Birmingham City Football Club Supporters’ Forum: May 2016

Joys and Sorrows were proud to attend the Supporters’ Forum on 19th May.  Chaired by David Boston, Customer Services Manager and Supporter Liaison Officer with guest speaker, Rob Smith, who oversees all catering at the club.

In attendance with myself were Margaret Decker, from the Blues Trust, Adrian Howell from the Blues Collective, Lynda Courts from Redditch Blues, Lesley Bott from BCFC Disabled Supporters Club, David Smith from Blues Official Forum, Mick and Bik Singh from Blues4All and Lee Neil from Tilton Alliance.

The meeting was held in the Boardroom of St Andrews, and was an energy sapping 6:30 – 9:00 p.m. made easier by tea, coffee and biscuits provided by the club.  There was plenty to discuss, much of which was provided by readers from these fair shores (though in all fairness there was a lot of crossover from the other boards/fora).

Dave Boston fielded some tricky questions, balancing the political (working for the club) with the frank and honest (working with the supporters).  All seemed happy with the answers we were given, though Dave and Rob conceded that promises made by previous members of staff at similar fora in the past about similar projects and issues had come to little at times.  There was a genuine effort from the club to show willingness to continue keeping communication open, to listen to fans, and make changes to improve the fans’ experience in many different ways.  What follows is the minutes from the meeting, in which I shall highlight the most pertinent points, and pass comment on, where appropriate.

The agenda was 1. Introductions, 2. Retail, 3. Ticketing, 4. Marketing, 5. Commercial, 6. Match Days, 7. Fan Representation at BCFC Supporters’ Forum, 8. Rob Smith – Concourse Catering Presentation, 9. AOB.

Retail

  • There has to be more stock available for the new kit for the 2016/17 season I know it’s not really down to the Club but we need to make sure our replica kit is available for the whole season and it’s not completely sold out by Christmas.

  • Announcement made following the supporters forum that next seasons home kit will be revealed on 06/06/16 and will be on general on sale in on 15/06/16. Further details will be provided on bcfc.com in due course.

The club confirmed the Adidas deal will be for four years, and that stock issues will be a thing of the past, no selling out before Christmas, no waiting beyond ‘release date’ for the kit, etc…all very positive.

Ticketing

  • We are aware of the club’s constant reminder that Season Ticket holders get the cheapest ticket prices for the season (compared to match-by-match purchases) but once you have our money, some feel we aren’t given a second thought despite the occasional ‘we appreciate your loyalty’ spiels…

  • A season ticket offers extremely good value especially when compared to other local Clubs. The prices have also been frozen for a third season. Under-11’s remain free and significant concessions for disabled supporters (with free carer) remain. Comparable rates are not offered by a number of local Clubs and other teams in the Championship. Priority for away tickets, cup tickets and free Loyalty account, with associated benefits also provided. The request for enhancements to the current season tickets package to be raised with Wayne Cowen and Tom Rowell ahead of 2016/17 season.

  • Can ‘kids for a quid’ be extended, even if it’s a low age threshold to qualify?

  • The ‘Kids for a Quid’ promotion was available at a number of home fixtures this season as part of the local ticketing promotions permitted by the Football League.

  • Savings scheme for season tickets please.

  • Proposal for savings scheme to be referred to Wayne Cowen and Tom Rowell for consideration ahead of 2017/18 season. There is however, an existing option for the purchase of a season tickets in instalments via V8 Finance (0%) over 8 months.

It was noted that Burton Albion’s standing tickets started at £450 and U11’s were £75, (compared to Blues U11 which are free).

The ‘pie and pint’ initiative was not popular amongst Season Ticket holders for obvious reasons, and the club would be looking at alternatives for the coming season…

The idea was raised about entering the ground with a smartphone, to save printing tickets, but the technology would require a significant investment that the club can’t raise at this time.

Marketing

  • Not to do with catering but the ticket purchasing website, loyalty website and online store would be much better off all implemented together as one website rather than having to go here there and everywhere to find what you need. Not sure how plausible it may be given that we use Ticket Master for our ticket sales though.

  • The Club is nearing the end of a commercial contract with Football League Interactive which expires in 2017. A full review of the available options is currently being undertaken.

