Chatting with the Chairman - Report
Supporters Trust Meeting with Steve Lansdown
10th October 2007
This well-attended Supporters Trust meeting was essentially an open forum with Steve Lansdown. As usual, the Club chairman spoke in a frank, open and occasionally highly passionate manner on every topic put to him. This article serves as a summary of the main questions and answers.
Q. Youíve stated that weíve learned from the mistakes of our failure the last time we were in English footballís second tier. What were those mistakes?
SL. The board meddled with the management and did not support the manager properly. Following the trend of appointing a foreign coach which was all the rage at the time turned out to be a mistake. Gary Johnson and his management team are more settled and I am determined to let it flourish. Also, too much of the transfer budget was spent too early without keeping money back if needed. As it happens, this time round some quality players became available that we hadnít anticipated but which we have taken the opportunity to sign up.
Q. Do you agree with the transfer window?
SL. No. Itís difficult to see what purpose it has served, it certainly hasnít helped to reduce player prices or wages.
Q. How has promotion affected the wage bill?
SL. It has doubled from £2.5m to around £5-6m. Thatís the price of success. If we are to progress further and want to do well in the Championship consistently it will probably have to double again to £12m.
Q. Are we balancing the books?
SL. We forecast that with gates averaging 15,000 (plus TV cash and money from the League) that we should break even in terms of meeting salary costs, but not the extras such as transfer fees.
Q. Were you disappointed with only 13,000 against Sheffield United?
SL. No, it was above what we were expecting in view of everything else taking place that day such as it being televised and Sheffield Unitedís slow start to their season.
Q. Do you feel that ticket prices are affecting attendance levels?
SL. Firstly, I want to make clear that contrary to some of the comments Iíve read on the Internet forum, ticket prices were set by me and not by Colin Sexstone. Colin put figures to me and I increased them. The prices are reasonable for what we are trying to do. We have the highest attendance figures for 28 years and have 9,600 season ticket holders.
Much of Bristol Cityís core support disappeared at around the time of the last relegation and the Club has rebuilt the fan base.
To compete at this level is expensive and it has to be paid for. People say that it is cheaper to watch some Premier League matches but they get £40m from TV revenue. If we go up next season Iím not so sure weíd need to increase prices.
Loyalty is important but sometimes you have to make hard decisions. I donít want people not to be able to afford to go to matches and there are some matches coming up with discounted prices, where people who are struggling to afford to go every week will have an opportunity. We hope that people who might not be able to afford to come to every game will pick and choose and weíll get the revenue up.
Itís a great salesmanís trick to say that by halving the price youíll get twice as much in. All you do is stand still by doing this. There is no evidence to suggest that lowering prices will increase crowds enough to increase revenue. By having a high ticket price to start with it gives us the opportunity to come down to get people in if the performance on the pitch is struggling but we canít raise the price if the product is good.
Q. £18 for under 16, along with the general increase in adult ticket prices makes it difficult to afford for families and doesn't take a long-term view to build the fan base, wouldnít you agree?
SL: People always choose to highlight the most expensive option when being negative about ticket prices (cheapest U16 price is £7 in Atyeo Stand Block B ). Those quoted are for the seats with the best views and it is possible to obtain access for under 16s in other parts of the ground. We won't sell new under 16 season tickets for £125 if we can sell them for over £400 to an adult.
Q. Steve, you look at ticket sales in bulk, we see it at a very personal level. Everyone here tonight will know at least one person who didn't renew because of price or are having to pick and choose matches. How does that make you feel?
SL: I understand that, however, I had to set the prices at the required level. This season, there are gaps between home matches due to internationals and we will be introducing special promotions for matchdays like the one just announced for Southampton/Stoke.
Q. Why was there no Early Bird Season Ticket offer?
SL. Season tickets became available later this year than in previous years and we wanted to get the money in. Season ticket holders get a 30% discount on the full matchday price.
Q. It seems like the club has changed its mind on pay on the day for the East End due to the trouble at the QPR match. Is this a police decision?
SL. No, itís the clubís decision guided by the Police. Firstly the East End was always going to be opened for season ticket holders only except for overflow on big matches. Weíd hoped to sell-out the 1,000 to season ticket holders but thereís been a low take up. There were six arrests at the QPR match and the behaviour is a problem. Itís not about the policing costs but more about the reputation of the club. The East End is a catalyst for problems.
I was the one who got the East End open, I have always listened to fans about the East End and Iíve tried it again and again. If you want to go in the East End then you can buy a season ticket for it. Weíre happy to have season ticket holders there because we know who you are. Supporters with season tickets for other areas of the ground can swap into the East End and anyone can swap out to another area too. The demand is not what people were telling me it was.
Q. Would you allow East End Season Ticket holders to bring a guest with them if they vouched for them?
SL. If we also had the details of the person you were bringing, that might work.
Q. Whatís the latest on the training ground?
SL. I wonít make an announcement however until everything is signed. We hope to have something very soon.
Q. Are you disappointed with the take up of Premier Club seats?
SL. Not really. I put a hold on sales last season as we thought we might get promoted and we are happy with the revenue this year.
Q. Thereís a lot of movement in the Dolman Stand. Is that why the goal celebration music has stopped?
SL. The music has stopped because people have said that they want to celebrate goals without the music so weíre giving it a try. I quite like it without actually. The stand is perfectly safe. We get it checked every year but because of the comments about it we have had it checked again. It is perfectly normal for a stand to sway. I was at the Celtic versus AC Milan match where they played that music and the stand moved there too.
Q. What are the plans for supporters in the redeveloped East End and will there be any unreserved seating areas?
SL. I wanted to make the Atyeo completely unreserved this year but I was persuaded not to because of the upset it might cause by asking season ticket holders to move. The redeveloped East End would become the new end for home supporters. No decision has been made about where away supporters would be located. I like the idea of having two home ends. The stand design is now agreed and there will be the chance for supporters to have a say in the finer detail.
Q. If at some time in the future, say five or ten yearsí time, the view in Westminster on Safe Standing was changed and the Football League changed its rules, could you see a designated area for Safe Standing for City fans?
SL. Well, I never say never but it is unlikely. As you say there would need to be changes before we could contemplate it.
Q. What do you expect from the Supporters Trust?
SL. The Supporters Trust is good when it is proactive, less so when jumping on a bandwagon. Where thereís an issue Iíd like to see the Trust talking to the Club first before making a public statement. The Club needs to build relationships with the fans and the Trust is good at helping us do that. Itís good to have the opportunity to explain what weíre doing but I also like it when you come back at us, like with the Safe Standing discussion.
Q. Any final comments?
SL. Itís been good to have a chance to talk about the East End. The Dolman Stand has had all the checks done. One area we havenít discussed but which was raised at the last board meeting was charges for purchasing tickets. We feel it is right to make a transaction charge for ticket sales over the phone and for credit card purchases. However, we have reviewed the decision to make a charge for debit card transactions when purchasing in person at Ashton Gate and will be announcing more details on this in the near future.
Bristol City Supporters Trust is hoping to arrange another Q&A session with Steve Lansdown at a location near Watford prior to the away game there on December 1st. While intended as an opportunity for exiled fans to contribute to the dialogue with the chairman, all fans travelling to Watford that day will be welcome. Watch out for details of venue and time.