By Bradford City Supporters Trust, Jul 26 2021 07:53AM
One of Ryan Sparks’, the CEO at Bradford City, key commitments is one of ‘fan engagement’, which is an objective shared by BST.
It is part of a whole series of improvements to football as a whole that BST wishes to see, and for us it is the key focal point whereby Club and fans can discuss mutual interests.
This can be achieved through Club initiated forums, such as Fans’ Forums and the Supporters’ Board. These are the minimum standard required by the Government’s Expert Working Group, and by the EPL and EFL. Or it can occur through a representative fans’ organisation such as the Trust meeting directly with the appointed representatives of the Club to discuss ideas and strategies in an agreed official setting called ‘structured dialogue’.
The Fan Engagement Index
‘Think Fan Engagement’ (TFE) is a consultancy company that works with clubs, other rights holders (leagues, associations), brands and other organisations who seek to understand fans and the relationships they have with their club.
Kevin Rye is a co-founder of the consultancy and a former Head of Policy & PR at Supporters Direct/SD Europe. Kevin was involved supporting us back in 2004 with fundraising the necessary £250,000 to save the Club at the time of the second administration.
At the end of every season TFE produce the Fan Engagement Index, see here, which is a score table of how clubs do out of the 91 professional clubs across the EPL and EFL. The categories judged are ‘Dialogue’, ‘Governance’ and ‘Transparency’. In the most recent table for season 19/20 Bradford City came 43rd out of 91, but this was a great improvement on season 18/19 when we were 86th. So, whilst there is a lot to work on, moving from 86th to 43rd is a big leap forward!
In this close season, already we have seen the largest fans online survey buy the Club about season tickets as a form of fan engagement/consultation, see findings here, and we have seen a leading example of transparency where last year’s finances (19/20) were recently published, see here.
Football governance is about the things that ‘underpin’ or make those meetings happen, or provide guarantees that engagement will happen – it is providing a structure recommended b by the powers that be in the game.
What will improve the Club’s fan-engagement ratings is having a structured dialogue relationship with the Supporters Trust.
On the 24th June, Bantams Supporters Trust Chair, Manny Dominguez, met with Ryan Sparks to set up the beginnings of structure of formal meetings and began by identifying key interest through sharing our City fans’ findings of a recent survey we conducted in March of this year, see here.
The Cost of the Lease of Valley Parade
It was immediately picked up that we had made a cautious underestimate of the rental figure which the Club pays to Gordon Gibb’s family pension fund each year. The actual figure is over £400,000 - is twice as much as the amount we had assumed.
iFollow and the Return to Valley Parade
We discussed iFollow and how the Club would be managing fans’ return to Valley Parade. Ryan had said that it was the Club’s intention to keep iFollow for the section of the Clubs support base that don’t frequent away matches at all. He said there is no evidence that lifting UEFA Article 48, which instructs Member Associations to block out the live screening of Saturday 3pm fixtures will reduce attendances. This view is contrary to the fears and concerns of some smaller clubs that depend on gate receipts, but the outcome is beyond the control of the Club and we will have to wait and see the evidence.
With regards to the return to stadiums the Club were confident on all restrictions being lifted by the start of the season and restrictions in crowd numbers had not been factored into any plans for fans returning to Valley Parade.
Moreover, it was expressed that if there were restrictions, fans would be offered the availability of continuing to watch home matches on iFollow. Failing that, a credit for a game they are going to miss, or if that wasn’t accepted, they would offer a refund a match ticket of £8.61 - which is 1/23rd of the price of an adult season ticket (other age categories would differ).
However, the FSA, has recently put out a survey (now closed) on supporters’ attitudes to the return to stadiums in light of the increasing numbers infected with Covid this Summer. These questions ask if fans would feel safer if Clubs adopted restrictions to prevent increasing infections such as requesting proof of Covid vaccinations, proof of a negative test, staff and supporters wearing masks on the concourses, temperature checks etc. The findings of this survey have been shared with the EFL and have been revealed on the FSA website.
You can see the findings here, and we’ve shared them with the Club.
The Cost of Covid
Referring to the Trust survey, Ryan felt the government should have done more to cover the cost of Covid. They supported other sports heavily, though the furlough scheme was hugely supportive for the club. If it hadn’t been for the Premier League, many clubs like City would have gone out of business. Manny expressed the view that certainly the Government but also the Premier League could have done more.
