Middlesbrough Supporters Forum……Minutes 45

Monday 13th September 2021 / 18:30 – 20.00 via Zoom

Present: Mark Motley (MM), Rob Nichols (RN), Jill Atkinson (JA), Paddy Cronesberry (PC), Red Faction (RF), John Donovan (JD) Liam Wilson (LW), Peter Hodgson (PH) Paul Dews (PD), Lee Fryett (LF), Yvonne Ferguson (YF)

1. Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received for: Ellen Sowerby, Caroline Walker, Matthew Gale.

2. Welcome

MM started the meeting by welcoming all attendees.

MM advised that he had change the order of the agenda around slightly as MFC reps had to leave early as the U23 game was being played at the Riverside.

3. Membership Schemes

MM started the meeting by asking for an update from LF on Boro membership schemes and if any progress had been made. LF advised that hasn’t been as much progress had hoped due to staff shortages and internal movements with the Head of Operations leaving the club.

LF advised there is a meeting next week to discuss the 18-21 membership scheme, then following that meeting the plan is to a have an open discussion about what the new Boro pride card membership could look like. LF reiterated that the club sees the merit in such a scheme, they just want to make sure they get it right. LF advised that the club don’t want to rush into something, they need to create something with longevity that we continue to grow year on year.

MM asked LF when he thinks that MSF could have a view of the proposed membership schemes for 18-21, LF advised that he has a meeting with Neil Bausor on Wednesday, to share the proposal internally to get the clubs views. Then the following week, could be able to share with MSF to review. MM advised that would be good as, membership schemes are one of the most important items that keeps getting raised by supporters.

LF reiterated that soon as it has been shared internally at the club, it would be great to get the views of MSF.

MM asked the group if there was any further comments on this subject, as there wasn’t, MM moved on to the next agenda item.

4. Seating TLC

MM asked if there was any further update on the clubs’ investigations around how the faded in seats within the stadium could be restored or replaced. MM mentioned that in the last meeting PD advised that the club has looked at something like what Motherwell had used (blow torch)

LF advised that they had been approached by a company that the club work closely with, and they have been offered us the chance to look at similar method to what Motherwell had used. LF advised that this is not a priority at the club, it’s a nice to have it’s the type of upgrade we would look at if we had a bit more budget. LF advised that his own personal view is that he would rather the club got the seats full, because you don’t see the seats on a matchday if they are empty. LF advised that he understands its good for the image of the club, but it is better to get the seats full. Also, there is no real benefit to the club to the project. 

LF advised that the club are still going to engage with the company, and they are likely to come and do a trial and give us some costs and quotes so we have that ready, should there be a right time in the future to do it. 

LF advised that when we changed the TV gantry from west to east stand, the whole purpose of that was to give a better impression of the club on TV. And the west stand seats are in the best condition of all areas, mainly due to the way the sun comes around the ground. 

The group had no further comments or questions on seating

5. Return to the Riverside Survey

MM advised before going through the full survey question 1-6, he wanted to briefly discuss the question around ticketing Issues whilst LF was still in the meeting as he looks after this area.

MM mentioned that he was surprised that majority of people had advised that they had no issues with ticketing since returning to the Riverside, especially as this subject seems to come up a lot on social media.

LF advised that some of the issues the club did encounter for the first game have been resolved. Such as queuing times, ticket collections we have not resorted to the North Stand being collections only. LF advised that they have trailed this for 2 games, and it worked really well, and we have stated to put some permanent signage up around the stadium.

MM asked a question that RN raised earlier in the week to LF in relation to options around electronic away tickets, especially with the recent issues we have had with postal services taking longer and clubs not getting tickets to other clubs in good time. 

