Chairman's Chat - Fans' Forum Questions
It’s just over a week since our last Virtual Fans’ Forum (which you can still watch here), so I thought I’d devote this Chairman’s Chat to answering some of the questions we couldn’t get round to in the hour.
I am delighted that our supporters have continued to engage with the Forums with the interest that you have. We are going to think about making the Forum a little longer next time, but were constrained last week by the timing of the national marking of the one-year anniversary of the initial lockdown.
Here we go, in no particular order:
- Can we see big music bands at Home Park?
I hope so! We’d arranged for concerts by Little Mix and Westlife for last year, before the pandemic struck. The promoters were very happy with Home Park as a venue, so I see no reason why they shouldn’t be happy again. Of course, we will have to wait until such gatherings are safe and officially permitted.
Having Home Park as a centre for business use, sporting events and other forms of entertainment is very much part of our long-term strategy and goal of being financially sustainable. Consistent with our values, this provides an asset for the community and it is financially prudent to make the most of the club’s assets.
- Will we be investing in a scoreboard at Home Park soon?
As with all areas of the club, we continue to look at ways to improve our infrastructure, with match-day experience and sustainability at the centre of our decision-making.
We are exploring the potential commercial opportunities that a scoreboard or big screen would bring to Argyle, but we are also keen to ensure that we take on supporter feedback as a part of the process.
Should we see a positive financial case, and supporter sentiment is favourable, this is something we could pursue in the future.
- Have we seen the last of “Plymouth Prices?” The club has placed a big focus on recruiting young talent and bringing through Academy graduates. If they were poached, would we hold out for a serious sum of money? Historically, we have sold our best players cheaply.
We sold a bunch of players very cheaply during administration, when we were forced to raise cash as quickly as possible. We are nowhere near the same financial position now, so will be able to look at any offers more carefully.
We will take into account what we believe a player is worth, what it would cost to replace them, what their future potential for increased value is, and what the risks are in turning down any offer. This should mean that, on average, we get at least fair prices for transfers out.
However, achieving a high price on player sales is not solely in the control of the club or first-team management, it is also dependent on a number of factors, including the players themselves.
We will assess these factors in our decision making, aiming for the best outcome for the club’s long-term interests.
- In the event that offers are accepted for any of our players, would the proceeds be reinvested into the squad, or be used for running costs instead?
Transfer fees received are only a part of the picture when it comes to setting the playing budgets. We’ll look at total amounts available, what assembling a competitive squad would cost, and what are the other claims on those resources.
We don’t say that money from any source is directed to a particular activity. By the way, given the short-term nature of most player contracts (something we have begun to change) you spend on a squad, not invest in it! That said, if players are sold, they will need to be replaced. We recognise that.
If we were to get significant sums for any players, and didn’t spend it all on replacing them, I’d like to think we’d be able to build some financial reserves. The pandemic has shown that it’s always good to have reserves, for emergencies and other unforeseen events. Football clubs are like any other organisation – if you haven’t got something put away for a rainy day, you are in danger as soon as the storm clouds come along.
Further, having a reserve from which we could release a small percentage every year would allow us to smooth out the lumpiness of “fortune income”—that which is unpredictable in the short run, from player transfers, sell on clauses, cup runs, or unexpected media payments.
- What is your view on ‘taking the knee’?
This is something decided by the players, and my view is that it would be inappropriate to impose my views on them. That said, I’m pleased that they’ve decided to show their support for the anti-racism movement. I also view the objections that it brings politics into football as absurd. Most people support other forms of commemoration, and there is always a political element in how those events are selected.
I also look on the objections that it’s meaningless as simply wrong - taking the knee has invoked a lot of passionate response, both for and against, so can hardly be without meaning.
The danger with making this gesture of support though is that it remains merely a gesture. Argyle will continue to insist that fans show respect for each other, and take action where they do not.
- With the women’s team being brought under the Trust’s wing, what are the plans to boost their fanbase, as it is currently too small to sustain at a higher level.
I don’t know! I’ll find out from the Trust and will talk about the women’s team in my next letter. That said, the same could be said about all women’s football - even the bigger clubs with much higher levels of support do not generate enough revenues to meet their expenses.
We want a successful women’s team, and, as with the men’s team, we need to balance the desire for success with the overall aim of a financially sustainable model. We’ve made progress in recent years in integrating them more into club activities, but that progress took a double blow from some personnel changes last summer, and, obviously, the shutting down of the league as a result of the pandemic.
- Is it possible for the club to release the iFollow 'attendances' match by match, just like they would have done if crowds had attended Home Park, (I remember those days!)? Also, the coverage of our home games is excellent, far better than most other clubs, when we play away.
I’m glad you like the coverage. We’ve invested substantial sums in our four-camera coverage, and in developing our own commentary skills. We continue to try to improve the match day offering and associated content.
I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t release the iFollow attendances, which have been mostly in the 1,500-2,000 range, in addition to take-up by our season ticket holders.
One of the prohibitive factors in announcing an iFollow attendance is that the figures often do not come in until several days after the fixture. However, if the interest remains there, we can publish the figures when we receive them.
- I know the club has little control over iFollow but as thousands of us tune in every week, can pressure be put on them to show replays of goals at half-time and full-time? On Saturday [against Bristol Rovers], the commentator was waxing lyrical about seeing Ennis's two goals and that he hoped we could see the replays but all we had was a list of stats and then adverts.
iFollow is not perfect, I agree, but there is little we can do to control what is shown before the game starts, during half-time, or after the final whistle. We are looking at ways that we can change that, and, if we’re successful, will be making announcements in the next few weeks.
- Any news of any potential pre-season games yet?
We announced our first scheduled fixture on Saturday, against Middlesbrough at Home Park. We are in discussions with a number of clubs, but need to keep details under wraps until final contracts have been signed. We’ll make an announcement as soon as we can do so.
Sorry for being so vague, but the uncertainties about reopening have made arrangements unusually difficult.
- Much has been made about cryptocurrency recently. Elon Musk putting some of Tesla's cash reserves into Bitcoin etc. Wall Street is starting to warm to the idea. Do you see it playing any part in Argyle's financial future?
Wall Street can’t see a band wagon go by without jumping on it, so that is no recommendation. Argyle will be run in a way that is financially prudent, and has for the first time in a while got some cash reserves. They will be invested conservatively.
That said, we want to be a forward-looking club, so if there are ways to use technology or financial innovations that are consistent with our values, we will embrace them.