Meeting with the Directors – part 1

The Trust sat down with the Board of Directors on Monday evening to discuss a number of questions that Trust members had sent in.

The minutes from this will be released in two parts. The second part will discuss the pitch at length and will be released on the Trust website in the near future. The first part of those minutes are here:

Of the windfalls we have received recently as a result of shrewd sell-on clauses in contracts, please could the Board give us a guide to how much we have actually received so far; what is remaining to be received and when; how the money has been apportioned so far; plans for future apportionment? 

what is the current financial situation at the club after receiving transfer money for Bunney, Allen and Hogan?

The club felt that they could not go into individual details about the deals. As directors of the club, there is only so much information that can be put into the public domain with regards to finance. It would hinder the club in any future transfer dealings if it was to come across that the club had received a sizeable injection of money.

Are we prepared to allow the club to be relegated and what else do the directors think they can do to support the squad and manager to achieve league one survival?

The board stated that they give the manager everything that they could, and Keith Hill has stated both publicly and privately how happy he is with the level of support that the board provide to him.

Are the club in a good position to deal with relegation, should it happen?  

The directors said that there is a plan in place for every eventuality.

Maybe not a question just a moan but does anyone at the club have the specific responsibility to change the "Next Match" board outside the ground. It's seriously embarrassing that yesterday (14th Jan) the next match is still advertised as Blackpool on 1st Jan. No wonder the crowd was small for the Lincoln game. This is not a one-off. I walk past the ground regularly and it is usually out of date. I think long standing supporters like me are always trying to encourage people to go to games but it's really frustrating to see the club itself couldn't seem to care less.

It was stated that in advance of every home game, there was a pre and post match check list in place for every aspect of the matchday. These systems are now in place and have made the club much more professional. Following these comments, the changing of the Fixture Board would be added into it for the Ground Staff to amend on a routine basis, and it will be changed after each game. This check list has already seen the club respond to complaints about pigeon poo and broken seats.

The lighting outside of the ground especially the main/stand exit is pretty poor and with an uneven floor any chance of this being improved?  Also concerns over puddles.

The club have recently carried out work re-tarmacking the area near the Dale Bar entrance, which has got rid of some of the puddled areas. The main priority for the club at this moment in time is ensuring that the pitch is playable but they will take the comments about the lighting on board and will look towards things like this later in the year. Work has already been carried out in the past twelve months on repairs to the car park and an installation of a fence around the ground increasing security.

Can the club confirm why prices are different in the Ratcliffe Bar and the Dale Bar when football supporters of both teams can drink at both bars? Why should any fan, home or away, pay more for the same drink bought within yards of each other?  

The reason behind the difference in prices is down to a discount offered in the Dale Bar to Dale supporters following representation from the Trust a number of years ago. This replaced the old scheme whereby Trust members and Season Ticket holders were offered a discount before a set time.

Admittedly early days, but can you ask whether they feel the decision to buy the ground has been justified, financially. Is the stadium generating a level of income that is making the purchase worthwhile? Has the board assessed whether the money buying the ground may have been better spent on the playing staff in view of the current league position and the reduced home attendances? 

The club were in no doubts at all that the decision has been completely justified. Due to previous ownership issues, the stadium has been neglected for far too long. Work is ongoing as part of a long term plan to make the stadium profitable. Recently, the club have rented out a full floor in the Willbutts Lane stand to the NHS as a base for nurses, whilst downstairs houses the academy which is making things far easier for the academy to operate. In addition to that, they are renting out a room to Icon Sports, and a further room to a Personal Trainer to run a gym. On the conferencing side, things are on the up, and recently they have had 2000 children through the club as part of the Crucial Crew project for which the club received a number of compliments.

Questions were asked about the state of the toilets at the ground. Whilst some had been worked on, it was clear that more work was needed to be done.

The improvements are ongoing, and will continue as the year progresses. Chief Executive Russ Green specifically requested supporters to email him about any concerns that they have about the state of the ground as in April they would be preparing a hitlist of work to be completed over the next few months. This close season action list was carried out last Summer, and Russ is very keen to hear from supporters (as the people who use the stadium) as to what is required on it for this year.

Are there plans to reintroduce smoking at half time? Are the club considering a smoking area in the corner between the Main Stand & Pearl St?  

It was stated that there are no such plans in place, and there is no plans to change this.

Tannoy system: what's being done to resolve the sound issue? The volume levels in some stands are almost unbearable at times (Sandy Lane and Main Stand mentioned as being problematic). Wasn't work carried out to address this in the summer?   

They stated that work was carried out the Summer repairing a number of the speakers around the ground. The Trust stated that the noise levels in the Pearl Street were much improved on last year but problems remained in other parts of the ground. It was suggested that soundchecking in an empty stadium doesn’t always translate to levels when supporters are in the ground, and two directors volunteered to go around the ground at the next home game to assess the different levels.

