Last week, Beesotted were invited by the club to discuss the forthcoming stadium plans. We were one of four sets of ‘supporter groups’ to attend such a meeting – although we technically are not a supporters group but an alternative media outlet where fans are able to voice their opinion via our blogs, podcasts and videoblogs. The others being Bees United (Brentford Supporters’ Trust), BIAS (Brentford Independent Supporters Association) and the The Griffin Park Grapevine (Brentford’s biggest online forum).
The meeting was fairly intense, with a lot of detailed information to take in over a short period of time (the hour-long scheduled meeting stretched into more than two hours of conversation). There were lots of questions asked – questions that we felt reflected what the fans would be asking over the nexe few weeks .. and much much more.
After the meeting, we liaised with the other three supporters’ groups and we all concluded that there were still too many unanswered questions and areas that needed clarification.
- Why were the plans changed and was there an alternative way of going about this?
- Was the new stadium a done deal?
- Was there room for manoeuvre?
- What makes this new stadium more financially viable in the long term?
- How ‘good’ will the new stadium actually be?
There was also the question of fan consultation. A number of major changes had been made to the stadium, which the fans had not been consulted upon. The new stadium was such an emotive subject amongst fans. We are being moved from our home of more than 100 years under the proviso that this would be better for the club in the long run. The new stadium would create a number of income-streams that would help the club to become self-sustaining.
With many of these income streams now having been dropped, how does this change to viability of a self-sustaining Brentford FC in the long term?
We felt, between us, that it would be beneficial to call a stadium fans forum. This would give all fans the chance to raise any questions they have on the new stadium and also put their feelings across about how they feel about the plans, whilst putting forward suggestions for possible alterations or compromises.
It would also give the club the ability to clarify their situation and acknowledge whether any potential changes were able to be addressed before the final plans go to Hounslow Council.
The fans forum will be held on Saturday 26 August at 12.30pm at a St Pauls Church Hall (details below). In attendance from the club with be Cliff Crown, Nity Raj plus others that may be confirmed. Please check Beesotted and relevant websites for more information.
The Club has subsequently released their statement on the stadium on Tuesday (click here) – http://bit.ly/2vH6klA
BIAS raise a number of excellent points in their statement – raising a number of questions that need further addressing by the club.
Without any accompanying photographs or plan illustrations (the image above is the original design), it is difficult for supporters to envisage the implications of the new stadium changes. However, although the overall design is similar, from what we saw briefly in our meeting, the new layout seems less impressive with it’s one tier than the previous design.
Going through the new plans, we have picked out some of the main points:
The capacity has been reduced from 20k to 17,250 fans through to the removal of one tier in the North Stand.
In his statement Cliff said the reason for the redesign was “to reduce the risks from the stadium construction process and its future operation”.
In plain English, we were told in no uncertain terms that the redesign was because the original stadium design would have led to enormous delays which would have caused the build-time to increase massively.
There are a number of factors quoted for this delay but they all seemed far too technical for us and we felt it would be very useful if these factors were explained by the club at the fans’ forum.
What we weren’t sure of was whether the stadium design exactly the same as before but with one tier lopped off in one stand? We believe this is the case but we’re not 100% certain, the visuals are needed to be made public ASAP.
Also, will the reduced capacity affect self-sustainability? The club feels that this will be balanced up by an increase in Premium Seating (see below) coupled with the fact that they seem comfortable with attaining a target of 12k home fans in the new stadium (with an additional 3k premium seats and 2k away fans). How will this affect atmosphere?
Lionel Road was always going to be a difficult area to build on. The land is incredibly tight and there were always going to be problems with the railway and surrounding buildings that people were unable to forsee (or should the building experts have predicted this?). The original plans and visuals looked exciting though and the hopes were that our new stadium would be truly special.
On the plus side, the ground is in Brentford. Western International Market and Woking, or moving out towards Bracknell, would have no doubt been easier – and cheaper to build – but the fans wanted Brentford FC to stay in Brentford. Personally, I’m delighted that we won’t be some out of town stadium site like Oxford, Colchester or Reading.
However, this inevitably has not made the build easy and as a result, we have the situation where the club has had to settle for a reduced-capacity stadium with lesser facilities.
Is this the price we have to pay for staying in Brentford?
We have to do is ensure that we’re not an inner city stadium built with an out of town mentality.
Is a 17,250 fan stadium tinpot?
