I was hoping that by the time the clocks went back I could stop talking to you about Argyle’s finances, but I am afraid that the recent changes in the rules dealing with the pandemic mean that they are still an issue.
When I last wrote to you, I talked about my cash injection into the club, which, I hoped, would provide a cushion in the event of another loss of revenue. That event is now upon us, and it looks as if we are not much closer to a return to Home Park for our fans.
Even if we are then able to admit around 5,000 fans to the ground, it will not help our cash flows much, as those fans will be season ticket holders, and, in most cases, we will already have had your cash. That is the normal financial rhythm at a football club - cash comes in early in the season, but is spent throughout, and, of course, is augmented by selling tickets at every home game, and goods in the retail store, and by the generous support of our sponsors. Season tickets, though, are more significant in amount than either source of income.
This season, we have had your cash, and are spending it, but there are no individual match ticket sales. We will make up some losses by selling iFollow match passes, and we are pleased to see we are averaging around 2,000 sales per game. However, it is not enough to avoid significant losses this season. We have done our best to mitigate them, but they cannot be avoided while we are still playing football behind closed doors. We very much appreciate the support of all of our fans.
Our revenues are therefore highly uncertain for the foreseeable future. I tried to reduce the impact of that uncertainty by making sure the club had enough cash to operate for the whole season, but we will need the help of our season ticket holders.
Last year, we offered refunds to fans when we were unable to play our final few matches and we were very grateful that the vast majority of ticket holders turned down the offer, preferring to leave the cash in the club. Your contribution has undoubtedly left us in a stronger position.
This season, when season tickets went on sale, they were snapped up by supporters eager to secure themselves a seat when fans were readmitted, but only in limited numbers. We said that, because seats would be limited, in exchange for reserving one, we would not offer refunds in the case of matches not being available. Rather, we bundled iFollow passes as an alternative way to watch home games played behind closed doors.
We do appreciate, however, that the landscape has shifted since the summer. Today, the prospect of fans being let back into Home Park remains frustratingly remote. As such, later this week, we will announce a package of options for our 20/21 season-ticket holders.
For the avoidance of doubt, I will, again, be grateful if you consider the impact of your choices. Season-ticket sales have brought some much-needed certainty to our financial picture, as well as contributed towards the playing budget, allowing our football staff to build a competitive Sky Bet League One squad. That said, we recognise that times are tough for almost all of us, and completely respect that, for some people, difficult decisions must be taken.
Let me also reiterate how grateful we are for the certainty that our relationships with our sponsors brings. That means everyone, from large companies such as our lead sponsor, Ginsters, to those fans who generously sponsor individual players.
Our sponsors are not immune from the pressures we are facing, and it is testimony to the good relationships we have with them that they are willing to continue supporting our club. Thank you all. Fans can see the list of our Pilgrim Partners here. Please take a look and remember who is also supporting your club when you are looking for any of the services they offer.
Back in August, I talked about the imminent possibility of a financial package to help clubs in trouble (that is all of us!). It is yet to emerge. You will all have read about Project Big Picture and the proposal by some Premier League clubs that would have led to significant restructuring of the English football pyramid.
Although the proposals were unpopular, we thought there was a lot to like in them. Above all, of course, we liked the idea of an increased share for EFL clubs of global media revenues, and the ending of parachute payments to reward clubs being relegated. We think it would lead to less of a financial gap between the divisions and ultimately to better competition, with more clubs having a chance of promotion and facing the threat of relegation.
Combined with a salary cap, it would be hard for clubs to be loss-making.
Clubs such as us, with above average revenues, would have spare cash left over for investment – in facilities for fans, academies, training grounds - you name it. Of course, this is the path I described in my last letter as being the one Argyle is taking already. So, these proposals would be good for football, but would reduce, not enhance, our own competitive position.
There was also plenty we did not like, as was the case with many clubs involved in the discussions. We did not like that future control of the pyramid would be in the hands of a select few Premier League clubs. Other Premier League clubs obviously did not like that either, and Project Big Picture seems to have been roundly rejected.
