Arsenal’s AGM took place today, Tim Stillman was there for Arseblog News.
Being very much in and of the Arsenal bubble, it is perhaps difficult to differentiate, but it’s hard to believe that the AGM of any other club in England generates as much interest as Arsenal’s. I am certainly not aware of any coverage around other clubs, but I suppose there are certainly more questions to be asked around Arsenal’s revenue generation and reinvestment.
There are plenty of taciturn majority owners in the upper echelons of the Premier League, but most of them inject large swathes of their personal wealth into clubs, which creates less curiosity compared to Arsenal. However, Arsenal AGMs are nowhere near as fractious as they once were. I would imagine that is due to a mixture of reinvestment in the squad (and Ivan was at pains to highlight other areas that the club have invested in heavily over recent years) and because everyone pretty much knows how these events run by now. The sense of mystique and soap opera have all but vanished.
They are very stage managed, with questions submitted in advance, the answers are generally very non-committal, which means the same questions are resubmitted every year in hope of more expansive answers. And the cycle repeats. That was very much the case this year too. No shocking questions were posed and very few revealing answers were given. Each year, the build-up is dominated by a “Will Stan speak or won’t he?” mini drama.
Whilst I don’t imagine for one minute he would deign to say anything of much substance, it strikes me that Kroenke could kill this innuendo quite easily by even briefly addressing some shareholder questions. His reticence to do so seems to create greater distance and suspicion quite unnecessarily. Perhaps he doesn’t really care. Personally, I always assume that Ivan is his mouthpiece, so I am a little cooler on the prospect of hearing his voice. But silence creates anxiety, but I guess it’s quite obvious by now that he doesn’t greatly care about that.
Stan did speak this year, but not in response to shareholder questions. He and Sir Chips Keswick kicked the meeting off by presenting Arsene Wenger with a commemorative piece of artwork (a montage of his face using the names of all 210 players selected during his tenure) to mark his 20th anniversary as club manager.
Kroenke gushed about the manager “conducting himself with class” throughout his spell, before adding, “we know we will compete for trophies again, we always do,” closing with, “we look forward to successful future.” I don’t think that was any kind of hint into the status of the manager’s contract renewal negotiations. The “we” was quite open I think, referencing the club rather than the direct relationship between the manager and the current board of directors.
A question was submitted with regards to the manager’s contract position, the answer was typically closed, with Sir Chips responding, “We will talk when the time is right but for now, we are focused on competing for trophies.” Prior to presentations from Ivan Gazidis and a short speech from Arsene Wenger, two questions were addressed at the outset. The first asked why Arsenal have kept £50m of free cash in the property side of the business with the club’s property development activities pretty much concluded.
Gazidis answered that he did not recognise the precise £50m figure, but emphasised that the money on the property side “is absolutely available to be spent on the team.” A further question pressed for details on the decision to award Ivan Gazidis a bonus of over £1m in his salary, despite Arsenal’s lack of silverware and commercial revenues staying relatively flat. Sir Chips emphasised that “Ivan’s performance is appraised over a longer time-frame than just one year.” The minutiae of the appraisal did not get more specific than “a number of targets and values” cited by the chairman, who concluded his answer with, “he is leading the development of the club and we are lucky to have him.”
The administrative part of the meeting, where shareholders vote on a number of standard resolutions, such as the company employed to audit the accounts and the re-election of certain directors, is scarcely of interest. However, on this occasion, when faced with a roughly 50-50 split between members of the audience that voted for and against the re-election of Stan Kroenke, Sir Chips was in defiant form.
“We can have a poll should you so wish, that’s very much within the description of the order of the day. Before doing so, I would inform you that I am holding proxies that will be voting in favour which, together, amount to over 79%!” Which rather exposes another reason for the drop in interest in Arsenal AGMs, any interest we hold is not really supplanted with any sort of power. Upon his re-election, Ken Friar was applauded heartily for his 70 years’ service to the club. The show of hands in favour of his re-election was emphatic. Sir Chips praised his contribution “in the 70 years that he has looked after your club.”
At this point Ivan took the stage and performed an electronica styled cover of “I’ve Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher. Just checking you’re still with me. Ivan took to the stage, literally, climbing from his seat and out closer to the audience for a 10-15 minute presentation with slide show to demonstrate some of the club’s activity over the last 12 months. Since we’re all lurching ever closer to death with every passing second, I will summarise his slides in bullet point form.
- He re-emphasised Arsenal’s self-sustaining strategy.
