LAST November the Club announced the introduction of monthly Fans' Forums where groups of supporters might attend and pose questions to members of the Board. The fourth forum was held on Monday 21 February and about 100 fans have now had the chance to attend along with Managing Director, Paul Aldridge, and Finance Director, Nick Igoe.
The meetings have all lasted about four hours and the debate has always been constructive. The response of fans who have attended has been positive and Paul and Nick have certainly found the meetings helpful. There have been a number of recurring themes in the four meetings which are clearly important issues for those attending and, for this reason, the Club thought it might be helpful to elaborate on these matters for the benefit of all supporters.
Supporters should be in no doubt that everyone at West Ham United is focussed on re-establishing the Club as a major force in English football, playing the style of football with which the Club has become synonymous. The overriding priority is to achieve promotion back to the Premier League and then to consolidate our position there.
The Club has spent most of the past 50 years in the top flight of English football and it undoubtedly has the supporter base and infrastructure to compete effectively at that level. Most importantly, this infrastructure includes our Academy, which remains the envy of most other English clubs. We continue to produce excellent young players, the best of whom it is hoped will become established first team players for many seasons to come.
It also remains an important objective to complete the redevelopment of the Boleyn Ground into a 40,000 seater arena by replacing the East Stand as soon as the club is re-established in the Premier League and once it is clear that there is sufficient demand for the additional seating.
Bars And Kiosks
There have been many questions asked regarding the relative cost of beer and soft drinks within the Stadium as opposed to in pubs around the ground. The Club believes that its prices are in line with those of most other London football clubs but it has been explained that, in relative terms, fortnightly matchday catering is a much more costly operation than a pub which opens seven days a week. Set up costs for matchdays as well as the relatively high levels of wastage are factors to be taken into consideration when setting prices for all food and drink sold in the Stadium outlets.
A good deal of debate at earlier forums centred on the company's financial position, possibly prompted by ill-informed media speculation.
Nick Igoe has been happy to reassure those attending the forums that he does not foresee any circumstances where the company could go into administration. The company enjoys an excellent relationship with its bankers who have been extremely supportive during the period of adjustment following relegation.
Detailed trading and cash flow forecasts are maintained, presently up to 31 May 2007, which assume Coca-Cola Championship status, take account of the loss of the parachute payment from next season and are based on realistic assumptions regarding attendances and other key factors. Consistent with standard practice in player transfers, a significant amount of transfer fee income from earlier player sales, including 50% of the fee for Jermain Defoe, will be received over the remainder of 2005. In addition, major player wage savings should accrue from contracts expiring in both June 2005 and June 2006.
That said, with its ability to generate gate and commercial revenue, the Club should still be able to sustain one of the higher player wage budgets in the Championship for as long as it remains in that league. Consequently, the Club will have the means to compete effectively for promotion every season.
In the event of promotion to the Premier League, it has been reported that the manager would be given an initial budget in the region of £12-15m for transfer fees and player wages in the first season in the Premier League. This was based on the calculation undertaken for the current season, in the event of success in the Play-Off Final last May, which had indicated an initial figure of £14m.
The actual budget eventually agreed would vary depending on factors such as length of contract for the players signed and whether flexible terms could be negotiated with built in wage reductions in the event of relegation.
In answer to a question at the last forum as to which clubs West Ham United benchmarks itself against, it was stated that, if promotion could be achieved, the club is in the long term capable of ranking in the top eight clubs in the country. The Club's range of facilities following redevelopment of the Stadium give it the ability to generate significant income from its own operations (i.e. ignoring television income). In 2002/03 the club's income from these sources was the eighth highest in the Premier League. The Club believes this level of income is sustainable giving it every chance of competing effectively in the Premier League.
The company is aware of recent newspaper speculation concerning potential purchasers of the company's shares. In the event of a bona fide offer for the shares of the company the Takeover Code would require the Board to refer the offer to shareholders. However, no such offer has ever been received.
Play-Off Final Tickets
The Club recognises that the system used for distributing last year's Play-Off final tickets was far from perfect although there were mitigating factors, including the short period of time involved and the lack of advance information from the Football League and Millennium Stadium. A considerable amount of thought has already been devoted to improvements which could be made to the process should we be involved again this season. Every effort will be made to communicate the options for purchasing tickets to supporters with as much advance notice and offering as much flexibility as possible.
Many of those attending the forums have commented that the Club has often failed to communicate effectively with supporters and that, consequently, the club has been shown in a poor light. This has been aggravated at times by some negative press coverage.
