Lee Hoos – Patreon
Wednesday, 8th Sep 2021 09:05 by Clive Whittingham, Patreon
A great August on the field, but a return to football not without its problems for QPR fans is addressed in our latest sit down with CEO Lee Hoos who discusses transfer window budgeting, ticketing, logistics, staffing, and getting the final secretary of state approval for the new training ground.
LFW has been conducting written interviews with figures from QPR’s past and present for 17 years and publishing them free-to-view. Now, to help support both this website and the iconic AKUTRs fanzine, we’re also making the audio from these interviews available to all three tiers of our Patreon subscribers as podcasts as a thank you for your support. Listen to the full interview via our Patreon by clicking here or read for free below…
It’s nice to be sitting down with you with the team doing well on the pitch. This is a new experience for both of us.
It’s been a great start to the season after a great window. We got the targets we wanted, four of them known quantities having been here on loan last year and converting all four of those loans was great for us. Some took a little longer than others but we did it, and more importantly we did it on budget which is a big factor going forwards and I think we’re in a better place than a lot of other clubs right now.
Can you give us the headlines and ballpark figures of what it’s done to this club having to exist without people coming through the gates for 18 months?
One, you lose practice in what you’re doing. Normally in a pre-season game I’m beating my head against the wall saying ‘guys it was only three months ago, how can we have forgotten so much?’ This year, it had been 18 months, so there has been a lot of rust to brush off.
Financially I’ve been very open in what we’d normally expect from gate receipts - somewhere around £5.25m-£5.5m – and with the loss of parachute payments that’s the biggest single source of income that we have. We’ve completely wiped that out.
There are a lot of people tired right now, staff not players. From a mental health standpoint they’ve found it difficult getting through the last 18 months and it’s about trying to get people up and running again. From a positive point of view it’s made us a more resilient organisation, and that’s being reflected on the pitch. If you think back 18 months to when we shut down, nobody had any idea when we were going to get back to playing football, how the revenues were going to work, and people were justifiably worried about their personal situations. The board have been great, they made a commitment to protect everybody, no job losses, and I’m very proud of how everybody reacted.
Everybody in the organisation took a pay cut from the players down. That was in varying degrees, you can’t be asking cleaning staff or the guys on the door to take the same pay cut as I would take, the discrepancy is too much, people have got to live on their money. Mark Warburton was fantastic, Les and the players – that’s unusual, it was one of the most stressful moments of my life when I got tired of dealing with the PFA and went and spoke to Geoff (Cameron) myself and said ‘I’ve spoken to the PFA rep but can you go back and talk to the lads yourself because this is the situation’ and they were very, very good about it. It was brilliant to see that within the organisation, and then to have fans turning around and saying ‘just keep the money’ was fantastic.
Retail sales, while they went down a little bit, I think it was only 5%, they were pretty good during lockdown. The major source of income, however, is the gate receipts and all of last year we were running on fumes.
Are you able to put a figure on what sort of a hole it’s blown in the finances?
We’re still calculating that. There was a loss in sponsorships, retail a 5% dip, complete loss of revenues through the gates, but on the other hand there were paycuts to offset that, you do save some money by not putting on a game – the behind closed doors games really killed us, and the games with 2,000 people we barely broke even on those because of the stewarding. All I can tell you at the moment is our losses were contained very well.
How much difference did it make being able to sell streams to the UK as well as the rest of the world?
That was good. Fair play to Sky, and UEFA for suspending article 48 that allowed us to stream the games, because that has made the difference. Way up compared to previously, as you’d expect as it was the only way to watch the game.
Would you like to keep that in some form, do you see it as a potential revenue stream for you or as something that would damage attendances?
There’s a huge argument around this. I would have liked to have kept it. I don’t think it would have that much impact on attendances because there is no replacement for a live game. It’s great to have the opportunity to watch on a stream but it’s not the same as being there, the atmosphere and the experience is what football is all about. There may be some diminution in attendances but I don’t think it would be major. It wouldn’t surprise me if it went down to start with and then back up as people just miss being at football.
Is it a realistic possibility when the next TV deal comes up?
Well there’s the TV deal, but when it comes to games at 15.00 that’s not to do with the TV deal. There is UEFA article, article 48, forbidding the broadcast of games between 15.00 and 17.00. UEFA would have to change that article for us to do it, it was suspended during Covid-19 but it’s now back in force.
There was a story in the Evening Standard six months ago saying some clubs were unhappy at the business interruption insurance they’d been provided during Covid, Millwall and ourselves were mentioned, what can you tell me?
That is not something I can comment on now at all.
Have we pushed the boat out this summer
No, the boat is running at exactly the speed it should have been running. Everything was done within budget. The whole business plan, we’ve always said, is about developing players and in order to replace the missing parachute payments we’re going to have to sell players. We did a great deal with Ebere Eze, some of that money has been able to be reinvested, I think we’ve invested it very wisely and it’s allowed us a cushion within FFP. When I’m doing budgets for player recruitment I don’t just look at the current season. I’ve got a spreadsheet that says this is us this year, this is the effect on FFP next year, this is the effect the year after – it’s always a running three years because that’s what the recording period is. It’s always this season plus two seasons, and this season minus two seasons ago, so we always know where we stand with it and know we have that cushion. The finances on that front have worked well this season. Other seasons you need to sell a player to bring in funds, this year we felt it important to hang onto the boys. That strategy has challenges as well, you need to get the message out to other clubs, please don’t waste your time giving me a bid and risk upsetting the apple cart because come September 1 he will still be with us and you turning his head for a couple of weeks is just going to piss us off.
Have we been able to do this purely because we got decent money for Luke Freeman and then excellent money for Ebere Eze?