Different fans have different views on this. Some are happy with a tight, smaller stadium full of Brentford fans, with a buzzing atmosphere. Whereas others feel that we should have the capacity to accommodate 6k Man United fans if we ever did get to the Premier League or that we have clipped our own wings.
Personally, we feel if we had a choice between the two, we would prefer the club concentrated on galvanising a hard-core Brentford fan-base through the turnstiles and getting them to generate a roaring atmosphere than trying to pull in 6k away fans. We’ve also still got a fair way to go to fill out the 17k seats as it is.
Redesign and removal of facilities
The redesign has removed a number of facilities including The Community Trust office, The Club Shop and the Lionel Road’s version of The Hive Bar. Much of the previous proposed conferencing facilities have also been sacrificed. Much of this has been replaced by a large media centre, which will go some way towards making Brentford Premier League compliant.
Is a media centre of this size really necessary? We have been told that it is important, but could the centre not be smaller and some of the space used for one of the now missing elements?
Has it been necessary because of cost and build time saving to move it from outside to inside the stadium?
How much will this reduction of additional income affect Brentford’s cash flow and sustainability?
We have been told that it will be better for the club in the long term and will back up the club’s new ethos of ‘concentrating on the core business of running a football club’. Many fans will be concerned/confused that this is now no longer important after being told for decades how critical additional revenue streams are to any club’s future business model.
But is opening a brand new stadium with no club shop, no fan’s bar and reduced facilities tinpot?
Is the club looking to still have these facilities but maybe sub-contract them out (meaning someone takes the core of the risk whereas Brentford share in the revenue)?
And what are the benefits for not having these fixed costs? We are not mathematicians. How do these figures add up?
These are all questions that are still outstanding after our meeting, which we feel need to be addressed at the Fans’ Forum.
There has been an increase in the number of premium seats at the stadium from 1,000 to 3,000. This has now been designated as the main form of additional income for the stadium – replacing traditional hospitality and other income streams which have been deemed by the club to have a high up-front cost, high operational costs, low expertise in this area and high risk factor.
Hence, once again, the emphasis on their new ethos of ‘concentrating on the core business of running a football club’ has led to this decision.
These seats are to be positioned on the half-way line in both stands. Pricing of premium seats was not divulged so we don’t know how much extra the club will be asking fans to fork out to migrate to a similar seat in the new stadium as their current Braemar Road/Ealing Road seat.
The question we would ask is whether the club would be prepared to offer current season ticket holders in similar seats in Griffin Park ‘loyalty benefits’ when offered seats in the new stadium (ie. discounted prices). It’s difficult to say what those prices could be when the pricing has not been announced as yet.
Safe Standing has been included as part of the plans. However, only 1,200 spaces behind one goal have been reserved for standing. This strikes us a bit of tokenism.
There are currently around 2,500 standing places in the Ealing Road at Griffin Park. We predict that there would be huge demand for standing at the new stadium. If Griffin Park is going to do standing, then Lionel Road should be the flagship new stadium for this new era of standing and we should go the full hog.
Safe Standing is the next big priority for the Football Supporters Federation and – after securing a £30 cap on away tickets for Premier League fans which many believed would never happen – our inkling is that safe standing will be in place by the time the stadium opens.
We would have expected a large proportion of ‘seating’ behind the goal at Lionel Road to be standing – at least 3k to 4k. Yes we understand standing is not law as yet. But if you can plan for 1,200 standing places you can plan for 4k.
The questions we would ask is – can this be upped? Or have the seats in this area been priced higher than the standing places which will affect the cash-flow? Maybe fans would be happy to pay the same amount to stand as to sit in this area in which case test the water before setting things in stone.
Future expansion of the stadium
Cliff Crown stated that there could be possible future expansion of the stadium from 17,250 to 25k. But, in reality, it would not be like adding an extra tier to the top. It would involve intensive building work (the possible removal of a stand) and another extensive architectural study.
Admittedly, this would only become important if we were established in the Premier League as filling 25k fans in The Championship will be a challenge.
There is an argument to say, the income from an extra 7k fans in the Premier League is inconsequential compared to the Premier League income.
However, this comes back to asking how much of our future existence is saddled on us reaching the Premier League. And what happens if that doesn’t take place or we get promoted then drop out?
We noticed from the press release that the timescale has been pushed back until late 2019/early 2020.
From a Beesotted point of view, we feel there are several musts for the new stadium.
The stadium is fit for purpose
That the stadium must be fit for purpose. This sounds like a glib statement. But look what has happened to other clubs who’s fans are unhappy with their new homes.
