Fans Liaison Committee – October 2008

Some five months since the last such gathering, the Fans Liaison Committee convened at the KC Stadium on Wednesday 22nd October 2008. Since the last meeting there have been some significant changes at the club, none bigger than the ascension to the Premier League, and achieving that status has led to Hull City re-evaluating it’s policies for the sale of match tickets.

Those changes dominated the agenda in a meeting that was considerably shorter in length than most FLC congregations, many representatives were absent and with a reserve game against Blackburn kicking off at North Ferriby at 7pm, the chairman and some members wanted the meeting done in time to attend that. This meeting took place in the Chairman’s suite, a salubrious facility on the second floor of the West Stand, though the last person to be told of the venue change was the chairman himself, Paul Duffen sat alone for sometime in the usual ground floor meeting place until he realised something was amiss, hehe.

Allocation of away game tickets
Having previously stated that supporters who attended five away games or more last season would get priority when applying for away tickets this season, the club recently announced that would no longer be the case and that when away games are oversubscribed, a random ballot would take place to determine who gets tickets. This caused some consternation among some people who have followed City away regularly in previous years but were not members of the Away Direct scheme. A long time passholder who had attended five or more away games last season and then attended the away games at Blackburn, Newcastle, Arsenal, Tottenham and West Brom this season might not be allocated tickets to see City play Manchester United at Old Trafford, whereas someone who has never attended an away game before and was a passholder for the first time this season could be. This was seen by some to be grossly unfair to ‘loyal’ supporters and pandering to ‘bandwagon jumpers’ who only wanted to see ‘Big Four’ teams and cared little for the Tigers.

Chairman Paul Duffen said he didn’t really think this was a big issue, but in that regard it was the club themselves who made it an issue, firstly by introducing loyalty criteria to begin with and then making an announcement that made it appear the club no longer saw loyalty as worth rewarding. Last season when the demand for tickets exceeded supply for the away game at Scunthorpe, the club said that new Customer Relations Management software could be used to find out who had attended a significant amount of away games previously and be used to give priority to regular attendees of out of town fixtures. A couple of subsequent FLC meetings were dedicated to hammering out a fair method of allocating away tickets and unanimous consent was given  (as in, some were vocally in favour and nobody voiced objection) to a proposal to follow the Wolverhampton Wanderers model of awarding customers 10 points for every individual ticket they purchased (passholders got an automatic 1000 point award), be it a home game or away game. This method would need to be applied at the start of the season as many away games in our 2007-2008 Championship season were not all ticket, you could pay on the day, so no CRM data was accrued on the customers’ record.

Of course when City qualified for the playoffs, they needed an immediate method for fairly allocating tickets for Watford away and later the Wembley play off final. The club decided that passholders who purchased five away tickets (or more) on their customer reference number would receive priority, and decided to keep that criteria for the purchase of away tickets this season. Two away games into the Premiership campaign, it was decided to scrap the five game criteria and give all passholders an equal chance to get Manchester United game tickets.  A question was put to the chairman, “if the idea of rewarding the loyalty of regular away match attendees seemed a good idea just 6 months ago, why has there been a change of mind?”

The chairman said that he views all season ticket holders as equal, they are the lifeblood of the club, and that when we first planned to have a loyalty scheme the plan did not discriminate against anybody. However the sizeable increase in volume of passholders this season means that if an away game is oversubscribed that there will be discrimination, and he didn’t want to play God and decide who was worthy, who’s support is more deserving. Duffen said that if he asked a passholder on the concourses to identify other passholders that he was more worthy than, the person asked is likely to shirk the responsibility of ‘playing God’, and that he doesn’t want to do it either. If it’s a choice of discriminating ‘the class of passholders’ or having a ballot then he chooses the ballot method.

He pointed out that the Manchester United game is the first to be oversubscribed, and even then not by that many people. There were just 3,900 applications for the 3,000 tickets, which is remarkable when you consider that well over 4000 City fans turned up at Blackburn in August. It’s also worth noting that every passholder who applied for Arsenal and Tottenham tickets got them, regardless of whether they’d attended away games last season or not, and in the case of Tottenham, tickets went on general sale, available to any old meff. Granted, this information is of no consolation to the 900 people who applied and were unsuccessful, the club will offer beamback tickets to those fans as a gesture of goodwill, but the fears of thousands of loyal fans missing out appear to have been misplaced. Some people’s names and customer numbers appeared on more than one application, however this would not improve their chances of getting a ticket as the club will only include individual numbers once in the ballot.

The FLO and chairman mused that perhaps the club ‘overcommunicated’ and if no grand announcement had been made, and the line of text referring to the five game criteria had been discreetly removed, few people would have noticed, the indignation that greeted the announcement would have been avoided and relatively few people would have been affected and given cause for grievance. Even with the announcement, there was no great clamour for tickets from passholders who usually just attend home games, maybe they baulked at the £50 ticket price, or maybe we don’t have as many ‘loyal’ supporters as we think. Taking a contrary outlook, it could be argued that the club might as well ensure those who’ve been to a fair few away games get tickets, as the Blackburn, Tottenham and West Brom matches going on general sale illustrates that it’s far from a ‘closed shop’.

