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Coventry City Supporters' Consultative Group Meeting Minutes - Wednesday, 25th May 2016

2 June 2016

Please read the latest meeting minutes from the last Supporters Consultative Group meeting...

Meeting
Wednesday 25 May 2016, 6.30pm
Butts Park Arena

Present: 

Pat Abel (PA), Chris Anderson (CA), Steve Barnett (SBA), Jim Brown (JB), Steve Brown (SBR), David Busst (DB), Declan Connolly (DC), Darren Davies (DD), Tim Fisher (TF), Michael Garlick (MG), Sandra Garlick (SG), Dale Hayward (DH), Kevin Heffernan (KH), Colin Henderson (CH), Mark Hornby (MH), CJ Joiner (CJ), Alan Ludford (AL), Phil Maynard (PM), Jan Mokrzycki (JM), Dave Morris (DM), Pat Raybould (PR), Tynan Scope (TS), Jon Sharp (JSH), Jonathan Strange, chairman (JS), Robert Tidmarsh (RT), Jodie Turner (JT) 
 
Apologies for Absence:

Apologies were received from Chris McGrath, Chris O’Neill, Mark Sorbie, Ray Stephens and Peter Ward.

Chairman’s Report

JS welcomed Alan Ludford, chairman of the Diamond Club, who attended on behalf of Ray Stephens.  He introduced Jon Sharp, chairman, and Phil Maynard, managing director, of Coventry Rugby Club, and warmly thanked them for providing the SCG with a regular venue.  JS also welcomed Tim Fisher and Chris Anderson.

JS was keen that Mark Sorbie should remain in contact with the SCG in a consultative role despite health issues making it difficult for him to attend on a regular basis. His contribution on disability issues had been crucial.

JS thanked MH for updating the issues log, DB for his Sky Blues in the Community presentation last meeting and Bruce Walker and Frank Smith for attending last meeting to give an update around transport.

JS congratulated PR for being Highly Commended in the Volunteer Category of the Pride of Coventry and Warwickshire Awards for the work she does in the Family Zone and with the JSB’s.  

Kieran Crowley sent the following message to the SCG: ‘My final day of employment is Thursday so I won't be present at the SCG meeting on Wednesday, but please do send a note of thanks to everyone at the SCG who has been so supportive of me over the years and Good Luck in the future’ The group heartily reciprocate this and wish him all the best in his new role.

Matters Arising

Circulated previously via email, the meeting accepted the minutes of the last meeting as a true and fair record. 

PA and CA have now met with regards to Tickets for Schools. 
 
With regards to the letter published by the Coventry Telegraph attacking the SCG, the objection is not to someone’s right to seek to publish his views. The objection is to the Coventry Telegraph completely ignoring our response.

DM confirmed via email during the meeting that Chris O’Neill would be investigating whether the police officer back on duty after the incident at a City match would be returning to the Ricoh.

Ticketing

CA confirmed that, on an operational level, they are very happy with the way the new Ticketmaster system has rolled out – there has been the occasional hiccup and complaint but they have tried to be responsive when this has happened.  Around 70% of purchases so far have been made online, compared to around 20% last year. There have still been a small number of supporters who have elected to purchase their season tickets in the ticket office.

The sales figures have been pleasantly surprising so far, despite the negative publicity in the Coventry Telegraph around season ticket prices.  CA wanted to remind supporters that they are the same price as they were two seasons ago.  Sales this period against the equivalent timescale last year have doubled; the number of U13’s have more than doubled (although it was U12 last season, but it is still a significant increase). Over 2000 season tickets have been sold so far. JS asked CA if he could give a reason as to why sales have improved. CA suggested the greater ease of being able to purchase them and also possibly the heightened publicity, albeit negative.  The club has also started to advertise more – on Facebook, Google ads and on a billboard on London Road.

