NFFC Fan Advisory Board – Initial Meeting Report
On Thursday 25th January we attended the inaugural meeting of the Nottingham Forest Fan Advisory Board at the City Ground. Our representative, Harry, joined others from groups including the Supporters Trust, Supporters Club, Punjabi Forest, the Disabled Supporters Club and the North American Supporters Club. Joining these established groups were two individuals who put themselves forward to join the board as independent fan representatives.
The first gathering of this new board is, we hope, a step in the right direction and something we have long since called for to enhance communications between supporters and club and to provide a direct source of engagement, especially with matters that impact fans directly.
Our goal with this board is to attempt to ensure that supporter opinions can be re-laid directly to the club but that, going forward, a means of collating these views needs to be considered. Ultimately, the above groups and individuals cannot possibly hope to represent every single fan and every view, but it should look to push forward key matters on behalf of the fanbase.
Structure / Aim of board
The Fan Advisory Board (FAB) has a defined list of agenda items, each of which are decided in a period in advance of the meetings. It is important to stress that the board should be viewed as a chance to implement decisions moving forward and a real tangible way to feedback concerns; which has been lacking in the past.
Initial Meeting Agenda
Each group got an opportunity several weeks back, to put forward three agenda items for discussion. Forza Garibaldi proposed three items:
- Safe Standing
- Wider fan consultation and club engagement beyond the FAB
The first two items were added to the agenda for the initial meeting.
Forza Garibaldi Agenda Proposals
As Nicholas Randall previously stated in interviews, the hardest subject for any chairman in the Premier League, is ticketing. As some of you may have recalled, FG did an extensive research piece, off the back of Forest’s away ticketing release in summer 2022 (2022-23 Away Ticket Sales Review – Forza Garibaldi). The piece has (surprisingly!) aged well – our findings in 2022 are mostly applicable today. The primary outcome of this piece was that we believed the Forest scheme was unfair in comparison to others.
When we compared with clubs, such as West Ham, ticket sales were based predominantly on loyalty, on almost hourly selling periods. There were then examples of ballots being utilised too – for example Leeds, West Ham, Wolves, and Manchester United – where supporters could opt in (for a certain % of available tickets, working alongside loyalty) – to keep the door slightly ajar to season ticket holders to get to games. The data for ballot methods showed a relatively small amounts of tickets via this method – for example Wolves 5% of away allocations, and Leicester 2% of away allocations. Although we are apprehensive about such a method, it has been shown to be used by a considerable number of clubs for a small volume of tickets and therefore has been part of our consideration.
There were also clubs using innovation – for example Manchester City having a small pool for young supporters – to get on the points ladder for a set number of years (18-25). As the scheme has developed, the implementation of the scheme has raised additional questions – providing a stressful system for many fans, spending from 9 to 11 frantically refreshing multiple devices. This, in our opinion, is worthy of review. Since 2022 when the scheme was first launched, Forest have informed us repeatedly that the scheme is a success, that fans who deserve tickets are generally obtaining them through the system. While we don’t doubt this is likely true for some, it is clear that many still regularly struggle. The system has also consistently shown to be inconsistent and, at times, incredibly frustrating. Rather than look at data driven stats, we are asking for Forest to consider the human factor – to recognise loyalty, while avoiding the away ticket scheme being a closed off group indefinitely.
The previous scheme was also very poorly consulted – ourselves and, we believe, the Supporters Trust, were given a tiny window to provide feedback. Our own comments were that the scheme was not fit for purpose, but our suggestions were entirely ignored. We ask Forest to be prepared for a consultation period when any significant ticket changes are made, home or away. Not just with fan groups but a much wider pool.
We also acknowledge that there has been concerns related to home tickets, principally with the cost of membership, and this is something else we are also prepared to raise with the club.
FG have discussed and proposed safe standing at the City Ground stretching back many years. In 2021 and 2022 we presented the club with comprehensive findings from a study we carried out, including a survey of Forest fans which showed overwhelming support for an official standing area to be introduced.
Our group has not only a real desire to see safe standing become reality at Forest, but also hold strong knowledge on the subject and have repeated our offer to organise a trial section to be installed at the City Ground for review.
Wider Fan Consultation
Although this topic was not included on the agenda, we hope it will be something that can be resurrected in the future. While the introduction of the FAB is a positive step, we are keen to ensure that as many fans as possible can feel adequately represented and have their voices heard.
We encourage Forest to explore means of expanding their communications and engagements. This includes, but not limited to, fan surveys, more open communications behind non-sensitive matters and open forums that supporters can attend in person or online. We also urge Forest to expand invites to season card holders / members and not necessarily the same individuals / groups for club events. We do, however, recognise good work does already happen in this area that deserves credit.
