The meeting began promptly at 6pm in the Vice-Chairman’s suite at the Circle on Friday 25th July, and introductions were made:
James Mooney, Commercial Manager at Hull City AFC
Henry Crane, from City’s catering partners
Pete Curry, chair of the stadium’s SAG
Ryan, new director of the OSC and “prolific poster on Not606”, West Stander
Abraham, long-standing season ticket holder
Peter Gamble, marketing expert
John Watt, 50 years a season ticket and West Stander
John Wilson, season ticket holder since the 1960s
Sam Campbell, a student at Hull University
Ron Black, chairman of the OSC
Andy Dalton, Amber Nectar fanzine tosser
Mark Gretton, chairman of City Till We Die
George, local football coach
Mike Gothard, Ulltras organiser extraordinaire
At the outset, James Mooney said that while discussion of the club’s doomed attempt at renaming itself was not banned, it was not really the point of the meeting and was something he could not “easily discuss with any authority”.
Mark Gretton (CTWD) asked about the group’s proposed format. This was the first meeting, replied James Mooney, and similar ones with different participants are planning for coming weeks, at which point a more “stable” group with regular attendees will be put together, the aim being to meet monthly. Future chairs of the meeting may not be JM, but may be Simon King, perhaps Ehab Allam. Mark Gretton was keen for everything at the meetings to be made public, observing that it’s in the club’s own interest “good news, interesting things” to be known among City fans. This received common assent, particularly from Pete Gamble.
Immediately, season ticket sales were raised. They’re down, but JM said the club was not displeased with the final tally and they were a little above expectations, and will see more money raised through their sale for 2014/15 compared to last season. He defended the price rise, noting that City season tickets compare favourably with most other Premier League clubs, and spoke in favour of the concept of charging more for glamorous games (though defended what one person called “plastics”, saying that “we all went for the first time once”).
JM explained that the club’s revenue is broken down into two streams, “football and business”. Football income includes television income and competition prize money; business relates to ticket sales, merchandise, retail, corporate hospitality, etc. The latter is “significantly up”, and means the club will turn a profit for the last financial year. This led JM into effusive praise of Assam Allam, a “lovely man” who “really respects the fans”. This “selfish” “hooligan” and member of a “militant minority” raised a quizzical eyebrow at the latter assertion.
Season ticket prices are apparently considered quite a way in advance, with discussions for 2015/16 likely to begin between JM, Ehab Allam (of whom more later) and Simon King as early as November. JM could not give a particularly clear indication as to the likely outcome, but a rise as hefty as this summer’s is not on the cards.
Mark Gretton noted approvingly that Nick Thompson once had the wheeze of “flexible passes” – whereby a City fan could buy passes to a certain clutch of games, perhaps all in the same category. While endorsing the principle, JM described its implantation as “complicated”, pointing out that few other clubs do it.
How about dynamic pricing? This is something that Derby notably do, as do Fulham and there are plans afoot for Liverpool to do it. JM’s primary concern was that it can “undermine season ticket holders”.
The club’s difficulty with assigning priority for the two FA Cup games at Wembley last season was raised. JM explained that the club currently has two different systems that do not easily converse. The club is aware of this – it could hardly not be – and promised to improve the situation.
Ron Black, the HCOSC chair, enquired about the pot of money that is put aside by the Premier League to aid travelling fans, some £200,000 per club. Last season City used the cash for subsidised coach travel, but JM feels this was not entirely successful, citing the example of Manchester United, who used some of it to lower the cost of tickets in the away end at the Circle from £35 to £30 last season – when the group expressed a preference for lower-priced away tickets over cheaper travel (after all, many/most travel independently, especially out-of-towners), JM will put that sentiment to Ehab Allam.
The club, incidentally, has once again signed up with Acklam coaches for next season, JM reported – them emerging victorious from “the Allams’ strict three-quote policy”.
Ticket prices were discussed, with JM first disclosing that Ehab Allam had initially favoured higher costs for City’s FA Cup quarter-final with Sunderland last season before being talked into lowering them. It was noted that City would have been better off spending the money they did on a full-page advert in the Hull Daily Mail to whine about the name change on pushing tickets for that game, though JM said that City had done their best to drum up support for the match.