Commercial

  • Maybe organise concerts/gigs, charity football matches, outdoor cinema etc at St. Andrew’s?

  • We are open to concerts being held at St. Andrew’s but with the current infrastructure these can only generally be scheduled for immediately at the end of the season due to the annual renovation works to the pitch which are required at the end of each season. We are looking at this longer term, in line with future investment to improve the pitch infrastructure (installation of the Desso system – a system where part synthetic fibres are stitched in with the natural grass).  Such a system would better facilitate multi-use and enable us to host a concert when promoters prefer (mid-summer). The Club have hosted a number of charity matches including Help Harry Help Others, Football Aid, and one for Joshua Ribera. Again, pitch infrastructure restricts us generally to the period of commercial use immediately at the end of the season but we have and still do hold various charity football matches.

The club have recently held FA Schools matches.  The ‘Big Screen’ was also mentioned, the club are aware it needs improving and re-investment in this is very much on the club’s present agenda.

Match Day

  • No problems with the safety but I know a lot of people are really eager to see a safe standing section for fans who want to stand up for the whole game, this may be a long shot but I’d like to see it happen myself in the near future for example if Celtics safe standing section.

  • As discussed at previous forum events it is clear that installation of safe-standing into the stadium would come at significant cost and is not a straight forward issue. St. Andrew’s has been constructed as an ‘all seater’ stadium with access and egress, turnstiles and infrastructure built for such (and in accordance with our Safety Certificate). There are many factors to consider and the Club and the FL are in regular dialogue regarding this topic which is deemed to be an ongoing issue.

  • Flares thrown from stand, during Middlesbrough match – how were these missed? With the history of vandalism from visiting supporters in the local derby, what precautions will be put in place to prevent a repeat?

  • Sadly, the use of pyrotechnics is now a common problem across the whole of football – some flares can be as small as a miniature pen and extremely easy to conceal in underwear etc. We are extremely pro-active in this respect and call for good behaviour pre-match and make specific reference to pyrotechnics. We display a pyrotechnics message on the big screen every pre-home match and we have a “Stop and Think” campaign endorsed by Gary Rowett which we push prior to high profile matches. The club has pursued a vigorous policy of searching techniques and the Pre-event Briefing to stewards and security staff contains an item specifically associated with the problems of smoke devices/pyrotechnics. Prior to the Middlesbrough game, this policy has been largely successful and we were 60% successful in identifying visitors who did bring them into St. Andrews.

  • Does the club have any intelligence as to the ‘unnamed Birmingham club’ photographed by terrorism suspect from Paris and Belgium attacks!?  Whether this was St Andrews or not, it paints a worrying future for spectator sports in this country.

  • The Club have no specific information about which Birmingham based Club was photographed. However, we remain in regular dialogue with the Government and West Midlands Police, as we have done since November 2015, regarding the current situation. Our search policy was reviewed and intensified following the Paris terrorist attack in November 2015, and the Club addressed the advice received from central government. Our search policy was broadened and strengthened from advice and visits by the local police Counter Terrorism Unit. Stewarding numbers were substantially increased from that point forward and this has been the case for every game since last November – exceeding those numbers recommended by the Safety at Sports Ground Act (the “Green guide”) and by our club Safety Certificate.

  • Any chance of training the security to be a bit more child friendly? We understand the need for increased security searches etc after recent events but members report of at least 5 children who had season tickets who have stopped coming since the introduction of the “pat down” searches on the gates as they found the searches and security too scary. Unlikely that those 5 are the only ones either!

  • Minors (under 18’s) cannot be searched by law and consequently they are not given ‘pat down’ searches. However children’s bags may be inspected if a parent/carer is present. However, this feedback will be given to Safety Officer regarding steward interaction towards children.

  • What is going on with the team entrance music? It’s played FAR too early currently, only then to need to be restarted when the teams do actually emerge from the tunnel – wasting the fans’ energy and ultimately causing a bit of a flatter atmosphere than if the music was played at the right time. Further on this point, are we looking to change ‘The Tamperer’ any time soon? Some feel it’s awfully dated, and I’d imagine none of the players are even aware of its significance…Other than it has been played for years, what IS its significance?

