Middlesbrough Supporters Forum……Minutes 50

Monday 23rd January 2023 / 18:30 – 20.00 via Zoom


Mark Motley (MM), Jill Atkinson (JA), Michelle Coleman (MC) Kulbir Kaur Peacock (KP), John Donovan (JD), Rob Nichols (RN), Caroline Walker (CW), Liam Wilson (LW), Matthew Gale (MG), Jeff Collins (JC), Red Faction (RF), Jo-Ann Swinnerton (JS), Peter Hall (PH)

1. Apologies for Absence
Yvonne Ferguson (YF), Lee Fryett (LF), Helena Bowman (HB), Paul Dews (PD), Paddy Cronesberry (PC), Ifshaan Mahmoud (IM)

2. Welcome
MM started the meeting by welcoming all members and guests.

MM advised that Jo-Ann Swinnerton, the head of MFC retail and Peter Hall the MFC Bar and Concourses Services Manager were both invited guests for MSF to ask any questions in relation to their areas of expertise.

MM also welcomed Kul Kaur Peacock along to her first meeting as the 2nd rep for Boro Fusion, who will join all future meetings in support of Ifshaan.

MM advised that he would start the meeting with the guests to enable them to leave if they wanted.

MM advised that he would start with JS and MFC retail.

3. MFC Retail
MM asked JS if she had anything she would like to speak about or raise with MSF or if would she would just prefer MSF members to ask questions.

JS advised that MFC retail are always keen to hear from supporters and wanted to provide an opportunity for any questions or feedback in relation to MFC retail to be raised.

MM asked the group what they had.

KP asked if the club could investigate having a better female clothing range.
JS advised that she had been at the club 28 years and that every time the club have brought in female clothing in any kind of volume, the club has had to sell it off as it doesn’t seem to sell.

JS advised that the club had probably brought in 10 different collections over the years and then went from Adidas to Hummel looking at suppliers and we have just struggled to sell it. JS advised that last year the club had written off some stock as we could not move it through.

KP – Asked if the reason could be that it’s not hugely advertised that it’s there. Knowing that the range is not great, I would not go to MFC Retail to have a look and if there was a campaign for females with females it may help.

JS – We have tried in past and put it on the website, and we did get some female fans in to do modelling to cover all bases, however when you are purchasing low numbers it’s difficult to get suppliers to do decent runs at a decent price.
JS – To get a minimal order at a decent price to pass onto the fan is difficult.

JS – Advised that for next season the club will be doing a women’s cut shirt. We have tried this in the past and it hasn’t really worked, but the beauty of Errea is that I can order 10 shirts or 50 shirts for example, so gives us the opportunity to bring in small quantity to test the waters, something we could not do with other kit providers of recent years.

RN – Asked about this season’s kit shortages, not being able to buy them early on and then running out.
JS – Advised that the club had placed orders with Errea nearly 15 months before stock was due to come in. Several things happened such as Brexit, customs and duties all put a bit of a curveball into the deliveries, we then had a major delay from Errea. The first half of stock came in, then the 2nd delivery which should have come 6-8 weeks later didn’t happen. Errea put out an apology to our supporters if you recall.

JS – When the 2nd batch of stock did eventually arrive, it was so late that for us to then place a top up order it would not have come in time, we probably would not have got that until Feb / March this year, this left us with a huge gap.

JS – We rely on the first order coming in to see what sales are like and then place a top up order from that immediately. That should normally come within 60-90 days, it just didn’t. JS – My main role at the football club is to provide revenue from the retail department, if I don’t do that, then we don’t hit our objectives, so the last thing I wanted was for that kit not to arrive. It was the first season back with Errea, so we will always have some challenges, but hopefully this year everything will be on time.

JD was the supply issue with Errea just a Middlesbrough issue or was it also other clubs that they supply?
JS – it was all the clubs.

JD – would the club consider using a British manufacturer due to all the problems you mentioned with customs and Brexit etc? as it seems like ongoing issues with the supply of our kit.
JS – We have looked at every single type of manufacturers and kit suppliers, at one point we travelled from country to country to look at this. Nobody stands out better than the next.

JS – I speak to the retail and commercial managers of the various clubs, and they all seem to have the same problems. Because it was the first year back with Errea, I’m hoping that all those problems should be ironed out. People obviously look to the club for answers and ask why we have not done this or that, but we have tried everything we can to get kit.

