What’s The Point of Ivan Gazidis Meeting Arsenal Supporters?

On my recent blog about the Ivan Gazidis supporters’ Q&A, a commenter asked the following:

Phil,
What format would you prefer at these meetings? Genuine question btw.
I find that questions along the lines of “Are we gunna sign anyone Ivan?” as quite moronic and easily deflected.
I suppose it’s a bit difficult to garner any real insight or have any meaningful dialogue with Arsenal now that there is a majority shareholder; the AST is nothing more than an extreme minority in terms of share representation.
Rightly or wrongly they have also possibly soured relationships with Arsenal due to various open letters and statements over the last couple of seasons.
It’s their right as a body of fan representation do this, I’m not disputing that, however I’m not sure what the cumulative benefit is past the AGM?
Anyway, any insight would be welcome.

Seemed like questions worth answering, so here are my answers:

What format would you prefer at these meetings?

Maybe the question to ask is: What are these meetings for? Ideally we’d have meetings where everyone was open and honest about their motives for having the meeting and also for being involved with Arsenal. If you haven’t grown up as an Arsenal fan then you can’t have the same perspective as those who have. If you are paid a large salary by Arsenal you can’t have the same perspective as fans. If you’re a billionaire investor from another country, in particular one where you probably didn’t even take any notice of football until recently, then you can’t have the same perspective as fans. Do you care what those fans really think or want? Probably only if their aims happen to line up with yours. Very broadly speaking they do – we all want a successful club. But the definition of success might be different, and there are certainly different methods of getting there.
With all that in mind, what’s the purpose of meetings between the club and fans? For the fans it’s a chance to speak to executives of the club. If you are already aware of their views and motives, then there’s not a lot to learn. If you’re not, you might think you’re getting something of value, and perhaps there is value to you as an individual, but not necessarily to the body of fans as a whole.

For the club I think there are two purposes. The main one is to be able to say that they consult with fans. In other words it’s a PR exercise. The secondary purpose is to gauge the mood of fans. Obviously there is a very broad range of opinion in the fanbase, so in general there’s no group large enough to make the club change direction. But if every fan they come into contact with has the same opinion about a particular topic and enough strength of feeling to make their voice heard, then the club will at least consider their position. They may not change anything, but they will consider whether they need to.

So what would I rather see? Well unless Ivan is going to make statements that are completely honest, the only real point of the meetings is entertainment. Think of the example subject of ticket prices: The club want fans to accept regular ticket price increases as a matter of course, so that they can be implemented with the minimum of fuss. That’s why ticket prices are increasing this year. There’s no other reason – the increase from other activities dwarfs the extra ticket revenue, and in any case ticket revenue varies depending on the number of home cup matches, itself dependent on luck of the draw and progression through competitions. Regardless of a price increase, the ticket income may be higher or lower from one season to the next. So for the club to claim that the extra ticket income is needed for some specific purpose, whether that be better training pitches or better champagne in the Directors’ box, is ridiculous and totally indefensible. It’s simply this: as far as Stan Kroenke is concerned, you can’t have too much money. And if you go too long without increasing prices, fans get a bit too used to them not increasing and complain more when it happens. But neither Stan nor Ivan will say any of that, so meetings and club statements about ticket prices are therefore pointless. In which case, it really doesn’t matter what format the meetings have.

I find that questions along the lines of “Are we gunna sign anyone Ivan?” as quite moronic and easily deflected.

This kind of question is daft for two reasons. At any club it’s daft, as a Board member isn’t going to answer it honestly. At Arsenal it’s also daft because the only person who makes decisions on who is being transferred in (and how much they’ll be paid) is Arsène Wenger.

I suppose it’s a bit difficult to garner any real insight or have any meaningful dialogue with Arsenal now that there is a majority shareholder; the AST is nothing more than an extreme minority in terms of share representation.

You’re right that things have become more difficult now that there is a majority shareholder – which many people still don’t realise is a new situation for Arsenal. Stan Kroenke is the first majority shareholder in Arsenal’s history. You’re also right that the AST effectively represents only a very small minority of the shares, though in a sense you could say it still represents all non-Board member shareholders, which includes Red & White, who are as much on the outside as the rest of us. Whether Mr Usmanov values the AST is open to debate; AST detractors will obviously say he doesn’t, but the presence of the AST as a challenge to the Board certainly means that Red & White don’t need to publicly comment on what’s going on inside Arsenal too much, as someone else is watching and doing it for them.

As for meaningful dialogue, unfortunately that is entirely up to the majority owner. If he doesn’t want any dialogue to be meaningful (with the AST, any other fan group or even Mr Usmanov), then it’s not. End of story.

