Chairman's Chat | October 2022

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This letter will mostly be about the wonderful things going on at your club, but I can’t start on them without mentioning a tragedy - the passing of Gordon Sparks.

The club and I paid tribute to our friend soon after we had news of his death, and I won’t repeat what we said earlier, but I would like to repeat how sorry we are to lose such a dearly loved member of the Argyle family, and how we all stand ready to support Gordon’s wife, Heather, and their family in any way we can. We will work with them to plan a tribute to Gordon that appropriately celebrates his life and work.

It's been a while since I wrote to you, for which I apologise.

One of the consequences of our insistence on transparency throughout the club is that there is very little left for me to tell you! I’ll spend this letter not giving information, but rather trying to give the thinking behind some of the things we’ve already announced.

But first, indulge me when I say how pleased I am at what’s happening on the pitch. I’m thrilled that we are top of the league, thrilled to see the style of play and thrilled to see that smile on Schuey’s face at the end of so many games.

There is a strong feeling that we are succeeding the way I want us to succeed - by taking risks and having fun playing football that brings a smile to all our faces.

By taking risks I mean doing things such as giving an inexperienced but hugely talented teenager significant playing time towards the end of a critical game against Ipswich where we needed to hold a 2-1 lead. Those decisions won’t always work out, but on balance taking those risks will pay off.

Equally importantly, they show we have a manager who trusts in our long-term approach and trusts those who judge him to take a similar view when things don’t go well.

I’ve heard it said that we are lucky to have Schuey, but I don’t think it’s just luck. We have provided an environment in which an intelligent and thoughtful young manager can thrive. We have deservedly retained one of the very best.

We set out a few years ago to make sure we could compete effectively by outsmarting, not outspending, our opposition - and we are demonstrating that that is a realistic goal.

We have invested significantly in human resources, adding to the coaching staff - from the first team, through the academy to the women’s teams, adding to sports science and fitness staff and, recently, by adding a new post – Head of Football Data. Ross Goodwin joined us in September and will work closely with Head of Recruitment, Jimmy Dickinson, and Lead Performance Analyst, Sam Morcom, in providing data analysis.

I should add that Ross and Sam’s work on the football side is mirrored in the team behind the team where Matthew Dainty has revolutionised our use of data in our relations with our supporters.

Good decision-making throughout the club based on facts not just gut feel is a key part of our strategy.

Beyond people, we have had a goal to raise the club’s revenue base by investing in infrastructure that improves our supporters’ experience on match days.

Those investments generate a return, and we are able to spend part of that return on the first team. As revenues have risen, so have our football budgets. This season’s football budget is a million pounds greater than last year.

Those investments include that in the Mayflower Grandstand, which is already, even during a pandemic, generating a significant portion of total revenue.

As planned, that is not just on match days, where our fans have responded to the hospitality offering by booking it out pretty solidly throughout the season, but also during the week where, again, the facility is heavily used by outside organisations, including, of course, the NHS. We have also announced a quickly sold out post-season concert by Muse.

Home Park has become a favoured destination for conferences, celebrations and presentations across the business and sports sectors in the area.

This success is consistent with one of our goals for the Mayflower, that it generate revenue from providing a much-needed facility in Plymouth for such events. It’s been particularly gratifying that we have been amongst the awards winners at awards evenings at Home Park!

Even beyond the Grandstand, we have invested in better facilities at Home Park for fans. That includes renovating all aspects of the stadium, so that it looks better and is more comfortable – I hope our program of seat replacement in the Lyndhurst achieves both goals!

Over the summer we improved the outside areas, and the signage, while making the derelict part of Higher Home Park (which we do not own) less visible. Most obviously, we now have a big screen finally installed, to add to our enjoyment of games, and to showcase the great work done by the team at Argyle TV. 

Argyle TV itself is good example of how we now have an executive team that is backed by the board with support and money when it comes up with good ideas.

Breaking away from iFollow, the streaming platform used by most EFL clubs, was a risk that required investment. Taking that risk and making that investment has paid off superbly, providing higher quality coverage of matches for our overseas supporters that our domestic fans are sometimes able to enjoy, and enabling us to provide terrific pre and post match content.

We are now well prepared for the possible advent of streaming live matches to a domestic audience. Our media team has done a terrific job devising a strategy and executing the plan to offer this service. I’m as grateful as a non-resident fan as I am as Chairman!

Our engagement with our fans is stronger than ever, via our social media channels, Argyle TV and, indeed, in real life with our Fan Forums and Fans Assembly.

We will soon announce details of a membership plan to enable fans further to engage with the club and support our various activities. This will involve the closure of the Big Green Lottery. By taking the plan in-house we believe we will be able to provide a better offering to our fans and generate more revenues for the football side of the club, including the Academy.

We are grateful to everyone who has supported the BGL over the years, and for their past contributions to the Academy.

It's a bit of a mantra in football that money not spent on the pitch is money wasted. I think we have proven that mantra wrong. Spending money off the pitch has generated a better experience for fans, and attracted more of them. Our recent results show that, despite being in the same league position as four years ago, our attendances are up significantly, as are our revenues throughout the club, whether it be in our shop, our sponsorships or our hospitality offering. 

All this has enabled us to diversify our revenue base so that we are no longer as dependent as a few years ago on any one area. Clearly our season ticket holders remain at the core of our finances, but our dependence on media revenues and grants from the EFL and Premier League are much reduced.

This is because of significant growth in what were previously relatively minor activities. You can read all about this in our Head of Finance’s explanation of our annual results.

Incidentally, huge kudos to our finance team and our auditors, who enabled us to be the first EFL club to publish full results for the year ended June. It’s a great achievement, consistent with our commitment to be as transparent with our fans as we possibly can be.

Stronger revenues obviously provide us the resources that enable us to compete effectively, but an even bigger story is about the expansion of our supporter base. Attendances, season ticket sales and other forms of engagement with the club all suggest that the level of interest in Argyle is building.

We have made Home Park a stadium to be proud of and, by living up to our values, made Argyle a club in which the city, counties, and region can take pride. Our goal of being supported or respected by everyone in the south west and many beyond is within reach. 

So what’s next? More of the same commitment to being a values-driven club, and we will continue to invest in improving the match day experience for our fans, but perhaps with slightly more focus on our investment in football. That partly means modestly more resources being freed up for the first team, but also developing a programme of investment in facilities for all our teams. 

If these plans and aspirations are to come to fruition, they will have to be financed. As you know, we have recently welcomed a new shareholder in Argyle, in the form of a US investment partnership, Argyle Green, who bought new shares in the club (I didn’t sell any) for £4m, so that they now own 20% of the club’s shares and voting rights.

This small shareholding and two board seats, enables them to get to know us and us to know them before any possible further investment. I’m delighted that everything we’ve learned has been consistent with what they told us, or, in many respects, better.

There is so much going on that I have run out space, but let me congratulate those at the Jack Leslie Campaign for carrying to fruition their plan to have a statue in memory of Jack Leslie outside Home Park. It doesn’t right any wrongs, but that statue, and our honouring Jack by naming our boardroom after him, stand as permanent reminders of the battle against racism - one we will continue to fight. 

Some joker once said that when you buy boats and football clubs you have but two happy days – the day you buy and the day you sell. In my case that is simply not true. I was happy the day I bought a stake in Argyle, and nervous the day I became the majority shareholder, but am happier now than at any time in the last six years.

With your support and with that of our sponsors we have a built on the existing foundation to create a club that is financially strong, well-supported, well-respected and deeply embedded in our community. 

I’m very proud of that, and I know Sparksy was as well. I hope you are too.


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