We have always been vocal in our hatred for soul-less new-builds like Colchester and Oxford and we have, from day one, asked the club to ensure that we will not find ourselves in this bracket.
How does this new stadium match up?
Have these changes made it better or worse than before? It’s very difficult to tell from the plans.
Personally, we feel that 17k hard core fans is far, far better than 20k Fulham-esque tourist fans. The club will have to work very hard to build on the current fanbase to pull in an additional 5k fans (17k minus 2k away fans and 3k premium seats minus around 7k current regular home fans) through the doors . They would have to work even harder to pull in the ‘right type of fan’ as opposed to getting any olde fan in just to get bums on seats.
How will the location of the premium seats affect the atmosphere at the ground?
Will we have two strips of Wembley-esque prawn sandwiches who add very little to the atmosphere at the match and kill the vibe? Or will this be managed by the club appropriately?
The quality of fan and their ‘pottiness for Brentford’ we believe is key in making our new stadium a place where fans actually enjoy going to.
It is imperative that the stadium can generate a cauldron-esque atmosphere. This again has always been one of our bug-bears and comes down to design and crowd management.
Stadium MK is always quoted as one of the top stadia in surveys generated by football authorities. However, we are yet to find one fan who enjoys his or her experience at Stadium MK.
Yes it may have padded seats. But the atmosphere is insipid and if MK were our home, we personally would seriously consider whether we would get a season ticket because of the dire atmosphere
The Football Club Makes Some Moves Towards Becomes Self-Sustaining
The reasons for the move to Lionel Road have always been that the club has a medium to long-term plan to become self-sustaining and the stadium was central to that.
From way back in the day when we at Beesotted were involved in the fan consultation meetings with Mark Devlin (this was pre 2013 when Matthew Benham was more folklore than a real person), we would emphasise that the club needs, at some stage, to become self-sustaining or else we will end up like your Portsmouths and your Coventrys of the world.
At that time, we were worried that some unknown businessman had just poured £5m of his own money into a club that was losing money hand over fist and he would pull the rug at any time.
That was small fry compared to the £100m currently invested and we spent a long time in our meeting with Cliff and Nity getting assurances on the plan was for self-sufficiency for Brentford and what would happen if, for any reason, Matthew Benham were to decide to end his investment the club.
We were assured that Matthew Benham would never pull the rug – despite being £100m in the hole.
We were told that that IF he were ever to walk away, his investment would NOT suddenly become a debt to the club which needed to be repaid.
We guess that Bees United would be able to give assurances that this would be the case here as they are officially the Supporters Trust.
However, it was also emphasised at that the club needed to become more self-sustaining to reduce Matthew Benham’s yearly financial input.
Sorting out Brentford fans when the move comes
Moving to the new stadium will be emotive. Some fans don’t want to go. Many have accepted this is what is needed. So when we move, it has to be right.
2,500 fans standing in the Ealing Road will want to feel that the club has accommodated them with similar standing space at the new stadium.
Similarly, the fans with season tickets on the half way line will want to feel that the club has gone some way to accommodate their needs when they move to the new stadium.
Has the club considered all of this in their plans?
Affordable Football for Brentford Fans
We have always been banging on about affordable football. Football at Brentford should always be affordable.
The club will highlight the fact that they are losing £10m a season, so any reduction in ticket prices will affect the amount of money that the owner will put in to offset that loss.
However, the club have recently taken on the mantle of ‘affordable football’ so they have to remain true to their word. Both now. And going into the new stadium.
There has been no talk of pricing at the new stadium in our talks. However, no doubt the club will have done a new stadium P&L and ticketing would have been central to this.
The question we would ask is – are current Brentford fans going to be ‘looked after’ at the new stadium? Interestingly, Huddersfield offered existing fans £199 season tickets in this Premier League season.
We believe our pricing is just about right and, when we move to the new stadium, we would not expect any increase in season ticket prices.
Does Brentford have anything planned to reward long-term season ticket holders and members of the club (as opposed to the new fans that the club is trying to attract).
We believe that this is absolutely key.
The new plans have thrown up more questions than we have been able to answer to be honest.
We have outlined our thoughts and ideas above.
The feeling from Brentford is that they have been forced to make an about turn on the stadium. We question whether, overall, these changes have not been too severe.
We also asked how fixed the plans now in place are?
Is there flexibility for some change after receiving feedback from the fans?
The forum on 26 August could be be very interesting.
12.30pm till 2pm
Saturday 26th August
St Paul Church Hall
St Pauls Road
Dave Lane and Billy Grant
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