By Jason McKeown
How satisfied are you with the Flexi-card scheme introduced for 2012/13? Whilst I can understand the reasons for not including this in the early bird offer for next season, is this still viewed as a viable option going forwards?
The idea with the Flexi-card is that you pay £50. And if you come to 15 games it is break even (on the amount you’ve spent overall). I worked out the forecasts on the basis that we’d have about 50% of Flexi-card holders at a game all the time. Which means, on average, most Flexi-card holders are going to come to no more than 12 games. We will probably get some people who come to 18 or 19 games – well that isn’t budgeted for, so if they do we will get more income than we had planned to. And then we get to look at that as a product, maybe in the Spring time, to decide whether we run that again next year.
The scheme was a pilot this year. I’ve got to analyse the success of it before I can say whether we will do it again next season.
You’ve launched a Christmas season ticket offer in memorable fashion. What are the expectations sales-wise?
I wanted to make sure we had a season ticket campaign out there at this point, and to find a different way of marketing it. But you know fan power is a massive thing. If you can go and buy a season ticket at this point, it makes such a massive difference to us. Because as I keep saying all of the other income streams, commercial, advertising, box holders, sponsorship – that’s all designed to pay for the stadium, the pitch, the stewards and the training ground. So we can direct all the revenue from season tickets into the playing budget.
What I’d like to think is that we can have a good season this year, we get back to break-even point and, because of the success on the pitch, we can attract a really high uptake of season ticket sales. So in February and March we can talk to the manager and say ‘this is how many season tickets we have sold, and this is going to be your budget for next season’.
Going back to your question about Phil’s contract, season ticket sales almost dovetails these talks. Do you know what the first question any manager will ask when negotiating a contract? ‘What’s my playing budget for next year?’ Now it could make a huge difference to those talks if we can say ‘well we’ve managed to sell x amount of season tickets at Christmas, and we reckon y amount will sign up in phase two (when season tickets are back on sale in March), therefore this is what is likely to be your budget’.
The less people come, the less budget we will have. And that might be the reason why Phil were to leave the club. He might turn around and say ‘no, I can’t do it on that budget’. Whereas if more people sign up he might say ‘I really want to be here, we can do it on that budget’.
It’s all about fan power. I can do my sales pitch all day. But the bottom line is I’d urge supporters to buy their season ticket in order to boost the playing budget for next season – because that might be the reason why the manager says.
I’d love to think that, if we were to go up this season, we could go into League One next year with bigger crowds and an increase in season ticket sales, which then give us the capability to have another go next year. That would be the perfect solution for me.
I understand a group of supporters helped to come up with the Flexi-card initiative last season, which helped you to forge the new supporters’ board. What are the club’s objectives for this group?
We launched the Supporters Board last week. We’ve now split the Board into three sub-groups to look at different areas: communications, commercial and community. These are the three key areas for the club, and we are keen to open up and maintain a two-way dialogue between the club’s board and the fans on the board.
Part of their role is to challenge the Board on matters and to feedback on ideas. But also, because the club operates with such a small amount of staff, part of the Supporters Board’s role is to take some of the workload off the club and they will be given the authority to do that.
For example we recently played York City and, because we received very late intelligence, we had to ask season ticket holders in Block E of the Midland Road stand to relocate for that game, as York were bringing a large away support. We at the club felt we didn’t want to move anybody unless we had to, but when it emerged very late on that we would have to move these supporters, it was so late that we got criticised for not letting people know in advance.
The beauty of the Supporters Board, and the communications team within that, is that in such a situation I can ask these supporters to go and canvas the views of affected supporters early, feedback to us, and we will act accordingly. For example the overriding feeling from these supporters might have been ‘we’d rather move now, just in case, than be asked last minute to move’ and we can then take the appropriate steps to relocate them for the game. That’s the type of help that the Supporters Board can provide.
It’s a shame that the Supporters Board wasn’t set up a month earlier, because they could have been available to do more work in preparation for the Arsenal game. I could have asked all three sub groups to assist. Because the amount of extra workload this game has brought onto the club, with no extra staff and limited resource, has been considerable, and the Supporters Board could have played a key role in assisting us with the challenges it has presented.
How does the Valley Parade free school factor into the finances?
One in a Million is a standalone charity, who has a partnership agreement with the club. Their objective for this building is to deliver a Free School. Bradford City are not responsible for delivering this, although with our link to the charity we would probably have players go in to speak to the students, things like that.
The relationship between One in a Million and the building is that the owners of the club also now own this building. They are selling this building to the Department of Education, who is paying for the building on behalf of the Free School. They see it as more viable to invest in a capital purchase than a lease purchase, as they will have something tangible to show for it.
The initial plan was they wanted to have the work done for September 2012. That came and went and it got deferred. The builders are now back on site, redeveloping the basement – this will probably take a month. Thereafter, all the legal arrangements will be made so that we can complete the sale the building. Roger Owen is leading the work on this on behalf of the club, and it is simply a transactional sale of the building by the club – so One in a Million can deliver a school from September 2013.