Since the take over of the stadium the quality of food has seriously declined to the point myself and friends no longer use it at all, resulting in the football club losing much needed match day revenue. Six supporters used to all buy the foot long hot dog sausages, but these have changed and aren't of the same quality. Similarly the pies aren't as good as in previous years.   Why has the club stopped serving steak pies, replacing them with steak and pepper pie?  What have the club put in place to review fans' opinions on the catering?  

The board stated that in terms of pies, they were still Clayton’s Pies as they have been over a number of years so there should be no difference in the pies. One improvement that has been put in place is that the kiosks will now stay open until approximately 20 minutes in the second half.

Coffee.   The coffee served in the kiosks is rank and far worse than the Kenco we used to be served.  The kiosk staff have been told and the fans are ignored.  I used to buy 6 cups every game.  I buy nothing now.  It is true of many that sit near me.  Somebody at the club told me that kiosk sales are nowhere near expectation yet we ignore the reason why.  Please can we ask the catering partner to sort it

The Trust offered to work with the club to gauge supporter opinion about the kiosks and its products towards the end of this season to put plans in place for next season and the club were happy to accept the help offered.

 

We keep hearing that the club is working hard to secure training facilities.  Well it feels like 10 years since we walked to Accrington to support Bowlee and we are still no nearer to having anywhere.  How much would a decent place cost and can we start a longer term fund raising plan to secure it?

What is the current situation around training facilities?  

 The club remain committed to securing a permanent training base of their own and continue to look to address this. At the moment, they train at Rochdale Cricket Club, with a minimum of two days down at Manchester City’s Platt Lane complex. It was stated that our training facilities have never been as good as they are now.

Kit: passing on thanks for the idea to reintroduce fan input in designing next year's kit, and a request that it remains that way please, can this indeed be the case in future?

Much of this will depend on who the Kit Supplier is. Many of the major brands will not allow any bespoke kit design, insisting on an off the shelf design. Whilst it was possible to have supporter input, it would be continued.

What happened with kit manufacturers after it was mentioned that we were unhappy with Errea, we've now signed up for another year with them?

Before agreeing to extend the deal, a number of issues were presented to Errea who have committed to resolving them. Assurances have been provided, and as such the deal has been extended by one year only. One such assurance is that all the kits will arrive at the same time in the Summer rather different sizes arriving at different times. The finances of the deal played a big part as well, as did the supporter involvement in the kit design. Traditionally a kit deal is a three year deal but this one year extension is acting as a trial period.

Season Tickets: is there a plan in place for next season and when will info be released to supporters?   What do the board see as the positives and negatives from this season's season ticket initiative? And what have they learnt from the experiment?

There is a plan in place, and when it is finalised, details will be revealed. The club have reviewed last Summer’s Season Ticket sale, and have made a few tweaks here and there. The club are keen for the season ticket to remain value for money and it will again be incentivised as it was last Summer. The club have took on board a number of comments from last year, both the compliments and the complaints.

How many season ticket holders, on average, attend each home game?  

On average, we have between 20-25% of season ticket holders not attending a fixture meaning we can have 700 paying supporters not in attendance. There is even fully paid for season tickets that have yet to be collected from the main office. At this stage of the season, the average home crowd is on a par with this time last year despite there being just one sell out away end this season – at this stage last season, we had already played the likes of Bolton and Oldham at home.

By making the Main Stand ticket only, what are the comparative figures between now and prior when people could pay at the turnstiles? Has there been a rise in numbers to justify the change as opposed to just asking stewards to inform fans not to sit in a Season Ticket holders seat?

By having a high % of tickets already sold for the main stand, it was required to have this in operation. As thing stand, the club are happy for this is going.

The conversation then progressed into the habits of Rochdale supporters buying tickets in advance for games, especially away games. The recent FA Cup game at Doncaster was cited wherein we had almost six hundred supporters at the game, with less than half buying a ticket from Dale in advance. Dale receive 5% of all advance ticket sales for away games, and it would be financially beneficial if more supporters could buy in advance. The club are looking into the possibility of selling tickets elsewhere as Spotland isn’t the most convenient place to get to during the working week.

Can we charge away fans whatever they charge us for every game next season?

We are not allowed to do this due to EFL regulations.

Can you ask whether the board think that limiting the meaningful online content to paid subscribers is really going to help raise the interest and profile of the club in the long term? Does the ifollow service generate a worthwhile level of income for the club, versus the potential loss of exposure ?   On this subject, do the club seek feedback on what fans want to see online, if so when and where has this occurred, if not, what plans are there to do this?