JD – to be honest the designs Errea have produced this season have been popular, a lot more people want the kits – its money the club are not getting

JS – For information, it will be announced on Wednesday that the 3rd shirt will continue into the 23/24 season, and they will go back on pre order. We also have some great retro tops and nice jackets coming in next month.

JD – some of the concept kits on social media are fantastic.
JS – seen a lot of them. When we go out to Errea, there is a guy who’s job it is to come up with concepts kits and his job is to investigate the history of Boro and look at old kits etc. Sometimes there are 30 designs and it’s difficult to narrow them down.

LW – We have been asked in the past to bring back the kit voting, is this going to happen.
JS – we wanted to do this for this coming season. The timelines haven’t worked this season, but we are certainly going to look at doing that going

JS – We also want to try and devise a way of getting some sort of competition to ask fans to design a special warm up top. I’m keen to get fans more involved with voting for kits. It won’t happen for this season as those orders are already placed, but it could well happen for next year.

MM – Just on the timeline of kits, how far in advance are they chosen etc?
JS – It’s about 12-18 months before hand. The new kit that will launch in the summer this year, that concept was worked on last August / September time.

MM – In relation to other kit such as hoodies and tracksuits I assume these have also been impacted by the same delays the like the replica shirts?
JS – the green hoodies that fans are after are bespoke garments, it was the same as replica shirts. We will up the quantities that we order next season.
JS – Some of those items are highly priced, so we have taken that onboard and will look at that. This year we have selected some different fabrics that will bring the price down, but the quality will still be the same.
JS – In the next 6-8 weeks you will see some good everyday wear like hoodies, and some retro tops and individual pieces.

MM – One of the biggest concerns fans have had with the kit is the badge or the sponsor coming off a few weeks after buying it. Is there any way that this can be improved? A stitched badged etc?
JS – it’s a pet hate, in an ideal we would sublimate the sponsor – so it’s printed into shirt rather than being pressed on. Sublimation has gone from being old fashioned and looking cheap to looking good. For us to do that, we need to know who our sponsor is going to be a long time in advance. With the badges, they are put on at Errea, and what I have asked them to do is put a stich around the edges of them, so they don’t peel off.

As there no further questions for Jo, MM moved on to Peter Hall to talk about Kiosks and Bars.

4. Kiosks & Bars
MM – Peter, we have invited you to this meeting as over the last few weeks this group and certainly many fans on social media have been expressing their dissatisfaction with the time it takes to get served at the bars and kiosks around the stadium.

MM advised that the group really wanted to get an idea of what the club can do to try and ease some of the queues and waiting times or what they are doing to try and combat these issues now.

PH advised that one of the points that he wanted to start off with is that he had looked over the facts and figures over the last few weeks just to see our position sales wise compared to other seasons now that we are back on more solid ground than the last few years after the pandemic.

PH advised that the club are selling as much if not more with an average 23,000 crowd than they were back in the premier league days with 30,000 plus people, there is a big demand and we do need to try and service that.

PH agreed that we do need to reduce the queues, however the more we try to reduce them the bigger they seem to get.

PH advised that as far as the beer is concerned, we came away from Heineken halfway through last season because we felt it was the right thing to do as far as sports clubs were concerned. And we came in with Budweiser with a great deal and that was an easy and painless transition.

PH advised that the stadium is 25 years old, it would be great if we could go into the premier league and get a bit of money to allow us to address the pressure points. There are some bars we could knock together as mega bars instead of some of the smaller kiosks we have now.

PH advised that we have brought in some extra mobile bars to help. They are not the best in the world, but they pour a decent pint for a certain amount of time, but people do tend to shy away from them a bit. We have put some additional signage up to encourage the use of these bars.

PH advised that staffing has also been an issue. We struggled after we came back after the pandemic, we need around 220 staff on a matchday to populate every single bar and work the buddy system how we would like to.
We started off with the first season after the pandemic with 160 staff, and we have struggled to get anywhere near 200 ever since. We are working on a recruitment campaign to hire further staff but are currently topping of the lower numbers by working with agency staff.

PH advised that he would be really pleased to listen to comments and take in any quick fixes you think we could put in.

PH advised that an option could be that we take hot drinks out of the busy bars, so busy bars are just serving alcohol and maybe just soft drinks, or do we take the soft drinks out too?

PH asked if there are any specifics that anyone has in mind for suggestions on improvements we could make.

