Aston Villa held their fan consultation group a few weeks ago to discuss a number of items on the agenda for June’s meeting. Due to the production of the meeting minutes, the public posting of the agenda was delayed.
However, the minutes have been released and while we weren’t there - it would be perhaps useful for us to offer some analysis on Villa’s answers to the questions answered.
The original question will be in plain text, followed by Villa’s answer in bold. My analysis will follow Villa’s answer in plain text once more. We’ll annotate that format in the first question anyway, so you get the gist of things.
The notes and AVFC answers were taken in full from Villa’s post on their official site. You can find their answers here, and on the website.
1) Clarification on FFP position since promotion
FCG: The press has run stories regarding the club’s FFP position, inferring that despite promotion, outstanding issues remain with possible points deduction. Obviously in the eyes of most Villa supporters, promotion was the prime remedy for the FFP situation. Can you please outline the situation as it stands and address these press stories (or scaremongering).
AVFC: Mr Purslow informed the meeting the EFL Finance Department has confirmed that, subject to the final audit of our accounts, Aston Villa’s 2018-19 accounts are compliant with the EFL’s Profitability and Sustainability Regulations.
7500: On initial reading you can take this answer as fact - it looks like it states that Aston Villa’s accounts have passed FFP regulations; but read it again. All it states is that a final audit is yet to take place. That doesn’t mean that Aston Villa have passed anything yet. However, the outlook here is good and bar the final audit throwing up something, it would seem that Aston Villa are in a position to pass FFP. Phew.
2) Stadium speculation
FCG: Derby County revealed recently they sold Pride Park to the club’s owner Mel Morris for £80 million last year to have it leased back. The press and other CEO’s have suggested Villa had plans to do the same, especially if they failed to win promotion. Is the fact that there is a subsidiary company called ‘NSWE Stadium Ltd’ linked to this in any way?
AVFC: Aston Villa’s assets - the football club, stadium, training ground, Academy, retail store etc. are commonly owned by companies controlled by Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens. The Club and our owners have no intention whatsoever of selling the stadium to a third party.
7500: This isn’t an answer, unfortunately. Villa aren’t actually asked if they would sell to a third party here - but that’s the answer. They wouldn’t sell to a third party. Now, the question is that Villa were asked if they would sell the stadium to the owners, and lease it back. That isn’t answered here, unless NSWE count themselves as third parties, and that would rely on reading between the lines - which is not something we should have to be doing.
3) European League
FCG: The European League has been a hot topic behind the scenes in the past month with several meetings across Europe taking place. The Premier League are against it as it potentially devalues their competition both financially and in terms of prestige.
The debate has become more relevant for Aston Villa now they have been promoted and may have potential entry due to their historical European success. What is the club’s stance on a European League and its potential impact on the Premier League and the club?
AVFC: The Club 100% support the statement made by the Premier League at its meeting on June 5 as follows:
“The Premier League and our clubs today unanimously reaffirmed our strong opposition to the proposed reform of UEFA club competitions from 2024, which would alter the structure, calendar and competitiveness of league football. We believe the proposals – particularly the suggested format and qualification criteria – would be detrimental to domestic leagues across the continent. There was unanimous agreement that the domestic game should continue to be the priority for professional clubs, and any changes to the football calendar must respect the requirements of domestic competitions. Critically, qualification for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League must continue to depend on current domestic performance. The clubs have asked the Premier League to now work with UEFA, fans and other stakeholders across Europe to identify constructive proposals which improve European club competitions without harming domestic football. Premier League clubs will represent these views at the European Club Association meeting in Malta on Thursday and Friday (6 and 7 June).”
Since the statement, other major European Clubs, such as Bayern Munich and others in Spain and Italy, have also expressed similar sentiments to those of the 20 Premier League clubs.
7500: As promising as it seems that Aston Villa may be afforded entry into a glamorous and potentially lucrative exclusive European League, it’s simply not going to happen. Villa’s past success means nothing in relation to the English teams who would be chosen to compete. Villa won’t be chosen over Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool or Arsenal. That’s the bottom line. Big shout-out to whomever asked the question as their optimism and view of Aston Villa is admirable and infectious. Anyway, Aston Villa stand to make more money than they have ever made from the Premier League and as a new Premier League club (yes - Villa haven’t played a single season in the PL since it started to really make money) AVFC simply aren’t in a position to join or lead a rebel faction.
4) Squad Building
FCG: Squad building in the shortened transfer window. With 10 permanently contracted players off the books and further essential loan players now departed, Villa don’t have the luxury of significant continuity across what you’d consider the first team.
While it offers up a great opportunity to reset the squad and free up the wage bill, there’s obvious holes in the squad now with substantial player recruitment needed to up both numbers and quality.
A mass overhaul of players contributed to our relegation three seasons ago and likewise has led to the failure of promoted teams in recent seasons – including a Fulham team, who impressed in the season they were promoted.