DD brought some questions from the Coventry City Supporters Forum (more information on this in the AOB section) around ticketing, in which CA and MH answered below:

1. Currently, when an adult season ticket is purchased, a free JSB season ticket is issued. Can this not be applied to individual match tickets, where if a single adult matchday ticket is issued , then a single JSB matchday ticket can be issued for free? (Glenn Watkin)

We already do this – we will try to make it clearer.

2. The club have had no contact with me since I renewed my 2 season tickets this time last year, I’ve had these season tickets for over 20 years. I have another season ticket with a different club and receive regular updates of fixture changes, ticket deals, traffic problems around the stadium on matchdays. For CCFC to contact a long-time customer once a year seems very poor service.  (Pam Carvell)

Supporters are urged to check the club have their correct personal details and that preferences are reviewed as regular email correspondence is sent out to season ticket holders.  We are getting a new email system too which should improve this further.

3. (a) Why increase the price of Season Tickets whilst we are still only in League One? (Gaz Powell)  
                               
Compared to other clubs in League One, our season ticket prices are low.  Chesterfield, for example, charge around £540 for their premium zone (compared to £345 that CCFC charge).  CJ asked if a comparison table could be produced to show where we fall; CA said they will communicate an average figure for the year and show where we sit in this.

(b) Do you expect the same problems as last year, with Season Tickets being delivered late? (Gaz Powell)

Last year, season tickets in the majority of cases were sent out in mid-July so they were not late.

CA confirmed that supporters would continue to be able to buy match tickets by cash or cheque. CA said that away tickets/away travel would continue to be sold via the ticket office and not on Ticketmaster. 

There was a brief Q&A session around ticketing:

KH: Is there anything we can do to better promote the Zebra 10 months payment plan?

CA: We have tried to communicate as much as possible – it is on the website along with all publicity around season tickets.

JS: Prices for non-ambulant/disabled supporters have been increased to match the regular price, rather than being at a concessionary rate.

CA: We have tried to keep in line with consistent practice of others.  We don’t want to isolate one group as we could potentially need to make exceptions for other groups.

SBA: Private Seat Licence members have received no information about where they fit in with season tickets and the early bird deadline.

CA: Yes, this is being looked into

JB: When will season tickets be dispatched?

MH: We do not have an exact day but it will be in July – as soon as the date has been confirmed, we will publish this on social media.

JB: Will the season tickets be paper again?

MH: They will be a card again for next season

JB: Will we be able to purchase home cup tickets online?

CA: Yes

Butts Park Arena Proposals

Jon Sharp (JSH), Chairman of Coventry RFC, introduced himself to the group and gave some information from his and the rugby club’s perspective around a possible ground-share with CCFC.  

We have developed fraternal relationships with the football club for a long time – we respect each other as two clubs who bear the city’s name. We have been in communications with regards to physio, training, joint marketing, joint tickets etc.  There was a Coventry RFC forum recently where 150 members turned up regarding plans for next season, finances etc.  The stadium was discussed – the fact it is underdeveloped land and the stadium underutilised, and what could be done to benefit the local community. There was discussion around having a hybrid pitch laid so other sports could be played on it.  With regards to the rugby club finances, it is difficult as there are only 15 home games a season.  The early discussions around the ground share came up.  All that was said to the forum members was that we were looking into the feasibility and practicality of such a venture.  The media got a hold of this very quickly and it exploded in the press in the week.  

Talks are in the very early stages still.  We have had some preliminary architect drawings and planning advice but no more than that.  We need to recognise that if the majority of fans do not wish to come here then that is a stumbling block.  There are other factors too, such as the political situation, planning on the very tight site and funding/financing. There are still a lot of things to discuss and a lot of issues that would need to be resolved.

There would need to be discussions around the size of the ground – last season Cov RFC’s highest attendance was 2100.  Jon would not want there to be a similar situation to Darlington who have 900 fans in a 22,000 seater stadium. Also, the FA and Football League would want fans separated whereas rugby fans sit together, with a standing area included.  There are also questions around ownership.
The Coventry Telegraph ran a poll and 56% of fans who responded stated they would like to stay at the Ricoh Arena.

