This week the club held another fans forum. I was unable to attend, however Karl one of our forum regulars was able to. He has produced a comprehensive report of what was said.
Well done mate – great job.
Mike Wiseman – Honourary Vice Chairman
Sarah Gould – Customer Service Manager
Dave Hoult – Head of Stadium and Security (and his new Safeguarding Manager, I didn’t note his name!)
Wayne Cowan – Head of Ticketing and Retail
Helen Wilkins – New Consumer Sales Manager
Alexa Stockham – Head of Marketing
Andy Walker – Head of Media and Communications
Ian Dutton – Head of Commercial Operations
Sharon Byrne – Concourse Catering Manager
1. Why are we the last to announce/release the new kits?
Wayne Cowen, Head of Ticketing and Retail, acknowledges that we have fallen to being ONE OF the last to announce the kits in recent years and this is primarily due to kit manufacturer and sponsorship issues. Last year, we hadn’t secured a sponsor until July and as a result could not have the kits made in time for sale at the start of the season. As such, they were released in July. Shirt manufacturers ask clubs for shirt sponsors in November in order to release shirts in July, with the club instability with regards to sponsors in recent years, this has not been something the club could do. However, now there is a two year kit manufacturing deal AND a two year sponsorship deal in place we should see next season’s kit pop up a lot earlier than previous years.
Someone added a question regarding a style vote or away colour vote, and this was met with a similar response in that in order to do such, it would need to be done in November/December so that the manufacturers would be able to produce and release (with design finalising etc.) in good time. The club are reluctant to have supporters focusing on next season’s kit when Christmas is in sight and they’d rather they were focused on buying current season shirts!
2. I appreciate that HK stock market have strict rules, but maybe the club could let fans know as soon as the announcement has happened and maybe give some explanation for those who don’t understand stock market mumbo jumbo?
Andy Walker, Head of Media and Communication, handled this one – this has been an educational process, as it’s not something the club have had to deal with before (the volume of HKSE announcements). In truth, the HK enterprise haven’t thought to notify the club of their dealings prior to the announcements being made for the HKSE, and so the club itself doesn’t get the information as quickly as it would like. Some of the blurb cannot be translated as such, due to HKSE rules and the dangers of making ‘educated assumptions’ on the content. In essence, the club operates on a ‘try not to say anything unless there is something to say’ policy where BIH and the proposed takeover is involved.
In terms of fans hearing things before the press, the club aims to always get news out before any other source. Andy Walker is very proud that on one or two occasions in the past, he has managed to break transfer signings before any other source and it’s been very much an exclusive without prior speculation. If he could, he would LOVE to do this every single time – the same with regards to any HKSE announcements. Any BIH or share based announcement MUST go through the HKSE before the club, due to HKSE regulations, and time differences mean that there is an eight hour ‘dead’ period where nobody at the club is available (i.e. sleep) to break any stories once it has broken in HK.
3. Stability is vital to a successful football side, both on the pitch and behind the scenes, what plans are there to try and facilitate that next season?
The club agrees that stability is vital, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch, the club have been proactive in signing 9 players before pre-season has started. 8 are permanent acquisitions, 7 of those with 2 year contracts and the other two are guaranteed for the entire season (the non-loan has a 1 year option). This was one of Lee Clark’s aims for the new season so as to mitigate the crisis we had last year of a small squad and loan players being recalled. This will help to keep the squad as stable as possible, and there may be more signings on the way.
Andy Walker made a comment about the players not being, perhaps, names that the younger supporter will be familiar with – they’re not ‘big name’ signings from the league – but he did say that almost (note almost) every single player we have signed so far has turned down more money at other Championship clubs. Clayton Donaldson in particular was not short of Championship offers but chose Blues based upon the stature, history and the squad ethic that Lee Clark is hoping to instil. As a side note, Andy further said that the signings have great personalities and he’s looking forward to having interviews with them throughout the season as they are genuinely lovely people.