Absolutely. It’s the sales. This will contradict what I said about the single biggest source of income being tickets, the single biggest source of income will probably be player sales because that’s where you get the big hits from.
Can you explain how the FFP/P&S rules have been changed around Covid?
Are you sure you want to get into this? We can get the financial director down here for chapter and verse but it would be one of the worst podcasts ever recorded.
I’ll be that guy.
Let me give you the high level answer to that. They are averaging the previous years into one year, to give them an estimated idea. That’s how it’s been relaxed. They recognise actually trying to account for ‘you lost £x in revenue but you’ve cut this much in costs’ and trying to do it that way for 24 Championship clubs would be a logistical nightmare. They’ve taken two years, averaged it out, that’s your recorded figure for the Covid year. Just so you know though, even if it had been one year, we’d have been fine.
So was this summer seen as a good time to hang onto players and invest in some more because of that, because of the state of the rest of the league, because of how we finished last season?
All of the above, plus some. It’s because of the players involved, let’s face it I love watching Ilias and Chris on the pitch together, it’s a fantastic combination and they are fun to watch. It’s keeping those kinds of flair players and adding players like Jordy and Jimmy Dunne to stiffen up the defence. That needed to be done. Because we were ahead of the curve on FFP/P&S, had kept everything tight through the lockdown, and other clubs are struggling and market conditions are nosediving for players, it’s allowed us to go in and take advantage. If you’d told me three years ago ‘here’s the business we’ve done this summer and here’s what it cost us’ I’d have said ‘there’s no chance of that happening’. We’re in the right place, at the right time, because of the way things have been managed in the past and we’ve managed to get all our business done.
What do you make of some of the “punishments” that are going the way of other clubs who have overspent chasing the dream while we were cleaning house?
I think it’s grossly unfair. If you want to see our board members go ballistic, bring this subject up. How is it we got hammered, hammered, with this? Even during Covid we went back to them with a letter, and that then got leaked, saying that the definition of reasonableness is what’s fair under the circumstances. Circumstances have changed. It’s a materially different world right now than it was when we entered into the compromise agreement. We have no income streams from gate receipts, it’s tough, it would be fair to re-look at this. You see other clubs almost, I want to say, getting away with it, and it’s ridiculous. It’s completely unfair. It’s not right. I know the shareholders are furious about it. It’s not something I will let go away. The league continues to say the matter is closed, it’s not closed for me.
When I see ‘the EFL would like to impose this punishment, the club doesn’t agree’ that’s quite an odd way for a competition to be operating.
I would always encourage trying to come to an agreement. It’s always good to do it that way. If you messed up and you know you messed up then it’s about being fair. What is fair under the circumstances.
Are we more comfortable investing in players knowing there are sellable assets in this team now, more than one, more than a Freeman or an Eze, you’ve got Dickie, Dieng, Willock, Dykes, Chair… Are they the insurance policy?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to sell them all obviously. The business plan is getting players in and developing them. It doesn’t mean you have an entire pitch full of young players developing, there’s a balance of mixing in seasoned pros like Stef to help those kids around him. Stef is a huge, huge help to somebody like Andre Dozzell. I look at Andre and think ‘in two years’ time that’s Stef’.
I’m still amazed we’ve done the business we’ve done this summer on our budget. Is it just Eze effect?
It’s having that cash plus the market conditions the way they are right now.
A good time to buy, a bad time to sell?
That mid-level market in the Championship, players for £3m-£4m, is completely destroyed. Nobody has the cash out there to pay it. So, you’re either selling to the Premier League to get a wadge of cash in, or you’re looking at sub-£1m for players.
It’s September 7, I’m by no means jumping the gun here, hypothetically, if we were to be promoted to the Premier League, how would we play that? Norwich? Fulham? QPR 3.1?
You may have seen the approach that Burnley took. That’s the sensible approach. That’s the approach I would be advocating. I’m sure that’s the approach the board would be adapting.
We have not discussed it. It’s very early in the season, we’ve started nicely, we like the way the squad looks, but there’s a long way to go, a lot of stuff can happen. We’ve got the AFCON coming up for several key players in January. There are a lot of twists and turns to come. We’ve done one month, and very well in that month.
Just another week at QPR where your star man gets caught in a military coup.
Yes, another item on the agenda at this morning’s senior management meeting.
Similar question really, last time we went to the Premier League we had to tear out seats for extra press-accommodation, we had to hang a TV studio from the roof, what would you have to do/spend to bring this ground into Premier League code now?
The lights require a major overhaul. We’ve already been looking at that and hoped to do something with it this season but when I was told the cost of replacing the lights there was just no way we could do it. We’ve done what we can to bring the LUX levels up but if you’re in the Premier League, with all the digital demands, those LUX demands are massively more than we can provide here.
I couldn’t tell you what all the requirements are in that league now. Speaking to my counterpart at Norwich and they’re saying ‘we were only here a couple of years ago and I can’t believe how much has changed in terms of what we have to do’. There are a couple of things, they have a big TV contract and their broadcasters expect you to deliver. There’s none of this year’s grace stuff, no no, we have to deliver this now.
I would love to have some money to sink into this place from a fan amenity point of view and spruce the place up. We used to take one block every close season and try to do some capital works to it but that hasn’t been done for two years now with 19/20 behind closed doors, and this year we still weren’t sure in June whether we’d be open to full capacity. I’m still reading this morning about a potential firebreak lockdown in October if things get worse, even now we’re not sure if we’re going to finish the season with fans in.
Have our lights got worse or have I got older?
Both. They’re not good. They’re better than they were last season, but you weren’t here last season. There are places in a couple of areas of the pitch where the LUX levels are nowhere near. In the Premier League you have to have it not only for broadcasting, but for Hawkeye as well.