In the meantime, we are happy to facilitate the CCFC ticket office, hosting SCG meetings and events to raise funds for the football club. We are very open about the relationship between the two clubs.

All the land belongs to the city council. The owner of the head lease is based in New York – this is a 125 year lease (117 years left).  The sub-lease is owned by the rugby club and this does permit the playing of other sports. 
 
The current lease has planning permission for a 13,000 seater stadium, this could be easily replicated and expanded.  This is from when the stadium was first built, 11 years ago.  The initial study indicated that a ground holding as many as 25K could be built, which would be bigger than the rugby club would need, but it is feasible.

Tim Fisher was invited to give some feedback from CCFC’s perspective:

We are not looking to take ownership of the Butts Park Arena – this would be a joint venture.  There would be a property company, a ‘propco’, and two sporting operation companies, ‘opcos’, Coventry City FC and Coventry RFC.  The stadium would be a joint venture and a StadiumCo would provide operational support to both clubs including delivering matchday and non-matchday revenues.  CCFC needs to have access to all matchday revenues, not just the £75K (£72K for food/drink and around £3K for car parking) we receive from being at the Ricoh Arena.  Chris Anderson added that for every £1 spent on food/drink etc inside the ground on match days, CCFC gets 15p and the other 85p goes to ACL/Wasps and the catering company.  This is non-negotiable because of the ACL-Compass company structure. CA has tried to carve out a new deal but there is no deal to be done. This is a challenge to the football club.  Even 50% of matchday revenues wouldn’t be sufficient.

We have undertaken some work around the physical structure of the stadium and how this might work for both clubs – also, financial modellers and analysts have been looking at the best schemes to compliment the stadium, e.g. student accommodation, hotels.  

One of the key tasks is building a non-matchday joint venture, with the objective that monies raised for the football club would go straight to the playing side. We do not want to have to sell players every year to progress financially. That model does not work. We need operational revenues to exceed or at the very least match costs.

It is frustrating that the media got a hold of this story so early as we wanted to have more information to give, and also to avoid media volatility.

Feedback from the planners around car parking is that fans will be encouraged to leave their cars behind and use public transport or park and ride services.  The location of the BPA is central, it is close to the main railway station and there are good transport links already in place. Clubs like Southampton, Leicester and Brighton have limited parking by their grounds and car parking is not a problem.
We want to be the masters of our own destiny again and also work with our local rugby club.

We don’t want to create animosity with the City Council.  It does need pointing out that this is a Coventry City FC venture, not a SISU venture.

Phil Maynard, Managing Director of Coventry RFC, added:

We have looked at other joint venture models, such as Ashton Gate, which is the home of Bristol City FC and Bristol Rugby Club.  We believe the original planning permission for a 13K stadium at the Butts would still hold leverage in future plans to expand.  We think it would probably need to be a two-tiered system where certain sections of the ground would be opened for each club. 

Chris Anderson added:

The tightness of the space isn’t a concern – in fact, a stadium where the fans are really close to the pitch allows a much better atmosphere. Home advantage would be very effective.  There are other ways to create more space, like lowering the pitch. 

In terms of the size of the ground and it meeting both teams’ needs, Seattle Sounders FC play at CenturyLink Field, which is a multi-purpose stadium, Seattle Seahawks (American football team) also play there.  When Seattle Sounders are at home they close off the upper tiers, a bit like MK Dons.  This is a progressive model.

A Q&A session ensued:

SBR: Do you have any idea around timescales
TF: Not currently as we are still in the very early stages, but if we were able to go ahead with this project it would probably take 2-3 years. The planners are saying 12-15 months for planning would be the standard and then 12 months for the stadium to be built.