Off the field, the heads of departments are continuing to work very hard to ensure the club remains a going concern. Ian Dutton, Head of Commercial Operations, has worked very hard to secure the Zapaygo sponsorship deal for the next two years and the deal is – financially – one of the biggest the club has done at this level. The club itself IS stable and NO money is being leeched away by BIH.
4. Any chance of an away support incentive for season ticket holders? Free travel, perhaps?
Wayne Cowan stated that the difficulty here is the cost to the club. Ideally, they’d love to offer free travel etc. but the purse strings are tight at the minute. If that changes, they will revisit such incentives. He added that Premiership clubs are given £250k each to spend on fan incentives such as free travel, but it’s a lot different for the League clubs who do not receive anything.
5. Will there be any further improvements to the PA system?
Dave Hoult, Head of Stadium and Security, stated that there were issues last season but it had been worked on and fixed for the final four weeks. During that period, complaints about the system dried up and they figured all issues had been resolved. No further improvement is planned, but if anyone is aware of coverage ‘black spots’, let the club know as it may be a simple case of there not being a speaker near or pointed in the appropriate direction.
6. Are there any ideas in place to speed up the service in the con course at half time? Such as a ‘beer only’ queue, pre-ordering facilities or perhaps even food sellers walking the stands at half-time/during play?
This one was handled by Ian Dutton and Sharon Byrne, Concourse Catering Manager. They are exploring options regarding people walking the stands or concourse, they are also exploring the implementation (with the help of Zapaygo) of a remote ordering system. You would place your order via the app, pay via the app, and then collect your items from the concourse or they would be brought to your seat. This is very much a work in progress, however, and is not likely to be set up for this coming season. They had used ‘beer only’ queues in the past, with pints already poured, but they were finding that a lot of people were asking for fresh pints to be poured despite the pints themselves being perfectly fine. They will look at whether they can revisit this in the future, perhaps with bottles rather than poured pints.
They did also want to sell the fact that Bar 5 (in the Tilton) has had a new ‘multi dispense unit fast pour system’ installed, this pours 6 pints in 4 seconds. Apparently.
Now on to some other information, interesting or otherwise, presented by the various heads of department. These were asked as questions, but I chose to write the responses rather than the specific questions asked…
Safe Standing – No plans to revisit the idea of safe standing areas until legislation changes.
Entry Queues – Queues have been rather long in the past, and so the club is now allowing ST holders to use any entrance for the stand they are in. For example, if you’re sitting in the Kop you can use any Kop entrance. If sitting in the Tilton, any Tilton entrance including the corner. You cannot use the Kop entrance if you’re in the Tilton or vice versa, however.
Stewarding – There has been a massive intake of stewards, around 100, and they are being trained with NVQs. This is the first full season that Dave Hoult will have been in charge of the entire set up, including recruitment, and there will be more emphasis on customer service skills as he accepts there has been a bit of a bad image amongst some stewards. The club have also appointed a new safeguarding officer and there will be one safeguarding trained steward at each stand – this is largely due to the influx of young supporters the club has had, and the need to ensure they are protected. Dave has also said he will also be personally present in the stands this season, observing both supporters and stewards.
Club Shop Product Range – What’s in is what sells, and there aren’t currently any plans to diversify the range. The club could fill with hundreds of new items, but they just won’t sell. Mystery shopping surveys have commended the present range. The reason larger clubs have a better selection is that they can source in massive quantities and sell them – if we get back into the Premiership then the range may expand. There may be one or two odd items here and there that they introduce to test, but nothing major.
Shirt Release – ALL THREE (THREE!?) shirts will be revealed on the 8th July with the first being on sale by mid-July. Exact date of sale depends on delivery dates, they are currently on a ship (literally) and the lead time from manufacture is four weeks. They would not disclose any hints on style or colours.
Ticketing – New staff were introduced last season, there were teething issues to begin with but they have been resolved and they are working well. The new Consumer Sales manager, Helen Wilkins, will be in the ticket office daily. Season Ticket holders WILL pay less than match by match purchases, this has been guaranteed by the club. The club can’t have more ‘Kids for a Quid’ and ‘£10’ deals as it would reduce the value of a Season Ticket.
