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Minutes: Meeting with Walsall Football Club

April 7th 2019

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Members of Walsall Supporters for Change met with club representatives on 27th February in order to formally introduce Walsall FC to the campaign and to discuss a range of issues.

The meeting notes, ratified by Walsall FC and Walsall Supporters for Change are published below, in the ongoing spirit ot transparency.

Held in The Main Office Boardroom at the Banks’s Stadium, 27th February 2019 (15:00).

Present

Stefan Gamble (SG), Daniel Mole (DM) and Daniel Clarke (DC) - Walsall Football Club (WFC)

Rob Harvey (RH), Darren Young (DY) and Chris Saunders (CS) - Walsall Supporters for Change (WSFC)

Minutes: Nick Adshead (NA)

Opening

SG opened the meeting and thanked everyone for attending.

SG asked those in attendance to give WFC a brief overview of WSFC’s aims and objectives, and ultimately why “Walsall Supporters for Change” was set-up. RH replied to say it was set-up following a Boxing Day post on a website upthesaddlers.com and was set-up to centralise ideas and thoughts to bring to the Club.

SG asked if there was a Constitution in place with elected Board Members and if so who WFSC actually represent. RH replied that the organisation is in its infancy and there is nothing official in place at the moment.

The long-term plans are to make it an official recognised body with the Football Supporters Federation (FSF).

SG asked if there is a long-term plan to have a place at the table at the monthly Supporters Working Party Meetings.

RH stated this was an aim and SG and DM welcomed this approach and stated that should WFSC become a fully recognised ‘Supporter Group’, affiliated to an appropriate body, with a sound constitution and have democratically elected and accountable representatives then WFC are more than happy to invite them to join the Working Party once approved by the other members (Walsall Football Supporters Trust and Disabled Supporters Association).

Ticketing

RH referred to the Early Bird Season Ticket Scheme and that prices that have been released and asked if Matchday prices have been looked at in a similar process.

SG explained that a similar process had been followed for Season 2019-2020 for both Season Tickets and Matchday Tickets (albeit Matchday Ticket prices would not be announced at this stage).

This process involved a comprehensive price review comparison of both local clubs and clubs playing in League One. SG confirmed that the Club have introduced a Young Person ticket for the coming season. SG also confirmed that Matchday prices will be released in due course.

SG confirmed the £2 increase on matchday will remain as this was important for any number of logistical reasons including but not limited to reduction of matchday queues, kiosk stock control, crowd control planning, Policing and Medical Provision.

DM explained the Green Guide which the Club have to follow as part of Ground Safety Regulations. SG stated that Supporters could purchase tickets months in advance, including over the phone or online, and collect their tickets on a Matchday without having to pay the £2 supplement.

SG noted that the Club have also decided to remove the Cat A and Cat B fixtures from next season 2019/2020, but reserve the right to alter this in the future.

RH asked what the Club are doing to increase attendance figures and increase the number of new fans.

SG referred to ‘Free Football for all Under-18s’ – which includes Swifty’s Squad which is for children up to the age of 12 who can come free of charge with a full paying adult and the Junior Season Ticket for 13 to 18 years old which costs £69 but for each game attended £3 is returned at the turnstile meaning if they come to all the games all £69 were returned.

The Club will promote more to ensure greater awareness and make things simpler for supporters to understand and easier to find on the Club website.

SG also noted the new ‘Young Persons’ price category (Under-21s) which will offer supporters that fall in this bracket both Season Tickets and Match Tickets at significantly reduced rates.

DM referred to the work that the Club’s Community Programme do going into the local schools in the area promoting the Club and promoting the Ticket Offers and Early Bird Season Tickets. There are two schools partner matches each season but the club are aware a more sustained approach is required.

Starting last week, the club are now going into schools, giving tickets along with a free Walsall T-shirt, a lesson around the Club and its history and a visit from Swifty. The staff will then follow this up to encourage more of them to come to future matches.

This will go out on both the Club’s and the community Programmes social media accounts to show the work being done to generate the next generation of supporters.

DM confirmed each week many activities in local schools take place of this nature and the club are working closer with the Community Programme to publicise these.

RH asked if the Club knew the conversion rate of supporters going from Junior to Adult in recent seasons. SG responded that last season there were 50 supporters who were season ticket holders who were aged 18 of which 27 purchased a season ticket this season (2018/2019).

Although not having the figures to hand the historical conversion is c.50%. Due to the ageing demographic of supporters and the low fan base of supporters purchasing junior tickets the Club six years ago introduced free football for junior supporters under the age of 18.

Since this there has been a 1200% increase in the number of junior tickets purchased. The demographic of supporters has also changed over the last six years.

RH explained that he was not aware of some of this information due to the lack of communication and connection between the Club and supporters. SG and DM noted the comments and confirmed the Club‘s commitment to improve communication.

