An update from Ross McArthur ahead of tomorrow’s opening league fixture.
On behalf of our newly enlarged Board of Directors, I would like to pass on our best wishes to all of our supporters and their families, and we sincerely hope you are safe and well during these very difficult and challenging times.
I would like to provide an update on a number of things, on the cusp of the new Championship campaign for 2020-21.
I feel it is important to start by highlighting to our fans the extremely difficult landscape we are now operating in. The challenges we, as a football club, are facing during this period were always going to be unprecedented, but the continued ban on supporters being allowed into stadiums for the foreseeable months, is now causing grave concern across the whole of Scottish football.
Walk up fans account for at least 40% of our income in a normal season, and our other revenue streams are already reduced and/or uncertain. As a club, we are totally respectful of the difficult job our politicians and their scientific and health advisers have at present, balancing public health with economic viability, but is still incumbent on the Board of DAFC, as custodians of our club, to put our case forward, in an honest and coherant manner.
Without some form of central government support for Scottish football, which many other industry sectors have enjoyed, the consequences for our national game could be catastrophic. We sincerely hope that Scottish football’s place in our society will be understood and respected, and that its voice will be listened to, as we simply do not have anything like the resources that clubs have south of the border, in the top four divisions.
The clubs in the National League in England are similar to the majority of clubs in Scotland, and they recently received targeted Government support. We are not advocating that professional football in Scotland should be treated more generously than other business sectors – we are just looking for parity.
Football players have, for good reason, fairly unique contracts of employment which mean that, for football clubs, reducing employees’ hours is simply not practical, therefore any central government support in the form of the new Job Support Scheme is not relevant to a professional sports business.
We have now incurred, or are fully committed to, all of our fixed costs for the coming season, but on the eve of the new league campaign, we have absolutely no idea, and no way of predicting, when our single biggest revenue stream might start. SPFL clubs are more vulnerable now, than at any time during lockdown.
We are more than just professional sports businesses, we are each a focal point in our local community: many in the local area identify very closely with their club; our matches are occasions when family and friends regularly see one another; a great many non-football, community activities are centred round clubs – such as our schools engagement programme, and our initiatives to support dementia, mental health and fight obesity, all of which are hugely important at this time.
As chairman of my football club, I certainly don’t want to sit in an empty stadium for any prolonged period, as that is not football as I know it. The last three games have been hard for me. We are only fulfilling fixtures when that is the environment. Football is a spectator sport; how many potential supporters might be lost to our national game through this period?
As a football club we have spent a great deal of time, effort and money to be in a position to return to training and to get East End Park ready, to play games behind closed doors, in an extremely safe and controlled manner. There are so many anomalies within the economy at present, brought about by the sector by sector advice, support, regulations and restrictions, but we are confident that we could adhere to all of the current Government guidelines and still safely accommodate a significant percentage of supporters within our stadium, something which appears to be recognised elsewhere in Europe.
We totally appreciate the return of spectators to stadiums, at this particular moment in time, is not realistic but some form of sector support for Scottish football, fully recognising how our unique industry operates (hugely reliant on income streams relating to supporters and hospitality) is absolutely critical.
However, it is important to acknowledge once again the outstanding philanthropic act of James Anderson, whose kindness and generosity, has provided welcome support to every single SPFL club. It is truly humbling to see the further support that he and another benefactor have now provided via the SPFL Trust. Thank you, Mr Anderson.
I would now like to take the opportunity to thank all of our loyal supporters who have backed our club in these difficult times by purchasing a season ticket, contributing to the Centenary Club Lifeline, purchasing kit and merchandise, helping with their time and expertise on a voluntary basis, and providing financial support through player sponsorship and various other means including donating £8,000, over and above our season ticket sales. I have also seen some people, who wish to remain anonymous, making further unbelievable gestures of support for our club, which I felt compelled to thank in person.
All of this has been achieved, in an environment in which it was far from certain when crowds would be allowed back into our stadium. The decision to defer the start of the lower league campaigns until October was designed to increase the chances of having crowds at matches, but sadly this will continue to be more of a hope than an expectation for the foreseeable future.
Therefore, the fact that this has happened is testimony to the loyalty and support of our magnificent fan base, which has been invaluable, and truly appreciated.
Clearly, the challenges are not going to be over soon. Everyone is desperate to watch competitive football matches and, in the absence of supporters being in the ground, the one thing those of our supporters who have not purchased season tickets can now do to support our club further, through the next few months, is to purchase the Pay per View (PPV) streaming service, via Pars TV, for all of our home matches. This will be the closest our club will get to our crucial “walk up” fan income.
Home and away supporters wanting to watch a Championship match next season, which is played behind closed doors, will only be able to purchase the live stream from the home club. The cost of the PPV for our home matches, for any match played behind closed doors, will be £12, from which DAFC will be required to pay VAT.
As was expressed previously, we wanted to be fair to our loyal season ticket holders, with the average price paid by our existing holders, equating to £11 per match, which is why the PPV cost is slightly higher. Only 30% of our season ticket holders paid the full adult price this season, which is why the average cost is so low.
We fully recognise that a number of holders have paid more than £11, and we thank them yet again for their loyalty and support, and hope that this pricing structure for streaming does not make them feel disadvantaged in any way. When spectators are allowed back into football stadiums the normal gate prices will, of course, apply.
I would also like to thank all of our key sponsors who have stuck by our club during these difficult times. As ever, I would like to express our gratitude to SRJ Windows for continuing with their lead sponsorship, and helping our club in many other ways; my personal thanks go to the Macintosh family.
Likewise, the continued support of the Purvis Group and Macklin Motors is hugely appreciated, in particular the personal support that Bob Purvis continues to provide. Brian Taylor at BG Taylor Groundworks also continues to be a great friend of our club, and we are thankful to him for agreeing to sponsor our club at this time.
Finally, I would also like to thank all of the many local businesses who have renewed their advertising boards for the coming season, at a time of so much economic uncertainty. Yet again, it is hugely appreciated.
The challenges and frustrations faced by Stevie and the coaching staff, along with the players, have been significant over the last six weeks, and it is to their absolute credit that they have faced them head on and adapted to make the best of a difficult situation. I would like to thank them for their professionalism and fortitude during this period.
We are being faced with so many additional issues to deal with at present and unfortunately it looks as though that will be the case for the rest of the season.
It is going to be difficult playing in an empty stadium and, as has been seen elsewhere, there is no doubt that there may be some ”freak” games and results over the coming weeks, after such a long lay-off. It is quite bizarre to think that it had been over six months since the players trained or played on a grass pitch, up until the Dumbarton game last Tuesday.
The shortened games programme in the Championship this season will be another hurdle, and inevitably there will be disruptions over the coming months, so the teams that adapt better to adversity will likely be more successful.
However, as a club and as a support, we need to remain strong and, literally, get on with things and make the best we can, out of a hugely challenging time.
Finally, I would like once again to thank the Alloa Chairman, Mike Mulraney for his help and support with the provision of training facilities for our squad, it is very much appreciated.
Behind the scenes there has been an enormous amount of work undertaken by our administration, grounds, cleaning, safety and media staff along with our loyal volunteers who help in the Shop and with stadium maintenance. Their work has been invaluable, and the teamwork demonstrated has been exceptional. I can only praise them for everything they have done over the last six months, away from the public gaze. They don’t always receive the praise they are due.
Please stay safe, look after yourself and your family and I hope to see my fellow Pars fans back at East End Park as soon as possible. You will continue to be sorely missed.