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The following is a synopsis of the topics covered at the Fans Forum held in the Avenue Clubhouse on Saturday 22/2/14. Directors, John Dean, Kevin Hainsworth and David Bruce were in attendance to answer questions with Kevin being the main spokesman during the meeting. Due to the short notice the Avenue Management Team were not present as they were elsewhere scouting players. The topics covered therefore did not relate specifically to the playing side of the Club.
The first series of questions related to sponsorship eg has Wayne Rooney been approached? Is the cost of Sponsorship too high? Do we have a Commercial Manager currently? Do we target local businesses? Do we approach ‘big businesses?’ Can’t we create a Lottery Syndicate? Can’t we get supporters to go to their own workplace to just get small eg£30 sponsorship for small signs?
The Directors explained that we do not currently have a specific Commercial Manager as it has been difficult to get anybody to take on the role given we cannot afford to pay someone full-time. Commission incentives have been offered to a number of people but either they do not want to take on the work for no guarantee of an income or they have tried it for a few weeks but have then given up when they discover how hard it is to get businesses to part with cash in these difficult economic times. The Directors follow up on all potential leads but the scenario recently has been ‘we would love to help but not just now – can you come back next month’ but when you go back next month they stop taking or returning calls or say it’s still not the best time for us but later we will help – unfortunately tomorrow never comes. Both big and small businesses are targeted and only this week we have drawn up a list of all businesses within a 2-mile radius of the ground which we will work on. We are happy to take sponsorship in all shapes and sizes from small programme ads to ground signs or corporate sponsorship of matches. Whilst the headline figure for a match is £500 for that the Sponsor gets 10 tickets, programmes, refreshments, a signed shirt etc but even then we are willing to negotiate although the bottom-line is £300. For big businesses we have even offered free tickets for any of their employees to attend games. We have also approached businesses that are linked to Bfd City orBfd Bulls but their response tends to be that they can see a potential return from connections with those teams but not from the Avenue because of our small crowd base. One company sponsored us just to get a list of email addresses of our supporters but they did not sponsor us a second year when they got no response to the emails they sent out. Whilst efforts will continue to be made to get sponsorship of matches etc the reality is that it is still a small percentage of the club’s income when compared to what can be gleaned through increasing the size of the regular crowds. In relation to the idea of a Lottery syndicate with winnings going to the benefit of the Avenue, the Directors would welcome this so Zig agreed to draw something up. Similarly the idea of small signs to sell and put around the perimeter is an idea that could be pursued and Neil Porter said he could produce an example which he would do at cost price.
The next series of questions were around what efforts have been made to increase crowds eg is the admission price is too high? Should games be categorized A/B/C and priced accordingly? Are the refreshments priced too high? Have schools been targeted? Can we let kids in free? What incentives are given to supporters of other local teams? Couldn’t we have Sky Sports in the Clubhouse?
The Directors explained that the admission price is always a difficult issue but that at present the Board feel that, although the minimum Skrill North admission price is £7, the current pricing structure is in line with other Clubs in our League with only one Club being cheaper and the majority being more expensive. Clearly the Bfd City Pricing Policy makes it difficult for our Club to compete with them but Halifax charged £14 when they were in Conference North and now charge £17. We also offer a considerable reduction for Seniors and Young People but given that the young people age range is up to 16yrs charging £2 doesn’t appear to the Directors unreasonable. It should also be noted that when Bfd Bulls tried to compete with Bfd City’s cheap tickets policy it was this issue which led to them going into administration. Variable Pricing has been experimented with in relation to FA Cup games with decreases against Penrith and increases against Kidderminster. Similarly incentives have been offered in those matches to season-ticket holders of other clubs and this appeared to increase the crowd when we played Penrith but was not so successful when we played Kidderminster. Free tickets have been offered to schools and whilst Head-teachers have been grateful they then delegate the responsibility within the school for it to be organised but those delegated people then prove unresponsive. The Club will continue to try occasional incentive schemes and we are allowed 3 Promotional Days per year by the Conference eg Pay-as-much-you-want, which will be utilised. In relation to the Clubhouse the cost for Sky Sports is prohibitive ie £1750 per month but BT Sports are offering a deal for £125 per month and this has been considered but bearing in mind that we have to pay the bar staff it would need a substantial increase in sales to cover that extra cost. The issue of prices in the tea bar has been addressed.
The next series of questions centred on increasing the number of volunteers with all present offering to help in any way they could eg have we approached Bfd University? Couldn’t we use work-experience students? Could we have got matches played if we had more volunteers to work on the Ground? Could we not have 1 paid employee who did everything from supervising students/volunteers to running the bar on a Saturday?
