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Ian Ayre Meeting

The Spirit of Shankly Management Committee arranged to meet with Ian Ayre, Commercial Director of Liverpool Football Club on the 27th May 2009. Prior to the meeting questions were put to Mr. Ayre from Committee members representing issues that had been raised with Committee members by members and also issues of general concerns and interest. Mr. Ayre had indicated prior to our questions being submitted that he could only respond on issues that were within his brief at the Club and that questions about the owners, finance, the players and manager could not be answered by him.

IA opened the meeting by thanking the Union for the opportunity of meeting with them and indicated that he had received the questions in advance and that the only question put to him by the Union prior to the meeting that he could not respond to was in relation to the stadium as that was not his responsibility. He indicated that in general terms and for the future he was happy to answer anything that fell within his remit. The Union’s aim is to use these meetings, and the ad hoc liaison that it is already having, as a regular and valuable source of communication between the Club and Union.

The following follows the format of the written questions answered in advance and the questions as they developed at the meeting:




Will LFC be continuing with Carlsberg as a sponsor bearing in mind the reports of the size of some of the deals that other Premier League Clubs are securing?
IA indicated that currently there was a renegotiation taking place and that Carlsberg had an exclusive period of time during which LFC were not entitled to have negotiations relating to sponsorship with any other organisation. He indicated the current deal was in its last 12 months and that he took the view that the shared sponsorship deal had an increased value and they were aiming for a better deal but that currently no deal had been done. He indicated that they might be considering new sponsors but had to be aware of the exclusivity period that Carlsberg had. IA indicated that he considered that the current deal was significantly lower than the next deal he hoped to negotiate. He also indicated that the deal with Adidas in relation to the kits ended in 2012 and that both the Carlsberg and the Adidas deals had been inherited by him.

A question was raised relating to the sizes of kit being produced and IA indicated that Adidas may be asked to go along the “Nike ID” route where fans could effectively pre-order a bespoke size and design but that this would depend upon appetite and volumes.


And, what is the Club’s attitude due to Carlsberg sponsoring the Leppings Lane stand at Hillsborough? Could an explanation be obtained as to who this could happen? Could a request be made asking them to remove that if they wish to remain associated with LFC?
IA indicated he tried to get an answer from Carlsberg but at the time of the meeting had not heard back from them. He indicated that Carlsberg had other sponsorships and that he presumed that they were probably beer sponsors at Sheffield Wednesday and that they were not the bespoke stand sponsors of the Leppings Lane end. He did indicate that Carlsberg had been very supportive of the Hillsborough families and that they had been the biggest contributor to the recent game that had taken place at Anfield and were very supportive generally. He reminded the Union that Carlsberg had responded over last year’s Sun issue and that that had occurred due to a possible confusion or lack of knowledge between Carlsberg UK and Carlsberg Europe.


What other sponsorship plans are planned? Is there anything similar to Manchester United with their different partners, to increase revenue?
IA responded that the club had added Thomas Cook, Paddy Power, Maxxis Tyres and Konami in the last 18 months as well as renewing with Bank of America as a partner. The Club’s attitude was to try not to have too many sponsors as it diluted the value to sponsors. Sponsors got a menu of opportunities as far as advertising was concerned both in relation to the LED pitch side hoardings, the website, programme, TV channel etc. In addition to these opportunities the sponsors were also able to use the logo in competitions other campaigns that they ran and could also use the players’ images. Some sponsors however just had an advertising deal. In relation to a question relating to ticket allocation IA indicated that the big sponsors such as Carlsberg would get tickets for the games and would fill tables at the ground with business contacts and competition winners. He did not have the number of sponsors’ tickets that on average were made available for sponsors but he indicated that he would check in order for it to be included within the Minutes (IA has subsequently checked and indicated that on average the number of tickets that are passed to sponsors for any Premier League or Champions League game is roughly 500).


Are there any systems in place or being planned to provide tickets for schools and attract the youth to games at Anfield when it is become increasingly harder for them to do so?
IA stated that LFC already have 500 adult child tickets made available for Premier League games. Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, these sell out slower than any other type of ticket. He also indicated that the whole scheme was massively abused and that there were permanent stewards engaged in making certain that child tickets were not being used by adults. IA also indicated that there has been an issue in relation to the fact that Under 16’s could not purchase a child ticket and attend a game without being accompanied. IA said that if the adult and child tickets did not look like selling out then they would then get released for general sale. It was mentioned to IA that in the Youth Cup games it was quite clear that it looked like there was significant numbers of Under 16’s coming in unaccompanied – in that case IA said he would check this point and reverted back to say that the club will look into this during the coming season to see if there is a better initiative to allow more children to access whilst being mindful of child protection and safety issues.

