Ian Ayre: Ticketing, executive changes and supporters direct

With the recent changes at executive level and the Club’s plan to change the relationship and its communication with supporters SOS has received a number of queries from members which we sent to Ian Ayre. Ian responded promptly and in his response he talks about his recent change of role, ticket pricing and other issues which were put to him.

1) Congratulations on your recent promotion into your new role. On a personal note what felt better, being appointed to the role of  Commercial Director initially at Anfield, or gaining recognition for and being promoted to Managing Director?

Firstly thanks for you kind words of congratulations. When I was appointed as commercial director I honestly felt a mix of trepidation and excitement. As we all know this is a great great football club and it means a lot to some people and everything to others. Taking any senior role here is surrounded with an enormous sense of responsibility to the fans, the shareholders and all that the club stands for.  At that time I felt I had many of the necessary skills to do a good job and despite what I inherited being in a much worse state than I imagined, myself and the team we built, set about building some stronger, deeper and more sustainable foundations for the future revenues of the club. Seeing revenues grow in the times of turmoil and in the worst economy for many years was a testament to the hard work that my team put in and it was and remains extremely satisfying. However, being appointed as Managing Director was without doubt the highlight not only of my career at Liverpool FC, but my entire business career. I come from the old school view that fans largely want to hear what the manager and players have to say. The newspapers should be filled with stories about football matches and the thrills and spills of matches and rivalry on the pitch.  That said, there is in today’s game a need to ensure that we equip our football club with strong business structures and business professionals because like it or not we are one of, if not “The” biggest football club in the world.  We all saw how quickly the wheels can come off if you get that wrong and for me, taking on that challenge is something I relish. I believe I know what the club stands for, I believe I know what fans want and I believe I can balance the need to be a commercially focused business whilst addressing the needs of our fans/customers. Being given the chance to lead the management for this great club is without doubt the greatest achievement of my career and I have no doubt that it won’t be surpassed in anything I do in the future. What job is bigger than running Liverpool Football Club?

2) You have reduced the child tickets for next season to help the next generation of supporters. Are there any further initiatives planned to help younger supporters to attend matches?

This is something we review on a constant basis. As fans are aware we provided several initiatives last season whereby we reduced prices for young supporters around certain cup games. We don’t set hard and fast rules on this as you need to maintain flexibility on demand but it goes without saying that encouraging young fans is a priority for us as a club in general.

3) The recent publication of Club revenues and rumours of imminent announcements about further deals show the Club in a healthy financial position. With next season’s ticket prices released recently, will there come a time when revenues allow for a reduction in the price of adult tickets?

Setting ticket prices is always an emotive issue. In reality as a club our financial aim is to equip ourselves such that we can compete financially in the transfer market with our main competitors at the top of the premier league. We need to do that in a sustainable way, such that we spend what we earn and don’t live beyond our means.  As UEFA have indicated in due time the practice of rich benefactors writing cheques will go and as such we need to ensure that we set Liverpool up to be a well run club with competitive revenue streams to that of our main competitors. In football clubs, revenues are generated in general from 3 distinct pots, Media, Matchday & Commercial. For Liverpool the matchday pot is compounded by the fact that we don’t have as large a capacity as others but we still maintain a similar pricing level to others, rather than hiking up prices to make up the deficit in overall capacity. In the future when we settle on a stadium capacity solution we will as now assess our overall revenues and decide what is appropriate to charge our fans such that we maintain the ability to provide adequate funds to the manager to have a winning team. I think it would be foolish on my part to try and predict any fall in adult prices, because there are so many imponderable’s to that, but what I can promise is that what we charge fans will always be in line with us maintaining a competitive on field solution.

4) With the recent reorganisation of the Season Ticket waiting list along with the announcement that more Season Tickets are being released for the new season will there be any future increase in the ratio of season tickets compared to the capacity of the ground if the exercise proves successful and the demand is still so great? 

We are increasing season tickets this summer and will continue to review that situation. Whilst we have no doubt about the demand for season tickets and I can confirm demand remains high, we do need to maintain a balance in this regard.  What we need to avoid is a “lock out” where only the same people can get in every week.  The non season ticket based allocation is the most effective way of ensuring that as many of our millions of fans around the world have at least some chance of coming to see the Red’s all be it less frequently than our season ticket holders.  We have a very robust CRM system and as such can analyze the number of unique individual users of tickets which in turn shows us the number of individual fans that get to experience seeing the team and where they come from. As a club with fans all over the world maintaining that inclusive approach is extremely important so we have to continue to review that as we progress to find the best all round balance for everyone.

5) The newly announced selling arrangements for next season includes “bulk” buying for Premier League games for members. Was there any consideration given to the amount of money needed for this, or consideration given to a finance option like the one introduced for the Season Ticket payments? Some SOS members who are affected have asked who was actually consulted about this as the first they heard about it was the announcement. With the Supporters Committee not yet operational, and the number of supporter groups in operation, were any of them consulted by the Cub with regard to these changes?

As you pointed out in your previous question, there is an enormous demand for season tickets at Liverpool FC. We have over 70,000 people on a waiting list. That number alone provides a very clear indication that there is an enormous appetite for people to attend as many games as possible, and an enormous base of fans indicating that they are prepared to pay in advance for tickets? I’m not sure there could be any clearer message. In addition we have very clear data that shows the mix of people travelling from local and non local addresses to games is equally varied. Remember again we are a globally supported club so we need to provide solutions that work for everyone. This indicates that the ability for those travelling outside Merseyside postcodes to have greater and longer term visibility of the certainty of  having tickets to matches is a great benefit and provides a greater ability to book transport, hotels and other such facilities in advance, often at more preferential rates. The combination of those factors provides a clear indication of a demand to buy multiple tickets in advance. With regard to financing of those tickets it is not in this season something we can offer but dependent on the success of the programme it is something we will look at next season subject to being able to offer the appropriate product to service it.

6) With the Supporters Committee now finalised, will it work as a two way street?  Will the Club be sounding out ideas and fans raising issues or will this only work in one direction? 

Once Operational, the Supporter Committee will be the main conduit for dialogue between the club and all of its supporters from the various groups and constituent fan sections. It will work in both directions; we will use the committee to gauge advice, interest and reaction to new ideas/initiatives as well as listening to fans questions and issues.

7) One of the members of the Supporters Committee selection committee, Dave Boyle, Chief Executive of Supporters Direct has recently resigned following the withdrawal of funding by the Premier League for Supporters Direct.  Having worked with Supporters Direct and seeing first hand the positive impact they have had, will LFC be doing anything to support Supporters Direct in their bid to regain funding from the Premier League?

We have not been approached by Supporters Direct for any assistance but would be happy to have a dialogue with them as an organisation if they feel that Liverpool FC can be of assistance in their funding aspirations or any other activities.

SOS is, in liaison with our members, in the process of formulating a ticketing campaign to address issues such as extortionate ticket prices particularly for away games in the hope of bringing these issues to the attention of those who set the prices, football authorities and those who benefit from stadium revenue. While we welcome this continued communication with Ian Ayre and the Club, we believe that football authorities, as a whole in the UK, need to review ticket pricing, especially in light of the current economic situation in this country.  This builds on the ticket campaign consultation we carried out with members.