Seems as good a point as any to bring up vaccine passports. Very few restrictions on people coming here at the moment but I saw a headline last night about spotchecks on spectators at Man Utd, either a negative test or a vaccine. Where are we on that? Where might we have to go on that?
I think the Premier League as a whole have taken a decision, Chelsea are doing this as well, about doing spot checks. We’ve not done anything because from an administrative standpoint I’m having a hard enough time getting the personnel I need just to keep things running. Trying to get additional staff in and implement a vaccine passport scheme would be a flipping nightmare for me right now. I’ve got enough nightmares at the moment, I don’t need a sequel to Nightmare on Loftus Road. It’s logistically almost impossible right now.
Now, as we get bedded in, one of the things about the new ticketing system is it would accommodate a vaccine passport. But there are already teething pains in that, we’ve got to get that right first before we even think about adding things like vaccine passports. Then I’ve got the whole moral/philosophical argument to address. I’ve had one person come to me saying they won’t be coming back because they’re vulnerable and they don’t feel able to with us not implementing a vaccine passport system, then I’ve got somebody else who wrote in before the Millwall game asking me to guarantee we will not be checking vaccine passports because they would not come if we did. At the moment, we’re not having a passport scheme, but I can’t guarantee you that for the whole season. We can only go on what the government tell us, what is recommended, but I can’t guarantee you anything. It could happen at some point in the future. I would view it as a logistical impossibility over the next month anyway.
We don’t have a position on that moral/philosophical question? We’ll just do as we’re told?
Pretty much, yeh. It’s whatever is safest for the fans and what is achievable. There’s no point putting something up there that isn’t achievable.
If they turned around and said vaccine passports at sports games from September 20, that’s a logistical issue for all Championship clubs?
Yes. I’m pretty confident they’d u-turn on it though.
Training ground. Favourite topic. Where are we on this?
I’ll get yelled at for telling you this but I’ve kept it quiet long enough. The strategy has been keep it quiet, keep it low key, as opposed to other times when we’ve gone out and made a bid splash out of things. Not put pressure on people in public, do the work behind the scenes. We got the recommendation of planning approval from the council. It went to the GLA, the GLA have ticked it. It’s been passed up to the secretary of state, the secretary of state has now also ticked the box on it. Now it’s back with the council and all we need is a signature there and we’re ready to go.
It’s just the logistics of getting people together to make that happen, but please don’t people write into the council demanding to know when this will happen because Hounslow Council has been absolutely great to deal with and it wouldn’t serve any purpose to pressure them. We’ve got our planning permission. I’d expect to have it any minute or any day now.
We’ve paid for it, it’s a freehold not a leasehold, we have Ruben and the shareholders to thank for putting that in.
I’ve seen the plans for the buildings we want to put on there, do we have a timescale and budget?
First thing I want to get working on, and sooner rather than later, is the pitches. I’ll work out of portakabins there if we ever have to. The main thing is the pitches, getting decent pitches, and obviously you don’t get that in a couple of months. We need to get a growing season into it. This summer wasn’t the best growing season so we haven’t missed a whole lot but I would like to get in there very, very quickly and start on the pitches.
We’ve said previously we’d like to look at a bond to help finance the build and we’d still be looking to do that. Quite a few people have said they’d be very interested in that. I’ll get into trouble for this as well but the terms of the bond we’re looking at is 5% interest, plus 3% club activity, and a 25% kicker if we were to get promoted. It’s very similar to what we did at Burnley, and what Norwich did on their training ground. I like the inclusiveness of it, having people invested in what’s going on, and potentially getting a really good reward from it too. Even 5% interest beats anything I’m getting from a bank right now.
More complicated, Linford Christie Stadium, where are we on that?
That’s totally in the hands of the council right now. I completely understand why it’s getting pushed back - while it’s a priority for us, they have a lot of other priorities they are trying to sort out right now. We’re in their hands, we’re waiting for the next steps, the submission is in. I think the way the question on the survey was worded, tying ‘stadium or other major development’ together, if you’d asked ‘Would you like a stadium? Or another major development?’, stadium would have won hands down. We’ve given them a lot of ammunition, I hope they realise it was the stadium that was the driving force behind it.
It’s the council, it’s the trustees of the charity and how that works, the MOD are involved with a say… even once they decide what they want to do and put a proposal in, in normal times the planning process takes a long time and with the stakeholders in this one it’s really going to take a long time to get over the line.
Forgive me if this is a stupid question, have we put a bid in for that piece of land?
There’s no bid. We’ve talked to people at the council, they have to decide from a business point of view what they want and they’re talking to a lot of stakeholders including us. We’ve said what we think we’d be able to do, and it’s about what they want out of it. It’s not just the cash aspect because if it was about that they’d probably just build a big arena there, if you want cash plus community aspect I think we’re the only game in town.
Again, forgive me, is it realistic to think that a Labour run council would give a piece of public land to a Malaysian owned, multi-million pound football club?
They’re not going to give anything away, that’s for sure. We’re not asking them to give anything away. I did hear this before about foreign businessmen with suspect motives and it does worry me when I hear things like that, what difference does it make where they come from? But, anyway, I would like to think common sense could prevail and we could do what’s in the best interests of everybody. Right now the council still writes a cheque every month to keep the LCS running, and we’re losing money sitting here, so it can be a win win situation that I’d really like to see.
Their concern previously, it seemed to me, was if you take this piece of land we’re sitting on now and look down South Africa Road with the army barracks and the football pitches, that’s an amazing and very lucrative property development opportunity waiting to happen. You could be part of that, while at the same time getting a piece of public land over there…
The money you’d get for developing this piece of land that Loftus Road is on, would never cover the cost of a new stadium. It’s more expensive to build a new stadium than the money you’d make putting housing on here. So nobody is going to pocket anything from the sale of this place that’s for sure.
