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Fixture News

Andrew Cullen's Plymouth Programme Notes

CEO addresses issues at Fratton Park on Saturday

19 September 2021

Andrew Cullen

Thank you for attending tonight’s rearranged fixture with Plymouth Argyle and a warm welcome to our visitors and their supporters who have made the long journey to Portsmouth this evening.

Tonight provides a quick opportunity to quickly bounce back from the huge disappointment felt by all of us after Saturday’s defeat. The division remains fiercely competitive, where a win – and, indeed, back-to-back victories – will quickly propel any club up the table. Three points could push us from 15th to 6th place, while a win for Argyle could see them go top.

I am acutely aware of the problems some supporters encountered entering the stadium on Saturday. I was on hand to witness everything throughout the afternoon. I was hugely upset and I do very much want to apologise to those affected. Improving the whole matchday experience for supporters has been top of the agenda at my previous two clubs and is a key priority at Pompey. I am taking stock from my first three matchdays, personally observing how things work around the stadium, and take feedback from different supporters. I am committed to delivering a top experience every time you come to Fratton Park to support your football club, spending your hard-earned money.

The post-match investigation into Saturday’s queues showed they were caused by confusion over the use of season cards on entry, with many cards inserted into the former readers rather than waved against the scanner. The readers naturally rejected the cards and doubled entry times while they were correctly scanned.

We had worked hard over the past few weeks to avoid the problems experienced at other clubs at the start of this season, especially in terms of ensuring tickets were delivered on time, using an external mailing house and testing the connectivity well in advance, which all worked well on the day.

I am hugely sorry that we overlooked the provision of signage at and around the turnstiles to properly inform supporters of the new changes and communicating that with the delivery of the card. We should have done much better and signage is something we will remedy prior to the Sunderland game, although we hope most will have familiarised themselves with the process next time round.

Prior testing of new digital offers is one area where we can immediately improve. I will therefore be setting up a supporter working group to test any new project prior to launch and to also review current processes, such as the supporter journey to book tickets, merchandise and review all navigation points on the website. I have already secured volunteers to help with this from the Tony Goodall Fans’ Conference, but would welcome support from anyone else who might be interested before we arrange the first meeting.

I have also conducted a full review of the ticketing issues supporters experienced in August, especially the seat move process, the long queues supporters experienced at the ticket office and, in particular, the unsatisfactory procedures for our disabled supporters when purchasing tickets online. I have now met with the disabled supporters’ group twice and at the last meeting we worked through a number of solutions to deliver better booking arrangements.

I am also mindful that the club has programmed the next stage of stadium improvement works from January in the North Lower. This will require supporters to be relocated for a small block of games. It is vitally important we involve those affected in the planning and I will shortly be inviting a small group of North Lower season ticket holders to help the club formulate that process.

Another area where we need to improve is the delivery of the kiosk operation. The club decided during lockdown to take this operation in-house, but it is a decision I have reversed. Football clubs do not necessarily have the skills or expertise to deliver such a complicated operation and over the next month, we will be finalising a contract with a new partner to professionally manage and operate the kiosks. This will still provide a healthy financial return for the football club and I am excited by the plans our new partner has, especially in regard to the provision of good service, quality products and the use of local produce wherever possible. More on that will follow in the next few weeks. I will also be asking our brewery to install extra dispense pumps to help serve drinks more speedily and seek to introduce more mobile drinks units to support the kiosk operation.

I am really positive about what we can achieve over the long-term, but I must add a word of caution. The entire hospitality industry is finding it extremely difficult to recruit staff and for us that is affecting our stewarding, catering and kiosk workforce.

This is not an easy fix and I have to be honest and state we are not going to return to optimum numbers with trained and skilled non-agency staff in just a couple of weeks. I am, though, hopeful that as furlough comes to an end and, with the added benefit of university students returning to Portsmouth, that numbers will increase. But in the meantime, I have to ask for supporters’ understanding and patience. We simply cannot conjure up an immediate solution while these labour shortages remain a factor across the leisure industry.

I hope this background is helpful. I don’t want to dodge any issue of concern to supporters and am equally grateful for so many words of encouragement, as we seek to deliver a better service amidst the stadium redevelopment programme and the quicker-than-expected, but welcome, return to full crowds.

What is important is that you see firm commitment and leadership from me to improve matters and I will do my very best to deliver this for you.

Enjoy the Game!

Andrew Cullen

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