Government fan-led review
The Government fan-led review is highlighting issues arising from football being unable to regulate itself, and for finances being managed so poorly that clubs go bust. The ‘big 6’ drive for the formation of a super league brought these issues under the microscope, and brought the process of the review forward. Manny explained how the Review begins to readdress the balance between clubs and to clean up the game’s image. The review process has involved consultation with the FSA networks. BST is part of the FSA’s League One & Two Network.
Manny shared in the enthusiasm for the take-up of the season ticket offer – around 8,500 at the time of the meeting - and welcomed the survey the Club had put out. Referring to the Trust’s own survey, he said that fans were happy to pay more for specific purposes – to make up for Covid losses, to create better facilities and to cover the lease of the ground.
The strong sale of season tickets, see here, are an indicator of confidence and excitement to return to Valley Parade from fans.
£25 matchday price
Manny flagged that the survey said it was too expensive for non season ticket holders. Ryan said it was initially designed to drive fans to buy the season ticket, but that the match day price was coming down slightly into next season, and there are new categories such as ‘young adult’ and senior citizens – they now for those 65 and above as opposed to from 60 as that was 15 years out of date.
The pleasing latest news is that the matchday price has dropped to a much more desired £20 – in line with the FSA’s ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign. See here.
Improving facilities & Lottery Scheme
Manny pointed out that earlier in the season the Trust proposed a lottery scheme similar to the current one but where funds would be raised to improve facilities at the ground.
Ryan’s response was that the costs of improving facilities is built into the budget at the moment and that the Lottery scheme is designed to help the Burns Unit and develop the Academy, where we can trade players who may become superstars and in turn we can increase our revenues that will improve facilities.
Improvements within Valley Parade over the Summer
It was reported the Trust Board felt it was good for the Club staff and good for fans to see the improvements in the ground happening, such as the new seats in the main stand, the new dug-out, improvements in toilet and wash facilities in the concourses of the Kop, and new local catering company operating the kiosks etc. It gives fans something to look forward to when they return for the new season.
Ryan responded by saying that he would like to see every seat in the stadium changed by the end of the following season, except in the TL Dallas Stand, which is not a priority at the moment. And the Club are looking at the potential of safe standing in the upper tier of the North West Corner Stand if the atmosphere section works.
Asset of Community Value (ACV)
Manny brought up the ACV, saying it was the highest priority of our members to campaign, proceeding to explain that the ACV was to secure it as an asset for future years and hold up the bidding process if people wanted to buy it. Ryan felt it was unlikely that Flamingo Land would sell it to housing developers.
There was a discussion about the Fan Engagement Index. Using the ‘Fan Engagement Pyramid’ in the Supporters Direct guidance on fan engagement, Manny explained that Club-initiated fan engagement initiatives such as Supporters Boards are a minimum requirement. ‘Structured Dialogue’ rates higher on the Fan Engagement Index. The Trust would welcome regular meetings with the CEO of the Club, highlighting the fact that we had being meeting regularly with Julian Rhodes, and that format could be used again to begin with, in the hope of reaching an even better level of trust, openness and partnership.
Trust objectives - Structured Dialogue
Manny highlighted that within the Supporters Board the level of interest about structured dialogue and the level of detail around that, and strategy are not always issues that interest participants/representatives.
He underlined that part of the Trust objectives is to meet the CEO and address our concerns, and put our ideas forward. Asked if we do have any concerns at the moment, Manny said that our overarching one was of genuine consultation. We would like to see a level of consultation where the Club consults the Trust directly or the Supporters Board and not just communicate ongoing developments.
Ryan’s response was that the club put out their season ticket survey and they do like to think they are talking to as many fans as they can. Manny agreed that online surveys are the future, but said we need to develop the consultation through the SB and more directly through the Trusts, and it would be nice to discuss plans before they are formally decided and announced.
Memorandum of Understanding
It was explained that the Trust’s objective is to formalise these structured dialogue meetings into a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) – similar to a gentleman’s agreement (or perhaps a gentleperson’s agreement!). We can work towards this, and it is not something we think is going to happen overnight. Quarterly meetings were agreed.
Manny brought up fundraising with the Club as an objective, explaining that not only do we want to raise money for good causes such as the Darby Rimmer Foundation and the Burns Unit for example, but we want to raise money for ourselves so that we can continue to raise money as an independent organisation, sponsoring Club initiatives. Ryan offered us to let him know of any plans we are thinking of.
The Trust feels that this was a very positive start that we can work to build upon, sharing ideas and any guidance documents that can give assurances, and give confidence in a working relationship where both parties can offer a range of expertise, experience and influence to ensure an overall improvement in the fan-engagement process that can benefit all the stakeholders that love Bradford City AFC, and the majority within all stakeholders are of course, the ordinary supporters.
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