Ticketing Plans – Ticket sales have been moved to the club shop, and calls for merchandise down to where the ticket office used to be. The plan is to have one centralised face-to-face hub for ticketing, merchandise and schemes and one centralised telephone hub for the same. They are also working on the web shop to sell things in one place, rather than have a ticket site and a shop site.
BIHL – Mike Wiseman was categorical in saying the club does not send ANY working capital to BIHL, no money leaves the club to their coffers. BIHL is, in fact, making an effort to send working capital to support the club. Albeit small amounts.
New Consumer Sales Manager – Helen hopes to be focused on getting the ‘grass roots’ involved again, targeting grass roots football clubs and schools with ticket offers. The plan is to offer such organisations tickets with the club earning 50% and the organisation earning 50% of the sales. These offers will be restricted to certain blocks/areas of the ground. They used to simply give tickets away, but they found that they could give a school 50 tickets to find someone selling 40 at the gate! It’s hoped that this new plan will provide discounted rate tickets whilst also investing in schools and football clubs. If you know of any schools or football clubs that might like to get in on this, she’d love to hear from you!
Internal Media – Social media is growing, along with having more fan generated content. YouTube will play another huge role this season as it was very successful last term, and is a really easy medium for the club to use. Blues Player will focus more on match commentary and extended highlights, so there is still a ‘value’ there. The Bolton fan letter (which was 100% genuine) gained more hits than any story on the site in May.
External Media – Andy prides himself on open and honest communication with no censorship or club agenda. There will be a balanced rota for player appearances at signings and charity events, with a major player appearing at least once a month – if not weekly. The club hopes to be involved in a lot more charity events.
Bars – The former Trevor Francis Suite (back of the Main Stand) is now Bar 8 and has been invested in by Heineken UK. It has proven more popular than the old suite and they are looking into the possibility of having live music before matches. They are also looking at whether they could turn the old Subway unit into a bar for the Kop/Tilton side of the stadium, but the size and cost of refurbishment is a stumbling block. It’s a work in progress for the future.
Catering – Pukka Pies are staying as the feedback was far more positive than Peter’s Pies. Although there were less through the gates, the club sold more food and drink than previous seasons – it was highlighted that this might be because fans felt they had a better chance of being served! The Cookhouse is also staying as it has had very positive feedback, there may be a few more ‘meals’ available as they have a dedicated chef who works on the menus. They will look into providing the ‘heartier’ options for evening matches, to accommodate those arriving straight from work.
Commercial Packages – Ian Dutton wants to work on making corporate packages affordable for the normal fan, this may mean making empty seats available at reduced ‘upgrade’ rates for Season Ticket holders (for example). They may also look at drawing out Season Ticket customer ID numbers for hospitality upgrades.
Season Tickets – 9,000 Season Tickets were sold last season. The current sales figures stand at almost 5,000 so far. This is down on the figure at this point last season by 500.
Stadium – Ian Dutton wants the stadium to become more than a 23 games a season venue. They are looking into hosting more corporate events, more concerts and more functions. They won a silver award for stadium experiences this season – they were up against MUCH bigger and better stadiums across numerous sports.
Zapaygo – Here for two seasons, it’s a new start-up company with local roots and one of the best deals the club has ever done financially at this level. Zapaygo want to be more fan-involved than EZEgroup and will be holding competitions and other fan engagements throughout the season. The company is strongly backed, for example one shareholder is the owner of the Shipleys Amusements company.
Stadium WIFI – I was thrilled to hear this, but Andy and Ian are at a meeting tomorrow for something called ‘Tribe Hive’. It’s been developed by a communications technology professor and has been trialled, and was hugely popular, at Brighton (there’s a YouTube video somewhere). Essentially, it’s an app that people download to their phone and it ‘draws’ the mobile signal in to create a shared connection ‘hive’, thus providing the ability for better connectivity in the stadium. They don’t have all the details yet (hence going to the meeting tomorrow) but they are certain it will be a fantastic addition to the match day experience. They had looked at installing WIFI aerials etc. but it’s far too expensive and unreliable.