With a shorten transfer window now in play – both to buy players and bed them in – what progress has been made and how do you see the landscape in terms of Villa being competitive next season and hitting the ground running in the Premier League? Is there an overall ethos in approach? Obviously market forces dictate wages, so what precautions can we take to avoid deadwood players on high wages, as in previous years?
AVFC: We have a highly competent player-recruitment structure led by Jesus Garcia-Pitarch, Dean Smith and Christian Purslow. While we will not discuss specific details in public, we have very clear plans on player recruitment and multiple options identified for each position. We will be supplementing the core of the squad with new talent who will fit our playing style. Dean’s commitment to this playing style was a key element that made him the outstanding candidate for the Head Coach position and we are committed to ensuring that watching the Villa will be a source of pleasure and entertainment win, lose or draw.
7500: It’s very good that Aston Villa have a transfer committee again - this time with the manager and coaching staff involved. The last time we have a transfer committee, it started off well - and nobody can argue with our 2015 transfer window at face value - but it ended in disaster. Tim Sherwood couldn’t glue in his signings to a playing style and it fell apart very quickly.
Dean Smith, however, seems very willing to work with signings that aren’t his choice; and while he does have a say (it looks like he’d have made a big case for Jota, for example) it’s probably best that players are chosen because they fit within the playing style of the club, and not simply because they are available (like McCormack and Richards)
5) Upgrading Villa Park – inc. concourses, disabled places & stands
FCG: There’s no doubt that Villa Park needs many upgrades, as currently there are parts of it that aren’t fit for purpose. For example, some of the concourses are way below par and actually restrict the club’s actual matchday revenue potential.
Then of course, we don’t currently meet the amount of disabled places regulated by the Premier League. On the issue of upping the disabled supporter places, will there be a temporary structural solution sought (what time frame do you have to meet the regulations?) or will it be part of bigger upgrade like a stand upgrade?
Speaking of which, if all goes well on the pitch, when do you foresee the long-mooted North Stand re-development finally happening? Will it be linked to attracting a substantial naming rights partner, as well as increased attendances?
What immediate improvements can we expect in the forthcoming season beyond the improved PA system that has been signed off on? Are there short-term basic improvements at Villa Park planned before the season kicks-off like painting of the gates & sprucing up North Stand area?
AVFC: The principal focus of our capital investment across the summer is to ensure compliance with Premier League regulations for the first match of the season.
Substantial work is being undertaken at this time to achieve this. We are already advanced with our plans to improve the PA system in this timeframe and we will also be replacing the in-stadium big screens this summer. There are no immediate plans for wholesale changes to the stadium, although we are developing three hospitality areas, two of which have been out of use for three years, plus the concourse in Upper Doug Ellis.
We are very aware that many of our other concourses and parts of the exterior of Villa Park require attention and we are working on plans to improve these areas in good time. With regards to Accessible Facilities we will also improve the current provision, which was compliant with EFL Regulations. The rules relating to these facilities in the PL are more demanding and we will work closely with the league to ensure we meet our obligations in the required timeframe.
7500: We have talked often about disabled seating on this blog. We have aired the views of supporters who use wheelchair spaces. Let’s make it clear right here - any upgrade of Aston Villa’s facilities that doesn’t dramatically improve wheelchair viewing spaces at Villa Park is a failed upgrade and a missed opportunity. The current experience of the 80-odd wheelchair users at Villa Park is that they are locked into an eternal season ticket because to lose the season ticket is to gain a spot on a large waiting list.
We do have to acknowledge that Villa Park is an old stadium. Wheelchairs were not at all considered in it’s design. However, there are solutions - when
Villa need to improve facilities and concourses, absolutely - but if the stadium is improved and disabled supporters aren’t at the forefront of the improvement’s benefits, then it’s a waste. If there’s a new North Stand or new corners at Villa Park - they need to be designed in a way that can bolster wheelchair spaces.
I hope that the FCG keep bringing this up - as it’s important.
6) Youth & Academy
FCG: Can you please give us some details of specific policy or changes of direction in terms of the development of Villa’s youth players?
We were told by NSWE, when we first met them last year, that one of the first things they did was inject some money into the academy. We’ve had recent successes with the likes of Jack Grealish, Andre Green and Keinan Davis, in particular, contributing to our recent promotion.
How do we turn something that can be viewed at times as ‘token gesture’ to a real production line for future first team talent? Is there potential to become something like an Ajax of the Premier League?
AVFC: The club is in the process of appointing a new Academy Head (announced following the meeting as Mark Harrison from WBA). The key for success is leadership and having our Head Coach, Sporting Director and Academy Head investing in the same strategy and style of play. We believe we now have this in place.
7500: The best thing Villa can do with it’s squad recruitment is to go holistic. Now, all the key players in recruitment have the same ideas and the same root concept. That’s a good thing - but unfortunately Aston Villa have wasted generations of talent to get here.
7) Update on boasting profile/footprint of the club in the city of Birmingham
FCG: Any progress on meeting with Birmingham Airport and other such ventures?
