Wolves Fans Parliament members were given an update on the club’s stadium redevelopment plans at the second meeting of the season. Understanding the fans need for an update on the future of Molineux, managing director Laurie Dalrymple made the subject the lead item on the agenda in light of repeated sell-outs in the 2018-19 season.
In his overview, he said: “Our fans should be reassured that we’re moving things on positively and productively. I would caveat all information with regards to the speed of our perceived progress by putting into context the speed of our progression. Our progression on the field has been very quick in the last 18 months or so but developing a ground that fulfils all of our needs and is future proofed is not a fast process. We have been working for about five months with an agency specialising in modelling stadia development projects and their work is primarily aimed at giving us the comfort that we have the right market demand and, secondly, giving us the comfort around building a stadium with the optimum number of seats for that demand.
“There has never been any lack of ambition for us to take the capacity in to the 50,000’s or higher but we have to respect what the market dynamics are telling us, and we have to be adopting a more realistic and pragmatic approach that we are comfortable with. So, with that in mind, we are presently looking at a further two phases to the project that would take the figure from 31,500 to about 36,000 in phase 1, with a view to a further phase lifting it to 45-46,000 in phase 2.”
He also revealed a change of thinking with regard to the order of development, though, by saying the plan was now likely to be for the Steve Bull Stand to be rebuilt next, with the South Bank following that.
“We said the South Bank might be developed first but, in all honesty, we have had a slight shift in opinion,” he added. “From a commercial perspective and for us to maximise all aspects of the stadium, as quickly as possible, it makes more sense to develop the Steve Bull first. Additionally, we have some football regulations, such as the accommodation of disabled supporters to factor in to our stadium plans, as well as how we manage and execute our away fans segregation and location. Where we place away fans here is causing some frustration, it’s fair to say, as when a club brings over 2,000 fans, there’s little we can do other than put them in the Steve Bull Lower. This is a situation, that we will actively seek to improve sooner, rather than later.”
Of the plan, he continued: “We are now in continual dialogue with local stakeholders, such as our partners at the council, and we are fortunate to have a really receptive management team there. Discussions are under way and they have a strong appetite to see this project succeed, like the rest of us. By partnering us to see that it happens, the council have an opportunity to collaborate on a focal part of the city, along with everything else they are doing to regenerate. Project work and plans continue to be developed with architects and surveyors and we want the stadium to be seen as a destination, somewhere to come for a pint, a meal, a conference or an event. We also want it to be seen as a catalyst to drive incremental investment into the city. The council are very committed to the ideas that we have, as are the university.
“Within the programme of development, we have not excluded a final development of the Billy Wright Stand, but that would be the final stage of any future planning.
Darren Bennett asked what the possible time frame might be and was told that the coming summer was too early, but the close season of 2020 was feasible and was now our focus, with redevelopment of the South Bank possibly in line to be started in 2022. Laurie said the South Bank capacity would be expected to increase, although final numbers would need to be in line with our overall stadium plan. Dave Quarrell enquired about the seating space in the Steve Bull and was told it would hold around 11,000 instead of 9,500 at present. Neil Dady asked how much of that would be for corporate customers and was told 1,500 or 2,000 as opposed to the current 350.
Laurie suggested the redevelopment was going to require a significant amount of investment, and further spelled out that trying to break into the Premier League top six remained our future primary focus and was also going to take further investment to do so. “There’s a lot of work going on across the entire club,” he added.
The MD was asked how away fans might be accommodated in the new Steve Bull Stand and explained that an increased existing quadrant at the North East side of the ground was always visualised as the best area as it meant segregation was ‘much cleaner.’ Peter Abbott asked whether the away club’s allocation could be reduced during rebuilding work and was told: “Yes, although with regards to our home fans, we are trying to develop a plan while having the least disruption to our supporters. We think and hope that we have found a way, executing it with the least disruption as possible.” Anita Midha was told that there would be some displacement, but the plan was to put a lower tier in the Steve Bull quickly to ensure future displacement of season ticket holders would be minimal.