JD – I have been to many grounds up and down the country and Middlesbrough is not the worst but not the best. What a lot of clubs do bottles bars, its quick and easy.
PH – I should have mentioned that we don’t do bottles anymore because they don’t exist. Nobody now is doing plastic bottles, so the only thing we can get is cans, and because we are football, cans need to be decanted. So, it would be a decanted pint of Budweiser into a plastic glass, which time wise is not great. So, we are best looking at draft as much as we can.

RN – Is there a possibility of having the chairman’s drink at the fanzone, that may elevate some pressure.
PH – We now have the readers to do this, MM asked about this a few weeks
back and we have them now. Just need installing at the fanzone to make this work.
RN – Is it a question of having a reader at each till to make this work.
PH – Yes each till needs a reader to make this work.

JA – Some people didn’t know about the extra bars / mobile bars as the concourses are that busy, they don’t see them. Could you somehow advertise them or have arrows point to where they are.
PH – That is a big problem, it’s not just the fact they can’t see them, it’s getting to them also.
PH – we have put extra signage up in south stand.

PH we have just hit the first-year volume targets for Bud before Christmas. We have done well in terms of volume. Going to try and go back to Bud and get some further signage for the mobile bars = big arches that may help with this.

KP – For me, when I come to the match I drive, I don’t have a drink. I have taken to bringing along my own drinks because of the queues. I don’t know what your answer is I’m afraid, I take on board the info you have said about the staff.

KP – can big batches of soup come back – curry and chips.
PH – Curry and chips are coming back very soon.

PH this week coca Cola have added 25% on to a bottle so we are already squeezed on prices now. Pepsi and coke are coming in next week in relation to prices to see what we can do.

PH – We are going to look at gun machines – draft soft drinks. In certain areas may and vending machines. Vending has moved on a fair bit. Could we put some of the hot drinks into that could be a possibility.
How would you feel about going to a bar for a pie but then going somewhere else as a coffee. Would that help?
KP – It would, and it may cut down the queues Why not trial it.

PH – a lot of the queue issues come down to space. It would be great to have the queue barriers, but we don’t have the space. For years we have wanted some form of barriers on the concourse to help with the queuing, but there is just not enough space.

PH – We tried at concert and a match in the south stand, we had a company called e bar, they are credit card beer machines, but they still need some form of staffing to make sure people are over 18. One or 2 of these in the right place may help. Unfortunately, they don’t sell these machines, they only lease them, so we would need to make sure we have a set number of pints per match sold. They could be worth trying in future.

KP – What about paying staff more to get a better recruitment drive going?
PH – there has been a distinct change in the value people put on these types of jobs. People don’t want to do them. I’m asking a young person to come in and work and work every other Saturday, who then I have to say there is a world cup on, there is no work for you for 4 weeks, but come back for Christmas and then after that its once a week.

RN – staff not working in the best way was a bit of theme.
PH – One of the things I do is when I go to any of the concessions is to ask them who they are working with and the names of the people next to them. Then I know if the Team Leader has given them the correct info. That should be done as a basic. It’s not the best, but we are getting there, teamwork would help a lot more.

CW – how is supposed to work on the till. There is always 2 at every till and It always appears that one is stood around waiting whilst the other is getting the food or drink and they could actually be then serving the person behind, rather than 2 people serving one person of that makes sense.
PH – That’s exactly how it should be, we are trying to get this through to some of the youngsters is difficult. It takes training and time. They are getting there. There are some good people behind the tills. We have some good success stories with people, who really have come to us with no confidence thinking they will never get a job anywhere and they have turned into good team members.

MM – What’s going on with pre pouring are you still doing this?
PH – yes, we are still doing this. Some people are happy with it and others just want a fresh pint, however it has helped with the speed of service.

PH – Dedicated cash and card tils have helped a little bit; we have changed from 75% cash to 75% card and having designated queues.

CW – I went to get a drink 1 min before the whistle went, it was 20 mins into the 2nd half when I got served a hot chocolate and still lots of people in the queues behind. Just like KP, we take our own now.

PH – it’s just the volume of people that want something, mixed in with the toilet queues as well that doesn’t help.
CW – you are literally queuing to the steps and up sometimes.
PH – maybe vending is something to look at. But it would need to go through the safety officer, we need to know what space we wanted to use, what we wanted to use it for and if there are any risks. It could be that there is a vending point where betting points are maybe. I will have a chat to have a look at it.