SBR: Is it an equal joint venture:

JSH: We could expand the ground, although to a lesser extent, without CCFC. We haven’t looked yet whether it would be 50/50 as yet as we are still too early in discussions.  The attraction of going in with the football club is having a ready-made partner and together attracting grants from sports authorities. In terms of funding this project, we would also look at student accommodation, hotels etc.

TF: This is the home of Coventry RFC – it would be an equal joint venture. CCFC moving here would benefit both clubs. The company structures we have developed are mindful of insolvency remoteness – if either sporting ‘opco’ were to go bust, it wouldn’t affect the other. As both teams have had their administration challenges in the past, it is important to highlight this.

AL: Do these discussions mean you have given up hope of staying the Ricoh after the 2 year contract is up?

TF: No, not at all.  CA has been building relationships with Wasps, there is no animosity. They have their business needs, which we fully understand - just as we do, just as Coventry RFC do.  The football club needs somewhere to play – we have at least 2 more years at the Ricoh and could extend if needed. We want to play in Coventry and not outside. In terms of Wasps’ position on us playing there, our rent is welcome to them, but it is impossible for them to give us exactly what we need. We need to be a self-sustainable club, we need access to all the matchday revenues.

DD: If 50% at the Ricoh wouldn’t be sufficient, how would this work in this venture:

TF: Because we would receive 100% revenues on CCFC matchdays, Coventry RFC would receive 100% on their matchdays.  The current deal at the Ricoh is 15% anyway and cannot be changed, and we have zero access to non-matchday facilities. Also, stadium naming etc rights could bring in a lot of revenue that we cannot access currently. 

KH: Is this something that the new stadium committee can work with – last time there was a lot of animosity but as it is a joint venture with the rugby club, there would probably be less ill-feeling as this is a community based project?

TF: Any stadium committee in the future would contain representatives from both clubs, it would be made clear from the outset that this is a joint venture, not CCFC trying to take over Coventry RFC. Coventry RFC have been brilliant to us and we have a fantastic relationship. 

SBR: How much land is there on this site?

TF: 9 acres

JM: Has any consideration been given to safe standing?

TF: Yes. The Football League have visited the site and given their assessment. The Football League are incredibly supportive of this site and have indicated that safe standing/rail seats could possibly be an option they would consider.

JB: Are you pursuing any other options?

TF: There is one other option on the outskirts of the city boundary, but both CA and I would like to go for the BPA option. It bucks the trend of stadium development today – being an inner-city stadium – however, there are so many positives to the football club moving here. There would be no option of the academy being at the BPA, though, whereas that would be an option with the other ‘out-of-town’ site.

DC: So this site is the priority, but if it wasn’t feasible would we fall back on the other site?  Are there no other sites in Coventry?

TF: Yes, to maintain the vision of this football club we would have to. In terms of other sites in Coventry, there is nothing. I met with and discussed the same challenge with the board of Coventry United who are looking for a site to build their own ground, too, but cannot find one.

CJ: With regards to the SAG (Safety Advisory Group), would we still need to have 3/4 blocks empty to segregate home and away fans?

TF: We haven’t had chance to consider this as yet but have spoken to SAG who have been very helpful and supportive.
SBA: When will there be an update on this?

TF: There is no timescale currently.  

AL: When we returned to the Ricoh from Sixfields, didn’t the Football League give us a timescale in which we had to be in our own ground?

TF: We have got until the end of the extended period.  The Football League works with us and is really supportive. It is also supportive of the BPA plans.  It is not putting any pressure on us around the stadium. 

CA: We don’t want CCFC to be squeezed out of the city – a football club thrives when it is the centre of the community.  We don’t want to be playing at Northampton again.

JB: With a change at the top of the city council, is there an opportunity now to get them back onside?  In other cities, ventures like this would be fully supported and encouraged by the council.