In relation to the pricing policy for things like the Carling Cup he indicated that unfortunately LFC’s hands were tied as the away side had an input in relation to the ticketing and pricing policy due to the fact that they shared the revenue generated. Although LFC had tried to convince some Clubs that a lower pricing policy might result in higher revenue this had not been successful. He also said that the club would review this on a case by case basis with the opposing club and try where possible to encourage child access for such games.


If Spirit of Shankly created a junior section (say 14 to 18 years old) would the Club consider a small allocation of tickets subsidised by the Club being made available to be targeted at this section of the fan base?
IA indicated that the Club had already looked into this as a general principle and that the membership scheme that they had set up had over 7,000 junior members and it would be this group that they would be using as a way forward in relation to trying to get more young people into the ground. A question was asked in relation to the split of the membership and IA indicated that the overall “Belong” membership was around 50,000 with just fewer than 50% of those being Merseyside based. He did not have the junior membership split to hand but indicated he would make this available for the time when the Minutes of the meeting were being circulated. (Subsequently IA responded that it was close to 25%)

A question was asked whether the Under 16 rule applies to season tickets and IA said he would check this. He did make the point however that there were differing licensing authorities when challenged on EFC’s approach to this and that of other Clubs. IA did indicate that in relation to pre-season friendlies then the Club had total discretion in relation to how it would ticket and price attendance and it did recognise the challenge in trying to get younger local fans into the ground. In relation to season ticketholders he indicated that the majority of those were Merseyside based. (Subsequently IA has confirmed that 70% of Liverpool FC's season ticket base are local addresses).

IA was asked whether the window sale/internet and phone call release of tickets could all be on the same day – IA said he would check this and see if there were any logistical reasons why this could not take place.

IA was asked whether the Club carried out any marketing research on the basis of it trying to target any particular group of fans (i.e. local/overseas/families/social class etc) in order to maximise revenue. IA indicated the club did do research but this was more to understand who, where and what status our fans have. Not just to maximise revenue but also to decide on price points and product choices.


Why are season ticket holders in (at least) the Lower Centenary Stand, moved for CL games to areas at either end of the stand, to accommodate corporate guests? It cannot be for anything other than the corporate guests being given the “better” seats as opposed to supporting the Club’s loyal season ticket base who turn up to all fixtures not just the glamour ties. Access to Lounges within the Centenary Stand is no more difficult from where the season ticket holders are now shunted out to.
IA stated that the Club’s hands were entirely tied in relation to this. He indicated that the Club had to give the ground up to UEFA for the game and effectively UEFA decided exactly who would sit where. IA indicated that clearly the Club could not have it both ways in accepting the significant money that was generated by the Champions League while at the same time trying to dictate to UEFA where its sponsors would sit. He accepted however that this was not generally known by the fans and therefore communication of this could be better.

IA was asked about the season ticket waiting list and whether it actually existed. He indicated that it did and it currently had 65,000 people upon it. He said that the general turnover of season tickets per season was about 20 or 30 being returned to the Club and them being offered to those upon the waiting list. He did indicate however that they were constantly trying to clean the database to make certain that it was up to date.


What is the ticketing breakdown of Premier League and Champions League games between season ticket holders, corporate guests, sponsors and general sale?
IA indicated that 80% of the tickets were made up of Season Ticketholders, PTS, Supporters Clubs, the Development Association and general sale. He indicated that 6.5% represented the corporate entertainment figures (and that this was much lower than many other Premier League Clubs) and that the remainder went to visiting fans, sponsors, staff and players.

He indicated the current season ticket allocation was 23,000 and that current attitude within the Club was that they were looking to keep the same proportions in any new stadium. For instance, in a stadium of 73,000 people this would see an increase of season tickets from 23,000 to approximately 35,000.


Can there be an introduction of a local phone number for purchasing tickets? Purchasing tickets for games can be very expensive, with phone bills and booking fees.
IA was asked about whether a local phone number could be made available for ticket enquiries as it was clearly quite expensive for those that had to hang on the phones to get tickets and this could make some contribution to reducing the cost. IA indicated that that was an issue that in general terms they could consider and he was then challenged on the basis that it was always difficult to get through and whether they actually obtained information from the Call Centres over their performance. IA indicated that they did and that they did also carry out some of their own “secret shopper” research in relation to performance.

A question was also raised as to whether the phone lines could be kept open for a couple of nights a week until later on to allow those who could not phone from work an opportunity to phone through. IA said he would consider this. He also indicated that the average wait time for calls was considered within a report but accepted that there might be technical reasons why this did not actually reflect people’s actual experience.