Let’s talk about the ground that we’re in then, because we both agree we’re going to be here for many a long year to come. I’ve got a million bullet points in front of me. Rail seating/safe standing. Talk to me.
I like the idea.
It’s a fucking great idea.
I think it would be really, really good. We’ve had more than 3,200 people respond to the survey on it, a very good response and we’re collating everything from that. The majority of people support rail seating, the million dollar question is what if we put it where you sit? That’s the part that I think we have to be really conscious of. What I’m not going to do is start chucking people out of their seats. It’s completely unfair on them. I often take an approach of ‘would I like that?’ I would not like that, so I’m not going to do that. Once we get the results collated it will be about talking to the people that sit in the areas that came up as the best areas for this. It won’t be a survey, I’ll be going out there and speaking to people and asking what they think.
What counts as a consensus on this? 70%? 90%?
I haven’t come up with a matrix on what I think is acceptable. The first thing we’ll do is publish the results so people can see what came back. Fans are generally pretty simple and supply me with the answer and I have no doubt it will be the same with that. It’s one thing to have the numbers, the comment section is usually the bit worth looking at, people have come back to us saying ‘what about this?’ ‘If you move this, could you do something over there?’ They’re good ideas. By talking to people we’ll come up with the right solution.
Benefits – cures your leg room problem, improves atmosphere, marketable tickets…
Most importantly it’s what people want to do. A substantial amount of the fanbase really want it. With the cost element of putting it in, seats won’t be any cheaper because it won’t gain anything in capacity, it’s literally where one seat used to be now one person stands. But, it gives people the opportunity to stand where they want to stand, and sit where they want to sit. It’s not so bad at a home game where you know the areas of the ground where people will stand up and people will sit down, the other things teams need to look at with this is away ends. There should be a standing section of away ends so if people want to stand they can in that section, and the people at the moment who can’t see if you stand in front of them and a big argument ensues can sit in the sitting section. It eliminates that problem.
So in an ideal world you’re looking at the School End for this as well?
First thing’s first let’s cater for our own fans, do what they want to do with this first. But in an ideal world I would also have a place in the away end, talk to the police, and put standing there. That way all the guys who want to stand can go there, all the people who don’t won’t, and you have less problems that way. Millwall this year was a good example of the stuff you don’t think about can actually help – the police this year had far fewer problems with Millwall, firstly because people were happy to be out watching football again, and secondly because we gave them a decent allocation and they didn’t feel like it was ‘here we go again, restrictive ticket practices, treated badly’.
Renaming stands. Where are we on that?
Can I ask you where you are on this?
Ok, you’re not going to go there. Where I am on this, when it was first suggested I thought ‘ok’, I looked at the cost, it’s maybe £3/4k to take signs down and put new ones up, no problem. The pushback I got was from other fans saying ‘listen Stan was a great player, loved watching him play, but he’s not the only great player to play for QPR, please remember that’. And that’s how it’s gone down. I will listen to what the fans have to say and there are a lot of fans out there telling me it’s not just about Stan, others are equally deserving. We got nowhere near the response to this survey as we did to the safe standing, most people have done what you just did to me and stayed away from it.
Why not just do it? It’s a nice thing to do. If we end up changing it a few years down the road to somebody else, or renaming other stands after other people, are we not in danger of kicking this issue down the road until Stan is sadly no longer with us?
Well that is another issue, the idea that Stan is going to be able to come down here and open it is not going to happen. Alzheimer’s, dementia, the way it works, the condition, I don’t see Stan coming back to the ground sadly.
As I said with the rail seating survey, the comment section is often the most interesting and where the best ideas are. The first thing I want to do is take the ideas that have come back and meet with the people who are actively driving the Stand for Stan and I want to talk to them first as a matter of courtesy about the results and some ideas that have come forward that I think are pretty damned good.
We renamed the ground after a great cause, and that seems to have gone really well, been a great success, but that seemed to be something that was done very quickly and just accepted. Why is this taking so much longer, and with more pushback?
There was a lot more consensus behind the other one, than there is here. A lot more consensus.
Is it staying as the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium?
Not forever. When Mark was here for the recent promotions around KIyan being included in the FIFA games that question got asked. For things like that, it’s been brilliant, but there is a limited capacity for this type of activity and there will need to be a discussion to be had. We’ll obviously continue to work with Mark but there is a discussion about it going forwards. The big thing it provided was name recognition, that’s been a success but how much more can we drive it? I’m not really sure. It’s a discussion to be had with Mark Prince, at some point it will revert back to Loftus Road and that will eventually happen.
When stuff like the Fifa event happen, that’s way more than you imagined would happen right?
Yeh I’m really, really pleased for Mark. I’m not necessarily sure it’s turned into what he hoped for financially for the charity, but from a recognition strategy it’s helped him tremendously.
Would it go back to Loftus Road? Another charity? Or does this open the door for a corporate sponsorship? We’re at the Select Car Leasing Stadium this weekend I notice…
I’m not aware of any companies who would do it. I said openly when we donated the naming rights if we could sell the naming rights for a decent fee we would do it, no doubt about it. I just don’t see it happening in the near future. I also think it’s very difficult with a stadium that already has a name. Imagine trying to change Old Trafford. If anybody could sell it, Liverpool at Anfield, Man Utd at Old Trafford, those guys could command a fortune in naming rights, but because it’s always been that it’s difficult to do whereas The Madejski Stadium just morphs into something else.
We put this out on the message board. At the risk of venturing into the water pressure in the ladies’ toilets territory again, there’s going to be a lot of little stuff here that adds up into a bigger picture. To begin with, as a football club at the moment, how difficult is staffing and logistics?
