This evening before over 200 members of the Arsenal Supporter’s Trust, Ivan Gazidis the CEO of Arsenal Football Club flanked by senior directors of the Trust replied to questions from his audience.
Before doing so he made a 15 minute statement, he prefaced these comments by reminding the audience that the meeting was being televised and that this would be going out on the official website of the Club. As such he indicated that he would not be giving ammunition to the circling media vultures who presentation of the meeting would probably not be as accurate as the meeting itself. Indeed, some of you may already have early news of what was discussed, via the various social media networks like Twitter. So given that the meeting is going out on Arsenal Player at 10pm tonight, this blog will be short and hopefully to the point. He started by reminding everyone of how proud he was of the values that underpinned Arsenal Football Club, throughout what struck me was that Ivan Gazidis is a slick and very eloquent communicator. He never allowed his face to reveal any emotion in response to some of the difficult questions. Given his undoubted eloquence, I have to say that I came away frustrated because of his reliance upon the usual formal Arsenal rhetoric. I am not suggesting that Mr Gazidis was unhelpful or insincere; however I do believe that as CEO he acted in accordance with the word that we heard repeatedly throughout. “Balance”
This was a profoundly disappointing end to the season which ended in a familiar way, with expectations dashed in the final stages of the season.
Arsenal FC’s primary function was to be a social institution, yet it was also a business and there had to be a balance struck between the competing interests in the short and long term. These being the self sustaining model of the Club’s revenues and the need to remain at the top of the game. Arsenal had laid down examples of what it stood for. It had obligations to the fans, the local community and of course the wider game in general.
He addressed the issue of ticket price rises head on and said that Arsenal FC had been mindful of the likely discomfort of fans in taking the decision to increase ticket prices. He went onto counter criticism very oddly by saying seeing as there had only been two price rises in 6 seasons, the club could have increased the ticket prices by a greater amount given that running costs of the stadium had doubled in some areas.
He was tasked with increasing the commercial revenue streams of the club, and in order to do this AFC had invested in a world class Commercial team. They have been working well and he now saw the green shoots of recovery.
He detailed the ownership status of the club, with SK owning 66.6% and AU owning just under 30%. He said that SK had grown to love AFC following his involvement and understood what the club stood for and was 100% behind the self sustainability model of the financial model.
Questions ranged from the predictable to the unexpected and IG adhered firmly to his brief
He was not going to discuss specifics such as individual players; neither was he going to give away commercially sensitive information.
He played a straight bat throughout and my impression was that he only answered questions directly where there was not likely to be any media controversy arising from his responses.
He acknowledge the failings, and expressed that changes would take place, but he was not at liberty what changes and when.
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He gave AW his 100% backing and refused to acknowledge that AW was either stubborn or error prone. He acknowledged that player wage inflation was making the business model difficult, and the challenge was to increase revenues by activities such as the pre-season tour to Asia.
In response to a question which suggested that AFC needed a David Dein, he said that there were no plans to bring him back.
Several questions were highly critical of Arsene Wenger and his seemingly unaccountable control of the club, the wage budget was there and IG refused to say if AW had spent all of it last season. He mention balance repeatedly, and referred to having to balance the need to spend at the right time compared to the final benefits of those decisions. He refused to explain how it was that we had two players who were close to doing a Matt Flamini and being able to walk away from the club on a Bosman, or being sold at far below the real market value.
AW was in charge essentially as he knew the real values of the players. He appealed for unity, and in response to a question highlighting some disrespectful comments about the attitudes of fans made by our Chairman and AW himself. He conceded that we could all do better.
He refused to state whether SK had taken out loans to pay for his purchase, and certainly on the subject of the introduction of share dividends, SK was committed to what had gone on before at the club, and had taken pains to reassure fans.
He said that he would look at the possibility of safe standing areas in the stadium, but his intial thoughts was that any rearrangement might be too expensive.
The rest of the questions failed to prise anything of note bar the following
There were gasps of astonishment as he replied to a question from the Le Grove Blog about who was AW accountable.
He said Arsene Wenger was accountable to the fans, and it was the fans that could in theory make it unsustainable for AW to remain at the club. Happily later on he conceded that AW was also accountable to the Board and the vision of widespread fan protests and adverse chanting faded from my mind.
I asked a question about reducing the debt on the club by asking the two Billionaires to buy out the existing loans on the stadium in strict proportion of their current share holdings. This was considered by IG as being too expensive in business terms, and there were doubts if the proposal would meet the UEFA fair play rules. I had the opportunity to get him to clarify how much this would cost, after the end of the meeting and he indicated a figure of around 50 million pounds. So if the debts are 230 million, it would cost under 300 million to release 20 million pounds a season. I still think that whilst we are waiting for commercial revenue streams to come on tap. Some alternative must be found rather than expecting the loyal fans to pay for the inflationary costs.
The meeting ended as it had begun, with rounds of applause for passionate questions from longstanding fans of the club. IG would not indicate if changes might take place to the coaching staff, or which players would be brought in. It was all a question of balance.
He received a polite round of applause, but I left there thinking that I had been witness to a very diplomatic and professional defence of the Club’s reputation and this was balanced by acknowledging the failures of last season and the disappointment of fans who had been effectively priced out of the club.
Check out the actual content on the Arsenal player later, because sadly after the first ten or so questions, I could have given the same answers myself. i.e. I am not going to reveal any sensitive information, we are all in this together, and we can do better. Remember, it is all a question of BALANCE.
Article courtesy of FTK at the excellent Arsenal Insider