Are there any more plans to expand this and reduce tickets for 'normal' fans?
IA indicated that in accordance with what he had said previously he did not see that the size of the corporate hospitality within Anfield would expand at any new ground other than in the same ratio as it currently existed within the present ground. He did indicate that the corporate hospitality that had been carried out at the Sandon was to be changed and would be moved to the Palm House in Stanley Park and that also they would be offering some hospitality downstairs in the Village.


What are the future plans relating to the “Belong” scheme and the Fancards? How has the Belong scheme fared? And are there any plans to go back to the old Fancard scheme so more people can afford to have the chance to go to a game.
IA indicated that the membership scheme had actually started in 1971 and had had various titles including the Official Liverpool Supporters Club and Liverpool Reds etc. It was changed last year and at the time of this meeting around 50,000 people had signed up. The tickets that are made available to those within the Belong scheme were made available through the season ticket buy-back scheme and numbered on average around 100 a game. IA indicated that those that had signed up had not done so for tickets primarily and that our scheme was lagging behind those of Arsenal (250,000 members) and Manchester United. IA indicated that it was the Club’s aim to build a relationship with the fans through this scheme and that effectively the 250,000 fan cardholders would eventually die a death in due course as this scheme had now been ring fenced and Fan Cards would not be reintroduced.

IA indicated that he saw that the relationship between the Club and the fans would be in one of three ways, either as Season Ticket holders, PTS members or the “Belong” scheme. IA did indicate that there would be an announcement in relation to the PTS shortly but he could not give any details of this as it was only fair that this should be announced directly to those members of the PTS prior to anybody else.

After letters had been sent to PTS members he advised the Committee by email that the PTS was being stopped and incorporated into the Membership.

He indicated in that email exchange that having analyzed the scheme over the last year, it was clear that over 25% had bought no tickets, and over 50% had bought less than 2-3 tickets. This indicates that a large number of members are getting either all games or regular access to a base of 5000 tickets. The club feels that in an effort to give more fans more access to more tickets they should put these 5000 tickets into a membership sale, this amalgamation means the 50,000 members and 10,000 PTS members can all have the chance to acquire these tickets. The club also said that it envisaged around 1000 of the 5000 being earmarked as additional adult/child allocations which increases the clubs adult child by 200%


Are supporters clubs provided tickets directly from the club? If so what is the criteria for provision and how many for a Premier League or Champions’ League game are provided?
IA indicated that no Champions League tickets were made available to Supporters Clubs. For Premier League matches there was an allocation to Supporters Clubs/Groups of about 2,500 tickets per game. He indicated that there were about 205 Supporters Clubs spread over many countries. IA had done an effective “world tour” to find out a couple of things relating to what allocations were being made to Supporters’ Clubs and the challenges the Supporters’ Clubs faced.

IA indicated that this had resulted in a change that was coming in relation to the Supporters’ Clubs allocations as Supporters’ Clubs would be asked to apply at the start of the season for the first half season’s allocations – this would have an advantage to the Supporters’ Clubs that they would be in a position where they would know in advance what allocations they were being given and could organise themselves for travel and accommodation.

IA said that the Club’s aim was to have a fair and equal basis for allocation to Supporters’ Clubs and as such he will be asking in the future that all Supporters’ Clubs and their members to register through a Club “extranet” which would allow proper allocation. When asked whether the Spirit of Shankly could be included within this he indicated he saw no reason why as a Supporters’ Group they could not apply and be considered as all other Supporters’ Clubs apply under the same criteria.


If SOS was to assist in identifying tickets that were being sold above face value or by unauthorised sources would the Club consider making certain no future tickets were provided to those sources and put those recovered on general sale (rather than recycled to tour companies and corporate entertainment) in future?
IA indicated that any tickets that were recovered from touted sources always resulted in a prosecution and where cut off at source to whoever had originally had the tickets. He indicated that lots of times tickets were being checked and that the police were also taking every opportunity to deal with the touts around the ground.

Why aren't the club sections of the website monitored and updated regularly? The last Annual Report is from 2006, the LFC in the Community brochure is from the same year, the Development Association section is non-existent. The LFC in the Community section is not very well structured, but there is more information under the soccer schools section?

IA agreed that this needed some improvement and that in June there would be a rebuild of the website. Upon being asked why the conditions of entry to the ground could not be found on the website he indicated that he thought they were on there but would check and come back to us.


One of our members met the Marseilles supporters when they came to Anfield; they had received subsidised travel from their club, to encourage them to travel with the Club and also to supply them with cheap travel. They paid £150 per person while when we went to Marseille it was about £260 per head - we know a profit has to be made but £100 or more per head? The reason Thomas Cook are going nearly empty to European “Aways” is because of the price.