It’s a perfect storm right now between Brexit and Covid. I’ve had to concentrate mainly on getting stewards. I appreciate there are staffing issues on things like concessions and when you have to queue for a pint it’s frustrating, it makes you angry, and irritates you, but it doesn’t stop me putting on a match. If I don’t have enough stewards here the match doesn’t go ahead. We’ve had to focus all our resources on that. We’ve lost quite a few of our homegrown stewards and Euro 2020 played a part in that – quite a few stewards came back and said ‘I’m just not dealing with that kind of crap any more, I’ve had enough’. Others have said they don’t want to be in contact with crowds because of Covid-19. I want to be less reliant on agency, and get more homegrown stewards in, now we’ve had to go completely the other way and rely a lot more on agency staff and they’re having problems. With the NHS app people were working an event, getting pinged, and then couldn’t work the following week. One of the issues we had for Millwall is I would have preferred to have more people out front helping people through the new ticketing system and we couldn’t do it because we had to have a set number of safety stewards inside. It’s improved, but it’s still difficult. I was talking to Andy Evans at the senior management meeting this morning, he has vacancies at the trust and is running into headwinds, he’s spoken to other trusts having the same issues. It’s incredibly difficult and not just football clubs, Nando’s is closing branches because it can’t get staff. Whether it’s Covid, whether it’s Brexit, let’s face it people were never queueing up here to get a job stewarding or working in our food kiosks. It’s a combination of factors and not having people who want to do that kind of work.
I guess one of the points of Brexit was to drive up wages here from companies that can no longer rely on cheaper imported labour. Are the logistical problems we're having only going to be solved by paying higher wages to staff in those positions? Are we a London Living Wage employer currently?
Obviously our drive is to make sure all staff are on London living wage and my financial director’s audit indicated there were a few people who were not paid that and it is being rectified. Interestingly, pay wasn’t mentioned in reasons for leaving. The reasons (in order of largest number of responses) were: found full time or more regular work; concern over spread of Covid-19 in a crowded environment; no longer want to work in security or stewarding after Euro 2020; have relocated or do not wish to work in London.
How many of the problems people have had at the opening home games with tickets, turnstiles, food, beer, trying to spend money… are down to that?
I’m not going to shirk responsibility. Obviously the more people you can put on the ground, the more people you’ve got there helping people with turnstile issues, will help, but I think we got a bit complacent with that. We are well aware, it’s a kick up the arse, we need to do better. Again, how would I feel in that situation? If I bowl up to the stadium at 20 minutes to kick off I expect to get in for kick off. That’s perfectly reasonable. That didn’t happen for the first game and that’s poor. It took more than 20 minutes to get through those queues at the peak time. For anybody that got in after 15.00 we got in touch and credited them, if they weren’t season ticket holders we made sure they qualified for the cup game season ticket holder discount. We apologise, we got it completely wrong, there are reasons we got it completely wrong but it’s no excuse.
The last people came in against Millwall at 15.24. Completely unacceptable. There were more than 700 people who came in between 15.00 and 15.24. At Barnsley it was two minutes after kick off, and four minutes after for Coventry, though you’ll always have stragglers later than that. If you show up at 14.40 you should be guaranteed to get into the ground for kick off. 14.50, it’s more of a toss of a coin, there’s only so many people you can click through that turnstile at a time and if the bulk is coming at 14.50 and the new system takes two second longer per person then that has a knock on effect when you multiply it by a thousand people.
So I’m interested in what the benefits are from this new ticketing system. Even now, four home games in, my queue is still longer, it takes me longer, there’s a guy sits across from me has missed the first 20 minutes of every game because the turnstiles won’t have whatever he’s presenting it with. It’s still taking longer.
Well yes one of the things we corrected straight away is if you have a problem in Ellerslie Road we can’t be sending these people round to the Box Office. The mountain needs to go to Mohammed, we are getting people out who can sort these problems on the spot. That has smoothed it over from the first game.
The eventual benefit is it will take fewer people to man the turnstiles, from a cost perspective. From a Covid perspective, you have less touch points with people. Use your phone, use tickets printed at home, no turnstile operator, less contact. The third aspect is it should, once everybody is fully up to speed with it, eliminate the queue for tickets at the box office because you can just order that ticket right here, right now, get it straight on your phone, instantaneous, straight in. It should be a more efficient ticketing system. We’re progressing, week by week, it’s getting better, we still have a way to go and a lot of it is education on our part, and education on behalf of NCD the supplier. In the first week it was way too quick, you held your ticket up and if you held it too long it double clicked and came back with an error saying you were already in the ground. They’ve solved that with a traffic light system. The big beneficiary of that was Swansea, they had their first home game after us and I rang their CEO to say ‘look, here are the issues we had, this is what you need to do to correct it’.
You and I have sat here and looked at the database of QPR’s support so you know better than anybody this is an ageing support base, who maybe aren’t going to be as comfortable with this as a younger one. Was it really wise putting a digital ticketing system in, particularly after 18 months away, and saying ‘welcome back, deal with this new ticket system’?
For a lot of the older fans we’ve just given them a card again. That’s the easiest way to do it. I had some really, really nice emails from people, including one from a guy I’m going to have to have as my guest at a game because he said he was 75 and decided it was time to hang up his boots because he didn’t feel he could deal with all this, and the letter was written in such a way that I just couldn’t wait to help this guy. There are ways to complain, his was brilliant, he created such empathy.