AVFC: We’ve established contact with Birmingham Airport. We will update when appropriate.
7500: This issue was raised prior to the June meeting:
The truth is that Aston Villa have no visual presence in Birmingham, and that needs to change as the club are based in Birmingham and are now competing in the Premier League. You don’t see marketing materials, you don’t see shops or stores. There’s nothing going on in terms of football either. Aston Villa need to change that - and run a small store because it’s so important to have that presence. Think of it this way, the NFL have more presence in London than Villa have in Birmingham.
8) Sponsorship & Kit Availability
FCG: In terms of shirt sponsorship, while you have previously stated that betting sponsorship is not ideal, there’s obviously the issue of getting the best deal for the club. Apart from the monetary side of the coin, what are the other benefits of the W88 agreement?
AVFC: The one-year agreement with W88 is a fantastic deal for the club in terms of an uplift in revenue compared to the last agreement – especially given the short space of time since confirming our return to the Premier League. Although the decision to partner with them was primarily financial, we believe that as the Club re-establishes itself on a global platform they will be a significant contributor to raising our profile, especially in Asia.
7500: This is a tough one. Aston Villa need to load themselves with cash and the only companies that seem to be paying for big sponsorships are gambling firms. Increasingly, they are gambling firms based in the Asian market that cannot be accessed by domestic fans - so there’d be no kickback or benefit for season ticket holders and all Villa fans here. Think of it like this - Unibet and 32RED ran plenty of campaigns and offers for Villa fans. W88 probably can’t do that. Raising the club’s profile in Asia is great, but what is the benefit of this for Villa fans?
Funnily enough, W88 are being operated out of Europe on a white label agreement - and now have an English site which was put up in the last week or so.
Gambling is a bad business that makes as much money off of ruining lives as it does within the pretext of making fun. It’s not about having a moral crusade, but the reason these companies can afford to sponsor football teams is because people on the poverty line are wiring thousands of pounds from their credit cards or taking out predatory loans to fund a habit that will never reward them. Nobody can stop them, because the gambling companies won’t. There’s too much money to be made in taking a grand off of somebody in a second, whether they can afford it or not. The rise of the fixed odds betting terminal made this so, and they exist online.
It’d be good for Aston Villa to take a stand here. Maybe next year. Maybe not. Villa aren’t the villains here, and I’m not going to drag them for doing what every other club in the world are doing.
9) Further kit queries
FCG: Do we actively seek separate sponsorships for the U23s and Ladies team shirts? And also kids shirts?
AVFC: Yes - we are actively seeking sponsorship of our Ladies and children’s kit in what is a difficult market.
7500: Very simple answer here - put that Acorns logo on both kits. Or on the sleeve.
FCG: What about local universities – what about extending the deal with Aston University to include U23 shirt sponsorship?
AVFC: Following discussions with Aston University, it’s clear that their focus is on delivering to the community, rather than a shirt sponsorship.
7500: See above, why can’t a local institution be offered something complementary in the first instance?
Do we have a sleeve sponsor lined up at the moment?
Yes - we expect to announce this soon (subsequently announced BR88 after the meeting)
7500: See above - again. It’s another whitelabel agreement of a brand being exported to the UK.
FCG: While this would normally be an operations level question, the outsourcing and the Fanatics deal was presented to us previously as the solution to the historical late availability of the kit being on sale to fans.
Again, throughout this season and towards the end, availability of most sizes was poor. Also, the train of thought previously was that Villa were lower down in priority for the likes of Nike, when they provided our kit. Yet we have had delays with whoever provided our kits since Nike. This seems to suggest the buck stops at the club…
AVFC: We can’t comment on how the Fanatics deal has been presented in the past, however, we are confident that the Kappa partnership will supply us with the appropriate levels of kit to meet demand. Aston Villa is of very high priority to Kappa in their football portfolio.
Kappa have expressed a desire to meet with fan representatives to consult on kit design for season 2020/2021 – this is something the club will be happy to facilitate.
7500: Aston Villa’s deal with Fanatics started before new ownership arrived - but one thing must be certain; Villa need to supply these kits and meet demand. The club spent most of the season out of stock and instead of producing more kits, sold tat with Premier League stamped on it.
FCG: Potentially related to the above kids shirt sponsorship…Acorns have informed us that they hope to have a new relationship with the club before the season kicks off. Will there be a major ‘public facing’ relationship in place or will it simply be linked through the Foundation?
AVFC: Yes, our relationship with Acorns has been re-established. They will be our Official Charity Partner for the season and we will give them extensive support. An idea was raised to see if donations to Acorns could be made when purchasing tickets (“click here to donate” type option). This is something the club will explore.
7500: This is good news - and I hope the relationship can grow further. I’m almost begging Villa to put the charity on the Ladies shirt, and make it a matchday presence at AVLFC games. Hey - I’d take a bucket down there for free if any of them want to make it happen.