Friday 18 February 2005
Open meeting report
Kris Stewart presents this account of last Saturday's open meeting before the Croydon match:
A full back bar gathered before the game against Croydon for one of the regular club open meetings, with several issues up for discussion.
First up was the Champagne Song, where the club had started a debate after receiving comments from fans that they considered it offensive. Several speakers commented on the issue. Lee Willett felt that part and parcel of football was the interaction between the fans and the players and that getting behind the team involved getting on the back of the opposition too. He felt that the only clear line that could be drawn was between what was illegal and what wasn?t. To ban songs that weren?t illegal risked being on the start of a slippery slope. Other speakers added that they were more concerned about ?No Surrender?. Some commented on the difficulties of policing any policy on the Champagne Song whilst other noted that ?football grounds were not churches?. To applause, a supporter commented that the issue was at risk of creating a divide amongst the fanbase between ?mainstanders? and ?westbankers?. After some discussion there was a lot of support, and no dissent, for the view that the debate risked creating divisions and that this was really a non-issue which couldn?t be solved so the meeting should move on.
Erik Samuelson said that the Dons Trust Board would soon be considering the issue of offering a limited number of long-term season tickets, probably for five years. Erik said that the club felt that any longer would be too risky, given the club?s inability to control its operating environment and what circumstances might arise. He said that he?d previously seen long-term STs as too risky, but had been convinced that the money from the Dons Draw could replace the money lost by using the season ticket money to repay the Khosla loan. In effect, the season tickets would be like five year loans to the club, with the ?interest? for the club being the saving each person made on year-on-year season ticket rises. Erik was confident that these new arrangements meant that the risk to the club was acceptable.
One supporter felt that they were a good idea as they enabled fans to feel they were getting something back in return for handing over more money. In response to a question about bank loans, Erik added that football clubs were seen as very bad risks and that since we are a football club, we are seen as a bad loan risk, our financial health and record notwithstanding. Banks are looking for a good track record and we have only two years? history to show. Because the Kingsmeadow site is not allowed to be developed (thank goodness), the property is not seen as good security. He was hopeful we would be able to borrow £500k at a lower rate than the Khosla loan, but this wasn?t certain to be agreed by the banks from which the club is hoping to raise a loan. There were no objections raised in principle to the idea of longer-term season tickets.
Erik also discussed the situation with respect to grants available to make improvements to the ground. The club will be able to access grants from the Football Foundation. The closer we are to the Football League, the more money is potentially available. He said he was investigating accessing grants to undertake some improvements and was particularly interested in ensuring disabled provision was part of that improvement, as he felt that this was more likely to attract a grant than general improvements.
Kris Stewart then introduced a discussion on ticket prices by outlining the issues facing the club over the next few seasons, such as ground developments to the John Smiths stand and the Athletics End and renovating supporters? facilities. He said that prices hadn?t gone up since the club started and, as we hopefully progress through the leagues, we will need to revisit the price, especially if we are to maintain a competitive squad and do the work the club would like to do to the ground. Kris reported that the AFC Wimbledon board had discussed a rise for the coming season of £1 per person for all adult and concession prices, with a continuing freeze on prices for under-16s, bringing in around £40,000 in one season, and asked those present for their comments.
A number of supporters spoke in the ensuing discussion. Many accepted the arguments put forward for a price increase, although a number of objections were also raised. A price increase might be inflationary and English football in general is already expensive. Away clubs, it is widely believed, sometimes raise their prices when we visit and a price rise at Kingsmeadow could exacerbate that. If admission prices are higher, supporters may spend less on other items while at the ground. Raising prices for over-60s may result in fewer young children, as these are often brought along by a grandparent.
Other supporters welcomed the idea of continuing to freeze prices for under-16s. Some said they would welcome the ring-fencing of any increase so that funds raised in this way would only be spent on stadium improvements, for example.
Another fan raised the issue of increased costs of the playing budget as we rise through the divisions and that we must be careful to ensure the manager had an adequate budget. It was pointed out that gates often rise for clubs as they progress and that some extra money needed for playing might come from that. Kris responded that there aren?t many comparable clubs for us to be able to put more certainty on that suspicion: Aldershot only got a big boost in attendances when they went into the Conference. Another suggestion was that the issue be revisited next year when we have a clearer idea of the pricing structures of comparable clubs. Erik Samuelson said that we already have a clear view of other clubs? prices, having carried out a survey recently.
Finally, Ivor Heller asked for views on a new third shirt. The one we currently have has just sold out. He proposed a new competition for fans to design a shirt, with a vote from fans to make the final decision. In response to a question, Ivor said that the third shirt was worn when both home and away kits clashed with the home strip of the opposition, and that he thought that the club could wear them in cup games and so on. There were no objections raised and Ivor said the Merchandise Group would begin the design competition soon.