Initial FAB Meeting
The session began late afternoon with some extended meet and greets, before some photos which you may now have seen on the official Forest website. The fan board has been a long time coming and something we have long since called for, so it was refreshing to finally meet in person. The diversity of the board, plus two independent members, ensured a mix of opinions and views. In addition to the fan representatives, the Premier League had two members of fan engagement present, along with three officials from NFFC, including chairman Tom Cartledge.
The first item was the home membership scheme. On the whole, the current scheme received positive feedback; particularly around the ticket exchange. The club were positively looking to find ways to improve the scheme and took some suggestions around ballot allocation and ways to ensure families could still land joint tickets together, where members have different customer codes.
All members were unanimous in the view that the website caused stress, particularly in the second tier of priority. Forest have agreed to consider the views given (primarily around it potentially being a closed shop and Ticketmaster stress) in any reviews of the scheme for future seasons. While we have outlined our own views of the scheme, we are conscious that our views alone are not what should be communicated to the club and we would, of course, welcome input into this. We have already begun collating and considering feedback received from those who responded to a recent request in our away guide for any views. Those received already have been incorporated into our feedback and will continue to be pushed.
The recent comms direct from the club regarding a ballot for non-away members has understandably caused some concern. The key thing to state here is that nothing has been decided upon by the club and that the benefit of this new fan board is that it allows this type of item to be raised and debated before anything is finalised. Given the current concerns with the overall system we do not believe it is the correct method to further reduce the allocation to the second priority members. Instead, a more fundamental review is required which puts loyalty at its heart but does at least consider how to open up the scheme in the future.
As we have previously stated, the difficulty comes from the club’s original decision to up the amount of away members from 2,500 to 5,000. The loyalty of those 2,500 was overlooked in the summer of 2022 (bar those added to the 400) and there is a clear issue now with how to try and reset / adjust the system and not greatly anger a lot of people. There was a simpler method in 2022 where the 2,500 could have been afforded some greater protection and the use of loyalty points (as was used successfully a number of times prior to promotion) could have been used to offer priority levels where necessary. We are interested to determine whether the loyalty points previously earned could still be utilised.
Credit was given during the meeting by the Disabled Supporters Club to the ticket office staff who have been most helpful to fulfil their requests. We concur that the ticket office have been very good at allocating tickets together for away games where tickets are purchased separately and hope this facility can continue.
The meeting agenda items were primarily concluded at this point, leaving no opportunity to get to the stadium (including safe standing), plus matchday improvements that were on the itinerary for discussion. Although this was unfortunate, as a first gathering of the FAB it is understandable that additional time was taken for introductions and general outlining of expectations. We hope these topics can be picked up during a future meeting.
To end, we did receive a brief update from the Chairman on the current situation with the City Ground redevelopment plans. Tom Cartledge advised that the stadium plans continue to progress but is being held up by external matters not controlled by NFFC.
We were advised that sensitivities continue with regards to next steps but there is still a commitment from the club to progress at the earliest opportunity. Ultimately, this month marks five years since the stadium plans were announced and fans are understandably frustrated and becoming sceptical. This is a prime area for NFFC to communicate updates with supporters to bring them into the picture.
Unfortunately, time prevented this from being explored in more depth on the evening, but we hope Forest will take views on board to communicate more with fans.
Profit Sustainability Rules (PSR)
At the time that we were asked to provide agenda items for the first meeting, the PSR matter was only just coming to light. We subsequently urged Forest to include this on the agenda, as an example as part of our “wider fan consultation” agenda item, as a core concern for all supporters. This was not discussed.
Ultimately, there will be much on this subject that cannot be freely discussed, especially with this now being in the hands of legal experts, which we understand but we feel that it needs acknowledgement in some form if the FAB is to progress as a credible engagement model.
The first meeting of the FAB was a positive experience and we hope it serves to be a useful and interesting method for supporters to put forward views and share them with the wider fanbase. This final part is particularly important to us, and we will try our best to ensure it happens.
One of the areas we would like to expand is a formalised feedback / suggestion route for all. We appreciate that we come across fans at meet ups, fan displays set ups, social media, away games – yet do not have a formalised route. It is important that FG use this opportunity of structured communication with the club to act on behalf of those that have helped and supported us over the previous years, along with anyone who feels we can put forward balanced and fair views to the club.
We will explore the best route for supporter feedback to be submitted to the club via ourselves but, in the meantime, please use the direct message tool on our social media channels or write to us at ForzaGaribaldi@hotmail.com.
We understand that a further session of the FAB will take place before the end of the season and we anticipate this will be a more productive session where fan viewpoints can be submitted and progress can be made on the items raised in the first meeting.
FG representative – Harry