group bookings etc. However, the “friends and family” option does not work for reservations which is what the away tickets are in effect. The Club is looking at ways of remedying this - possibly via direct debit. At the moment the Club is using spreadsheets and arranging groups manually - this is very time-consuming and there were some problems early on. There is one person tasked with dealing with the group bookings for when tickets are reserved rather than bought (i.e. away games and cup fixtures for season ticket holders), but as it is a manual exercise, a few mistakes may occur. There is a way around group bookings that was discussed with Peter Trenter and Trizia, but it means all the money going on one credit card - which is a lot of money. A new system for group bookings should be in place by next season if not towards the end of this one.
Fans: To clarify, if you are registered as “friends and family” whether you are a season ticket holder or an away season ticket holder, if you order tickets at the same time you should be seated together.
Club: There is a delay with sending out tickets to away season ticket holders because lists have to be checked and tickets allocated using spreadsheets manually. However, for home games and for away season ticket holders not registered with the scheme tickets should be issued within 2 days. Ordering at the same time without being registered will not work because it is a reservation system and tickets are not necessarily allocated in the order reservations are received. Friends and family for members is working well for home games and generally for non-reservation bookings. There is a maximum of nine per group booking for technical reasons.
Supporters’ clubs get a priority booking period for home games and if there were a live link on the website for this it would mean too many other people would also be able to use the link, meaning the clubs’ would receive fewer tickets. There has been good feedback generally, despite the teething problems.
We are working closely with Ticket.Com, but as a Club we are a demanding client. However, by the turn of the year we will have the best ticketing system. Sometimes tickets go on sale earlier, because the Club wants to ensure there is a good take-up of tickets, e.g. Portsmouth and this causes the system problems as it is set up a certain way. We can monitor sales closely and decide whether to release tickets to general sale early. The club normally gives 2-3 days notice before tickets go on general sale.
Chair: Have any fans had experience of using Viagogo?
Club: We were interested to hear how this would work out as it could be a useful tool for the big games once they sell out. It is interesting that it is being used even when there are still tickets on sale at the club.
Fans: This may be a pricing issue as seats there are cheaper. Fans may also just want to sit in a certain place, especially the Matthew Harding Lower.
Club: We had hoped to do the family section by the start of the season, but didn’t manage to. However, the software is currently being developed to do that and will cater for the family enclosure so only junior members can buy junior tickets.
Fans: Most season ticket holders don’t take their children to these midweek games because it ends up a very late night, so there will be more children at weekend matches. The biggest problem in the family stand is lack of communication, for example we’re told Heineken is our number one sponsor for beer, but we can’t buy it there. We are sent information about the ticket exchange, but are then told we can’t use it.
Club: We were criticised by some for moving the families to the area they are now because of the poor children’s facilities and the low standards of the kiosks and toilets, at no point was alcohol mentioned. These other problems have been addressed. We think it’s the best family environment of any FAPL club.
We are not selling alcohol because the only way we could get permission to improve the kiosks was to turn them round to face the pitch. The moment you do that you can’t sell alcohol under licensing laws.
Fans: The facilities in the Shed Lower were far superior. Do you really think we have the best facilities for children?
Club: We do - given that the Emirates for instance is a brand new stadium, we have to work with what we have here. Fans have to be realistic about that. We have put in a lot of work and investment to bring facilities to the point where it is viewed as one of the best football clubs in the world. We’ve made mistakes, but we put a new structure in all the way through the business. We have listened to the Forum and 80% of the points raised here have been tackled.
Fans: We appreciate what’s been done, but there would be no point coming to these meetings just to pat you on the back.
Club: We were under enormous pressure from the police about congestion in that area and that has also been dealt with. We are looking at having Heineken backpack sellers who will wander around the concourse selling alcohol.
Fans: A note on the website about lack of alcohol in the family section to keep us informed would have been appreciated and avoided ill feeling. Re Viagogo, is it true that Manchester United only run it once the tickets have sold out?
Club: No they run in the same way as us and the numbers proportionally are similar. Both Clubs were surprised by the level of ticket sales for matches that had not sold out. However, this is a service for fans.
Regarding away games we had a lot of unsold tickets for Middlesbrough - the first away game - was this just because of the timing of the game?
Fans: Probably, and because it is not seen as a high priority match. It was unlikely to sell out.
Club: Blackburn was quite high. It is tricky for us as we have to decide early about our allocation levels. We need to make a decision about whether to increase for Wigan away on Saturday 23rd December.
Fans: It’s on TV and is one of the last shopping days before Christmas, so probably not. And it was slow selling last year. Generally, we don’t seem to push away games enough. We apparently had tickets for Tottenham away left. This is probably because people assume they won’t be able to get them.