I do not think we have seen the last of it, though. We are rapidly facing a cash crunch for clubs in the EFL, and pressure for a rescue from those with vast riches is going to mount. The Premier League were able to finish their season behind closed doors in exchange for a commitment to ensure financial stability lower down the pyramid, and I think they will be held to it. Those who think that any rescue will not have a few strings attached though are hopelessly naïve, in my view.
One string looks to be about loosening restrictions on loan players, with changes made to the current loan system that possibly foreshadows “B” teams in the league. Like all fans, we remain resolute in our opposition to that. It would, though, help clubs who do not wish to continue the expense of running an Academy. Argyle is not among those.
I hope you saw this interview with Neil Dewsnip, our director of football, in which he talked about our goals for the Academy, following its recent restructuring. Neil likes to say that “the Academy is the beating heart of the club”, and that is what we want at Argyle. I know that some clubs have done away with them. In particular, Brentford, a club I much admire for their successful use of data analytics, closed theirs. They, though, are competing for talent in West London with the likes of Chelsea, Fulham and QPR, while we are competing only with…well, you know who we are competing with!
As part of our strategy for the Academy, we are building relationships with clubs throughout the area, and we recently agreed a flagship partnership with city neighbours Plymouth Parkway. You can read all about it here. I am very grateful to their Chairman, Mark Russell. This is going to be an excellent example of what we can do with other non-league clubs in the area.
Having said all that, we are using the loan system very effectively this season, and we have brought in good young players from Premier League clubs Fulham and Newcastle United, among others.
To be able to compete for loans from a Premier League club needs personal relationships, of course, but also a playing style and infrastructure that clubs think will help develop their youngsters. Under Ryan and the team, our playing style is clear and consistent, and the investments we have made in infrastructure are paying off in unexpected ways. Better changing rooms and a players’ lounge count for almost as much when recruiting as a better surface at Harpers’ Park.
As I mentioned, we are one of the top clubs in the division for iFollow numbers, but we have not quite reached our target, and we want to attract more viewers on a match-day.
Acclimatising to following the Greens from home might have taken some getting used to, but feedback, on the whole, has been positive, and customer support is now much better, should you need any help.
We have not been able yet to introduce our four-camera service due to staffing limitations at the EFL, but we hope that it will be ready for action in the coming weeks - I use it myself and have had few problems.
Club Ambassador Gordon Sparks and I have also been getting together to watch games with fans on Zoom. It is slightly chaotic when I am in charge, but it has been a lot of fun. We run one for UK fans and one for US fans. I am not sure why it has developed that way, but we are going to stick with it, as they have become close-knit little online communities. That said, all are welcome at either.
The Argyle Fans’ Trust have kindly agreed to help us coordinate people wanting to take part, so, if you would like to, just email them at email@example.com.
I have not been to Home Park this season, being stuck in the US, but it seems a hive of activity.
Under Christian Kent, we have been very active turning the stadium into a destination food venue, offering high teas, Sunday lunches and other dining opportunities. I talked last time about the need to take a few risks and try a few things, and it is great to see Argyle staff being imaginative about trying to help out on the revenue side. Christian will find more ways to tempt you in coming months, including food festivals, and stadium tours.
I think these services are great additions to what we can offer our fans, and I hope they will be available when football resumes. No apologies for bringing the subject back to money, but your support for the club via these offerings in the challenging months ahead all helps reduce the financial issues we face.
While celebrating successes, I am delighted that our long-term efforts to improve the quality of the experience at Home Park for families was recognised in our being awarded the “Family Club of the Year” award for League Two. I thank everyone for their contribution to this award, and particularly Andrew Parkinson, who guided his former club, Liverpool, to a similar title four times!
As to the football, I thought our recruitment went very well this season. We were structured, disciplined and patient. The latter is probably the most difficult, but it certainly paid off with some good signings late on in the transfer window.
On the pitch is going well – disappointing cup results, admittedly, but our league position is good, and we are playing great football from back to front. I am happy, and I hope you are too.
If you are not, you will soon get a chance to let me know at another Virtual Fans’ Forum. Keep an eye out for the details later this week. I hope you can make it.
Until then, thank you again for your support. If you want to contact me, I am at firstname.lastname@example.org and will answer all reasonable emails.
Stay safe - and keep wearing that mask.