Writer: J P Fear
Date:Sunday December 17 2006
The first Supporter Consultation Group (SCG) was held on Saturday 16 2006 before the Villa v Dirty Dirty Bolton.
Lee Preece was in attendance together with Russell and Dan from the marketing department. One of Randy's helpers also stopped by to say hi and talk briefly about his role in the re-development of the Villa infrastructure including the Holte Hotel and Bodymoor Heath. He said there had been some very positive meetings with the town planners who were supporting what Villa were trying to do. He also said that Villa were aiming to make our training facilities the best in the Premiership with the aim of not only helping the current team but also attracting the very best players for years to come.
It was promised that bi-weekly updates and photos will be sent to the independent Villa sites so fans of these sites can see the progress being made. There are also plans to put up details on the official site about Bodymoor in the same fashion they did with the plans for the Holte Hotel.
One thing is fairly clear, they do want to get more information out to fans and all seem far happier to share information with the independent sites which are seen as a way to reach a wider audience as not all fans go to the official site. Also our independent sites have a bit more freedom editorially than maybe the official site has, so why not encourage us to talk about Villa events and help promote reserve and youth games etc. Might even be able to then get some youth players talking directly to our sites as well as the more formal official site.
It was also obvious, especially after when the attendance for the game was published as 27 400, that a lot of work has to be done to attract back the fans. Season tickets stand at around 19 000, over the last two seasons we've had around 7 000 lapsed season ticket holders and despite promotions to try to attract them back, some now seem resistant and have either moved on and found other things to do or are waiting to see some action before coming back. Out of around 10 000 offers of free seats to former season ticket holders for the Blackburn game, only 1500 took the club up on the offer (All rough figures, much like my ex girlfriends).
There were around 15 people in attendance, 3 from Vital Villa, Villa Talk and H&V. 1 from the trust, an independent fan or two and two from Avids. The balance was made up of reps from the Supporter Clubs from up and down the country and abroad.
The issues covered included:
The three from Vital Villa were:
1) To look at the option of across the board season tickets for £200 to fill Villa Park and generate more money from catering and merchandising etc.
2) Moving away fans from the North Stand, putting them maybe in the Witton and having Villa fans at both goal ends.
3) Restoring the Villa badge, or at least consulting with fans about the badge whilst recognising it may be after consultation that the current badge is the one the majority wish to keep.
I was also able to mention the market stalls idea in another issue and will forward the details from the suggestion to Russell who was interested in the idea. (This was from our message board with the suggestion of having Villa merchandise sold on stalls as we approach the turnstiles, so scarves, hats, badges etc are accessible like you can get from the street vendors.
The three from Villa Talk were:
1) Monthly DVD highlights on sale for fans who can't make the games but still want to see the action
2) Smartening up the outside, attention to the lighting, Villa lettering on the outside of the ground, looking at improving the local environment to give it more of an impressive Aston Villa impact.
3) Issues on ticketing, including bonuses for season ticket holders who pay in advance only to see free and/or free tickets going out to other fans. Talk of the plastic card being loaded with credit to purchase tickets, issues of why not provide ticketing like Reading etc where it is all done by a swipe card, loyalty points for purchases made etc.
The three from H&V were:
1) In various forms how to bring back the missing 10 000 or more fans to Villa Park.
2) Re-branding to put Villa back fully in the public's eye.
3) With tough times from job losses hitting the city hard, could easy payment schemes be introduced over 12 months (not the current 6 months) at a low or 0 percentage interest rate.
The Trust put forward:
1) Getting news out not just online + is there going to be a museum.
2) PA system that you can hear. (The club reps did say this is an issue they have known about and have been trying to remedy for a good while but have had problem with balance etc and have been unable to do the testing on match days despite the fact a full Villa Park is where they could do with doing the testing as the crowd obviously affects the acoustics.
3) The disadvantage of having a season ticket when you can't attend every game.
Avids three were:
1) If the General could hold a forum and talk to more Villa fans as he was so inspiring at the formation meeting of the SCG.
2) For Villa to do more at the grass roots level to get the kids on board and involved with Villa.
3) Loyalty, reward for being a season ticket holder.