The club felt that there was a good mix available between free video content, spread over iFollow freeview, YouTube, and on social media, as well as written content on the website, pointing to pre and post match interviews, and goals available online for free, as well as past games etc.

The iFollow service does bring in good funds for the club that as always are ploughed back into the running of the club.

Could you please ask whether they know if there are plans for the commentary to be added to the video on ifollow? Also, would it be possible to have the commentary team set up and plug in more than a few minutes before kick off? On too many occasions it has been a few minutes into the game before we can hear them as they didn't realise they were offline, which is a bit of a shame as the standard of commentary is much improved.

The issue with the commentary not being with the video is one shared by a number of clubs, but this is solely down to the EFL. When the media team arrive at an away ground, they set up and dial in as soon as they arrive to check that, first all of all, the line is working. Around 2.30pm, they dial in again and leave it connected, before doing a line check with the EFL at around 2:40pm/ 2.45pm to ensure that they are being heard down the line. They are aware of the issues regarding going offline at kick-off and have flagged this up with the relevant body and will continue to monitor the situation, as all pre-match checks are done thoroughly at their end.

Does the club still believe in the phrase "Team Rochdale"? This attitude has not been demonstrated this season. We are kept in the dark about injuries which makes it harder to appreciate the situation Keith Hill has to deal with, we've had the tannoy announcer issues, the complete u-turn on the kit manufacturer and some fans believe there is an "us and them" attitude now. Do the club recognise this and what do they plan to rectify the situation? 

On the issue of information on injuries, this was a decision down the management and the Board said that they would fully support him on this matter as it considered to be to the advantage of the first team.

The conversation then continued as to the whole “Team Rochdale” issue. The Trust board admitted that they were well aware of a number of supporters feeling that this shared spirit had dwindled in recent times. It was certainly an open and frank discussion between the Trust Board and the Board of Directors that probably lasted as long as the pitch discussions had been.

The club pointed to the reduced price season tickets, whereby any supporter could watch the club from as little as £12.40 per game, and they talked of some of the excellent work that takes place throughout the town by the Football in the Community department. They talked of evidence of this meeting where supporters could have their concerns raised, discussed and answered, and asked about of clubs where such meetings were held, and cited their Trust membership as proof of a genuine desire.

The Trust board told of a number of supporters remarking to them about how they feel that there is a discord between the club and the supporters and it was more than just a reflection of the league position, and whilst you could argue about whether this perception was justified, there was no doubting that the perception existed.

There was genuine desire on all sides for this to be addressed, with the question “What more can be done to alleviate the situation?” If any supporters/members have any views on this, please contact the Trust at info@daletrust.co.uk

Could you ask whether the Dale board have a formal evaluation procedure in place to review events.  It strikes me that a simple after action review process would bring learnings on a whole host of actions, such as yesterday's postponement. I think it would benefit everybody if questions were asked such as:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why were there differences?
  • What have we learned? 
  • What will we do differently next time?

 These obviously work better with a no blame culture and a trained facilitator leading a session with directors but I'd be interested to know how the board handles evaluation and whether there is room for improvement.  Does Dale aspire to be a learning organisation? 

The club carry out analysis for everything that they do, with regular meetings regarding pre and post match activities.

How is the new safety officer settling in? Have they had a positive influence?

The club felt that he is settling in very well indeed. He has brought new standards of professionalism to the club, raising the bar in all aspects of matchday operations. They felt that he has been responsible for a huge improvement in the quality of the stewarding that operated at Spotland, and he was working well with both the Police and Ground Safety people at the Council. Contingency plans are put in place for everything.

Player illness.  It seems to me this is far too common in a club where the health of professional sportsmen is paramount. Almost every week we get reports of such and such being unwell, reporting in sick etc. Is the food players eat monitored? We have (according to his linked in page) a qualified nutritionist at the club. Is he responsible for player nutrition and if so, why so much illness? (which ultimately comes from bad diet and conditioning)  

The club stated that there is a Food Nutritionist at the club and also a Sports Scientist, who look at all aspects with regard to the things mentioned in the question.

What were the club's thoughts on the negativity created around the tannoy announcer's position?

The club were disappointed to hear of any negativity felt within the fanbase.

Can the club confirm that they follow the following in ALL circumstances, as promised on their 'Club Charter':  "The club will respond to any contact from customers by telephone, email, letter, or fax within 14 days. In the event that we feel unable to satisfy any matter raised within 14 days an acknowledgement will be sent indicating the time scale that we anticipate resolving the issue." 

Absolutely, and the board went out of their way to praise Chief Executive Russ Green for the way he handled such situtations. Everything is replied to and people have been invited in to discuss any concerns. They stated their surprise at just how much time Russ puts in to ensure that concerns are met.

We at the Trust would like to thank all members for sending in their questions and to the Board for meeting with us and discussing the above mentioned items at such length.