From the club’s perspective, the owners will be able to reimburse the money they originally invested into the building, and anything in excess which might be left over – which won’t be huge – will be put into the club pot. The other benefit for the club is we no longer have to find that £370k rent every year for this building (the previous arrangement before the owners bought it). I think we will see the benefits of that for years to come.
So it’s good business for us, and it’s good for the school. We are very proud of our partnership with One in a Million and think that the stuff they do is great. We can continue to offer support to the school, with students coming to us on placements and players going into the school. Hopefully we can play a part to improve the lives of youngsters in the area.
Which leads us onto Valley Parade itself. A couple of years ago there were strong suggestions we might leave our home unless Gordon Gibb would be prepared to negotiate rental terms. He didn’t blink – so where are we now?
The simple fact is that Gordon has said he is happy to talk about the sale of the stadium, but unless it’s for his asking price of £5.5 million he’s not interested. We have a rent commitment of around £370k per year; and when you look at the land mass and you look at the property value, we’re better off just paying the rent.
The whole thing about potentially moving to Odsal was the fact we would have collectively been paying rent with the Bulls at a time when we needed to make cost savings. No one wanted to leave our home, we really wanted to stay. But it’s not go to be to the detriment of the long-term survival of the club.
If the price to buy Valley Parade ever changes we will reconsider it, but at that price it’s not sustainable or viable.
Given the recent issues surrounding the Bradford Bulls, and the subsequent investment by Omar Khan (City’s Asian Ambassador), has this reduced Omar’s involvement in City?
Mark (Lawn) has known Omar for years. Mark has been out to Pakistan to visit Omar’s family, and I think Mark has even sponsored an orphanage over there. When Mark came into the club, he felt the club needed to engage better with its local communities. And so he turned to Omar and said ‘we don’t seem to have the connections with the Asian communities, can you help unlock the door and just help us to interact with these communities?’ And that was the framework of what that relationship was about. No one had any measuring stick of how great or how minor that would be. It was just the case of us having a point of contact to see if we could improve this.
Now obviously Omar has moved on to look after the Bulls, but it doesn’t mean he’s no longer our ambassador. We’re keeping the lines of communication open. In fact, I’ve been chatting to the Bulls today to talk about how our community schemes work.
At the recent fans’ forum, you discussed the arrangements surrounding the training facilities at Woodhouse Grove School, and the fact that there was a future roadmap for how this set up would develop and align with the club’s progress. Can you please elaborate upon this?
Well to give you an indication of what we have achieved so far, the grass pitches that are at the front of Rawdon Meadows (Appleby Bridge) are still under council lease, and we have a lease agreement on those pitches. One for exclusive use and the other for shared use. The school is looking to acquire the whole land mass as part of a lease agreement of its own, encapsulating all of the current community partners who are there. And that’s between the school and the council to come to an agreement over.
In the meantime, what we wanted to do was to enhance the capability of the facilities we use: the changing rooms, gymnasium, swimming pool, players’ lounge, coaches’ lounge, manager’s office, and kit room all down on one site. And where the Bulls used to be based, we have taken a lease agreement out on that space too. Part of this agreement is that the council committed to spending money on a new synthetic pitch with floodlights. That triggers an increase in payment from us, but the money to pay for this has actually been redistributed from our previous spend on hiring other synthetic pitches from the likes of Goals. And now we can move it all into one-stop shop.
To pay for this we are using the existing spend of money that we spend on the training pitches for under 16s down to under 9s, as we are moving these age groups down to Woodhouse Grove. And this new set up means that, during the day, we will have own synthetic pitch on site, which we expect to be ready within the next two-three weeks – perfect for this time of year!
That’s phase two. Phase one was to make sure the players had the facility to arrive and get changed at Woodhouse Grove, and do everything there. No need to get changed at Valley Parade and drive down, which they used to have to do. They can have their breakfast and lunch on site, and train during the day, which all helps to boost camaraderie amongst the players. And they only need to visit the stadium on match days.
The second phase is now just about complete, and then we move onto phase three – which we have started to work on but we won’t see the benefit of until next summer. There’s an area close by called Bronte Fields. Which has a land mass of one-and-a-half football pitches. We have had this area prepared so it is now ready to be top-seeded, and it will be laid with the same grass seed we currently have on the Valley Parade pitch, to create one-and-a-half training pitches. It’s shared use with the school again, but it’s exclusive to us every day.
So we will then have a number of options for training pitches. We will still have the front pitches of Rawdon Meadows, but we will also have this new site at the back as well, to give the pitches respite. The cost management of that is we are investing on the capital spend, but it’s then incorporated into the lease which includes the maintenance. So what we have to pay up front, we will actually gain overall from because we will be spending less money on maintenance.
That will leave us with, what I consider, good quality, Championship-standard training facilities. Including adverse weather training pitches.
I think we’re already seeing the benefits of this. And it’s probably my proudest achievement, creating that environment. Which will be available for future generations, who will consider that to be the norm.
What initiatives would you like to see develop in the medium to long-term?