IA indicated that LFC made no money in relation to the away tickets and under those circumstances was not in any position to be able to share any “revenue” with those fans going away. All income in relation to tickets sold for games went to the home Club. On the basis that LFC received about 3,000 tickets for each European away game a subsidy for travelling away fans to away games could cost the Club around £1.2m per annum. This made no business sense. He was aware of the fact that Marseille had subsidised their fans but indicated that that was probably a different case on the basis that they were a smaller Club and had fewer fans and were therefore seeking to encourage attendance at away games. He also said that away tickets were an oversubscribed and much demanded product for LFC and as such it makes no sense to subsidise it if we want to continue to grow the business.


Can the reserves play at Anfield? For the last 5-6 years they have been dragged around the northwest even playing at Wrexham!, Imagine how the players feel running out at empty stadiums. Then imagine how they would feel if they run out at Anfield with maybe 5,000 there every game. This could be achieved by some creative ticketing policies i.e. free entry for school children. Even if only half the crowd spend £5-£10 each in the ground surely this would make it viable. Obviously the biggest concern is the pitch, but what if they play the bigger games there i.e. Everton, Man Ute etc this would be a start and also a gauge to see if the pitch holds up.

It was being looked at as to whether Anfield could be used at all in relation to reserve games. While there was little doubt that a full programme of reserve games would never return to Anfield due to the playing surface, some of the big games such as Everton and Manchester United were being considered and as was generally known Rafa had also proposed that some stands could be put up at the Academy to allow reserve games to take place there (as per the Real Madrid model).


The club are always improving the facilities for “Corporate Clients” when are they going to start looking after the majority of fans? When are we going to get decent catering facilities? We are sponsored by one of Europe’s biggest breweries but can’t get a decent pint. Again most grounds have televisions in all parts of the ground showing past matches, racing, even their own TV station. Surly this can be achieved with a sponsorship deal with a TV company, on LFC TV there are Sony TVs everywhere? There are not enough seats or tables on the concourses the only place to put your food and drinks are on the floor. Also can the club keep the bars open after the game for an hour, this would help with congestion outside the ground and also bring in extra revenue? All the above need to be and can be brought in for the start of next season the new ground is at least 4 years away if we are lucky it is about time the club treated the majority of fans with some respect instead of the few.
IA indicated that catering had been taken back in-house in time for the new season. Both Compass and Heathcotes had gone and the Club had direct control now in relation to the new season going forward.
The question relating to whether draught beer could be provided within the ground was discussed and IA indicated that the issue here was in relation to the return on investment. On the basis that the Club may not be at Anfield for the medium or long term then it had to be looked at on the basis of a business case as to whether the investment in putting in the infrastructure for draught beer could be worthwhile. He indicated that while it had not been ruled out it had certainly not currently been ruled in either.

IA indicated that in relation to the new season there will be more vending machines on the concourses. He also indicated that TVs would be made available (although not in the Main Stand due to licensing and health and safety issues) and there would be around 300 TVs within the stadium before the start of next season. The issue was raised as to whether there would be some effort to try and obtain some feedback from fans in relation to what they wished to see as far as catering and other facilities were concerned and IA said they would aim to do so.


Will the club look into the possibility of spreading the cost season tickets in interest free installments? We asked Rick Parry for assurances that when the new ground is built that with the increased capacity that this would have an impact on the season ticket waiting list. He said he couldn’t .Surely this makes the waiting list a waste of time? If we are to increase our capacity by 30,000 then most of them extra seats should go to people on the waiting list?

IA stated this was being looked at but not for this renewal clearly as this would be too late to be sorted out. A direct debit idea was being looked at and of course there was currently the Bank of America credit card which allowed 9 months interest free credit on the first year which could be used towards the purchase of a season ticket. It was raised by way of contrast that while that was for the first year Barclaycard were offering interest free for first and subsequent years for the purchase of season tickets. IA said he would take note of that. He had answered the season ticket issue earlier.


Could the selling criteria for away games be published both before and after the sales so we could see how far down the list of those that could qualify the sale had gone?
IA said that he had no objection to publication of the different selling criteria being published indicating those that would qualify or did qualify in relation to away tickets. IA indicated that the Supporters Clubs got no tickets for any away games (unless they had season tickets and qualified as normal) and that the difficulty in relation to selling criteria arose due to the different allocations being offered by different Clubs. Blackburn would offer 7,000 tickets while Clubs such as West Bromwich Albion and Hull City would only offer 2,400 and therefore this had a direct relevance to the amount of loyalty required to qualify for tickets at different away games.

IA indicated that no ticket agencies or Thomas Cook received tickets for away games.

 


This question brought the meeting to an end although IA indicated that he was quite happy to keep a dialogue going with the Union and would welcome the opportunity of meeting with us again. Paul Rice, Chair of Spirit of Shankly, thanked Ian for his attendance and comprehensive responses.



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