The Villa collective website asked if stewards could do more to stop the Tracey Andrews song chants, was interested in setting up a London supporters club (something the club reps were very happy at the prospect of) and if we can't have the star above the badge thanks to the FA, could the club have replica shirts with one for fans to buy.
Then, in no particular order, the various supporter clubs and fans suggested:
1) To look into better catering, service and better toilet facilities.
2) Car parking, transport links, traffic and coaching issues.
3) Booking tickets online, being able to book specific seats etc.
4) To have our own stewards at away games to help solve some of the current problems with stewards and the 'us and them' mentality.
5) Introducing an away cup scheme.
6) Helping foreign supporters to get away cup tickets.
7) Attracting fans in all areas outside of Birmingham, not just advertising but also merchandising, eg you can buy an Arsenal or Man Utd mug / keyrings in Redditch but not a Villa one and to reach further for more fans. The catchment area being massive to attract a whole new fan base.
8) Stop penny pinching, for example the fee to get into the Holte Suite. Also mentioned the possibility of making it first come first served, not just exclusive to season ticket holders (although some of us didn't agree with that as season ticket holders, maybe having 1 guest per season ticket holder though).
9) To have a pre-season friendly at Villa Park which hasn't happened for 10 odd seasons, make it a family day out, maybe the launch of the new shirts etc
10) Move up the merchandise scale and attract the likes of Adidas (HURRAH!) or Nike to make our shirts and merchandise.
11) Celtic and Newcastle have all given their fans scarves during important games so the players see a sea of colour during important games, why not do that with Villa fans. As pointed out, us fans did it well with £ signs, Ellis Out and Red Cards, so why not a positive drive now with the mighty claret and blue.
12) Communication improved, eg not everyone knows about Ron Saunders 'coming home' at the Manchester United game.
13) Problems with programmes being sold out, so an option for season ticket holders to have them sent out each match. (Problem explained was they only get them on the Friday so not everyone would get theirs the following day).
14) Problems with the executive boxes in the Witton Road stand where away fans can shout abuse at the home fans due to the sliding doors + incidents of pints being thrown at our fans. (The club are aware and are trying to work with the box holders on the problem) As one rep said 'just twat them one!!!!'
15) Another mention of a museum.
16) When touring abroad pre-season, to tap into the pockets of fans in those countries and involve them, let them meet players, etc.
Specific for Supporter Clubs:
1) Better SC discounts on merchandise.
2) More support to SC's to grow their memberships, bring young players etc to meeting members and also into schools to 'hook' more fans.
3) Away tickets being available to foreign SC's so they can book flights, hotels etc + to meet players having travelled so far.
4) A general SC for those that don't want to be in a local SC.
5) Coach parking for SC's. Mentioned the away fans coach park, why not let the travelling claret and blue have the same facility and help 'our own'.
6) Club to help promote the SC's coach travel so more fans travel together in organised coaches to Villa Park.
Sorry if I missed any points, although I think this is a fairly comprehensive list.
We also gave our song suggestions for the team to run out to. The problem is that the teams now have to come out to the fanfare in yet more Premier League or FA Rules. When will these people give the fans the game back and stop dictating every single detail?!
The one mentioned the most regularly was the idea of getting Black Sabbath or Ozzy involved in recording a Holteenders in the Sky song (to the Jonny Cash Ghostriders in the Sky tune). Hi Ho Silver Lining by Jeff Beck was mentioned a few times and it was made clear we didn't want the crap Dave Dismay version! Blandy also had a contact with a Villa fan musician who has done some Villa songs, sorry I didn't write down his name and I was familiar with his stuff.
All in all the meeting was positive, some points I'd never thought of were raised, so I'm sure in a small way it will help the fans and club communicate. It was recognised and is obvious, that the thing we are all most interested in is seeing the best players on the pitch winning matches, that in itself will bring the fans back. Shame I'd not seen the suggestion on our site (made today) that fans buying Manchester United tickets would have to pay £45 and that would include a ticket to a less glamorous game like Bolton, so we don't get 27 400 to a game like yesterdays and a sell out next week for Man Utd, I'd have loved to have put that forward together with the £200 season ticket idea.
Just a shame that for the second time (first the formation, second yesterdays first official meeting) the match after resulted in a loss. :(
Date:Sunday December 17 2006
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