The ticket office were proactive. The instruction was to go out to anybody in this demographic, anybody you know is going to struggle with this, in advance and say if you’re going to have a problem we’ll send you a card. I don’t want to diminish the problem but sometimes people complain about a problem they perceive for somebody else that’s actually already been addressed. If there are still people out there having problems with their phone, the technology, we will sort it out. We will get in contact. I’d like to think we’ve already taken care of it, I hope we were very proactive because we wanted to get out there and get in front of it. We have historically been quite good at that, at the start of lockdown lots of clubs had problems with streaming and we got out ahead of it encouraging people to try it, test it, in advance, and had next to no problems. We tried to do that here and it sounds from what you’re saying that we weren’t that successful so if there are people reading this, listening to this, having problems still then please get in contact with us.
Speaking of contact, because I went through this morning as well, this goes back to staffing because we’ve put extra phones into the ticket office to handle the demand but I don’t have enough people to staff those phones. People have been put in a queue for the box office phone system and then been cut off, so we’ve moved the cut off from 40 minutes to 60 minutes.
So the people who’ve been cut off… the phone system cuts you off automatically after 40 minutes?
It was 40, we’ve moved it back to 60.
How well do you think your ticket website functions for people?
What I think is irrelevant, how do you and the rest of the fans think it functions?
Ok, but don’t just tell me it’s crap, tell me why.
Couple of really specific things off the top of my head. Oxford in the cup, ticket website says the ground is essentially sold out, people can’t get seats together, actually it just hasn’t released the untaken season tickets, 14.00 day of the game loads of seats available but by then it’s too late for people.
That’s not the ticketing system. That was manually something we did. We were flooded with season ticket holders trying to secure their seat, if you’re a loyal fan and you’ve given us your money for that we need to take extra special care of them and we wanted to give them every possible opportunity to do that. In that instance that wasn’t the system, that was us making a call.
If I want to buy eight ticket for Bournemouth next week, as I did, I cannot do it on your website. It only sells me six, so I either do it twice over and you send me two envelopes and I pay two bookings fees and my friends don’t sit together, that’s not a website working for its customer.
That is fraud prevention. Let’s say somebody else orders tickets over the internet with your credit card, the liability is on us. If the card is used in person, the liability is on the person not the club. It’s a cap on fraudulent transactions. We haven’t had fans for a year and a half, I’d say the last time we had a fraudulent transaction was probably the Christmas before lockdown, but the limitation on us was £280. It’s just a limitation of liability. We can look at it. It’s about balancing the benefit to the customer over the cost to us if somebody puts £600 worth of tickets on a fraudulent card.
That doesn’t sound like a problem that happens too often, compared to the amount of times somebody needs more than six tickets.
We’ve not had any this year so far.
Could you at least commit to looking at it? For Reading and Bournemouth I have to come down here, your website won’t do it, as discussed the phone line has been a problem.
We will discuss it. If I say I’ll look at something I’ll look at it, I’ve never said I’ll look at something then brushed it under the table.
Away tickets are going on sale very late.
We’re not going to do that any more. I do admire the motives of the ticket office. There had been complaints about bookings fees, so the thought process was if you could put two games on sale together at the same time it would be one booking fee. The booking fee doesn’t help us with credit card charges but there is a transaction fee in our licence agreement with TicketMaster, there is postage, and the admin of processing the ticket, so we thought we could do two away games on one booking fee. The motives were good, but it’s not going to work, and it’s especially not going to work if you have a game with loyalty points involved. We’ll have to abandon that. But I would say I like my guys to be pushing the envelope and thinking of ways that might help fans, but we need to communicate that better. Don’t just do it and not tell them what you’re doing and why, you’re doing it for the right reasons but it’s pissing people off.
We saw the statement on the Reading tickets, is that a straight balls up?
Yeh, absolutely. We did the one thing you shouldn’t do which is try to drive the club forwards while looking in the rear view mirror. Circumstances are completely different now from two and three seasons ago. If there are problems with personnel I’ll explain but not use it as an excuse. With this one I’m not going to defend the indefensible. We messed up.
A point that was raised on our Twitter, that is really me arguing against my own self interest as somebody with a lot of loyalty points, but I got some blowback on there saying it’s actually good that Reading is open to newer, younger QPR fans who haven’t had the chance to accumulate loyalty points. Is this an opportunity to review that system, maybe do a 70/30 split between loyalty points and general sale as happens with England tickets, or run the loyalty points on a rolling three year basis?
The 70/30 split is how we do the fans forums and it is something we could look at because it is a valid point.
This is the thing with football. It’s the same with vaccine passport discussion from earlier, some will be for it, some will be against it. It’s coming up with a balance. If we were to do something like that it would make it harder for the ticket office at a time when we’re down on personnel, but our job is not to make it easier for employees it’s to make it better for the fans.
Ticketmaster, who provide our infrastructure and website, have a bad reputation, people like me don’t like them. Have we examined potential alternatives? Do you feel like they do a good job for what we pay? Are there penalty clauses in that deal?
There is not much in the way of competition out there. There are only a couple of providers. Brentford tried to move three years ago and it was a complete disaster. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know. They’re supposed to be implementing the system they use in the US, which is a lot better. It should be improving. I’ve found over the years whenever I say ‘how hard can it be?’ it’s usually something I have no idea about. From an IT point of view, how hard can it be to just have our own system? It’s pretty hard. It would be great to have it in house but it’s a non-starter. If Man Utd can’t do it, it’s a hell of a task.
Some of it is queue management. Some of it is brand new people, and not getting enough people in to serve. Catering is one of the things I felt we were making inroads in, it was getting better. We’d put in some craft ale around the ground, getting variety out there, trying different things. It doesn’t matter what you’re offering, if the service is bad it doesn’t matter if it’s Michelin starred food if people can’t get it what good does it do? It’s something we have to work on but the catering company like everybody else is rusty, trying to get people back on again, and a whole new set of parameters and retraining staff.