Discussion moved to the problems of fans getting to and from games, Stuart Alves pointing out that he had heard that motorists leaving cars by the park-and-ride area near Wolverhampton Science Park were going to be charged from March 1 on a match day. “That’s maybe 400-500 cars, holding up to 2,000 fans…. they will say they aren’t going to pay a fiver,” he said. “Surely that’s a backwards step.” Laurie promised to look into the matter. Dave Stevens pointed out how difficult it was reaching Molineux and departing from it and asked: “Are we talking to the council about some park and ride systems?” Laurie replied in the affirmative and said all options would be discussed as the stadium expanded. Jack Finch urged the club to talk to the Metro operators as well because supporters walking to the city centre station could be left, he said, with a very late arrival back at the stop at which they disembark. Peter Abbott said operators needed to be urged to put on extra staff. Parliament chairman Paul Richards said the club repeatedly asked operators to sit in on talks and Laurie said the carrot was that a c45,000 stadium would be there for everyone and not just the club. Jas Bahra asked if car parks could be built under the new stands and was told by Laurie that plans were in hand but not for them to be situated under the stands.
The opportunity was given to the floor to ask any further questions, but that concluded the discussion on stadium development.
MATCH-DAY EXPERIENCE AND TICKETING
Laurie had pointed out at the start that the meeting was being attended by the club’s heads of marketing, operations, ticketing and media, as well as supporter liaison officer Dave Wood, and Paul Richards referred a point about the searching of fans on their way into the ground to Steve Sutton. The head of operations said the search plan has at least one steward per turnstile and said random searches weren’t an option as that could lead to accusations of discrimination, the object of the search is to provide a deterrent to anyone intent on causing harm. He was also mindful of the need for fans not to be kept standing in the rain and cold while being patted down. Gary Egginton described himself as surprised that some complained about searches because they were now part of life everywhere. He also said the stewards were always polite. To a question from Stuart Alves about whether sniffer dogs were used, Steve Sutton said no.
Laurie said he was proud of how much effort was being put into the pre-match entertainment package and said he hoped it would continue to persuade fans to arrive earlier, to reduce congestion and ensure the team were given the biggest possible lift when they walked out for kick-off. “The quicker people can get here, the better,” he said. There was a comment that the need to enter Molineux earlier would be greater still if ever attendances rise to 45,000-plus. Laurie praised Russell Jones and his team for the frequent and varied entertainment and light shows which were ‘definitely working’ in tempting fans to arrive earlier.
Paul Richards raised the question about match-day road closures around the ground and was told by Steve Sutton that the council were looking at mid-March or early April for completion of stronger gates on two different points of Waterloo Road. Steve followed on by saying travel operator National Express don’t wish to alter bus routes as this would disrupt their timetables if they did. Steve confirmed that this has been raised again with the City Council and they will follow it up with National Express.
Talk turned to refunds and cancellations on tickets being possible online – a subject head of ticketing James Davies said would be helped by the release of a software update at the start of next season. James also pointed out that professional touts provided a challenge, especially with concessionary tickets that were being printed off at home. A small minority of fans were reselling tickets at face value to circumvent the loyalty points scheme – something he described as being more difficult to police. The club stressed that they needed people to identify the guilty, but Laurie maintained his view and said it wasn’t a significant number and added: “If fans stop buying the tickets through these routes (mainly on social media), the sellers will stop advertising them.” Laurie was satisfied that the loyalty points system generally worked and rewarded those who were travelling years ago to less perceived glamorous venues. He is open to the possibility of a sub-group being created around the subject of away ticketing but said the away ticket scheme had been in place for 23 years and he had no intention of reducing loyalty or access to away tickets.
