Date: 21st February 2012 at 11:50am
Written by:

As you may well have seen or read in the press, the Arsenal Supporters` Trust met last night and the gathering has attracted some press interest. There`ll be a lot of supposition and innuendo floating around, so having attended myself, I will attempt to succinctly bullet point the main points raised.

The first thing to say though is that the AST does not deign to speak for every Arsenal supporter- just its membership. Which is why these meetings are conducted. The AST board has meetings with Ivan Gazidis and with the ticketing director on next season`s ticketing strategy later this week. The purpose of this meeting was to gather the feelings of members before feeding it back to the club. It`s not a Masonic attempt to take the club over or megalomaniacal rabble rousing. The Trust represents the interests of small shareholders and asks the club questions.

The first point of order, was to gather members` opinions on ticketing for 2012-13.

– AST meeting with Ivan Gazidis on Wednesday. Gazidis has expressly asked for feedback from the AST`s membership.
– AST will push for ticket exchange to become much more efficient and user friendly in an attempt to lessen the occurrences of empty seats at home matches.
– AST will propose introducing a credit system for home games, as it currently exists with away games. So if your seat is used for a home game, you obtain 1 credit.
– Membership was polled by a show of hands and the (vast) majority of AST members did not feel another price rise would be justified for next season. (DUUUUH!) Has been suggested that small rises every season may be favourable to freezes followed by big jumps in prices.
– Members largely felt that, in the event that Arsenal are in next season`s Europa League, the club should take an imaginative approach to how cup credits are allocated. For many years, Arsenal season tickets have included 7 home cup credits, which include Champions League and F.A. Cup home ties. Some members felt that they wouldn`t want to attend Europa League home matches. However, the suggestion seemed to be that the club should keep the 7 cup credits to include Europa League, but to take a flexible approach to pricing those individual home ties according to the prestige of the opposition.
– Arsenal are virtually neck and neck with Manchester United as the biggest accumulators of ticket revenue in the world. So ticketing is a huge issue for the club. Gate receipts account for most of the revenue the club makes.
– Last summer, roughly 1 in 4 people on the waiting list that were offered season tickets took them up.

FINANCES
Arsenal will release their six monthly figures for the period up to 30 November 2011 some time later this week. The absolute latest they can release them is next Tuesday, 28th February.

– Debt on stadium is currently at around £230m and being paid on schedule.
– Arsenal have the 4th highest wage bill (around £130m) in the Premiership, therefore 4th place should be their target. Anything more is overperforming, anything lower is underperforming.
– The slight majority of members polled were of the impression that the manager has money available to spend but chooses not to. Many feel that the board are withholding funds from him. The AST doesn`t know which is true.
– Once all funds from last summer`s trading is realised (very few big transfer fees are paid upfront) Arsenal made a profit of somewhere between £14-15m.
– AST calculates that there`s probably around £60m in the cash reserves available for spending on salaries and transfers. The club have indicated that`s probably a slightly generous estimation due to agents` fees and loyalty payments. (For instance, Thomas Vermaelen signed a new contract in the accounting period. It`s quite likely, though not confirmed, that he was given a loyalty payment upfront). Actual figure is probably closer to £50m. The AST estimates failure to qualify for the Champions League would cost the club around £45m.
– AST will take 3 main questions to Gazidis this week. 1- Are funds being withheld from the manager? 2- Is wage spend as efficient as it could possibly be? 3- Will we be protected by FPP if the club makes losses?
– Arsenal`s wages to income spend currently sits at around 52% of revenue. The Premiership average is closer to 85%. Arsenal currently have 71 players on the wage bill.
– Alisher Usmanov is closing in on a 30% stake in the club. Refer to AST Board member Phil Wall`s blog here on what exactly that means.
– AST continues to ask the question as to whether a Rights Issue is a viable short term cash boost to cover the shortfall currently experienced in under market value commercial deals.
– Questions will be asked around football governance. Who is accountable for the academy and for scouting for instance?
– The perception is that the board are unwilling to take input from Red & White Holdings, headed by Alisher Usmanov.
– The AST have asked David Dein to attend a meeting of its members. He has been reluctant to do so because he does not want to field questions about the manager.

Those were the main points covered. A good deal of the meeting- indeed its raison d`etre, was to field the opinions of its members. The bullet points above largely constitute information I heard from the AST board, usually in answer to questions from the floor. Largely, opinions pronounced from the floor have been left out of this piece. Remember, don`t shoot the messenger either! Just relaying what I heard. My opinions on any of the above points are excluded. That’s what the comments section is for! LD.