How would you describe the food and drink at QPR? Would you be in a rush to eat it?
From a quality standpoint, it’s public catering, it needs improving, we’ve been trying to make inroads on it for quite sometime and pre-Covid I felt we were making steady improvements.
In general, things have slipped. There’s no doubt about it. As I said at the beginning sometimes you need a kick up the arse and we’ve had that. We need to get to grips with all of this and in the senior management meeting this morning I made it clear we need to up the stakes again and not let our standards slip.
Not to be a dick about this, but would you personally pay £5.50 for a warm can of Carlsberg tipped into a plastic glass?
You’ve asked the wrong guy because compared to paying $14 for a Budweiser in a plastic glass back home I can’t believe it’s a complaint. The reality is it costs that because of the overheads of serving it in this stadium and bringing caterers in to do that. If you brought catering in house, they’d spend six days a week not doing anything, they’d work once a fortnight. They have to cover their costs. I’ll ride them, I won’t make excuses for them, but this is a nightmare stadium to operate. From a chiller standpoint, storage standpoint, serving standpoint, we don’t give them a lot of room. I won’t give them wiggle room, we have to push forwards, but I do recognise the limitations of the place.
Does a shit hot dog not take up the same space as a good one? A can of Carlsberg takes up as much space as… a nice beer?
Yeh we have to cater to more than a tin of Carlsberg at half time, we have to do that. Around the time of the Millwall game there was a beer shortage nationwide, we couldn’t get fast pour bottles, there was another logistical problem.
The underlying message I’m getting here is it’s difficult at the moment and things will improve.
From what you’re telling me it can’t get a lot worse.
No, far from it, I’m not sitting here saying we’re the worst in the world.
People do like to have a go, legitimately in a lot of cases and this is one of those where we will continue to push to do better. On the other hand I do know, because I’ve experienced it myself, a lot of our contractors are having difficulty getting people in. I still don’t have the stadium painted yet in the way I would normally do over the pre-season, because we cannot get the people in to do it. We sat down with the contractor and gave them an earful before Millwall because there was chipped cement on the steps the day before the game, we’re like ‘guys they’re going to throw this on the pitch we can’t have this’. It’s a constant push to try and get things done. They know, they’re very contrite, but they can’t get the staff. They’re trying to catch up, they’ve got some more people in, it’s loosening up slightly, but every industry we’re trying to deal with are having staff shortages.
I guess a bit of the problem is the communication. With the away tickets, when we’ve been asking when they go on sale, we’ve been getting really vague replies like “in due course” – why the big cloak and dagger mystery. Some people missed Reading tickets because they were at work, if they’d known that’s when they were going on sale they could have made an allowance.
I have no idea why that has been happening. That’s the stuff where it’s not personnel issues, it’s something we need to get on top of right away. There’s no reason not to communicate with people about what’s going on. If that’s happening I’ll have a word. Unless it’s just you, they close the door and giggle “I told him in due course”, like a Monty Python sketch.
I wouldn’t want to sit next to me at Reading either to be fair.
Seriously, I wasn’t aware of the cloak and dagger approach to things. We’ll take care of that.
Can you explain the benefits of pairing with Recast, and why we're sticking with them after a bad start?
Recast got off to a bad start, obviously, with the Cambridge game. They underestimated the demand, the platform didn't cope, it was only because we slid it onto another platform that people were able to see it at all. They admitted the mistake straight away, they didn't try to play 'hide the ball' with us, they were honest right from the outset which I really like in people and companies, and they've put measures in place to make sure it doesn't happen again. There was a problem with the U23 game last week which was nothing to do with them. A piece of equipment we've used without problem for the last three years failed on us - that was on us, not Recast. The returns we're seeing, even from the two U23 games we've done so far, compared to when we hosted them on the official website, are significant. Not buying a new player significant, but certainly could pay for a development player for instance.
Something else I'd like to get out ahead of now is the B Team games. By their very nature the fixture list is going to be quite ad-hoc, subject to short notice re-arrangements, cancellations, or scheduling of games. If, for instance, we pick up some injuries in an U23 game, we might have to bump a B Team game. We also know already that the wifi situation at Wealdstone is not very good. We're examining ways around that, investing in equipment which will allow us to broadcast games regardless of the quality of the host wifi, but people may have to bear with us on B Team games initially.
Big ticket items
A lot of talk about independent regulation of football. I’m not sure why you’d be in a rush to get this particular government more involved in anything but on the back of the Super League scandal this is trendy at the moment. Thoughts.
I do not think football will change unless it is pushed. I hear what you say about this government, but somebody needs to do something to get this house in order. I sat there in the first league meeting we had post lockdown and said: ‘This is the opportunity now. Every dark cloud comes with a silver lining. This is the chance to reinvent ourselves.’ What happened? Here we are now. It’s like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas, it’ll never happen. I have many issues with the corporate governance in football. I think it’s absurd that the EFL board has independent directors, fine, but then three directors from the Championship, two from League One and one from League Two. It’s the definition of conflicted interest. The second you walk into the boardroom you’re conflicted. It’s a nonsense. I completely disagree with it. But who the hell will vote to change it? They love doing it. So the only way you’ll change it is government, or somebody, coming in saying you have to change.
I’m really interested you’ve said that. I honestly thought you would go the other way and say ‘QPR are owned by Tune, if Tune want to do this with QPR, consult with fans or not, that’s their business in a capitalist system’.