- He showed a slide featuring an internal club document circulated to every member of staff at Arsenal, featuring four key words that all employees are appraised on, Togetherness, Class, Moving Forward and ‘Proud to be Arsenal.’ (So *that’s* why we sold Robin van Persie).
- Arsenal’s revenue has risen by £123m since 2010-11- £61m of which is commercial, £55m is broadcast and £7m is match day income.
- Arsenal’s commercial income has risen from £103m to £107m between 2014-15 to 2015-16. It stood at £46m in 2010-11.
- He spoke about reduced away ticket prices, EFL Cup prices and the special £10 ticket prices for teenagers.
- Investments in media, commercial, IT, HR and legal expertise. As well as playing staff investments, such as dieticians, goalkeeping coaching, scouting, analytics, medical, psychological- all of which take pressure off of Arsene Wenger.
- He also pointed to continued investment in the women’s team. £35m spent on improvements to London Colney and Hale End as well as Club Level refurbishment, new floodlights and a pitch that has been entirely relayed and replanted.
- Expenditure on salaries have climbed from £124m in 2010-11 to £195m in 2015-16. Player sales brought in £65m in 2011-12 compared to £2m in 2015-16.
- He elucidated some of the work that the Arsenal Foundation and Arsenal in the Community Projects have conducted over the last year, including Arsenal Ladies’ captain Alex Scott’s recent visit to Iraq.
Now it was Arsene Wenger’s turn to take the microphone. In recent years, Arsene’s soliloquies have acted as a kind of diazepam to bring calm to a fractious atmosphere. On this occasion, the demeanour of the attendees was a little more genial. It is still clear at these events that Wenger is held in great reverence by supporters, especially away from the hustle and bustle of the match day. Save for the scarier nooks and crevices of the Internet, I think he is held in high esteem even by those that think his tenure ought to come to an end.
His speech was typically self-effacing, opening with, “It’s been 20 years, sorry for all of the times that I made you suffer!” He spoke about the changes he has seen in his 20 years, remarking that Arsenal is a global concern nowadays “which gives me a big responsibility.” He also made some remarks about the age of information in which he operates, pointing out that while he has more information than ever, “you are better informed too and when people know more they are more demanding.”
Arsene said that he feels he has a competitive team that can win the championship, specifying that 82-86 points will probably win the title this season. “That means we have to focus more on the details, every game is a fight so every little detail can help you to win.” The manager signed off with a thank you, adding “let’s meet these challenges together.” The applause for him was warm and sustained, as it always is.
By now, it was time for questions, all of which were submitted in advance. Sir Chips was at pains to point out that they answer every question that is put to them, which is less of an undertaking nowadays given the paucity of small shareholders compared to a few years ago. Steven Powell asked whether plans were afoot to make improvements to the likes of Holloway Road and Drayton Park stations to better cater for the intake of match day traffic. Ivan said Arsenal remained in dialogue with TfL, but there are no immediate plans for that due to TfL budget constraints.
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust asked whether the club would consider home credits for cup finals to encourage non attending season ticket holders to redistribute their seats when unable to attend matches. This was combined with a question over improvements to the ticket exchange. Ivan did say that come the New Year, the ticket exchange software will be active for tablets and mobile devices, which ought to encourage more people to use them. The answer was a bit of a fudge really.
Ivan reeled off some usage statistics (77,000 people used the exchange last season), describing it as “the biggest ticket exchange of its kind in Europe.” He suggested that more and more people were using it, I think a much more interesting and illustrative figure might be how any people didn’t bloody bother to use it last season and let their seat go begging! Gazidis was non-committal on home credits for cup finals suggesting he would “continue to discuss the issue with our fans forums.”
The board were again quizzed on the prospect of safe standing rails at Emirates Stadium, Gazidis was once again non-committal. He acknowledged that Celtic’s adoption of it had pushed the issue “higher on the agenda” but also pointed out that Scottish legislation is slightly more forgiving on the subject than English law. “We can’t make that determination alone but we will be active” was his conclusion. Which, as conclusions go, is not especially resounding or explicit.
Once again, the board were quizzed on their lack of diversity. Here Sir Chips once again pointed to the Advanced Level of Equality Standard they were awarded – a gong handed out 5 years ago now. He said the board continue to uphold diverse values and foster an atmosphere of inclusion, which didn’t answer the question really. It was one of those, “Yeah, sorry about that, BUT LOOK AT ALL THIS OTHER STUFF WE’VE DONE!” answers beloved of politicians. When pressed further on this question a little later, Sir Chips did sort of hint that the board had been looking for a woman to join the board.