LF advised that there is a potential that we could get there in the future, it will depend on the other teams ticketing system. MM asked, if a club like West Brom had the same ticketing system as MFC, is this something that could be looked at? RN advised it would be great if it could be looked at, as all this impacts on fans booking transport, hotels, taking days off work, its sooner the better is fans eyes. To be able to print at home, would take the worry away. LF advised that the benefits of print at home tickets or mobile tickets are great. It’s just the complication of different systems, but it’s a good point, LF advised that he would raise this with seat geek as a working project.

MM asked the group if there are any other questions for LF around ticketing, seating, or membership schemes before we let him go. 

LW advised he would like to mention ticket pricing, and RN agreed that he would also like to discuss this. RN advised that after the last meeting, lots of fans have asked again about the pricing of walk-up tickets and about the reports in the press that our cheapest season cards are one of the most expensive in the Championship. PD advised that the reports are not accurate and that the information came from an online fan site. PD advised the MFC’s renewal price season cards are more than comparable and are better than other clubs, and the report didn’t use our lowest price in that way.

LW advised that he had completed some of his own research and that the information he had seen based on what he could access from club websites, in terms of cheapest across the championship – MFC’s cheapest season card (not early bird renewal), just brand-new season cards is £530. LW advised the only other season ticket more expensive than that in the Championship is Bournemouth, which is £20 more, everything else which he had looked at was cheaper. PD advised that if you look at renewals and you compare that with the overall price of a season card, there were MFC are low. 

LF advised that he knows there are other conversations to be had around attracting younger fans. PD advised that there was an early bird non-renewal price that was cheaper that the £530, and that fell in between the 2 prices, it was closer to the early bird renewals.

LF advised that the press article never took into consideration MFC’s family zone prices. LW advised that he had looked at the family zone prices for walk ups, and again advised that it looks again that Boro are one of the most expensive clubs in the championship to go to the stadium with a family in the family zone. 

LF advised that he would be happy for LW to share the research with him, LF advised that his team spent a long time putting it together. LF advised that he is doing a piece of work on the 5-year ticketing strategy, where do we want to get to in 5 years’ time without impacting the revenue of the club. LF advised we are looking at how we can be more creative and that’s the work we are doing. 

MM thanked LF for is response to the ticketing questions.

MM mentioned that he now wanted to go through the survey briefly and get the opinion of the group on the results.

MM advised there are things that stand out more than others from the feedback and comments received. 

MM advised that the things he took away from the survey was that most supporter comments had been around crowding on the concourses, queues at the food kiosks, lack of hand sanitizers and supporters still feeling nervous around others not wearing masks. 

RN advised that he thought there was a tremendous number of comments which was great to see, and that people had taken the time to go into detail on all questions. RN advised that he also agreed that masks and concourses came up as the main themes. RN advised that there is a lot of traffic on the concourse, and you can’t get past as people are queueing for toilets or food without going through a queue. RN asked if there is anything that can be done about that issue. LF advised that the concourses are restrictive in terms of space and without a remodelling of it all, and that he would pass the feedback on to see of there is anything creative that they can come up with. 

PD advised that he thought the feedback overall was positive, in terms of the things that had been put in place. Certain things that we thought we had done right, comments from the survey confirmed some of this. PD advised that the 3 big points are the concourse, masks and catering. But again, the comments confirmed that they had seen the communications from the club advising of some issues. 

PD advised that some of the issues around catering is that the club are not fully staffed up and that’s some of the reason to why the queues are taking longer. It’s been difficult to recruit people, PD also advised that YF has had problems recruiting for assist on a match day around the fanzone. 

YF advised that looking at the survey, nothing has come as a shock. YF advised that she is staggered about the number of supporters that have issues around the complimentary drinks. YF advised that we are struggling for staff and MFC have been public about it. 

YF advised if you step back and look at the survey, we have got a lot of positive feedback and appreciated that fans have a lot of concerns about the crowding on the concourse, but we are limited to what we can do. YF advised the toilets are an in and out system, we have hand sanitizers. 