JM noted frustration with past ticket offers, claiming disappointing take-up and offering the example that trying to market the club in pubs/clubs is sometimes not successful or even allowed as that venue may be illicitly streaming the games. It was felt that the club needs to be bolder and more confident in its product – live Premier League football is something we should be proud of being able to offer. Mark Gretton made the interesting observation that when City made the Premier League in 2008, Hull University saw a spike in admissions requests that they were only able to attribute to the local football club’s success.
This led to a more wide-ranging discussion about how the club markets itself, with many feeling that the club doesn’t make enough of an effort in Hull itself – this fanzine tosser describing City as “interested in Asia but invisible in Hull, and that both Hull FC and Hull KR do this much better, perhaps because they’re rugby clubs in a football city but they still do”. While accepting that more can (should?) be done in Hull and East Yorkshire, JM defended the club up to a point, citing some of the promotions City have attempted.
So how can City market themselves? The club no longer sends texts to the phone numbers on its database advertising season tickets owing to small take-up – but would it work better for individual games? “Don’t forget, City are at home on Saturday, tickets are only £16!” was a proposed idea. JM said it’ll be looked into. He may not thank us for this, but while discussing the club’s marketing (“which has an increased budget”), James Mooney called us “Hull City AFC”. Don’t worry James, we won’t tell Mr Allam.
In response to a question, the club plans to engage itself in the Hull 2017 celebrations, with JM praising Phil Batty at Force-7.
At this point, we adjourned – for food! Henry Crane had thoughtfully brought an impressive array of foodstuffs that the club is either introducing or thinking of introducing for next season. Never ones to pass up a freebie, we can report:
- Steak and ale pie, fairly chunky, quite tasty, definite improvement on grey slurry in existing pies
- Hot dogs, perhaps not up to posh dog standards, but not bad if you like that sort of thing
- Burgers (with wedges!) – very good
- Chicken naanwich: small but tasty
- Lamb naanwich: also small but tasty
- Little portions of chicken curry: hot, good rice too
Though we suspect some of those are intended for corporate customers only, if the burgers, pie and hot dogs can replace the current fare, it’ll be an improvement. Ehab is reportedly in favour of “quality”, and this wasn’t far off it.
The discussion went catering-based, Henry Crane enthusing about how meal deals have doubled in popularity over the past season. But the issue of queues was reported by everyone, and admitted by the club – the upper West being particularly difficult. The club does have an idea, which is a pre-payment app for smartphones, meaning that those who pre-order food, from the previous day to perhaps up to halfway through the first half, can get served more quickly in a special express queue, while benefitting the caterers with knowledge of exactly what to prepare. Interesting idea.
Mark Gretton enquired about how much of this food will be locally produced, and was reassured with the response that practically everything in the club’s restaurant is from Yorkshire or nearby. It’s not always with the case with concourse fodder, because of the wildly different volumes and the fact that few companies can accomplish this.
What about healthy food? Most people would acknowledge that salad or pasta isn’t typical football fare – but again, if the club can receive orders in advance then catering for the health-conscious (and vegetarians/gluten-free eaters etc) is more viable.
Again, the issue of keeping concessions open after the game was raised. JM said that past trials have been unsuccessful; don’t expect this any time soon.
How about real ale, asked the fanzine tosser. Like healthy food, this just isn’t required in volumes that make it viable, but pre-orders could conceivably change that in the future.
We moved onto the apportioning of stands for various fans. Moving away fans and giving much of the North Stand to City supporters will not, in the short term, decrease the excessive amount of space given over to segregation, because – as Pete Curry explained – the issue is not just about creating a sterile space between away fans, it’s how many people you can have in a block of seats (14) between the nearest exit. However, if this alteration of allocations proves a success, the wasted areas of segregation may be lowered in the future.
City will also provide the whole of the North Stand to home fans in the event of away sides bringing a modest following, and JM promised that tougher action will be taken in the future on away fans in the City end. Good.