The question over the quality of the current commercial deals with raised, especially in light of Chelsea’s recent kit deal with Nike. Ivan suggested that the club suspected that inflation would soon render the Puma deal a little less impressive, but that he was confident that when the time for renewal came, Arsenal’s agreement would push that envelope again. He did say the length of the Puma deal was deliberately undisclosed at this stage.
The subject of Arsene’s contract renewal was also given fairly short shrift, Sir Chips said all parties would sit down “when the time is right” but for now, “the focus remains on competing for trophies.” Ivan was also brought to task around the seeming death of FFP and asked to clarify some of his comments in the summer over Arsenal’s ability to compete on transfer fees. He said, as he has many times now in fairness, that FFP was never part of the club’s “strategy” because they could not control it, merely that they supported it.
Ivan said that the “nuance” of his comments on transfer fees were lost in the reporting over the summer. Apparently, he meant that it would not be wise for the club to simply try to outdo their competitors in transfer spending alone, but that they would try to be smart in other areas- such as scouting, facilities and analytics – which would help Arsenal make competitive gains.
Most AGMs contain at least one lugubrious, heavily opinionated question and this year did not disappoint! A gentleman asked why Arsene Wenger always chooses captains that never play and why he did not sign a centre back before the season started. The question featured several bracketed asides, two of which caustically described Mertesacker and Gabriel as “not good enough!” Arsene fielded this question, beginning his answer with a wry smile, “I don’t agree with the comments in brackets!”
He confirmed that Mertesacker was chosen as captain prior to his injury and that the “respect” he has in the dressing room, as well as his “behaviours” mean he can be a good captain even if he is not playing. He repeated his mantra over shared leadership. Perhaps more interestingly, he opened up a little on the Mustafi deal. Arsene confirmed that the club met with Mustafi’s agent while on tour in the US over the summer, but it was Valencia’s reticence that held the deal up.
He also pointed out that Mustafi was injured at that point anyway, before admitting that “we were a bit young at the back for the Liverpool game.” He also bemoaned Gabriel’s injury one week before the game as “a little unfortunate.” On contract renewals for Alexis, Özil and Bellerin, Gazidis again kept his cards close to his chest. The CEO said he could not come out on individuals, but that the club has a good recent track record in this area and are working hard on it. He did say, hopefully tellingly, that those deals are “in the direction of travel.”
That concluded pre submitted questions, so unvetted questions were invited from the floor. The first asked what the current status of plans to build a dedicated stadium for Arsenal’s Ladies and Youth teams was, as referenced at last year’s AGM. Ivan said it “has been on the agenda for some time” but the project has been beset with “challenges.” (By which he means planning permission). He said the club would continue their ground share with Boreham Wood for the time being, but the clubs “eyes and ears are to the ground” for “the right opportunity.” Sounds like that has hit a bit of a roadblock unfortunately.
The board were asked what they could do to encourage supporters to stay to the end of games, with the ground sometimes only around 1/3 full at the final whistle. I’m not really sure what a board of directors can do about that, secure the exits perhaps? Maybe it could be like that Simpsons episode where Homer watches a cult propaganda film. Every time someone tries to leave, a spotlight could shine on them, the game could stop and a voice from the tannoy could shout, “GOING SOMEWHERE? Even though you’re free to do so……”
Ivan was asked about events at Manchester City away back in May, where an, ahem, ‘divisive’ banner was brought into the away end and apparently confiscated. Ivan confirmed that City had requested for Arsenal to send some stewards to help attend to the away end, a fairly typical scenario for away matches.
He confirmed that the club had looked into the incident in question and that an Arsenal steward had not confiscated the banner, indeed, that it wasn’t in their remit to do so at City’s ground. He said that so long as banners meet ground regulations in terms of material and size and aren’t abusive, the club doesn’t have a confiscation policy on them. He pointed out that Arsenal “don’t control the environment” at away grounds, but that he would continue to hold discussions with fan forums.
That wrapped proceedings up. Josh Kroenke was present at the meeting but did not speak, nor was he addressed at any point. Kroenke Senior did not speak bar for his presentation to Arsene. Nothing out of the ordinary featured in any of the questions or the answers (actually, I think “answers” might be too loaded an adjective here, maybe “responses” would be more apposite).
However, it was an altogether calmer affair than in recent years, maybe had it taken place straight after the Liverpool game we might have heard a little more dissension. Add in the fact that Arsenal did not elect to pay Stan a £3m sum for “a wide range of advice and services” this year and a far more sedate tone was always likely.
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