TF: This is Jon Sharp’s project – it is his rugby club, his proposal to put to the council first and foremost. This venture does not involve SISU, this is entirely CCFC on our part.  The next step is for both clubs to discuss the feasibility of a partnership. We look at Coventry RFC as a sporting cousin – they have ambition, there is a lot of history and heritage here.

SBR: Coventry RFC have had some bad owners in the past

TF: This spurs on JSH, he wants to make this rugby club successful once again.

Football League and Football League Trophy Restructuring Proposals

JB raised the Football League and Football League Trophy restructuring proposals – the FL is suggesting there be 4 Football League divisions (each comprising 20 clubs, this would be an increase of 8 clubs).  It would result in there only being 19 league games a season, no midweek games and a possible winter break. The Football League is driving this proposal; the first some clubs had heard was when it was released in the press last week.  JB feels that League 1 and 2 clubs need all the revenue they can get and reducing the games would cut this. Also, he feels there is something special about midweek games under lights – and raised an interesting stat that of our last 13 midweek home games, we have only lost 3.  

MH shared a quote from CA regarding this:

“It is obvious a radical change such as this one will require lengthy consultation and discussion with all 92 Football League clubs to make sure the right decision is reached.

“I’m looking forward to starting that consultation process on behalf of the football club at the annual Football League meeting in Portugal over the summer to understand the League’s views and position on the potential changes.”

Any Other Business

DD: Has been trying to raise the profile of the SCG on the Coventry City Supporters Forum on Facebook, which has over 4000 members. DD distributed a list of issues and questions raised and asked the club to peruse and respond, where possible. It was agreed that one question in particular would need looking into with the talk of leaving the Ricoh -  “If or when CCFC leave the Ricoh Arena , will supporters’ bricks and Jimmy Hill statue remain at the Ricoh , or will they be transferred to the new venue?” (Alex Craig)

DD: Another separate question raised was would the club consider playing Chelsea Dagger again after a goal is scored.  MH had run a poll previously and the overwhelming response was no goal music – but he will add this to a new poll that will be going out in June.

JS: Regarding the point raised at the last meeting that the perception of some people about the SCG is as a secret club, consideration of an open meeting had been proposed. It was suggested this be on the agenda for the next meeting.

JB: Asked if there was an update with regards to the shareholders’ certificates/share registers, MH confirmed there wasn’t as ticketing has been a priority recently. PA suggested MH liaise with Pam Hindson with regards to this.

CJ: In terms of the money raised by the Sky Blue Trust when we played Northampton in the FA Cup, which they gave back to us to donate to a charity of choice once their precarious financial situation was resolved, it has been decided that £500 each will go to The Family Zone and to Alzheimer’s Society (in memory of Jimmy Hill). CJ asked if, depending on the fixture list, we could invite a rep from the Alzheimer’s Society to the Northampton home game and present them with the cheque on the pitch. MH said this would be possible, although if we play Northampton later on in the season we may need to look at a more suitable fixture.

JM: What is the club’s position on Tony Mowbray talking to Rotherham about the current manager’s job? TS responded that it is not on the club’s website and he is not aware of permission being given.

CH: If another block opens due to more season tickets being sold, can members move their season tickets? MH confirmed that all season ticket holders can move their seats once for free.

SBA: On behalf of the SCG, could we convey our condolences regarding Ian Gibson’s passing today. He was a very special player. There was unanimous agreement.

PR: The club regained the Football League Family Excellence Award for the 2015-16 season.  This is a credit to many departments within the club, well done to everyone involved.

MG: Will car parking be the same as next year? TS said there would be some tweaks but yet to be finalised.

JS: When would a replacement for Kieran Crowley be announced? MH confirmed that the club was going through the process and we would be informed in due course.

SBR: Regarding transport updates, it was suggested that JS liaise directly with Bruce Walker or Frank Smith.

Date of next meeting
Wednesday 22 June at 6.30pm – to be confirmed

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