The issue of disabled supporters was raised, City having copped some flak for raising the admission costs for wheelchair users in recent times. JM defended the move, citing the free carer concession (“which cost the club money”) – however with an outstanding complaint from one supporter still being investigated by the club he declined to go into too much detail, while acknowledging that City “could be doing more”.
As an aside, the club has plans to involve more wheelchair users in the future – and, interestingly, members from the LBGT community, who have perhaps not always felt at home in football stadia.
On we went to a discussion of City’s new crest. JM said that new kits must be ordered in October, something that City failed to do, and was eventually done late by Ehab Allam. The club considered “hundreds” of crest options, with Assem Allam always favouring the current tiger’s head. Upon seeing some old kits from the 1970s with just that tiger head on them he plumped for that, adding the shield on.
This, we were told, had to be submitted by February 1st – at which Pete Gamble, not only a marketing expert but a regular dealer with kit manufacturers, observed that most makers (included Adidas) would have been able to facilitate a late change of crest if requested.
The generally feeling was of begrudging acceptance – though the inept kerning of the numeral 1 in the badge was disapprovingly spoken of (by us). JM said that the tiger’s head is now copyrighted by the club. That’s interesting, because Adam Pearson always told us it wasn’t copyrightable.
James Mooney apologised for inconsistencies in the name used in the season literature, and spoke of his wish to “wipe out” such uncertainties in future usage: Hull City should and will be used for player matters, the stupid Hull City Tigers for business matters. At which point, of course, ongoing examples of HCT being used for explicitly footballing issues were proferred. All of these will be corrected, we were told – except the URL of the club’s official website, which has been insisted upon at “board level”. So direct your irritation towards Ehab Allam for this pointless piece of aggravation.
Mark Gretton enquired if Ehab Allam’s role at the club is growing as much as it appears – JM confirmed that it is, and that he, with his father, constitute “unbelievable bosses”. We assume that was a means of praise rather than a literal description.
JM himself wishes to be a conduit between the fans and the Allams, with all three parties recognising that the club’s reprehensible conduct over the name change had seriously damaged those relations. That led into the inevitable discussion over the name change. JM repeatedly asserted that he does not know whether another application will be made to change the name, and at this point it was easy to empathise with him – the Allams’ unwillingness to make clear their intentions, even to their employees, meant that JM was being hung out to dry on the issue because they will not speak truthfully about their plans.
At which point the West Stand Johns observed that “no-one cares about the name change”, omitting only the tired and false cliché “it’s his club blah blah”…Mark Gretton was one of several people about to point out the facts of the situation when JM opted to end the discussion lest it become a quarrel.
Pete Curry moved the topic on to safe standing. The club is in favour of trialling it, but cautioned that it will not increase capacity without extra access and egress points. That would be very costly, as would building a standing area – and we need the Government to change the law first. So while the SAG is not opposed and the club is in favour, we may be standing in front of our seats for some time to come.
A quick figure: the SMC, should it ever wish to host concerts, may now accommodate 32,000 in the stadium and on the pitch.
The 2015/16 shirt, the second of the four-year deal struck with Umbro, will be ready much earlier than this season’s, and may even be worn and on sale for the final game of the season at home to Manchester United. There may also be a Europe-only kit (with a different sponsor) released should City make the group stages of the Europa League. JM promised big things about its style and quality.
At we ticked past four hours in the boardroom, things grew a little more relaxed, particularly after the earlier tetchiness and little else of note was discussed, though JM said that £1.5m has been spent on the pitch – which, in fairness, held up much better this winter and spring that it has done.
And, and after 4¼ hours, we adjourned. The elephant in the room will always be the name change, and it really is time the Allams came clean on their intentions. But otherwise, this was not an evening without merit.
UPDATE 1: John Wilson has been in touch with regards to comments made during the meeting, it’s Comment #5 below.
UPDATE 2: Henry Crane sent us a nice e-mail stating that the pies we scoffed are not new, but were introduced at the end of last season, that the naanwiches we described as “small” were actually cut in half (which makes them twice the value), and that everyone we had is ultimately intended for concourses as well as corporate hospitality.