The Club recognises that there have perhaps been historical failings in this regard. The introduction of the fans' forums is an attempt to address this issue and feedback indicates that those attending have considered them worthwhile. The forums are therefore likely to continue and consideration will be given to varying the format. For example, on occasions they might be staged at a bigger venue to accommodate a much larger group of supporters while, at other forums, players, members of the management and coaching staff and other Board members might attend.
The Club will report on the key features emerging from these meetings, occasionally in greater detail such as in this report. In addition, members of unofficial websites have reported on the forums, without exception in a fair and balanced manner, and this has helped to disseminate the discussions which took place to a far wider audience than could ever be achieved at the monthly meetings.
The Club is very keen to involve supporters more closely, to assure supporters of the ambitions of the Club, to explain more clearly how and why decisions are taken and to obtain feedback from supporters on the matters which concern them. It is hoped that this process will improve over time as new initiatives are implemented.
The question of prohibiting smoking in all or large sections of the ground was raised on several occasions. At one forum a show of hands indicated a large majority of supporters would be in favour of a complete ban.
Paul Aldridge confirmed that prior to any legislation forcing the Club to implement a no-smoking policy it would consider extending areas designated for non-smokers. Any change of policy could obviously only be implemented at the start of a new season.
The issue of standing at matches is an important one for West Ham United fans, in common with fans of other clubs, and the matter has been debated extensively at forums. It has also been raised in the context of a lack of atmosphere within the Boleyn Ground.
However, it has to be recognised that legislation presently requires all spectators to remain seated during games. The supporters of West Ham United are seen as among the most persistent offenders, both at home and away games, and the Club has been under pressure from the Football Licensing Authority to address the issue. The Club has sought to enforce the current legislation within the Boleyn Ground and in particular the lower tier of the Bobby Moore Stand.
The introduction of the access control system on the turnstiles gives the Club the ability to bar offenders from entry and the FLA will require the Club to use this sanction in the case of persistent offenders. The Club has already seen its away ticket allocation cut for games at Nottingham Forest and Sunderland, on the recommendation of the Safety Advisory Group local to those clubs, and it seems certain that further cuts will be imposed unless our supporters remain seated at away grounds. The FLA is determined to eliminate standing in seated areas and will continue to target supporters of clubs in persistent breach.
The issue of safe standing at stadia is a more complex one and the Club is aware of well organised national supporter groups who are campaigning for the reintroduction of such areas.
Although the Club respects the objectives of these groups and recognises the strength of feeling among supporters, it would be concerned that lending support to such campaigns could send mixed messages and thereby undermine its present overriding obligation to eliminate standing in seated areas in conjunction with the local Safety Advisory Group.
Attendances this season have been averaging 27,500, a reduction of almost 10% on the previous season which was in turn almost 10% down on 2002-03, the Club's last season in the Premier League.
Concern has been expressed that attendances could continue to fall unless ticket prices are reduced. At present no decision has been made on prices for next season. However, the Club's priority is to maximise gate revenue, whether from season tickets or match tickets, and by pricing as flexibly as possible to generate demand for less popular fixtures. Gate revenue is the club's main source of income and has a direct impact on how much the Club can invest in the playing squad.
The Club recognises that attendances may fall again if the team remains in the Championship but is concerned that this may be influenced more by league status, current form or the appeal of the opposition than by price. For example, last year's price structure, where category A tickets were up to £7 higher than category B tickets, nevertheless resulted in average attendances for the category B games being some 700 lower than the average for category A games. If a reduction in ticket prices failed to have any positive impact on attendances then the club's overall gate revenue could be materially affected.
If ticket prices were to rise whilst the team remains in the Championship the Club would do its utmost to limit such increases to the rise in the RPI. It is possible that some changes may be made to the price structure to increase flexibility. There has been positive feedback from the forums regarding Kids For A Quid and this initiative will be retained, although it may be subject to minor modification.
This review deals with the topics which have attracted most attention at the fans' forums held to date. It is hoped that supporters who have been unable to attend find the information helpful. Further reports on the matters covered in future forums will be published on a periodic basis.
NEXT TWO DATES
THE next two scheduled Fans' Forums will take place on Tuesday 22nd March and Monday 25th April, kicking-off at 7.00pm. There are limited spaces available so please apply quickly, either in writing to Fans' Forum c/o West Ham United, The Boleyn Ground, Green Street, Upton Park, London E13 9AZ or by email to [email protected]
Feedback From Fans' Forum