Mark Evans was told by the MD that there would not be any increase in gold and silver tickets for next season - because the present number worked well. Alan Stuart was informed that the early bird renewal dates would be published at about the same as last season while James Davies responded positively to Stuart Alves’s enquiry about a waiting list being set up to help fans hoping to transfer from silver membership to gold by saying something was in place. On the subject of loyalty points being added, Peter Abbott was told this occurred as soon as possible after a game had sold out. Anne Bott had been asked about the upgrade of junior tickets and enquired whether fans could pay the extra amount as she knew someone who had been refused. James said it was in the conditions that there was a maximum of five upgrades a season, but the club were flexible and always listened to the circumstances.
Dave Quarrell agreed that the loyalty scheme was working with away tickets but remarked that the club had sold out for every away game, so some fans were being denied the chance to ever see the side play anywhere other than at Molineux. “Couldn’t we keep 200 or so tickets for ballot to give those people a chance?” he said. Laurie sad it was something that could be considered, although he felt the loyalty issue was very important and stressed how such a ballot would cause disappointment to the fans who had ‘put in the hard graft’ earlier. Tony Grocott said the scheme, if brought in, should be tried at a game like the forthcoming midweek one at Huddersfield.
Neil Dady said he expected to see boisterous behaviour at games but reported an incident he witnessed at Shrewsbury recently and asked whether the culprits could be rooted out. Laurie responded: “I watched it unfold. It’s hard because lower league clubs will always naturally have less resources than those in the Premier League.” Neil continued: “Shouldn’t we be concerned that we have these fans among our away season ticket holders and can’t identify them?” Steve Sutton said a police investigation was going on and Laurie reminded the meeting that bans had been handed to some fans two years ago after trouble in a game against Birmingham. Peter Abbott was told that the extra stewarding at the Shrewsbury replay had been driven by the incidents in the away game.
Darren Bennett enquired whether the club’s allocation for the FA Cup tie at Bristol City this weekend was reduced. Laurie said: “It’s fair to say we are not getting our full allocation, despite our best efforts. They don’t believe they have the resource to provide the adequate level of policing, inside and outside the ground, so we have to accept it.” Jack Finch reflected on the Cup ticket prices of £27 against Liverpool and £15 against Shrewsbury and pointed out that he paid to watch Wolves, whoever they were facing. Laurie replied: “I think £27 for the Liverpool tie was good value given the two teams that were likely to be put out and the entertainment surrounding the game.” By way of explanation for the fact the stadium wasn’t full, Jon Babb said it was played in early January, it was live on terrestrial TV at night and the same two teams had contested a League game here just before Christmas. Neil Dady said he was disappointed the stadium hadn’t been filled and Sam Payne said he knew of 20 people around him in the stand who didn’t go to that tie because of the ticket prices. Neil Dady said it would be interesting to know how many season ticket holders had attended.
Richard Southgate reflected on the decision to have staggered sales for the Shrewsbury replay and said some fans were upset they didn’t have their usual seats, asking whether there had been an underestimation on numbers. Laurie replied: “We had to take some risk management in to consideration. If we can condense empty areas, it makes it easier for Steve (Sutton). It could have gone differently but we sold out and we won, with quite a few new fans here. We take everything on board though for the future, though, as we always do.” Dave Wood pointed out that there was a small window to sell tickets with it being a replay, and only six days on from the fixture being confirmed. Sam Payne was assured a recent software glitch had been resolved. Paul Richards raised the topic of tickets for members of the armed forces and handed it over to James Davies, who said engagement with military personnel through special offers like those in place a few years ago was difficult at present with the high demand of ever-present fans.
