How Villa's Squad Will be Reshuffled and Fan Consultation Group Meeting Insights
What’s Next For Aston Villa Fans…
I trust you are having a good Easter break. After four consecutive Villa losses, it’s probably a welcome break from the Villa too!
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Villa CEO Fan Consultation Group Meeting
Since the last newsletter, I’ve attended the Villa Fan Consultation Group (FCG) meeting at Villa Park, with Aston Villa CEO Christian Purslow and several other senior Villa staff.
You have probably have already seen the general notes from that meeting.
The ‘off the record’ nature of the twice-a-season meetings with the Villa CEO allows for an open and frank discussion. The meeting notes are just a snapshot of what was spoken about, but those who take part do have licence to offer further insights.
Ticket Pricing Concerns
During the meeting, the group was privy to a confidential report that Chief Commercial Officer Nicola Ibbetson and her team had compiled on the last 10-years of ticket pricing at Villa Park.
Of course, the data is slightly compromised by the period of behind-closed-doors matches the Premier League experienced due to Covid. Villa’s three seasons in the Championship have also stunted price movement, while the product on the pitch for the best part of the past decade has hardly been enticing.
That said, compared to other top tier clubs, Villa Park prices have largely been considered by fans as reasonable and benchmarked favourably against other teams.
According to Football Supporters’ Association research, season ticket rises next season in the wake of lost revenue to Covid, aren’t unusual. Everton and Leeds United fans will have on average a 10% ticket price rise, Arsenal a 4% rise and Norwich City a 7% increase; the first rises these clubs have experienced in several years. That said, the likes of Spurs, Manchester United, Southampton, Watford and Brighton, at the moment, have all frozen season ticket prices.
At the FCG meeting, we requested that the club allowed us to announce the next day that there would be an underlining 10% minimum increase on tickets next season. The main reason to announce it ASAP (while we waited for them to compile the meeting notes), was to quell social media rumours that there was going to be a 30% increase of ticket prices.
Having seen the proposed pricing structure changes for next season, in the days that followed the meeting, FCG fan reps became increasingly uneasy with the fact certain fans could be hit by what was in effect a three-fold price increase - the 10% across the board rise, an upping in zone price and a cut in concession rate.
I personally did the maths on a couple of examples of concession groups, that would potentially see such an increase. While due to the confidential nature of the report, I’m not going to publish my findings here, but let’s just say, there’s some eye-popping compounding percentage increases.
Due to this, the Fan Consultation Group emailed a statement to the club on Thursday, expressing their concern at the potential increases some fans may face and for the club to look into such three-fold price rises.
Hopefully they will give it due consideration and such price action will be averted.
Reshuffling the Pack
With all the recent talk about price rises and stadium expansion (more on that later), I’m sure most supporters want to know what the plans are on the pitch, especially when it comes to the summer transfer window.
Purslow admitted, that the window would not be one of wholesale change like the initial seasons under Dean Smith back in the Premier League. Yet, at the same time, he said, it wouldn’t be a case of just getting one or two in.
The approach to this summer’s window will very much be about rejuggling the squad. It was pretty clear supporters can expect several players to be moved on, to make way for what you’d expect to be an incoming four or five players.
It was stated that the starting line-up at the start of the 2022-23 season would have a noticeably different look to it.
While no players are apparently locked in yet, it was suggested that Steven Gerrard would be given several good options to choose from in each of the respective positions he has identified.
From the experiences of this season, while the Villa CEO vocally praised Johan Lange on the squad that has been assembled in recent transfer windows, Villa’s recruitment will increasingly come under a sharper spotlight.
The contribution of the three players that Purslow had stated last summer would replace Jack Grealish ‘in the aggregate’, have been disappointing considering the expectations all three carried and their respective transfer fees.
Both Danny Ings and Emi Buendia have each only featured in 57% of the Premier League minutes that Villa have played this season, while Leon Bailey has only played 22% of them.
If recent games against Newcastle, Watford, Arsenal, Wolves and Spurs, demonstrated anything to Gerrard, it would be the need for greater physicality, discipline and presence in the middle of the park.
No doubt increasing the squad with that kind of profile of player will certainly inform the upcoming reshuffling of Gerrard’s pack across the board.
So will the player’s mentality.
Purslow pointed to a culture shift at Villa, with Gerrard not taking well to losing games. There are Villa players with credit in the bank from previous seasons, but Gerrard will certainly not care for any sentimentality that some fans may carry for certain players, when it comes to who’s heading through the exit door.
There’s a school of thought that Gerrard should be currently getting more out of what is an expensively assembled squad, but there was no comment in the meeting on his progress so far. The focus certainly is on the summer ahead to provide Gerrard with the foundations for a season that he will ultimately be judged on.
With the current goal of the club to be the ‘best of the rest’ (outside of the top six), Villa have budgeted to come in the top half of the table for the past couple of seasons. So, there will be disappointment for Villa’s owners, if the club remain in the bottom half at the end of this season.
Euros Trojan Horse
I previously gave you a heads-up to the time scale and plans for the redevelopment of the North Stand, most of which was reiterated in the FCG meeting with the Villa CEO and in an interview he subsequently did on the Villa site.
A key to the smooth passage of the Villa Park expansion and revamp is very much England and Ireland’s Euro 2028 bid. A successful Euros bid will give plans for Villa Park huge leverage with the local authorities and potential partners, in terms of planning permission and forcing the likes of Network Rail to be more dynamic.
The plans are big and bold. Witton train station and the surrounding area leading up to Villa Park, will be completely transformed.
Purslow suggested that local MP’s across party lines are backing the initiative since Birmingham would benefit from a stand out modern stadium venue and the local community of Aston would also benefit from a necessary regeneration of the area.
The stadium and its enhanced facilities would bring a 365-day value to the area, rather than just being used for Villa match days.
Liquid Fan Engagement
As part of the work leading into the redevelopment of the North Stand, the club has sought the services of Liquid PR to work on fan consultation and engagement on the project.
Liquid PR, who also attended the recent FCG meeting with Purslow, will work on the community engagement and consultation activity over the three-year development period.
Paul Tyrrell, chief corporate affairs officer at Aston Villa Football Club and regular attendee of the Villa Fan Consultation group meetings was quoted in PR Week, saying:
“It’s a hugely important and exciting project for the club and we needed specialist expertise to deliver a comprehensive consultation and community engagement campaign.
“Liquid have exceptional understanding, experience and a passion for the Midlands. They appreciate the region’s sporting heritage and have an in-depth knowledge of the public sector landscape – key requisites to run a project of this nature and scale.”
The Birmingham-based PR agency was previously appointed to handle comms and community engagement for Birmingham City Council ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in the region.
I’ll be providing further details on all the above matters in upcoming My Old Man Said podcasts, so please do check them out. They’ll also be more on the Villa Park plans and Villa’s expectations on the pitch in the next edition of .wtf, so make sure you’re subscribed!