If you go with the line that giving past away game attendees priority for future road game fixtures is discriminatory, then the Away Direct scheme really is a closed shop. Does the new away ticket distribution policy put the 700ish member scheme under threat? “Away Direct is under review” said the chairman ominously.

The FLO’s email response to complaints was that the move was taken after consultation with supporters groups, and it was asked who those groups were, since it clearly wasn’t the FLC. The club’s intention to change the policy was mentioned at various Official Supporters Club events and the response of fans was gauged and fed back to the club.

Matches on DVD
It was asked if the club intends to release DVDs of complete games as they have in previous seasons, as they’ve been conspicuous in their absence in Tiger Leisure this year. You could buy discs of games the week after back when City were in Division Three and beating Kidderminster, yet City beat Arsenal at the Emirates and there is no purchasable complete record. There was quizzical looks from both the chairman and marketing maven Andy Dawson, which suggests it’s not a deliberate change and it has merely been overlooked. Duffen and Dawson conferred to see if it’s a Premier League marketing rights issue and it isn’t, after all the club sell highlights discs that come with the City magazine. The club will look into it, and Andy Dawson had that pound signs in his eyes/kerching look about him as he openly contemplated a London 0 Hull 4 box set.

Replica shirts
There are no City shirts left in the club shop, and when one supporter asked when Tiger Leisure would be getting more in, the staff didn’t know. This is because the club don’t know, so can’t inform their retail arm. The chairman noted that following their purchase of Umbro, Nike destroyed the companies distribution infrastructure and this has led to huge delays for Umbro branded clubs. All Umbro can say is that they’ll be able to meet their contractual obligation to deliver more shirts before Christmas. As for the shop selling out, Duffman said we have sold as many jerseys as the whole of last season already.

Masters’ competition
City still don’t have any representation in the Sky Sports-televised fun fest that is Masters football, the 5 a side kickabout for haggard old pros on a disturbingly blue hued pitch. This was raised at a previous meeting but evidently forgotten about, though it doesn’t appear that the company Sky use to organise the squads has much contact with the clubs the Masters sides represent. It is thought that it’s done on a literally 5 a side type basis where one player on each team takes responsibility for their involvement in it, just without having to collect £2.50 from everyone to pays subs. Deano has been involved in Masters football before so he’ll be asked what he knows, and the FLO suggested it could be a job that Linton Brown might want to take on board.

FLC representation
The Fans Liaison Committee itself was raised as a talking point, do the club take is seriously considering the last meeting was aeons ago? Additionally,  some don’t feel it’s a true representation of the supporters, and that we don’t ask the questions we’re tasked to ask and instead all just get off on talking to the chairman once a month, high fiving DuffMan as he enters the room and thinking ourselves elevated from the rest of humanity as a result.

I’ve seen posts saying the same on the frightfully self-regarding Hull City Online site that call the meetings a ‘pointless bunfest’ for ‘self appointed members on an ego trip’, in fact not so long ago that site posted an article in which it was questioned whether Amber Nectar should have two representatives on board, wilfully ignoring that of all the representatives, the AN reps ask the most questions, on behalf of AN users who take the FLC fairly seriously and tend to raise meaningful points like ticket allocation and stewarding, whereas other reps are told to ask about plastic forks at the kiosks and betting slips in the bar. It also overlooks that the mummy and daddy of the owner of Hull City Online are on the FLC, why isn’t that questioned? Yes they may have separate titles, but they speak with the same voice, like avuncular Borg drones, and ask things like ‘when will the club donate shares in a business with a turnover of millions of pounds to the eminently pointless Tigers Co-Op for free?’ No ulterior motive to that article, eh?

Now the point about the FLC needing a rejig has valid elements to it, there are some people who sit on the FLC that never ask questions, raise points or even speak, they also don’t appear to be representing anyone, plus there’s that bloke who when asked what the club should do to entertain people at half time, said with no irony, “I could bring my dogs”. So yes, it all needs a reshuffle, that’s an entirely valid point that I can support, but the subtext of the Hull City Online article is ‘why aren’t we on the committee when Amber Nectar are, it’s not fair, I want to high-five DuffMan too and since my mam and dad go then why not make it a family affair and we’ll bring cakes, waaaaaaaaagggghhhh!’

I also believe that some people have too high an expectation of the FLC, as if someone should get a rep to ask for something to be changed and it be done, and right away. This is a view that is detached from reality, the club is not a democracy, nor is it the X-Factor and you don’t get a vote on what the club decides to do, those asking the FLC to raise points have no right to demand or expect action. However, the club is willing to listen and values a meaningful dialogue with the supporters, the chairman doesn’t attend these meetings and OSC events just to get out of washing the pots at home, he does it because he values the input of supporters, as evidenced by his recent quote in The Times… “A football club is an emotional piece of intellectual property that belongs to the fans.”

