Front Row View: Sam's Up For The Cup!
Monday, 15th Apr 2013 14:29 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County CEO is a man on a mission - to meet as many Rams fans as possible. He’s been holding court at Marston’s pubs in the region and here’s a report on last Monday’s gathering at The Golden Cup in Yoxall, DE13.
It’s close to zero-hour for existing Derby County season-ticket holders to be persuaded to sign up again for 2013-14 by the ‘early-bird’ deadline and for the club to entice newcomers into the fold. The all-singing, all-dancing “Sign Up Sunday” last weekend at the stadium was well-attended, and then Sam and his club entourage swept onto the highway to meet yet more fans face-to-face.
Sam has been rushing around doing two venues per evening recently, and last Monday’s 70-minute Golden Cup event at 7.00 pm was followed by a 9.00 pm engagement at another pub in Burton town centre.
Mr Rush was accompanied by CEO John Vicars, Commercial Director Lisa Biesty, Press Officer Tom Loakes and title-winning ‘legend’ Roger ‘Stretch’ Davies. Sam, John and Roger headed the table, with Tom and Lisa chipping in when necessary.
The splendid small pub held a friendly gathering of about 30 Derby fans, with a healthy exchange between club and supporters.
Sam opened up the forum and declared he would welcome all questions on operational matters, the football side, communications, and general business matters.
Q: It seems that GSE have no desire for promotion, and attendances are falling - what assurances are given that club will aim for promotion next season?
SR: Has ‘bought into the dream’, he says, having moved his family to the area; he is highly committed to DCFC and admits that the scale of the club brings many challenges. Derby fans have ‘incredibly high expectations’, he observed. His aim is to ensure that the maximum proportion of the £10-£12m that investors provide the club annually is spent on the team.
Sam said that the play-offs were ‘an absolute minimum’ for 2013-14.
Heavy payments made to departing players and regimes in the post-relegation shakedown have come to an end, he said, but the club will invest in players. Roger Davies commented that the club was ‘crying out for a stellar signing’ to give a lift to fans and improve the team.
Southampton FC was cited by a fan - they signed talisman Rickie Lambert for £1m in 2009; he now has 100 goals for the club who are in the Premier League. Though Conor Sammon wasn’t mentioned, Roger took up a defence of the Irish striker; however, fans wanted a proven goal scorer alongside Sammon (or whoever else), Roger agreeing that a 20-goal striker was essential.
The recruitment of some European talent was requested by one fan - and what would we give for the discovery of a Stimac, Wanchope, or Baiano? Michu of Swansea was cited as a shrewd bargain.
The turnover of failed forwards at Derby over the last 5 years was an obvious concern among Derby fans and a quality upgrade in football personnel recruited is clearly an expectation.
Squad strength and depth were mentioned with the example of Will Hughes suffering ‘burn-out’ due to the manager’s policy - or necessity - of selecting the teenager for 30 games straight, after he burst onto the first-team scene.
The cases of Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs were mentioned by one fan as a comparison to explain Hughes’ injury and fatigue. Owen had a saturated first-team spell after his teenage emergence at Liverpool - but suffered many injuries then a somewhat premature retirement.
In contrast, Manchester United’s Ryan Giggs was a young prodigy but was regularly rested by United and is now benefitting, as he will play Premier League football past 40 years of age.
Q: Are the losses of ££millions every year going to continue?
Sam said that £16m of funding from the investors had supported the club over the past two seasons.
Rush said that P & L losses would fall next year and DCFC wanted to achieve significant additional revenue generation, as well as helping to negotiate a scenario where a larger share of the Premier League TV ‘cake’ will be passed to Football League clubs.
SR: Players may leave but would not be sold below ‘market value’. As an example, Rush thought fans would accept a large incoming fee for Will Hughes, involving a season-long loan-back clause, which would show that Derby’s player-trading record was improving. Southampton FC, for example, had initiated their revival from the £45m received for Walcott, Bale, and Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Roger noted that the task of succeeding at the top of the table for clubs like Derby would be impeded by increasing ‘parachute payments’ received by each of the 3 relegated Premier League clubs. John Vicars stated that (despite that so-called ‘£60m final’) Derby’s Wembley play-off victory against WBA and parachute payments did not greatly benefit greatly the club.
