Focus Group meeting at Highbury last night - Full report

Last updated : 29 January 2004 By Bill Snow

What was supposed to be a half-hour session (for me) ended in a discussion lasting about 2 and a half hours, such was the level of interest, and the obvious need to get various points hammered home to the club. The people there were a good cross-section of the people you'd find in the pubs before games, with similar ranges of opinions.

Now, what would "membership of the club" mean to you? I would expect membership to be something akin to the TRS or TC memberships that its possible to have now, basically for membership to be directly linked to attending games and getting tickets for games. I think there are probably about 50,000 people who would have the same kind of idea, including most of the people reading this. There are also probably a few hundred thousand people for whom the idea of membership just involves receiving glossy magazines, letters from the club occasionally, exclusive content, and of course a nice membership card - to make them feel a part of the club.

The proposed membership scheme was presented as a "catch-all" solution to cover both groups of people, but in reality it was closer to satisfying what the latter group would want, without really addressing the issue of ticket entitlements. Let me explain.

The club presented a proposed membership pack, which would include a CD-Rom, an exclusive book, and a "collectible". In the first year, the idea for the CD is to include a full, interactive walkthrough of the new stadium, allowing people to explore the different areas, walk out of the tunnel, maybe even queue for all of half time for a coffee!! The collectible would initially be an exclusive keyring, made from the materials that will be used to build the new stadium, in the last year at Highbury this would include pieces of the turf and other memorabilia, exclusively available to members. Other things like free O2 text messages, and other special offers from "partners" were also talked about, as well as "member only" things like the opportunity to meet players, etc. All very nice indeed, and certainly a lot better than what the club has offered us in the past.

The other, behind the scenes aim of the scheme is to rationalise the various lists that currently exist at the club under one "membership" - Season Tickets, TRS, Travel Club, Away Scheme, ST Waiting List, TRS Waiting List etc.

Three issues quickly arose amongst those present : Who is eligible, What is the cost, and How does this affect buying tickets? The answer was that anybody and everybody would at least be eligible to receive the membership pack and membership card, to at least feel like a member of the club. This is mainly because the club are very aware of the upcoming need to fill a 65,000 capacity stadium, and very much don't want to alienate the people that could help to do that - people currently on waiting lists and the like. The club proposed a 3-tier system - Gold would be for ST Holders, Silver for TRS members, and Bronze for waiting listers and anybody else - obviously only the top 2 levels of membership would give any ticket entitlements at the moment, but people would be "promoted" when we move. The club stated their intention to not make money on the scheme, meaning that the membership benefits would be offered "at cost", and probably free for ST Holders.

Going down the ticket route further, there were no plans to include any sort of "home credits" system for buying tickets, to avoid the inevitable fiasco when ManUre at home goes on sale. In fact, how a "Silver Member" would actually get tickets for games, and how this would work was not touched on at all - that seems to be a matter for the Box Office, not the membership and commerical department. Very little about who gets tickets and how was said.

To sum up the complete lack of link to ticket-buying, and to identify the point where I kind of lost faith in the process - we were asked a series of questions on a sheet, one of which was "How do you rate the concept of a loyalty scheme as an important part of membership?" The answer in my head was "Very Important", so that TRS members shouldn't be able to cherry pick games, especially not the big ones. Unfortunately, when the question was explained, the phrase "loyalty scheme" didn't actually mean that, it meant something more like a Nectar card that gets you discounts in the club shop for buying Esso petrol. A pretty good summary of the focus of the scheme in general really - all about offers and exclusive content to members, very little about actually going to watch football matches in which Arsenal are playing.

The content of the scheme looks very impressive, and I would obviously be willing to fork out £20 or whatever to join, but it didn't really get close to what supporting Arsenal means to me, and that's going to watch the team play.

The club have taken the ideas and feedback away, and are going to come back with a revised proposal that addresses some concerns, and builds on the good stuff they already have. So, expect more consultation soon. I think its fair to say that something will be introduced for next season, but what exactly that is remains to be seen.

Anyway, aside from the membership stuff, some interesting things that we also found out:


The new stadium will happen - the remaining obstacles can all be overcome, and will be before too long. The way this was told to us made it clear that everybody in the club fully expects this to happen. As for who gets in there, the proportion of ST and TRS in the new stadium will remain the same as it is now. Currently there are about 60% STs, 35% TRS and 5% away fans - expect this to remain the same in the new ground, once the 9,000 or so corporate seats have been taken out. If you're on the waiting list, do your own maths to work out if this gets you a Season Ticket, but I reckon about another 8,000 season tickets will be available. 10% of the seats have to be available to local residents, but this 10% can come from existing ST holders and TRS, it doesn't have to be "new" seats. "Local" means "Islington Resident", so get that house on the market now!! And, the new stadium will DEFINITELY have a corporate sponsor's name. It is referred to within the club only as "the new stadium", so that this sponsor's name has a better chance of becoming established (The Reebok Stadium vs The Friends Provident St Mary's Stadium), and will therefore command more money. Many may diasgree with this, but its a commercial fact of life - I'd personally rather see TH14 playing in "The Nike Stadium", than see Franny Jeffers playing at an empty place called Highbury. The main plea from the focus group on this was "OK, you have to sell the name, just please sell it to a decent company".

Sponsorship and Commercial

MUTV and Chelsea TV are losing money hand over fist, hence our lack of TV channel - the board see no need or point to waste sacks of money. Chelsea's megastore in Guildford (or wherever) also loses stacks of cash, as did the Mancs shop in Gatwick Airport, hence us seeing no need to rent and staff shops in Oxford Street, Brent Cross, Paris, or wherever. Especially because.............

From the end of this season, our deal with Nike will make us a "Category A" client, with the highest level of priority for placing our products at Retailers. When asked "does this mean that we were not high priority before", the answer was that we were when we first signed with Nike, but when they made their dirty deal with the Mancs, that included a clause that made the Mancs priority number 1. Our new Nike deal gives us parity with the Plc. Basically, we are going to make Nike sell our stuff for us, instead of bothering to do it ourselves. I was previously unaware of the fact that this already happens at Man Yoo - all the employees in their Megastore are actually Nike employees. Talking of Megastores, unsurpisingly there will be a big one at the Nike Stadium when we move there.


None of the backroom staff at the club knew about the Reyes signing until that Tuesday afternoon when the rest of us found out. I'm so glad things happen like that at Arsenal.

Views of the Board

Everybody at the club is apparently very sensitive about the idea of them fleecing fans - they don't want to do it, and don't want to be seen to be doing it. Hmmm, cue a storm of debate there!!! They are also very sensitive about upsetting waiting listers, because they will help to fill the new stadium - hence the idea for a membership scheme to involve people in the club. The board do not want to become like Manchester United in that they don't want us to be seen as a marketing and commerical organisation that happens to put out a football team. We are a football club and the people at the top want us to stay that way. We also probably don't want to be like the Mancs by having thick players that forget to take drugs tests, paying millions to dodgy agents, and having a horse faced number 10.