Blues Open House
The Club held the first of its recently announced fan initiatives on Monday night, with an Open House event being held at St. Andrew’s. Up to 100 fans who are committed to Blues and whose work helps shape the views of Blues supporters were invited. The Club has indicated that the initiative will be repeated every quarter going forward, although it has also explained that the invite list could change each time.
Blues Trust was invited to the meeting and two representatives attended. It turned out to be an excellent event. Extremely well organised, professional throughout, welcoming, transparent and informative. In the Trust’s view it was a massive step change in the right direction.
After what Blues fans have had to endure for far too long under previous ownership regimes, this was a genuine attempt on the part of the Club to begin the process of meaningful engagement with its supporters. The Trust fully acknowledges that and extends thanks to Tom Wagner, Garry Cook and all of the other Club representatives for creating the opportunity and making the evening such a success.
Below is a summary of some of the key points that the Trust took away from the meeting….
The overriding feeling at the end of the evening was that a wealth of information had been provided to those supporters in attendance. This covered what the new owners had found when they arrived, where they had to prioritise their initial investment, the actions they’ve been able to implement so far and their vision for the future in the short, medium and long term. It was a refreshing change to be given such information and it would be fair to say that it was almost overwhelming given what Blues fans had become accustomed to under the previous regime.
The evening began with an introduction by Tom Ross, Master of Ceremonies, followed by a short film about the history and identity of the club. Garry Cook then made a presentation, followed by a link to Tom Wagner who explained his vision for Birmingham City and the city of Birmingham.
It is understood that Garry Cook’s presentation will soon be made available by the club for any supporter to view. Amongst many, a couple of the key features he made in his presentation included the need to increase the club’s revenue to enable the club to compete. At the moment, not only is the club’s revenue significantly below that of clubs who receive parachute payments, but also below many of those that don’t.
A second key point he made was that to make the club an attractive proposition for strategic partners who may wish to work with the club, such as Nike for example, it is vital that everyone in the Blues family stands together. This will provide additional opportunities for new partnerships which will help to grow the revenue base.
Attendees were then divided into six groups, and were taken on a tour of the stadium before doing a ‘round-robin’ of different locations in the ground. At each location one of the senior managers gave a presentation on different aspects of the club. These were…..
The presentation was made by Craig Gardner, Wayne Rooney, Hope Powell and Darren Carter. The key message given was that the club and coaches are working towards developing the same playing style throughout the club, be it women’s, men’s and youth and academy teams. Since Wayne’s appointment there has been a lot of discussion about playing style, and he was able to eloquently explain what he was trying to achieve with the high press. He demonstrated this by talking through video clips of recent matches to illustrate situations where it had been successful, and what the players could have done differently where it failed. Darren Carter demonstrated through video clips of the women’s team how they also used this style.
On the question of new players, Craig indicated that while there may be some activity in the transfer market in January, it is more likely to be next summer before significant recruitment can take place because of financial constraints this season.
Mark Smith explained that in the Championship last year the annual revenue of the highest earning club receiving parachute payments was £77.2m, and the highest without parachute payments was £35.0m. This compares with Blues revenue of £19.8m. It was explained that in most years there was a significant correlation between revenue levels and league position. The good news is that this year there has been an increase in season ticket revenue, matchday ticket revenue, hospitality and retail/merchandise sales, the latter being double last year’s total. Despite the increase in revenue, there is a significant awareness of Financial Fair Play constraints and this is constantly monitored to avoid any possibility of a points deduction penalty.
As mentioned by Garry Cook, the development of Global Strategic Partnerships is important in developing revenue streams. Ian Dutton explained that the increased profile of the club under the new owners has provoked interest from global brands and opened doors which, under our previous owners, remained firmly shut. Talks are underway to take advantage of this.
Jeremy Dale explained the 3-pronged approach which the club is taking towards fan engagement, of which the Open House session is one. The reinstatement of a Blues Supporters Club to bring Blues fans together under a single umbrella, and ‘Blues Matters’ which will enable supporters to participate in defined projects with the club and the others.
A lot of detail was explained about how each of these three initiatives will work. This area of development is of particular interest to the Trust and a further article focusing on it will follow, although at this stage it is fair to say that it was extremely pleasing and reassuring to be made aware of what is planned compared with the almost non-existent fan engagement of the previous owners.
Liam Daish explained that the club is turning its attention to the Academy with a view to securing Category 1 status as quickly as possible. It is fully understood how important this is if future talent is to be identified, developed and retained. The club has already spent money on it, but will continue to do so to achieve the upgrade in status. Many good students are being offered places, but rival teams that already have Category 1 status can offer more. But the club is investing in growing our home talent. Brandon Khela and Gemma Lawley supported the presentation by sharing their experiences of being players within the academy set ups.
It was explained that a number of infrastructure projects had had to be run alongside each other after the takeover. Amongst these, the most obvious being the pressing need to reinstate the seating on the Kop and Tilton stands. But this was not the only urgent task. There had been a lot of work to do to improve the environment in the changing rooms and at the training ground.
Also, the pitch quality was poor when the new owners took over and many parts of the stadium looked tired, so as well as a new pitch much has been done to improve the appearance of the stadium. The club has secured the training ground at Henley in Arden for a further 3 years, and upgraded the pitches there. The women’s training ground at Wast Hills is also being improved and the women will continue to play at St Andrews.
Further improvements in the pipeline include upgrading the audio system, improving Wifi throughout the ground, the provision of new giant screens at both ends of the ground, and the conversion of the pub in the Kop stand into a club for supporters.
It was pointed out that the new owners have spent at least £12.0 million so far. Confirmation was also given that they are here for the long term, and have a 10-year plan. They need help and support with the infrastructure and they will release more of their plans when they are able to in order to keep supporters informed as much as they can.
This session focussed on the work being undertaken by the club to support the wider community. Lead by Anthony Isherwood from BCFC Community, it was explained how the club is looking at the bigger picture and investing in the community because that brings the club to the attention of people including those from the younger generation. When young people in the community then see the club badge they know it represents a trusted organisation and they are proud to be on board with the various projects in place.
Further presentations followed from a BCFC Community mentor and coach, and headteacher of a local school in Frankley. They both explained how much the club is doing to support their community and how, as a consequence, lives are beginning to change in what is one of the most deprived areas in the country.
The evening concluded with a Q&A session with Garry Cook. Garry will be doing something similar with Blues Trust members next week.
Two other fan engagement initiatives are also being introduced by the Club. Blues Matters, which will be the official fan engagement programme with a constructive communication channel between the Club and fans. It is being launched in January 2024. And the recreation of the official supporters club, also being launched in January next year, which will seek to join various supporter organisations in one new digital and physical home.
The three new initiatives are designed to put the fans front and centre in the new Alliance that the Club is building. Each one has been shaped to provide updates on the progress being made by the Club against its ambitions, facilitate the sharing of ideas and bring fans and the Club closer together.
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