I LAST wrote to you in the match-day programme for the New Year’s Day game against Swindon. Since then, the first-team has continued to make great progress, advancing to the automatic promotion positions, and doing so in some style. It is particularly pleasing to see that our transfer-window activity has had an immediate pay-off.
Congratulations to Ryan and to Luke for their awards as manager and player of the month in Sky Bet League Two. Ryan has been nominated already this year, so it is great to see him actually achieve the honour, and what an achievement by Luke to receive the award in the same month as that in which he scored his first goal in in the EFL!
All the attention in December was, rightly, on the tremendous achievement by our executive team in taking the Mayflower Grandstand from handover by our construction partners, GL events, to being ready for use on match-days and during the week.
Our CEO, Andrew Parkinson, led that team, but I thought it would be a good idea to introduce you all to a key member: Christian Kent, who is our new(ish) Head of Conferencing and Events. He joined us in March last year, in preparation for the move back to the Mayflower Grandstand.
Christian has been a resident in Plymouth for more than 20 years, so has a good understanding of the market, and of Argyle’s fan base. He has worked in management and regional management roles within the hospitality sector. His experience has been key to delivering both match-day hospitality and the new non match-day event calendar in the Mayflower Grandstand.
Whether you are a match-day supporter or taking part in our non match-day events, conferences or concerts, it is likely that you will interact with Christian and his team as they are responsible for ensuring all visitors to Home Park have the best possible experience.
Whilst Christian is unable to guarantee match-winning results at Home Park, his team works extremely hard to provide a great match-day hospitality experience, and I am pleased to say we have had excellent feedback from our hospitality package members and non match-day users since we moved back to the Mayflower Grandstand.
Home Park can now offer much more than just 90 minutes of football on a Saturday afternoon – it is an important facility for both Plymouth and the wider community – so an important part of Christian’s role is to maximise the use of Argyle’s new facilities and make them available for events small and large, ranging from groups of, say, 20, to 20,000, the latter including the big concerts by Westlife and Little Mix this summer. Fans have already enjoyed events such as the “mini” concerts, which each attracted more than 2,000 guests, and our club Day of Action in July.
Christian was also a key part of the redevelopment project, and recruited and trained what is, essentially, a brand-new team within the club. I hope to be featuring other members of this and other teams at the club in coming letters.
I am sure everyone understands by now how important the new grandstand is to Argyle’s future, both as a community asset and as a football club. Our goal is on-the-field success, combined with financial sustainability. The revenues generated throughout the week, not just on match-day, will enable us to invest in infrastructure supporting our football teams, and in the football teams themselves, without the need for debt or, I hope, further significant injections from shareholders.
Relative to other clubs in EFL Leagues One and Two, we will be in a strong financial position. All clubs have the same revenues from Premier League grants and from media payments. Argyle has a bigger fanbase and average attendance and thus can compete strongly on revenue from ticket sales. The ggrandstand enables us to generate revenue from our stadium, which we own, that is not available to many other clubs.
Our focus now turns to another source of revenue – the Academy. I mentioned Neil Dewsnip in my last letter, but I will now elaborate a little more on his experience and role.
Neil joined us initially at Ryan’s request, with a goal of providing some support to Ryan and Steve Schumacher in a mentoring role to a successful, but not greatly experienced, managerial team. Neil’s experience goes back to his 18 years at Everton’s Academy, where he met a young Steve Schumacher, through to his time at the FA coaching England youth teams.
Since he joined, though, we have asked him to take on a newly created wider role as Director of Football, in which he will take the lead in developing Argyle’s football philosophy and translating that into the criteria we seek in recruiting players for the first-team.
Our goal is to introduce the systematic use of data and data analysis to Argyle. If, as we aim, we progress up the league, there will come a time when our financial resources, which enable us to compete successfully in Leagues One and Two, will no longer be adequate to compete successfully, while remaining financially sustainable. We will have to compete by being smarter about how we use our resources. We believe that the use of data analytics is one cost-effective way to do so.
This does not imply that we will be ruled by data alone. We are in a very strong position, having a management team with a large network of contacts in football throughout the country. We will use that network and our team’s experience to make judgements, but those judgements will be backed by evidence, not by gut feel alone.
Neil’s work is still not done, though. In addition to his mentoring and first-team recruitment roles, he will take responsibility for our Academy. That will involve improving our recruitment to the Academy, now under newly-appointed Chris Beard, as well as making sure that our coaching is to an excellent standard and in a style that is consistent throughout the club.
Neil likes to say – and we all agree – that the Academy should be “the beating heart of the club”. At the moment, it is not.
Although we celebrate Luke Jephcott’s amazing impact on the first team this month, he has been the exception, not part of a steady progression by players from the Academy to the first-team.
We want to change that. It will take time, and probably more resources, but this is an opportunity, again, to create competitive advantage at Argyle that is not available to other clubs in our league. We can turn one of our weaknesses – our geography – into a strength, if we can compete effectively in our region.
We are fortunate to have someone of Neil’s experience here to help us achieve that goal, and we are fortunate that we have a manager prepared to give young players opportunities to show they are ready for league football.
If we are successful, we will provide opportunities for a steady stream of young players from the Academy into the first-team, and even beyond, providing a steadier stream of transfer revenue for the club.
I have spent a lot of this letter talking directly and indirectly about Argyle’s financial strength. In my next letter, I hope to be able to talk to you in more about where we are now and go over our audited financial statements. We hope shortly to publish, for the first time, those full accounts, with details of money coming in and out in the year to the end of last season.
I have also spent a lot of time on the first-team but cannot end without bragging a little about our Community Trust.
You will, I hope, know about the success of their Manadon Sports Hub, and that they are responsible for sporting events that are part of the Mayflower 400 celebrations.
We recently received a study by the EFL Trust beginning to measure the impact of clubs in the community in 2019. Argyle Community Trust delivered more than 13,000 hours of engagement to more than 56,000 people, spread over 152 different programs. That really is remarkable, well above EFL averages, and a reminder that a football club, is just that – a club, not a football team alone.
Jane and I will be over for a quick trip, from the home game against Crewe to the one against Cambridge. At the latter, we will honour our men and women in the military at Armed Services Day.
We are very proud of the work we do with our Armed Services, and delighted that we can attend that event.
We hope to see you there.