YF asked what are the thoughts from the group about MFC staff wearing masks? RN advised that he thinks it’s good and that it’s appreciated by people that the staff are waring masks and that issues in concourses are 10 times as bad at away matches. JA advised that she is also glad that the staff are wearing masks and that she chooses not to stop in the concourse and walk straight to her seat. JA also advised that she is happy that fans can remain in seats afterwards for a little longer to allow the crowds to drift away. 

MM asked what things raised on the survey could we pick up on and improve. MM advised asked if something could be done to make hand sanitizer stations more visible as lots of supporters raised the point of not seeing any. 

MM also asked about re-opening the Heineken bottle bars, as this may reduce queues at other kiosks. LF advised that it is now policy that Heineken that they wont use plastic bottles, and this is now going to be the way for most brewers, as it’s seen as an environmental issue. Also, there is a lack of product at the moment. So, now this is not an option even though the club would have used them if they could.

MM asked for any other comments on the survey and JA advised that she had reported issues with the PA system being too loud. PD advised that they have had a couple of people complain that its loud and that it seems to be certain areas of the stadium. Some are finding it loud, and others are not. PD advised before the first home game the PA system was turned down. It’s a case of identifying the areas. JA advised it’s the NW corner. PD advised they can have a look at this. PD advised it sounds very different pitch side.

MM advised that generally the survey was positive and that the results show it. PD advised that it shows that we are doing things right but there are still areas that need to be improved. 

MM asked if there was any scope to add more hand sanitizers or signage around the stadium as this came up a lot in the comments. LF advised that MFC had been approached by a hand sanitizer company that have a partnership with the league. They have advised that MFC can have as much as they want. LF advised that the Head of facilities completed some investigations to check how much had been used, and hardly any had been used from the pumps. Only 5% of bottles had been used on average. It may be that we do need to put them in more visible places. LW advised that he did not see any in the concourse. LF advised that this will be fed back to facilities team to look at.

PD advised that he now needed to leave the meeting as he was working at the U23 game. MM advised that he would speak with PD during the week if anything else came out of the meeting for him. YF and LF also left the meeting.

MM asked the group if there was any other thoughts on the survey, JA mentioned more signage around the stadium about sanitizer and would be good, she advised signs are much more visible at the cricket. RN agreed that more signage would help as it reminds people. JD advised that he thinks complacency is now creeping back in, as people feel we are back to normal.

MM asked the group if everyone is happy that we publish the results. JD advised that we should as it shows that we are putting issues to the club.

MM moved on to the next agenda items.

6. Lateness of Away Tickets

MM advised that he had written to the EFL following the issues with Derby and Fulham tickets being sent to MFC late. MM advised he got a response from the EFL, however the EFL advised MM to contact each club individually with the issues. MM advised that he was disappointed with the response and that he had shared the EFL’s response on social media. MM advised that he thought there would be a national agreement of timescales around when away tickets need to be with clubs by. 

RN advised that lateness of away tickets is first on the list at the next FSA meeting.

7. Members

MM advised that he had been in contact with Boro Fusion regarding joining MSF meetings and if they would be willing to attend. MM mentioned that the response was positive, and they would like to join some meetings. All members agreed with this.

MM also asked the group about their thoughts of bringing a younger voice into the group. MM advised that a few members had mentioned bringing in a 16–21-year-old to get views from supporters of that age range.

JD advised that it was a good idea, they don’t necessarily need to be at every meeting and that out of all the member groups we should be able to find someone to come along. JA advised that some of the Boro Supporters 2020 group members would be keen to do it.

MM asked how we should find a member and how should it work. MM asked should we have 2-3 and rotate them to get different opinions.

RF advised that if we can find somebody that fits the right age group and they are committed and be willing to speak, then there is no need to rotate the member.

JD advised that rotating would be a good way to get different views. RF advised that 18-21 membership scheme proposal would be the ideal thing to get their views.

RF advised as a starting point we find 1 person within that age range, and if it works well, we can look to add an additional person. 