PH – Feel free to come back to me if you have any ideas.

MM – anything else for Peter
PH – Can I just say it’s nice to get some positive criticism, and you guys are trying to help.

CW – the fact that none of us could come up with anything now says a lot and shows what a tough job you have.

KP – Please go back to the people that are working in the concessions and let them know that we do appreciate them, and they are doing the best they can.

PH – Thanks for having me.

MM then moved on to an update on memberships and ticketing.

5. Memberships and Ticketing
MM went on to update the full group on a meeting that some members had attended with Lee Fryett the week before dedicated to ticketing and

MM advised that LF could not make this meeting but was happy for him to share the update in his absence and take any questions.

MM Update:
LF advised that the club have been working on some options to consider based on discussions they have had over the last few months with the supporter’s forum. LF advised that the club are reviewing and analysing some further data.

LF advised that the club had also looked at other membership schemes from other clubs as part of this work.

LF advised that the club will then present back to the Forum to get their view on anything we put together.

Visibility of priority points for those in your network
LF advised that he had have pushed this question over to Seatgeek and it is going to be looked at. LF advised he would chase this, and the club also feel this is would be beneficial.

Auto opt in / opt out option for cup tickets on ticket account
LF advised that he had not had chance to look at this and will look at this for next season and will be part of a list of requests they are making to seat geek along with viewing priority points in network.

Tiering of points for away tickets and incentivising home games
LF advised that this had been noted by the Club and can look to see if viable.

LF advised that this be decisive so needs to be fully considered. LF advised that the more mature the points system gets, the more tweaks we can make to it. It’s still new now.

Ability for supporters achieve 75 / 80 points status – Some feel it’s a closed group.
advised that the club do need to look at this. Agree needs to be attainable and be an incentive to retain season card – will take it away to look at.

Visual view of how many people have what point totals.
advised that there has been lots of debate about this at MFC. We are aware of what the FA do and what other clubs do. We can see the pro and cons of it. It’s always subjective.

LF advised that when setting points for games, they do have a process in place, that looks at data, team analyses it and team feel it is working positively. We have considered it, but don’t feel it’s necessary at this time. That’s not say it won’t be in the future as we are always open to improvement.

How do we continue to build upon the good crowds that are coming
LF advised that the average attendance is very strong. Now over 20,000 season card holders. Sales of half season cards went really well – form is obviously helping and hopefully feel-good factor will continue, good to see average attendance go up.

LF advised that the club is always looking at how they retain season card holders (especially the new card holders)

LF advised that the data shows circa 80% of those that buy half season cards renew for a full season – The great thing is that these people receive the same benefits as Season card holders going into renewal time.

LF also advised that we do contact non season card holders and half season card holders to explain benefits of renewing or buying a card and the savings they could make.

Why do tickets sometimes appear again at the end of the day after saying unavailable at start of day.
advised that people put loads of tickets in their basket, don’t buy them and then they reappear. It’s a problem with all ticket sites.

Would it be possible to allocate some priority points for those fans abroad (and I mean abroad rather than VPN abroad) who fork out £140 / year for the video season pass.

That’s about a third of the price of a season ticket and it goes to the club. It would push us a little bit up the queue for big matches like the play-off final, or matches when we’re occasionally back in the country.
advised that this is being looked at within the whole membership discussion, one example, only an example at this stage is to look at a membership for overseas fans which could work in some way towards this

6. MyBoroMyShirt
MM – Asked Rob to provide an update on this initiative.
RN – I have a meeting with Helena Bowman from MFC tomorrow we are looking at a few things. Over the last couple of months, we have been trying to collect photos of people wearing boro shirts on social media and their stories. It has been a slow burner. Some people will take the photo and post it and forget the hashtag, or people will use the hashtag and forget it needs to a photo wearing a Boro shirt.

RN – We are looking at website to store all these things on. I’m at the stage where I’m going to go out and start meeting people and gathering stories and photos myself.

RN – The next step is that we have some big boards that are used for the Middlesbrough Mela. What we hope to do is that when we have gathered in lots of stories and images of people, we will select some (around 30) and we will get a professional photographer to take photographs of those people in various locations that are important to them or their story. Some of these images will be blown up into big boards and put around the town, eventually one will become a big mural and we will use it as signage between the town and the Football club. Could also maybe do a book, there are all sorts of possibilities.

