Structured Dialogue Minutes
Swansea City recently held a ‘Structured Dialogue’ forum with supporters and some of the club's senior decision makers.
While the Club already holds regular fans' forums and focus groups with key members of senior management and football staff, this platform provides a cross-section of supporters with the opportunity for lengthy discussion on key concerns and matters relating to the Club.
The forum is a recommendation of the Government Expert Working Group, which was established by the Minister for Sport in 2014, to provide engagement and dialogue between a Club and its main stakeholders, the fans.
Swans Chairman Trevor Birch, Chris Pearlman (COO), Andrew Davies (Head of Operations and Facilities), Jonathan Wilsher (Head of Media & Marketing) and Catherine Thomas (Head of Customer Services and Hospitality) were in attendance from the club alongside 10 supporters.
Here are the minutes from the event:
Q: Would the club consider a ‘quiet hour’ for autistic and disabled supporters, who would benefit from avoiding the ‘hustle and bustle’ of crowds?
Catherine Thomas commented that since the question has been submitted, she has made some enquiries internally and through Mark Phillips (Disability Officer) and Andrea Morris (Head of Retail) have agreed to consider a ‘quiet hour’ on Saturday morning. It was discussed and agreed that this should go through the Disabled Supporters Association (DSA) for agenda and further discussion before being confirmed.
Q: What realistically can we expect from the majority shareholders over, say, the next five years by way of serious investment?
Trevor Birch commented that he honestly does not know the answer and efforts are being concentrated on here and now. He added that there is a considerable financial hole to fill since relegation from the Premier League which has been widely publicised. The intention is to re-balance over the next one to two years. He commented that should the Club be able to challenge for promotion in January then there is the potential that the majority shareholders may invest then.
The Chairman commented that following the sale of Dan James to Manchester United the Club are not desperate to sell players but should offers come in that cannot be refused then consideration must be given. However, it is the intention to keep hold of the squad. He added that if Investment guaranteed Promotion then every shareholder would invest.
Chris Pearlman added that Jason Levien and Steve Kaplan are open about running the Club sustainably, and not burdening the Club with debt. It was commented that investment may come in the form of equity.
Player recruitment and retention
Q: What criteria is applied when deciding which players will be retained or released?
Q: What is the club’s strategy for player recruitment?
Trevor Birch commented that the current players released were mutual decisions, and some were on high contracts. He added that the Club do not have huge transfer funds available, and the strategy is one of re-balancing and finding young players to develop.
Following a further question Trevor Birch commented that the Head of Recruitment role is an important position to fill, and a lot of time and effort will go in to finding the right candidate. He stated that relying on football agents is not the way forward. Chris Pearlman stated that the Club had a good track record of buying inexpensive players during the early days of the Premier League and this is something to aim for again.
A further question was asked about the Club utilising the loan markets. Trevor Birch commented that whilst a loan signing is often an easy quick fix, these deals are often not cheap and the demand for good loan players is huge.
An additional question regarding pitch renovation was asked. Andrew Davies commented that a decision was taken by the Club to this year build a new pitch rather than the usual annual renovation we have adopted over the last years. He added that the pitch is now a SIS based pitch which will be different to the Desso system previously installed. He advised that grass will begin to grow over the next few days and a plastic inlay then installed.
Academy One status & sponsorship
Q: Does the ownership plan to retain the Academy Category One status for the entirety of their tenure at the football club?
Q; Would the club look to avoid sponsorships from bookmakers next season due to the negative consequences it can have on people with gambling addiction?
Trevor Birch commented that the Academy plays a vital role in development of players and the first-team squad. He added that the decision to retain Academy Category One status is one which will be decided upon annually based on costs. He noted that not many Championship clubs operate Academys at this level, the intention is to do so in the future but will be dictated by costs.
Regarding the sponsorship from bookmakers Trevor Birch commented that it is a balancing act between the sponsorship money offered and the connotations associated with these betting firms. Chris Pearlman added that 17 of the 24 Championship clubs have front-of-shirt sponsors which are bookmakers. He added that the Club were prepared to take a lower bid from a non-betting brand but could not find a suitable partner. He further added that the Club last season promoted ‘Gamble Aware’ on the shirts for a dedicated fixture.
Q: How can the club improve the atmosphere from fans inside the stadium? And what more can be done to attract more young supporters to the game in the hope of securing long-term supporters to the club?
Chris Pearlman commented that from an operational side SCAFC have entered into a new catering arrangement with Sodexo, which will see capital investment into an EPOS system with over 100 till points with contactless payment methods, and digital signage throughout all concourses. In addition to this fans will benefit from dynamic pricing whereby items within the kiosks and concourse may be priced cheaper 30-40 minutes prior to kick off.
Chris further commented that fans will see ticketing promotions for fixtures along the same lines as last season, “Come with your Club”, “Kids for a Quid” etc. In addition, the age bands have changed from U16 to U18 as the Club found it was losing supporters at 17.