Club: There are only two League games we didn’t sell out - Middlesbrough and Blackburn. It’s not just about money - we want our supporters there if they’ll take up the allocation.
Fans: Arsenal publicise the dates that away tickets go on sale on the website, in programmes and on screens before and after matches. Our fans either assume games are sold out or can’t be bothered to go to the box office. Some say there have been so many mistakes made by the box office that they can’t be bothered to get the tickets any more.
Club: There are going to be updates on Chelsea TV on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the website is going to be updated. Lots of things need to be prominent. We are in the process of relaunching our website. It should go live before the next Forum. It will be easier to navigate and some of these problems will be resolved. We do not generally have a problem selling tickets for away games.
For Wigan we could get 3,000 or we could up it 5,000. Villa is on a Tuesday night, an 8 o’clock kick off and a TV match. Bolton is on Sky and midweek - we can have 1,200 or 3,000.
(Consensus of fans is to take all tickets for Villa and Bolton, but the lower allocation for Wigan.)
Fans: Why not promote away games to the supporters’ clubs in the relevant area more? The supporters’ clubs only get 50 tickets in total for away fixtures. If we know a problematic fixture is coming up we should contact all the local supporters’ clubs. We charge membership and it is a lot to ask someone who maybe only goes to 2 matches a season to join the supporters’ club and CFC. The ability to get tickets to games is the main reason to join a supporters’ club.
Club: There are only 500 for members though. In the past there have been issues with how supporters’ clubs have sold the tickets, because not all members of supporters’ clubs are members of CFC.
Fans: Were you aware that the Werder Bremen away ticket sales for season ticket holders - not away season ticket holders - starts when many fans will be in Barcelona? We play them on the Tuesday night and the first date is 7am on the Wednesday. Can it be postponed? The same thing happened when away in Sofia, as tickets went on sale for the Barcelona home game.
Club: We can address the sale date for European games to ensure fans are not abroad for one of our matches then. We became aware of it - next year it won’t happen.
Fans: How many tickets are likely to be available and how many are in the European away scheme?
Club: There are about 1,000 in the scheme. Numbers available vary greatly per match.
Fans: Apparently a lot of season ticket holders got their tickets for European matches very late - sometimes only on the day of the match. Was this due to the teething problems?
Club: Yes, the timing between the draw and the match is tight. The problem was the mini-season tickets - they were a great idea and the take up was fantastic. However, the Friday before the Bremen game, the Call Centre starting picking up a number of calls where people hadn’t had tickets. At first we thought it was a mailing problem, but as it got worse we phoned Ticket.com to investigate and unfortunately a bug had got into their system. They estimated that about 8,000 fans hadn’t received their tickets. We took the decision to run 8,000 tickets, we worked all night that Friday and had Royal Mail collect them on Saturday.
On Monday we had another call from the Call Centre saying that some people had two sets of tickets. We contacted Ticket.com and discovered that only 3,000 tickets had been lost. We had a potential problem if these tickets had been sold on. We contacted everyone and had tickets returned and/or destroyed by fans. Only about 200 season ticket holders and members sold their tickets on. We know who they are and they are being contacted and face a life ban from Chelsea. In addition, they will be reported to the police and there is an automatic £600 fine. However, overall we want to stress that our fans were fantastic. We know some criticised the wording of the letter sent out. It was a serious matter with the potential for trouble. You might have noticed the extra stewarding.
Fans: Some people received tickets in triplicate or in one case ten sets of tickets!
Club: We will investigate that - please pass any examples to Graham.
Fans: How many duplicates were used at the Bremen game?
Club: We are not sure yet. If you are sent a duplicate, the duplicate replaces the original. For the Bremen game the stadium hadn’t sold out so some people with invalid tickets sat in the spare places. It is a huge job going through the ticket stubs. As Barcelona was sold out there could have been too many fans and not enough seats. It shouldn’t happen again because if we run the season ticket next year it will be on the chip on your card.
Fans: How many season ticket holders were thrown out?
Club: We can’t say just yet. It was mainly members rather than season ticket holders. But we have about 100 cases a day anyway of members buying tickets and selling them on. We suspended about 4,000 members last year.
Fans: Why do you sometimes see packages including a CFC game advertised?
Club: We don’t sell tickets to any agents at all. Thomas Cook act with us, but we don’t sell tickets to agencies. Some agencies buy tickets from members. There are also websites that “sell” non-existent tickets and then vanish. Sometimes agencies tell buyers to collect them from the box office! Obviously those supposed agencies disappear straight away. Call them members, touts, what you like.