The Directors responded by saying that all volunteers were welcomed for what they could offer but they would be concerned about using Work-experience students due to Health & Safety issues and the fact they would have to be closely supervised. We do use students from Huddersfield University to assist with filming and media issues but by the very nature of them being students they are not available at the beginning of the season and at crucial holiday periods when we tend to have more games. We have not targeted Bfd University but if anybody has contacts there that can be followed up if only in relation to trying to increase our support through getting more students to attend. Charlie Marsden agreed to talk to people he knows at the University. It should be noted however that the University is already closely associated with the Bfd Bulls and at this time they are building up more significant links with them. Having more volunteers to work on the ground helps but it would not necessarily have got games on recently as it has tended to be due to last minute weather problems which has caused the problem eg today’s game against Workington would probably have been on if it had not rained last night between 10.00pm and midnight when it was forecast to be dry, and, whilst a lot of forking during the morning might have given the game a chance of being on, a decision had to be made by 9.00am because of the distance Workington have to travel. Last season we thought we could get the pitch right by kick-off time when we played Colwyn Bay but the match referee thought different and that inevitably cost the Club money in reimbursing the opposition. Having a full-time employee is currently not viable because of the cost involved let alone getting someone who had all the skills to do all the jobs required.
Another series of questions centred on the pitch and alternatives eg why is the pitch so poor? Why won’t the Council develop the ground? Is there any truth in recent reports that the Club wants to buy Bfd Bulls and move there? If there are people who want to put money into the Bulls why won’t they put it directly into the Avenue?
The Directors responded by stating the pitch is a continuing source of irritation and embarrassment to the Club. Clearly the Manager is vocal about how he feels that the pitch is not conducive to the type of football we try to play and that at times he has had difficulty in attracting players or retaining them because of the times they have to play on a poor surface. The Directors recognise this problem but feel let down by the promises made by the Council to do the work that is required. The problem is that the pitch is built on clay and that whilst ‘earth quaking’ was done just before the start of the season which breaks up the clay for a while to allow it to drain better it then binds together again during the season when the weather gets worse. The Council has done some work on the pitch but in essence they are not doing what is required in that they are working on the immediate surface but not on the underlying problem. At the end of last season there was an agreement that a full overhaul of the pitch would be undertaken in May/June given that we had an important pre-season friendly against a Pakistan International X1 early in July. In reality they began the work the day after that match thereby wasting the best two months of the year to work on improving the pitch. The Club accepts that like all Councils it is difficult financial times but these were agreed works that we were told would be done. A long pipe and a big hammer would go a long way to solving the problems in that the pipe needs to be driven through the clay to improve the drainage. Surface water can be drained initially but the more that is done the more it leaves a residual problem of mud which does not recover and prevents rolling therefore it becomes a vicious circle of reactive work rather than working on longer-term preventative work. The Club would be happy to take on more responsibility for the pitch but the Council won’t let us and similarly they won’t get rid of the running track which would enable better development to create an atmosphere more conducive to football. There is also a covenant on the ground which prevents them from doing work which would in effect ‘privatise the ground’ rather than it being for community use. In relation to Bradford Bulls the Club is not involved in any negotiations with the Bulls but without giving confidences away there are individuals who it is thought would look more favourably upon greater cooperation with Avenue if they gained a bigger sphere of influence at Odsal. At present the current Bfd Bulls owners have no incentive to give any consideration to Avenue but the Directors acknowledge that a move to Odsal could be advantageous to the Avenue in that it would resolve our problems over the pitch and might attract some of their supporters to consider watching Avenue because it would be at ‘their stadium’. Similarly they have full-time staff that could be utilised to both clubs advantage. Those individuals might put money into the Avenue in future but there is over time a commercial return that maybe achieved from Rugby League which is not in non-League football. There would still be many obstacles to be overcome even if this sympathetic group took control of the Bulls so it would be unrealistic at this stage for supporters to place their hopes on such a move coming to fruition.
There was also discussion about the merits or otherwise of open Fans Forums like today and whilst it was acknowledged that it was very short notice there have been other events set up which have attracted no more than the 15 or so fans who were here today. The Directors feel that more people like the anonymity of making caustic comments on private forums under pseudonyms rather than attending forums like today but they are open to continue this type of forum if the attendances for such events improved. Please pass your comments on this directly to the Directors but they are all open to personal discussions with fans who feel they have new ideas to take the Club forward, and, there is a specific area on the Club’s official website where supporters can submit suggestions/comments to the Directors.