I would like to see us have more corporate customer engagement in order to maximise those revenue streams. I think because I had so much emphasis on that when I first came in, in 2007, and we’ve gone through so many cycles of things, I would like to drop back onto that and put a bit of a commercial head back on for next year.
I also want to look at new revenue streams. The modern way of revenue streams has changed with the likes of Facebook and Twitter. It would be good to get more people familiar with the electronic ticket system too and how we can encourage speculative purchases, maybe also incentivised purchases to get people engaged.
I would love to have an indoor synthetic arena. If we could deliver a 60 by 40 indoor venue, like a dome or something, that we could use day and night, or even a full size pitch one, that would be my next biggy. Even if it was in partnership with somebody else, and if it could be sustainable so it’s used by the community too. We wouldn’t miss a minute of training.
Finally, you’re a City supporter first and foremost, what are your favourite memories?
If we are going in snap shots; I remember a 1-1 draw against Gillingham at home where it was 1st vs 2nd, and where Don Goodman ran clean through towards the Kop, towards the end, and I was stood on the Kop, and he lofted the ball over the keeper but over the crossbar as well. I was gutted because he could have won the game!
Another would be the atmosphere at Bolton away in 1985, when we were confirmed as Champions. The atmosphere was absolutely fantastic and I remember there was this shot of Stuart running into the goal netting to celebrate scoring in front of City fans.
There’s other little snippets. Wolves away in 1999. I lived in Nottingham at the time and I was in the corporate section of Molineux. I remember ringing my mate, literally jumping up and down on the chair and fearing it was going to break. I was saying to my mate ‘listen to this’ because the tension around that game was so unbelievable wasn’t it?
There’s strange ones too. I remember Swindon away. We were 3-0 down, and then the fog came down and you couldn’t see the pitch. So the game got abandoned and I think when it was replayed we drew 1-1 – the gods were smiling on us with the fog that day! It was a surreal moment.
I wouldn’t dwell on it as it was not a happy memory, but I was there on the day of The Fire – and that will never leave you. I remember the feelings afterwards and getting home – in the days before mobile phones – and the amount of phone calls we got from all over the world, making sure we were okay.
And then to come in and do the job I’ve done since 2007 is a really proud moment, because it has given me an opportunity to give something back to something that has given me so much pleasure over the years. If nothing else, I hope that, if people look back on my tenure, is I was someone who gave everything to the club.
All I want to do is make the club as good as it can be on and off the field, so that hopefully my son and his children will enjoy it as well.
It’s been difficult to avoid feeling frustrated with the way Bradford City Football Club has been operated over recent years. This is our sixth attempt to fulfil the annual goal of promotion out of League Two, yet only once before have we come even close to this target. Along the way we’ve seen ideas instigated but then quickly dropped, witnessed managers come and go and endured a lot of disappointing football. As we went into this season, you began to fear that the Board no longer really knew how to move forwards in a sustainable manner.
Spending time talking to David Baldwin helped to further restore my personal confidence that the corner has been turned; a belief which had already been boosted by such promising on-the-field results under Phil Parkinson. David joined the club just as we had come crashing down into the basement league, with a behind-the-scenes remit that was not immediately visible to us regular supporters. He has proven to be an astute signing by the club (you might argue Mark Lawn’s finest) – and a free signing at that.
When David began our interview talking about the various ways he has been assisting with the operating of the club since 2007, it became evident just how much his importance to the club has increased over this period. This season in particular he has become the public face of Bradford City, making himself readily available to one and all and trying to sort out supporter issues – however minor they must seem at times to him when judged against the bigger picture – in a friendly, open manner.
Moreover, as David talked to me about all the projects and initiatives that he has helped to bring to fruition, you get a sense of just how much the progressive movement of the club over the past six months has been partly a result of his actions. If any one of us had played the kind of role David did in bringing Nahki to the club, we’d be rightly dining out on that alone for a long time. Yet as proud as David says he is of the Bermudian, he talks of feeling greater satisfaction from the introduction of superior training facilities. A legacy that he rightly points out will benefit the club for many years to come.
From talking to David you get a sense that, off the field, things are coming together. Perhaps the last five years have largely been about building up to this moment and, only now, are we truly capable of that belated promotion. If the club are to finally enjoy some success this season, it seems the likes of David Baldwin will also deserve great credit for doing their bit in making it happen.
Not that David will be jumping into the limelight. After two hours talking with him I can tell you for definite that David is one heck of a salesman, but has an almost single-minded devotion to Bradford City and what he believes is best for the club. There is no ego about him, he’s not doing it for the praise (and certainly not the money), he is just a genuinely nice person with an incredibly high level of passion for Bradford City.
David seems confident that the pieces are falling into place, and that – with the backing of supporters through season ticket sales – we can really build some momentum that can hopefully take us up the divisions. Reflecting on the changes he has helped to shape, David stated, “We have moved a long way in a short space of time, but I’m conscious that we are only a short way down that journey.”
Special thanks to David for his time. We are also looking to run a further couple of special features with the help of David over the course of the season, so watch this space!