All who had membership withdrawn would have had this done due to selling on tickets. We saw adverts recently for our matches, even though they may not be available.
Fans: How come a large group of Japanese fans were sat together for a home match last season?
Club: They couldn’t get that number from an agency. There may have been a block booking from a sponsor.
Fans: When supporter groups get tickets early, why can’t they be sold up to four per member at that point as well? That should reduce touting. It means supporter club members can sit together when more than one ticket is on sale per member.
Club: We can’t sell supporter group members four tickets each if other members won’t be allowed that. As you know, the decision to go to more than one ticket per member is made after initial slow sales. It’s unfair to give supporter group members preferential treatment.
We suspect 3,000 to 5,000 again will be suspended.
Fans: How far away are we from upgrading the season ticket chips?
Club: We are looking into this in connection with the upgrading of the stadium turnstiles. The additional features available in these systems are impressive.
Fans: Once season ticket holders would have to hand over their card to a potential match ticket buyer, the number should decline.
Club: We can use pin and chips possibly for members as well. With Viagogo we may have to keep paper tickets or pin and chips for the day itself. Unbelievably some fans have sold on Viagogo then tried to come to the match themselves!
Fans: For the Manchester United home match last season, supporter groups had some ridiculous criteria, such as having to live within 10 miles of where the group met. Another supporter group criticism is that the number of free memberships was reduced from three to two this season for instance, which seemed petty.
Club: We would hope not to have such criteria - responsibility lies with Graham from now on. On the subject of the supporter clubs, we would like to consult with their Forum representatives to draw up new policies.
Fans: For ticket sales generally, can we stagger them through the day for fans who can’t get to the internet for 7 or the box office at 9. Also, 9 is late for those going to work after.
Club: The Forum discussed this in detail last season, and we think selling them in one works quite well. We can however look at whether 9 is the best time for the box office to open if you think it should be earlier.
Fans: Please can you publicise how many tickets are on sale at the box office? That would help us know whether to turn up. Just a rough idea would be useful. Some fans have asked for such information for some time, such as the allocation, how many are left for fans after corporates etc - it was agreed to by the Club last season.
Club: There are always 25% kept at the box office. We can review policy for next season. For 90% of games you are looking at a 3,000 total allocation. About 1,200 have the season ticket leaving 1,800.
Sometimes the Club can’t win with helping out fans - 35,000 flags were given out at the Barcelona match and still some told us it was the wrong type of flag. Some complaints are ridiculous.
The Club will publicise away match ticket allocation information.
Chair: Given the short time for today’s meeting, I suggest the main discussion about away matches is left until the next meeting.
Fans: There are some points to raise now though. There is a lot of criticism for 500 members getting tickets before home season ticket holders, after away season ticket holders get theirs. There was inconsistency originally - and fans have differing opinions about this policy. Fan groups have had comments from both sides. There was no final agreement about this at the Forum last season, but we are being criticised for agreeing this. I think we were told last season that only 2,000 members go regularly to away games.
Some season ticket holders then rejoin as members as they will have a better chance of getting tickets for away matches.
Club: We have had calls on this. We know members are happier about this - such as for the Middlesbrough match. In the second period the home season ticket holders get a chance of tickets. You aren’t likely to get less than 500 members wanting tickets so those tend to get sold. For some grounds there will be a smaller number of tickets than 3,000. That is where the proportion of 500 is taken from.
We do see this chance for members to get tickets as being one of the ways to help grow the Club, so are okay with members getting priority straight after away season ticket holders. We don’t want to review it during the season.
Chair: There has been a call from some fans for more meetings in the season.
Fans: We certainly want them earlier, and some of us want more meetings. We have never finished a meeting early. We are disappointed with the lack of attendance today from directors.
Club: Peter couldn’t make it at the last minute and Simon Greenberg has been banished from the Club as he has flu! There will be a regular turnout of myself, Simon, Peter and Graham, as well as Dave.
The Club view is that four meetings a season is enough - but I will report back that there is a request for more meetings. We will also have the “announcement for 2007-08” ticketing briefing. We think once policies are in place then four meetings a season are enough for the level of detail we need to go into.
Club to consider increasing the number of Forum meetings in the season.
(The Forum requested that other subjects for the rest of the season are:
- Away matches: domestic and European
- Ticketing for 2007-08
- Club social events
- Survey report
Supporter clubs will meet separately on issues specific to them.)
Chair: The Club has also said they are happy to be contacted in-between meetings with matters that shouldn’t wait until the next Forum.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Fans: Why are half pints not being sold in the ground?
Club: We will look into this.
(The meeting finished at 1.05pm.)
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