  • The Tamperer was chosen as the team’s entrance music by Trevor Francis’ son nearly 20 years ago. Since then the entrance music has been changed on several occasions but the Club reverted back to The Tamperer some years ago. The annual Supporter Survey shows that opinion is evenly split with half of supporters enjoying the entrance music whilst the remaining half asking the Club to change. Gary Rowett and members of the first team squad have highlighted the entrance music as an area for potential review and consideration will be given to changing the walk-out music for something more motivational. The Club will be reviewing pre-match entertainment and the entrance music over the close season in conjunction with the playing staff and management.

  • I would love to see the Half time Chip and Win be selected by block/row and seat numbers rather than handpicked to ensure a more even spread of who get’s picked for example the top of the Tilton doesn’t often get a look in neither does the top of the Kop. Also I’d love to see a half time competition for kids perhaps a penalty shoot-out against Beau/Belle/reserve goalkeeper?

  • Changes to half time entertainment are planned ahead of the 2016/17 season. The Club are also reviewing the current match day activities for families and this includes potential half time pitch based events for children.

Ideas like ‘Match Day Hosts’ were being looked into to enhance the family experience, in the Main (Family) Stand.  Flares and the throwing of such are a criminal offence.  A HD camera is in use at the ground, and would be used to enforce a nationwide footballing ban if a guilty party was identified…

Fan Representation at BCFC Supporters Forum

Since August 2015 we have held quarterly (Aug/Nov/Feb/May) supporter meetings with our registered supporters groups to increase our engagement with fans.

As things stand, invitations to the supporters meetings are made to all registered supporters groups (UK-based only) who are asked to send x1 representative to each meeting.

This model has provided successful and allowed a structured and formal dialogue to be developed between the Club and increase our supporter engagement.

However, in line with recently published government recommendations the Club is keen to ensure that the forums are as democratic as possible and supporters who are not affiliated with a supporter group are provided with equal opportunities to interact with the Club.

Therefore, we will be asking for x8 supporters to nominate themselves for a fixed one year term at the supporter’s forum running from August 2016 –August 2017.

Ideally, we would like to launch this expression of interest by the beginning of June so that we can announce the new members by July ahead of the new season.

  • We will consider how nominees are selected to ensure an unbiased selection process. Selection may be based upon choosing x2 representatives from each of the 4 stands and include a mix of season ticket holders and match-to-match attendees. An advert will be published on all BCFC media platforms in due course and Club are to enquire about advertising the initiative in Birmingham Mail to ensure the widest possible reach ensuring supporters who do not use the website or social media are aware of the opportunity.

Rob Smith‘s presentation discussed the new avenues of retail that have been sought.  Kiosks ‘will not be shut before the end of half time’, staff training has been re-energised, leading to an unheard of 80% staff retention rate for next season, and the use of agency staff in all areas has been limited to restrict problems in that area.  Staff are now ‘area specific’ so they’re ‘experts in their own area’.  ‘Hawkers’ are presently being hired to serve fans around the ground to ease congestion and reduce queuing times.  This follows the immediate success of them in the trial run in the close-season.  They’re capable of puling ‘3 second pints’.  A new 12 pint pourer is to be installed in the Tilton.  Pie and hot dog sellers in the stands are being trialled, and there is a possibility for the availability of real ale in the future, if the club can deal with existing beer partner.  The demand for cashless payment methods has been noted; machines are to be brought in throughout the ground but the cost of ‘contactless’ payment is – at this stage – prohibitive.  Compliments for the Cookhouse were accepted with thanks, but improvements are still to go ahead, including enhanced range across the stadium, a sought-after brand new ‘trailer’ behind the club shop to enhance and support new product lines, and improved food presentation.

Drop-counters where existing will be cleared for disabled supporters’ access, and added where possible.  Free-of-charge hot drinks are to be offered to all wheelchair users, to enhance the matchday experience for disabled supporters.

If you have any questions about any of the above, post a comment on this page and I’ll check through my notes and get back to you if I have an answer…

A postscript – from Dave Boston – One item we didn’t discuss but which has been flagged to me since the meeting is the Councils plans for permitted parking around St. Andrew’s. As yet we have had no communication from the Council about the proposal and during our last contact with them (in March) we were informed that the process remains in the ‘consultation phase’.

Keep Right On!

Russell Dempsey

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