JA advised that she would identify somebody from Boro Supporters 2020 aged between 16-21

RN advised that it would be good to get a view from this age group. RN advised that he witnessed some fans from this age group being bullied by older fans and the Coventry away game.

8. Train Travel Discount

MM advised that he is still chasing LNER about the possibility of discounted train travel for Boro supporters following an offer in place for Leeds fans. MM advised that he is waiting on a manager from the LNER commercial team to come back to him. MM advised that Leeds season ticket holders get a good offer, and he has asked if something can be considered for Boro fans travelling from Middlesbrough or Darlington.

9. Foodbank Collections

MM raised the point about setting up a collection at the Riverside on a match day and that he would speak to YF about the possibility of doing another collection and potential dates it could be done on. MM also advised that he had sent an email to the new manager of the Foodbank

RN advised that he had contacted the manager about setting something up at Basecamp Boro and he was keen to do this.

MM then moved onto supporter group updates.

10. Supporter Groups

MM asked if there was anything anybody wanted to raise

LW advised that he will send his ticket research over to LF to review and come back to us. MM advised that it’s a good idea, lets see what comes of it. LW said he would share his findings will all of MSF members.

JD advised that there are plenty of opportunities throughout the season for the club to do something different to increase the attendance, especially in school holidays. Ideal would be any midweek games as they don’t need to go to school the next day. 

JD advised that for most people, pricing is the main issue, so it must be a priority. JD advised there will be creative ways to get the same if not more revenue in but also get more people into the stadium. 

RN asked the group if they though MFC ticket pricing may be one of the reasons low levels of away support come to the Riverside. RN advised that he had seen this on message boards for other clubs that this was a reason they did not come to Middlesbrough. 

JD advised that he thinks the club are missing out on a lot of money due to the low level of away fans attending the Riverside. Boro take 2-3 thousand to away games, but we only get 300 odd away fans at the Riverside.

RN advised that we had tried to get MFC to look at reciprocal ticket pricing. LW advised that under Karanka, if a home game was on a Friday night and on TV, the club would reduce ticket prices for these games to attract more fans to the stadium. LW advised that there is an opportunity to do the same now when we are on TV. 

MM advised that he would keep memberships schemes and tickets as a reoccurring agenda point and maybe look to set up a dedicated meeting with MFC just about tickets. 

MM advised he would like to know more about why MFC chooses not to implement offers and the analysis of why these offers don’t work.

RF advised it’s about attracting the young supporters now for future years. 

JD advised that after a long time asking for it, the 18-21 ticket option for all stands was implemented, so we need to just keep up the campaign with it. 

JD advised maybe we do another survey to get the opinion of supporters on tickets and we do a random giveaway.

MM asked if there are any other points.

JA advised that next week the Boro Supporters 2020 group are having a meeting with Paddy McNair and Mark Bola to do a player of the year presentation from last year.

JA advised that somebody had been in contact from gambling with lives, they are doing a walk around all football grounds and teams that are sponsored by betting companies and have been asking if Boro fans would like to join in. RN advised that it’s good that they are doing the walk, because if they can help 1 person that has an addiction or stop a person from getting an addiction then its worthwhile. 

JA advised that she would circulate the email to all members to have a look at.

JA advised that groups of young lads at away matches cramming into seats that that they haven’t been actually allocated is becoming more of an issue. JA asked Is there a way they can be seated together? JD advised it had been mentioned before to MFC.

RN advised that a few people had brought up the area around the stadium and the approach to the stadium and if we as a group could approach the council and football club about some schemes to look at tidying it up and giving it a bit more of a Boro / local identity. MM advised he would mention it to YF as she is working on the matchday experience.

MM mentioned that he will ask if we can have a forum with Kieran Scott. All members agreed it would be good to get his views on how he sees the club progressing and his plans.

11. AOB

MM asked if anyone had any other items to discuss, as nobody did. 

MM closed the meeting.