RN advised that MFC Foundation are also onboard, they are going to collect lots of photos and stories at the ground at the Burnley game. This will be a dedicated game to myboromyshirt.

RN advised that he was also working with a group called Middlesbrough First, which is a group of people with learning difficulties, and we are going to get their stories and photos and work with them with an artist to make a fanzine and an exhibition and give them a tour of ayresome park. We are also going to do something similar at eston arts centre with groups of people that work there and get them to go out and get them to take photos around eston to do with their pride of place in their shirts. These are 2 off shoots of that.
MM – Advised that he was happy to help.

KP – how can Boro Fusion as a group help you get more photos? I’m happy to meet with you.
RN – As many photos and stories as possible then for us to whittle it down

RN advised JC that he would love to do something with Boro North America and get some photos with the hashtag. RN advised that Its all to do with showing that you belong to the club, you are proud to belong to the club and belong to the town and showing that there is a great diversity of Boro Fans out there

JC – We have tried to promote it with limited success, never really understood what the end goal was. But now I do. Any info you have that you could send would be great.

RN – It was something that started at Cardiff and lots of other clubs have done it in different ways and we want to do it better.

7. Foodbank and Boot Collection
MM advised asked that everyone could promote the next foodbank collection as much as possible.

MM also advised that CW had been in contact with Mark Benton who had agreed to be an ambassador for our campaigns to help spread the message.

MM advised that he had met with Lynsey Edwards the Head of MFC foundation earlier in the week to get an update on a couple of things and how MSF can further support them.

MM advised that MFC Foundation had formed a new partnership with the Michael Carrick foundation to drive forward with Carrick’s Boot Room. An initiative to collect and recycle used or unwanted football boots or Astro turf trainers as well as collect warm clothing all of which could be recycled and given out to local communities.

MM advised that they planned to collect boots on the same day as the foodbank, so it made sense for us to work together in support of great initiatives.

MM advised that all parties would joint promote both campaigns and support each other at one central collection point.

8. End of Season Survey
MM mentioned that he had started to put the bones of an end of season survey together for fans to complete and provide feedback on several things.

MM advised that the group could go through the first draft at next meeting in terms of questions and themes, some suggestions, then we need to try and get as many people as possible to complete it

MM advised like the last survey the results would then we shared and discussed with the club.

9. MSF Bank Account
MM moved on to say that CW was still going through the process of changing the MSF bank account over from Chris Joseph and Peter H

CW advised that she had met Chris over the Christmas Period and that herself and MM had now completed the relevant forms from the bank to start the process.

CW advised that she had received a letter from the bank and an email advising that they could not make the changes as they need to see a copy of the minutes where it is agreed by the group that bank account can be changed over.

CW advised that we need to have to have a formal hands up in a meeting so the decision can be minute’s and then we have to provide a copy of those minutes to the bank.

MM – Asked the group if those in favour of the changeover could raise their hands.

MM – advised that as all present had raised their hands in favour of the changes to MM and CW taking over responsibility of the MSF bank account and that there was no objection, it would be noted in the minutes.

10. Meeting Attendance
MM asked if anyone wanted to nominate a deputy for meetings going forward to ensure their group was always represented. At a previous meeting due to unforeseen last-minute issues, several groups had been unable to attend.

MM asked if we wanted to bring any other group into the Forum, for instance Boro Breakdown etc, or a deputy for Paddy at MDSA who can’t always attend.

JA mentioned that Owen Swift could be a deputy for Paddy and would be keen to be involved.

MG – Agreed with having a deputy, it helps that MC and I can both be reps of Rainbow reds Tonight we have gone from nobody to both of us.

JD – We could have a younger fans rep on the group. A season card holder that goes to away games and is 14 and articulate. I will check with him again and he can be a younger fan rep.

MM – Please double check with Jacob

LW – I think Dana Malt from Boro Breakdown would be a great idea, don’t think people know that they have their own community and fans on a telegram. So they do have a good rep of the fan base.
MM – its almost a bit like Red Army TV being a member before they left.
MM – Would anyone have an issue if I contacted Dana?
RN – Not at all, she has written from FMTTM for a few years and she has that community of people.
RN – This problem was to do with the Kieran Scott Meeting when a lot of us
couldn’t attend last minute.

MM – yes that is correct, I just wanted to raise the subject as I know its not always easy to attend.
MM – asked members to consider if they wanted a deputy and closed the meeting.