Jonathan Wilsher added that the Club are working with Ticketmaster to link into Swansea University to offer bespoke promotions to students for certain fixtures to encourage a new group of supporters as part of the club’s partnership agreement with the university. He commented that the Schools initiative with Leon Britton and the Community Trust was an excellent programme which spanned both physical and classroom-based activities to engage with the school children, and again, encourage a new group of supporters. Following a question, he commented that the Club had looked at giving away shirts to schools, but the catchment area spans not only Swansea boroughs but Neath/Port Talbot, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire and further afield. Following a further question from a supporter, Jonathan Wilsher commented that the Club is looking to expand the activity out to secondary schools, and the Club welcomes this dialogue.
Catherine Thomas stated that as part of the season ticket renewal process the Club have actively freed seats up in the Family Stand to concentrate on selling these on a match by match basis to young families. She added that the Club have recently been awarded Gold Standard from the EFL in this field and wish to build on this by training of staff, development of a child’s meal deal within the kiosks, etc. The aim is to attract the next generation of fans in a family friendly environment.
Following a further question, Jonathan Wilsher commented that the Club are looking into the option of an Open Day at the Stadium, similar to last season, whereby fans have the opportunity to watch the players train, gather autographs etc.
Role & sponsorship
Q: Trevor – please describe how you see your role at the Club and where do you wish to enact change?
Q: Chris – we can improve our marketing and sponsorship massively by cutting out the use of agents and making better and bigger contracts. How can we plan to put this into action?
Trevor Birch commented that his role is one of a ‘hands-on’ executive overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Football Club. He added that he hopes to both stabilise and revitalise the Club in all aspects and reconnect the Club with the community. Following a further question, Trevor Birch confirmed that he would be overseeing matters both on and off the football field. He added that he, along with Leon Britton, have both been heavily involved in the process to appoint a Head of Recruitment, and the backroom staff.
Chris Pearlman commented that in response to the sponsorship question, due to relegation many of the contracts are now internally managed by our in-house sales team. He added that following relegation and redundancies it is now more important to reduce costs of agencies. A discussion around location and attracting bigger companies took place and it was recognised that the difference between brands choosing Clubs in London/Midlands etc. is very different to South Wales. It was also recognised that whilst the Club wish to work with Welsh companies, many do not wish to affiliate themselves solely with one Welsh Club.
Q: It would be good to understand the financial health of the club and get reassurance about how money is being spent.
Trevor Birch commented that now is the time for the Club to re-balance and stablise. The reduction in revenue from the Premier League is well documented, and costs must be addressed as a result. He added that the published accounts show this. He noted that whilst the Dan James deal will help, there are still four to five players on big wages.
Following a further question regarding what the ‘financial gap’ was, Trevor stated that should certain players leave the Club then financially the Club will be stable through the season without the desperate need to sell players the management want to keep. He added that the Club will resist selling key first-team players, but stated every Club is a selling Club.
Q: How will be club ensure fans who travel from outside Swansea, in my case Bridgend, have access to adequate parking? Apparently, the current proposal is to move the ‘park and ride’ car park more towards the M4?
Andrew Davies commented that travel is an ongoing issue, and one which the club is acutely aware of. He added that in the short- to medium-term there are no changes to the Landore Park and Walk site, and both SCAFC and Swansea Council are selling spaces on the site for the forthcoming season.
Chris Pearlman commented that the Club is speaking with Swansea Council and National Rail regarding the potential reopening of the Landore Rail Station. One other option which the Club have explored is a partnership with DVLA to operate a Park and Ride site.
Q: Will the club continue to subsidise away fans?
Jonathan Wilsher commented that plans for Jack Army memberships are yet to be finalised, but will be announced in a week or so. It was noted that the Club are looking at various way to help travelling supporters, and will consider free tickets, meal vouchers and subsidised travel.
Q: Since founding our small supporters’ group in West Wales the club and Supporters Trust have kindly helped us establish ourselves through Fans' Forums and donation of merchandise etc. As a group we feel it would help us and maybe other Supporters Groups both locally and across the world if the relevant pages on the club’s website could be developed still further with more up to date information and direct contact links.
Q: What is the club’s strategy to providing better communication to the fans?
Jonathan Wilsher commented that the website is going through a revamp at present - so it will be even more mobile and tablet friendly - and there will be a section on there with smaller supporter groups information. He added that the Club are keen to push this with both local small groups, and Internationally as well.
Adam Lewis asked a further question regarding a US pre-season fixture v DC United. Chris Pearlman commented that all were keen to stage this but given the cost and current cashflow the decision was made not to travel.
To conclude there was discussion amongst supporters that whilst Trevor Birch has brought openness to the Club, there was the consensus that more communication from the owners is needed. All were keen to state that the good news from Steve Cooper’s appointment will provide the Club with the momentum needed.
Catherine Thomas thanked all for attending.