Right, I’ve had my rant, onto the response of the chairman and FLO. Danny Pratt said the reason that this meeting has taken so long to arrange is because the chairman wanted to attend, suggesting it is taken seriously, but he has been tied up with the various obligations being a Premier League chairman brings, and this was the first available, appropriate date. It was agreed that five months is too long between meetings. However Duffman sees the FLC meeting as “just one part of the communications process”, he referred to his regular, bulging mail bag, if people think FLC reps aren’t asking your questions in a group setting, then ask it yourself in writing. It’s not always possible for a rep to ask every question put to them, these meetings can go on a few hours, but even then some stuff goes unmentioned because the meeting might focus on a set theme or the discussion goes off on a tangent, but you can always write in yourself . Plus the chairman regularly attends OSC events and gets asked questions by fans at those too, then there’s the Chairman’s Night on KCFM, so supporters have more ways to raise issues with the club than just the FLC.

Danny Pratt also noted that whenever people complain to him that the FLC doesn’t meet their expectations, he asks them to come along to one to see what goes on and raise points themselves. They rarely take him up on the offer. He also agreed that it is time for a shake-up of the FLC and welcomes suggestions, so HCO-types, send your begging letters in now.

There have been some issues with people smoking and drinking alcohol on Tiger Travel coaches, and they were searched by Police on the way to Tottenham. Currently, passholders travelling on club chartered coaches book tickets using their customer reference number, so the club know who’s on the buses if culprits are found. The Tottenham game though, saw tickets go on general sale, so pass numbers weren’t taken for those people. A photo ID membership card was suggested and the chairman responded by saying he was happy for the club to “make the system more austere, but we don’t want to be processing people” Home Office style.

The City branded plastic beer glasses should be appearing on the concourses soon, hopefully by the time of the Manchester City game. The idea for these was approved ages ago but the club were negotiating another brewery deal, the old brewery would have done it but at a prohibitively costly price to the club, whereas the new brewery were very receptive and have come up with a workable plan.

The beer only kiosk in the East Stand was not open against West Ham, something both Duffen and Dawson were quite peeved about. “We will mention this to the contracted company with some ferocity” said DuffMan, thrusting in the direction of the problem.

Someone moaned that the names on reserve game team sheets rarely reflect the names of players on the pitch, uff uff uff.

The 50p per ticket booking fee when using a debit or credit card was queried, why is it per ticket? The club a charged a percentage of the total sale value for the processing of card payments, rather than a flat fee per transaction, so if you buy four tickets, the club are charged more for processing the card transaction than if you bought one ticket. The club could say ‘each ticket will have an X percent booking fee added’ but they figure that’s more confusing than just giving a specific amount. One FLC member noted that Ticketmaster’s fee for card handling is £4 per ticket. Ouch.

It would be nice to see City shirts in city centre sports shops commented one fan. It may be nice, but that means Hull City would concede control of how they are merchandised and at what price. Plus the Tiger Leisure exclusivity means all money from shirt sales goes to the club, whereas buying a City shirt from Sports World throws money into the coffers of Mike ‘Cockney mafia’ Ashley. Ugh. On the matter of merchandising, Tiger Leisure is moving to a much larger premises within Princes Quay soon.

Will we have beambacks for all away games that sell out? No, it’s not cost effective.

Some additional lighting around the ground, as promised last season, is now in place adjacent to the North and South stands.

The stadium expansion non issue was briefly mentioned, Duffen is “far from persuaded that the immediate need is there” and pointed out that the KC Stadium’s lowest attendance for a league City game was recorded just seven months ago (against Southampton apparently). The chairman wants to get the academy infrastructure right and the team established in the Premiership before we turn attention to stadium expansion. Amusingly, when the stadium expansion topic was discussed in the HDM recently, a bunch of Know-Nowt Meffs (KNM) on their website suggested, sans-irony, that we sack off the KC Stadium and build a 55,000 seater stadium somewhere. Meffs.

The SMC and other relevant stakeholders have commissioned a report (costing £35k) into the viability of a rail halt near the stadium, the reports findings will be due 31st January. KNM may suggest we think bigger and build an international airport on the Hymers school pitches to accommodate all the thirsty-for-City action Japs, Arabs and Martians flying in.

The International Premier League Round was never, and is never going to be a 39th game played for points says DuffMan. There will be a round of games played abroad, possibly as an extension of the Asia Cup, but the idea of an extra, integrity-of-league destroying round of games that count in the Premier League table was never a seriously discussed proposition.

It’s pronounced Zigh-At-Tay, and the chairman had a spot of IT bother when he put ‘Young Boys’ into Google when researching Kamil Zayatte‘s Swiss club, hehe.

Les Motherby