Rightly or wrongly they [the AST] have also possibly soured relationships with Arsenal due to various open letters and statements over the last couple of seasons.

Again you’re right – it’s no secret that relationships between the AST and those in charge at Arsenal are not what they were. The role of the AST is to challenge where it believes challenge is necessary, and a majority owner has no reason to want to be challenged or to respond positively to what he regards as interference. As long as the tickets for every match are sold, then even shareholders have little power (just some basic rights under company law) and ordinary fans have none. There is always a balance between what fans want, what small shareholders want (usually they’re fans, though), and what the directors want. But when the directors were also shareholders and fans there was more room for common ground. Stan Kroenke has little in common with anyone else involved.

Surprisingly (to me anyway), some people still seem to think the AST are too cosy with the club.

It’s their [the AST’s] right as a body of fan representation do this, I’m not disputing that, however I’m not sure what the cumulative benefit is past the AGM?

I’m not quite sure what you mean by this. The AST is not in existence to benefit itself (I’m looking forward to the usual comments on that one) – like a football club and its fans, the AST doesn’t exist without its members, and it has to represent the views of those members. It’s not to the benefit of members (or other fans) to suck up to the club and pretend nothing could be improved. As I said above, in the days when the club had a Board full of shareholding fans it was easier to have a working relationship with them. Personally I never give up hope that we will go back to that model, or another that’s better than we have now. With any luck a majority owner is just an unfortunate phase in the history of Arsenal Football Club.

Twitter: @AngryOfN5

 

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4 thoughts on “What’s The Point of Ivan Gazidis Meeting Arsenal Supporters?

  1. Fantastically written.

    But honestly each time I read your posts I feel frustrated & awakened of that slim hope, that the future is brighter than it looks from where I stand.

  2. Hi Phil,

    it’s a shame that the most public actions of the AST also seem the most frivolous, the questions asked of Gazidis seeming either irrelevant or unrealistic in their scope. As a supporters trust tickets prices are obviously a main concern but given that there is little realistic chance of the board not increasing prices it would be nice to get an understanding of the work the AST do to try to get fans more value for money from the club, if that is what they are trying to do.

    IMO the issues that affect the match going fan on a regular basis (i.e. me and the very small sample group of friends/fans I speak with) that the AST could help get the club to improve/change are:

    -Better ticketing systems to give fans more access to games and pass on tickets so there are less empty seats
    -An easier and more transparent process to help willing ST holders swap seats
    -Removing the CL qualifier from the 7 cup games
    -A speedier system to get us watered at HT
    -Some intelligent discussion about what I anything, can be done to improve the atmosphere

    Trying to get the club to make the fan experience better in light of increased prices should surely be the realistic ambition of the AST rather than just “giving the fans a chance to speak to the club” and philosophising about the future of FFP and the transfer market. Giving fans a better understanding of the work the AST do with the club on these more practical issues would be hugely insightful and useful, IMHO!

    thanks and UTA!!

    @tommygun1886

    • Thanks for your comment. However, the topics you’re talking about are a lot to do with why AISA was set up. The AST was set up with different aims, though circumstances are forcing it to re-evaluate what those aims should be. However, it’s a pertinent question why AISA have not made more noise about some of these issues.

  3. I’m not sure to what extent any questions are answered let alone your own question “What are these meetings for?” That’s a question that might be harder for supporters groups to answer than the club itself. It’s a PR exercise for the club to a significant degree but not the only mechanism by which they can gauge the mood or sentiments of supporters. They have a much larger direct database of supporters/members themselves than any individual supporters group. Even the AST represents only a tiny minority of Arsenal supporters so in itself cannot claim to be representative of anything other than an even smaller proportion of the fan base than it is of the tiny percentage of shareholdings. The club and its executives can’t be criticised for seeing them in that light but could conceivably be praised for according them more engagement than their representation might seem to justify. It makes perfect sense for the club to combine such meetings to include more than a single individual supporters group and to treat them all equally.

    Much good work has been done in the past where such groups have engaged with the club to improve different aspects of supporter experience and that’s a continue process that becomes more automatic as businessmen, as opposed to ‘fans’, are more likely to apply the sensible commercial imperative of customer awareness and satisfaction needs. Where there’s a tendency for supporters groups to disengage and see themselves as ‘political’ bodies opposing the ownership, especially when simply on the grounds of preference alone, then it shouldn’t be any great surprise that the club views them as such with all the suspicion that entails. Engagement is a two way street and trust has to be earned on both sides.

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