To a question about whether Nuno was happy with the depth of his squad now the transfer window is closed, Laurie Dalrymple said: “He has made it clear that he is happy with a smaller focused squad with young players called on when necessary. That’s what he prefers and he is content with the group that he has and their performances.” Jon Babb mentioned the possibility of Europa League affecting recruitment – something the MD suggested was not something we were focusing on right now, but ‘could provide a different dynamic if that came to fruition’ and Mark Evans said the club basically had one out-and-out striker on loan despite Kevin Thelwell having said at a previous meeting that lota of players were being scouted. “We don’t just scout players for the first team, neither will we bring in people for the sake of having more bodies. They have to be able to fulfil a task required of them and be in a position to further improve the group that we have.” Jack Finch asked what Nuno thought of the differing kick-off times imposed because of the choice of TV games. Laurie said that this is the nature of our industry to a large extent, but admitted that Fulham away early on Boxing Day was a wrench for everyone concerned given the disruption to travel, and added: “I’ve no doubt he has his frustrations but I suspect his probably more often around the time the squad have to recover and prepare for the next match.” About the high number of Wolves games being selected for live coverage, Laurie continued: “We are creating a fantastic viewing experience and playing fantastic football, so we are in demand”. To Jas Bahra’s enquiry about further investment in the squad, Laurie said. If we want to progress and improve, the club couldn’t afford to remain static.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Michelle Turner commented on the TV screens in the Stan Cullis Stand bars at half-time, pointing out that the Sky Sports feed rather than Wolves TV had been shown at the last two games. Laurie clarified by saying the concourse and bars could show either – it was just a matter of turning it over. There was also a promise that the concourse TV service was going to be vastly improved, hopefully before the end of the season, following ‘some glitches’.
Jack Finch said a lot of fans weren’t happy with the quality of catering and was told by Laurie: “We are reviewing it right now. We are going through a long and detailed tender process. It’s an area, like many in the club that we want to continually see an uplift in provision and delivery.” Tony Grocott said there were not enough staff serving – a comment that prompted the MD to say Wolves had made it clear they needed and expected consistency and high performance from our catering partner. Jas Bahra said he had seen no queues at the Newcastle game on Monday with the contactless tills and Laurie confirmed that contactless was being executed throughout the stadium. Dave Wood urged members to email in with any complaints or observations on such matters.
Paul Richards brought up the subject of mascot packages and Laurie felt that ‘lazy journalism’ had led to reports about the prices Wolves charge. “It became quite emotive,” he said. “Our range in price and the one quoted was at the top end. We have four to five varying price points for the mascot package, that I prefer to view as a match day experience. Last summer, the packages sold out within 30 minutes of going on sale. The value for money is extremely high…full kit, four match tickets, hospitality, the chance to come to the stadium three to four hours before kick-off, a 45-minute coaching session with our Foundation team, a meeting with both sets of players and a walk out with a player. We have multiple high repeat orders. I am entirely comfortable with what we charge. The newspaper piece didn’t break it down, nor did it reflect that we give numerous mascot experience to many young fans free of charge via our sponsor programme or via our Wolves Wishes initiative that the Foundation manage.”
Before the meeting in Molineux’s International Lounge, members were given the opportunity to go outside and view some examples of the rail seating the club are interested in piloting. “Again, we are showing our intent to do something meaningful,” Laurie said. “We want a safe environment. The other pressure coming in is because everyone (on the South Bank) stands regardless of what we try to do to dissuade them otherwise. We are taking a proactive approach to find a solution.” Sam Payne said it was important for safe standing to be at the back and seated in front in areas of the ground that might have both the new seats and traditional ones. Laurie was keen to continue canvassing supporters’ views as the club were reluctant to commit big sums to the project and then have fans asking why they had done so. Michelle Turner said the exploratory visit she and other Parliament members had made to Celtic a year or two ago underlined how much fans there loved it.
Jas Bahra asked how Wolves TV was being received in different parts of the world and was told that the club had been extremely pleased by the uptake in South America, where at least some of the boom was being attributed to the Raul Jimenez effect. Laurie said China remained a target market but was being outperformed for now by South America, the MD again giving credit to Russell Jones and his team for their work in this area. Stuart Alves said he thought the displaying of overseas supporter groups on the LCD/LED boards was brilliant.
The Wolves Fans Parliament also conveyed their condolences to the family and friends of the former Wolves coach Ian Ross, who died at the weekend aged 72.