'I apologise for the lack of communication' - City chief stands by membership system but says sorry to annoyed fans
PUBLISHED: 12:41 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:00 28 June 2019
Chief operating officer Ben Kensell has apologised for the lack of consultation and communication about Norwich City's controversial new ticket membership system - but says he still feels the correct decision has been made.
The Canaries announced a new membership scheme earlier this month which ditched the loyalty points system used to prioritise the sale of tickets and introduced a new tiered membership system.
While stressing that previous away season ticket holders and loyal away fans would be 'ringfenced' to ensure those regular travelling supporters would be able to continue largely as they are used to, home season ticket holders lost their preferential status in the away ticket sales system.
This essentially breaks down to a £50 premier membership and £35 standard membership to gain priority access to tickets, with allocations of around 3,000 expected and demand set to be high following the club's return to the Premier League.
While the memberships also provide other benefits and were welcomed by some supporters, the lack of consultation with fans about a scheme - announced just the day before the memberships went on sale - brought a great deal of criticism, including from the Football Supporters' Association.
City's COO Kensell met with members of supporter groups at Carrow Road on Thursday evening to apologise for that lack of consultation and explain the way forward, before speaking to the media this morning.
He said of last night's meeting with fans: "On the whole it was positive, it was good to do some consultation with the fans. From my perspective it's just hands up, lessons learned from the last couple of weeks, especially in the way we communicated and the lack of fan consultation.
"Those two things alone are disappointing and we have got to do better in those two areas. So from my perspective, I apologise and I apologise for the lack of communication and fan consultations.
"We need to get that right, whenever you are making a significant change there will always be opinions on that, there will always be people who think it is wrong or right.
"I believe it's thew right thing to do for the football club in the long term, the removal of points and moving to a membership scheme. I've spoken to hundreds of fans and engaged with many more.
"On the whole I think the communication and the lack of consultation was the thing that really disappointed me the most but the rationale and the whole reason why we've done that, I think is still sound and still the right thing to do.
"Moving forward, what we want to do is how do we right some of the wrongs in supporters' minds around the next iteration of the membership, so what we're doing over the next four or five months is making sure we engage with as many fans as possible, in a structured way, to make sure we address loyalty, prices, the junior and family issues we've had coming up.
"But what I won't do is apologise for the movement from a points system to a membership scheme, because it will be the right thing for the football club in the long term and commercialising that as a self-funding club is unfortunately what we have to do.
"These are tough decisions and sometimes people in senior positions at the club have to make tough decisions - but it would have been made a lot easier if we had got the basics right in terms of fan communication and consultation."
Asked about the reason for that lack of consultation, Kensell simply said he didn't want to make excuses for the mistakes which he has now acknowledged.
He continued: "We can make lots of excuses internally but ultimately it didn't happen and it should have happened, but I think as a football club on the whole we have been pretty consultative, as much as we possibly can be in a transparent way.
"We can put down the points that we've been promoted, we've done parades, the Take That concert - but these are all just excuses ultimately.
"We're paid at the football club to do a job and that's to represent the fans, and on this occasion we've let ourselves down when it comes to fan consultation and I'll put my hands up to that and say we've learned lessons.
"What I can tell you moving forward is that we will consult with fans, probably more than we should do moving forward! This will never be a universally accepted one-size-fits-all solution to memberships.
"I don't apologise for making the change because it needed to be changed, where I actually think we need to learn lessons from with things like this is that we need to leave a much longer lead-in time before we makes these sort of decisions.
"We can't communicate in a quick-fire way, we've got to make sure we do it properly."
A joint statement from Canaries supporter groups was launched last week calling for the club to rethink the changes and a response was issued, teeing up this week's discussions.
Kensell is part of City's executive management committee alongside sporting director Stuart Webber and business and project director Zoe Ward, who answer to the club's board of directors.
He explained: "All the decisions big or small made at this football club, are mostly made in the boardroom with myself, Stuart, Zoe and the board, so of course it was a collective decision.
"But it's my responsibility for making sure that we do it correctly and that we make the big decisions and do them right, and the rationale behind doing them as well.
"So I take responsibility and actually the one good thing that has come out of this has been the amount of consultation I've had with fans as a result of this - positive or negative, and some of it has been negative - I've enjoyed.
"Around ticketing, their relationship with the club, loyalty, some of the points that they say are flawed in this scheme and they've heard some of my arguments or suggestions on it.
"We've agreed to disagree sometimes but equally I think they can understand the rationale behind why we're trying to move to a different place with memberships.
"It was interesting during the consultation with the fan groups that there were points where there were several different opinions in the room. People always look through a personal lens and I appreciate and understand that.
"There will not be a one-size-fits-all solution to this and that's where I can appreciate that where one person will be unhappy, another will be happy, but we've got to get the basics right and that's what we didn't do."
With thousands of memberships already purchased and the start of the season away to Liverpool on Friday, August 9 already looming on the horizon, Kensell stressed there were no plans to roll back the changes.
He intends to focus on making the best of the situation and focusing on trying to make improvements for the 2020-21 season, by consulting widely with supporters.
Kensell concluded: "It's now about operational delivery of that system because I think it's important that the members have a way of purchasing the tickets.
"We've gone out with clear and concise sales dates, so regardless of the fixture, people should be aware of when those sales dates are now and if they're not they can go online and have a look.
"From my perspective we will be working quite aggressively to ensure that the membership evolves over a period of time and the next five or six months is key to a place where people are more comfortable with it.
"I would say it won't be comfortable for everyone because there will always be gripes and people who think it's not fair but ultimately I want to hear from fans and I want to be able to communicate accordingly, so when we do go out in January for seasons tickets for 2020-21 people are informed."