Match Day Experience

DY explained that he worked for the EFL as part of the assessment of clubs seeking to achieve the Family Excellence Award. He confirmed he was willing to work with the Club to help them improve the Fan Experience on a Matchday to which SG replied that any suggested ideas would be welcomed.

DM referred to the feedback received last season through the fan experience and that improvements have been made since which was reflected in the report received this season from the Burton Albion fixture. The Away Fan experience was the Scunthorpe United game.

DM referred to the Boxing Day experience which the Club accept there were issues. Additional procedures have been put in place to try and eliminate matchday issues such as the Safety Officers and Stadium Managers 24- and 48-hour checks including toilet areas before a match.

These check sheets are submitted to the Local Authority following each game. Matchday staff have radio contact to react to issues. Kiosks are a work in progress with the club’s head chef taking on a more hands on approach on matchday.

DM referred to the Family Fan Zone which opened at the Scunthorpe United game on 12th January, the Club understand this is still a work in progress and have work to do to continue to improve the area for young supporters.

Chairman

CS asked for clarity on the Chairman’s position and whether the Club is actually for sale.

SG responded that the Chairman is not actively looking to sell, but if someone came in with the finances to pursue a transaction of this nature and had the best interests of the football club the Chairman would be more than willing to sit down and speak to them. SG confirmed that the Chairman is not an anxious seller but a willing seller.

CS asked for clarity on the price of the Club and the price of the freehold. SG noted that the split of the freehold from the Club goes back to 1991 and is well documented, this happened at the time to keep the football club going.

In answer to the question, SG stated that any ‘sales price’ would be made up of three elements - the Stadium, the price of which will be dictated by Fair Market Value and would not be set by the Chairman.

In addition to this there are roughly £1.5 million of Directors’ loans in the Club that would have to be settled as part of a sale and finally, the Shares, the value for which would be determined by the outcome of a commercial negotiation between the seller and purchaser.

RH asked about the Chairman’s long-term plans and exit strategy.

SG stated that an exit strategy had not been discussed but irrespective of who ultimately owned the Club it has 76 years remaining of a 99-year lease with an option of a 25-year extension to that in the Clubs favour and as long as the Club continues to pay the rent, the future of the Football Club is secure.

Should the Chairman move on at some point there are another 8 Directors who would continue to run the Club in the same manner as presently and to the best of their abilities.

There is a good track record with the Club recording a profit in 25 of the last 28 years, with the three years it sustained losses (between 2003 and 2005) being solely down to the collapse of ITV Digital and loss of funding.

Ultimately, moving forward, all around the tabled agreed they would like the Club to be reunited with the Freehold and SG confirmed that he continues to engage with Banks and other Financial Institutions to hopefully one day achieve the stated aim.

Facilities

CS asked about the Corporate side of the business and asked whether this was separate to the Football Club. SG and DM confirmed that all other aspects of the business compliment the Football Club.

The Club has four cost centres (Football, Conference & Events, Commercial and Retail) but they all come under The Walsall Football Club Limited” – there is only ONE company, and all profits go into the Football side of the business.

RH asked about the facilities available to the supporters, in particular the toilets and kiosks and the poor condition they are in. SG referred back to the Boxing Day game when there were a number of issues, which were not acceptable but since then DM has spent a lot of time working on resolving the matters.

DM advised there doesn’t appear to have been as many issues since the Christmas games. DM explained some of the work that has been done in terms of 24 and 48-hour checks before games, with members of staff also on radio during the games who can respond to issues should they arise.

The kiosks remain an issue but work is ongoing to address this.

DM confirmed plans are being worked on in the hope of improving the Bescot Bar area and when the Club is in a position to advise supporters further on this, the Club will do so in due course. DM felt that the Away Bar also needs to be looked at.

SG referred to the current work ongoing around the Stadium where the exterior has been painted with work also ongoing in the interior of the Stadium. SG stressed we have to achieve what we can within budget.

Stewarding

RH referred to the Stewarding at the Club and ways it can be improved. DM advised that all stewards are trained to Level 2 with Stand Supervisors trained to Level 3. The Deputy Safety Officer is working towards Level 4 with the Safety Officer trained to Level 4.

Training is ongoing throughout the season for stewards. All stadium checks and match day sheets are submitted to the Local Authority. DM also confirmed that the Safety Officer, along with all department heads, attends a meeting on the Thursday before a home game to go through match day operation for each game.

The Club implemented the Response Team (Stewards in Blue Jackets) who are not assigned to a particular stand but can move between stands to deal with incidents.

The question was asked of RH of how he thinks this area can be improved to which he answered that Stewards need to be more welcoming, in particular those who patrol the outside of the stadium pre-match including car park stewards as they would help to create a better environment and atmosphere for supporters arriving at the stadium.

DM advised that the Club have also currently employed four new volunteers to help on matchdays to help with this and be a welcome and helpful face for supporters and help with any issues. SG asked if RH can report future incidents at the time so they can be dealt with.

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Any other business

There being no other business SG thanked all for attending and closed the meeting at 16.35.

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