That was because DCFC had invested heavily in players and gone ‘well over budget’ (under Davies and Jewell) Costly acquisitions of Claude Davis, Rob Earnshaw, Roy Carroll, Robbie Savage, Alan Stubbs and others were mentioned by groaning fans - and John said that the club also had substantial Co-op Bank liabilities.
Q: Can season-Ticket benefits and Member benefits, and ‘the treatment of pensioners’ be improved?
This question broadened out into points being made about the erosion of Shop DCFC discounts, restoration of which could encourage more merch business, or free shirts, or Cup vouchers.
John Vicars advised that the economics of handling a small Cup crowd of 10-15,000 did not make it viable to open the whole stadium. The club policy would be to open only parts of the stadium for such games and said that fans at recent Supporters Club forums generally agreed with the policy. Cup seats would be sold as ‘reserved’ seats, rather than the unallocated seating free-for-all.
Q: In the attempt to manufacture a pre-match ‘atmosphere’ by using the PA system at ear-splitting volume, the sound barrage makes conversation between family and friends impossible. Can the club appraise the sound levels around the stadium?
Tom Loakes agreed that a proper assessment and testing of the sound levels around the stadium should be undertaken. Fans bemoaned the ‘creeping Americanisation’ of the ‘match day experience’ and the gentrification of the game. Fans said that the only match day experience they wanted was decent, winning football and the ability to hear their conversations.
Q: What was the idea behind the ‘DNA’ campaign?
Though one fan quipped “Derby Never Achieve”, Lisa Biesty said that an in-house graphics and marketing team now produced the club’s publicity initiatives. This also brought significant savings over outsourced marketing services. Lisa said the club wanted to present some fresh ‘razzmatazz’ regularly to appeal to a large cross-section, especially the next generation of supporters.
The external screens will also generate advertising revenue and contribute to paying the club’s running costs, Lisa commented.
Q: From a sponsor’s point of view, can corporate fans have a higher standard and relevance of ‘guest’ appearances, with ex-players and celebrities that would appeal more to the current generation?
There were some grumbles too about long waits for guests to appear and greet fans in the suites, and for visits by players from the Cox, Smith and Burley eras to refresh the interest for sponsors.
Lisa mentioned that many ex-players were tied to coaching or management roles in the game far and wide and were not readily available, but the point was acknowledged.
Q: How could the club ‘lock-in’ supporters more and re-engage with them?
Sam was asked if fans could subscribe to a fan-share scheme, to enable them to own a shareholding, to have influence in club policy and decision-making and, importantly, provide an opportunity to increase investment in the football team.
Fans recalled the old DCFC shareholder association, saying that the club needed to re-engage with them.
Though the possibility of supporter shareholdings had been requested of the club over two years ago without response, the forum was advised that such a stake holding was not something that is of interest to the investment group.
So, is there is no intention whatsoever for GSE to consider this, one fan reiterated? “There is no appetite among the ownership group for a fan shareholding”, Sam and John agreed. Sam gave a wry smile and nod of acknowledgment when the example of Premier League Swansea City was mentioned - a club in-profit which is 30% fan-owned, which has enjoyed a spectacular revival.
Fans cited the 2013-14 season-ticket renewal packages as “a PR disaster.” Season-ticket letters arrived on doorsteps with only a fleeting reference that the ‘senior’ price band had been ‘changed’ - and there was no mention at all of the doubling of a ‘disabled’ season-ticket cost.
The general disappointment at Derby’s static League position (this being the main grumble that emerged from a January forum I’d attended) - has I think been crystallised somewhat among fans at Monday’s forum from the negative impact of the 2013-14 season-ticket policy.
Some said they would always renew, but significant team progress was expected under Rush’s stewardship.
The evening ended with one fan giving a cautionary oration about finances, saying he didn’t want Derby to “go up to that bloody Premier League and become a laughing stock again”.
That view clearly wasn’t shared by many fans, as Lisa wrapped things up and reminded Sam that they now had to take off to their 9.00 pm session with another group of fans at a Burton venue.
On the contrary, the over-riding sentiment of the evening was infused by a keen desire from the club and the (mainly ‘mature’) attendees at The Golden Cup to see Derby make real progress soon. I feel that both staff and fans want DCFC to win promotion and become a big club once again - and stay where the real money is.
The ownership group has to facilitate the financial conditions for this to be achieved and the manager must produce a winning team on the field - and Sam is the man whom we expect to merge all the elements and make it happen!
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Photo: Action Images
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