As an American I’m very much less government is best government, I don’t like government interference. But in this particular instance, I don’t know how you get the change football needs unless you force it into change. In terms of the club itself and how it’s run it’s about the supporters. It says 1882 up there, it’s been around a long time, it’s not about me, Ruben, Tony, because in 20 years it will be different guys sitting here talking to somebody else running a website. The club will go on. I look at shareholders and CEOs as people who should act as trustees, because this is not a normal business. I don’t want to make a profit here, I want it to wash its face and be sustainable without external funding so that in 2082 it’s still here celebrating 200 years of football club.
Anybody within football with that philosophy will listen to their fans. That doesn’t necessarily mean you listen to what social media says, because it might be completely out of tune with the fanbase as a whole, and one thing that came back in the stand renaming responses was ‘don’t think a few people on social media speak for everybody because they don’t’. Anybody who owns a football club needs to have a supporters’ consultation committee, like the one we have here, and the important thing with that is trust and having confidence in the people who are there. Whether by luck or design - we’ve had one incident with a leak of the FFP settlement statement where it was pretty obvious who’d done that as a new person in the room - but I am confident I can throw anything out to that room and say ‘this is what’s going on, this is what I think, what do you think’ and they tell me straight. It’s good to get feedback from average fans, not just keyboard warriors, just people who don’t do websites, they just want to come and see the team on Saturday.
Does that stretch as far as fan representation on the board?
For me, it’s not about who you are, it’s about what skillset you bring? Boards aren’t always in tune with what the fans think, especially if they’re not out there among them every day, or they’re relying on social media. I’m not on the board, I’m CEO I report to the board. I feedback what people say to me, because I’ve been out and spoken to people about it.
You have people who sit on boards that bring specific skillsets, like media, legal, whatever it may be. I saw a presentation by an executive once, he came out to the theme tune from Casualty, he said: ‘I love Casualty, I watch every episode, I know all the terms, I know what all the tools do, actually I think I’m going to get a job as a doctor. Drawback, I’ve killed three people.’ This is what it’s like in football. I’m exactly the same with the NFL. I sit there, ‘what the hell does John Harbaugh know, should do this, should do that’, not even Monday morning quarterback, it’s Sunday afternoon when I’m doing it. Could a fan be on the board? Could be very effective. But you can’t just be on the board because you’re a fan. What are you bringing? What skillset? Watching football, having a few pints, saying ‘we should be doing this and that’, and having accountability and the relevant skillset to contribute to that, are different things.
Is there not something to be said, hypothetically, for a supporters trust with a democratically elected leadership, to be able to put forward one supporter each year, again probably through an election, to sit in on board meetings for the sake of transparency and occasional input?
Well… you’ve got the trust. You’ve got the LSA. This is the other thing. How is this person selected? What criteria is it based on? Is it because they’re most popular? Buys the most drinks? Look at the mess at Barcelona and Real Madrid, a financial mess they’ve worked themselves into because people were elected on promises.
The place for board seats for qualified fans would be best served on the Football League Board to oversee the game as a whole. I think that is far more impactful at that level in ensuring the entire game is run responsibly and sustainably and ensure all clubs are doing it, not just individual clubs who even if it were mandated that a fan has to be on the board would easily find ways of getting around it.
The most important thing is to make sure the voice of the fan is heard. We have to know what they’re actually saying. That’s the most important thing to get to the board and that’s my responsibility to make sure that happens.
If you enjoy LoftforWords, please consider supporting the site through a subscription to our Patreon or tip us via PayPal. Patreon also gives you the ability to listen to these interviews as audio podcasts.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs 31 bloggers
When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
When Saturday Comes #6 by wessex_exile
After over a month of absence, the U’s finally make a welcome return to the JobServe for a home league fixture. Sutton seem to have quickly got over their Covid-19/ injury crisis/ international call-up woes, fielding a team the following Tuesday that was strong enough to push Cardiff City hard in a narrow 3-2 defeat to the Championship side. But enough of that, I haven’t seen the outcome of the EFL investigation, but I don’t doubt the decision has either already been or will be rubber-stamped. Gamesmanship – maybe, but I hope at least the EFL are now a bit more alert to the fact that some might think they can treat them like chumps when it suits their purpose? Still – it’s great to be back home isn’t it!
When Saturday Comes #5 by wessex_exile
“Well, I can tell u my son was stood nearer the back of the Holker Street end and although he couldn't see who was responsible, he was disgusted and was very clear in telling me that the 'N' word was used by someone stood directly behind the goal nearer the front. I'm sick of hearing this, no one but the player being abused heard anything so maybe he was mistaken crap. This shite still exists despite everything that the authorities try to do because unfortunately there are still racists in every, city, town, village and hamlet in this country. [SwearFilter] scum of the earth.”
When Saturday Comes #4 by wessex_exile
I start with an apology for the no-show last weekend, but for all the right reasons. My nephew and his fiancé finally managed to tie the knot on Friday, at the fifth time of asking (previous four attempts falling foul of covid restrictions unfortunately). It was a fantastic afternoon and evening over in Essex, but meant it just wasn’t possible to get a blog produced. A significant proportion of the wedding party were U’s supporters, including the groom, but any thought of live-streaming the Rochdale game at the evening celebration might have resulted in the fastest divorce on record, so we contented ourselves with surreptitious glances at the BBC Sports updates – and what an own goal it was! Different circumstances, but I was (painfully) reminded of Aidan and Kevin’s howler at Blackburn – golden rule, never, ever pass the ball directly towards your own goal.
When Saturday Comes #3 by wessex_exile
The goalless U’s have eventually got that monkey off their backs, with the Frank and Freddie show combining to win a somewhat dubious penalty, in the 5th minute of injury time, allowing Freddie to get his new goal account at the U’s off and running (all in all he now has 37 goals, five of them penalties). It was tight though, and on another day the goalkeeper would have got a hand to it, but they all count, whether it’s a 25 yard peach or one off the arse. Everyone has rightly said that without doubt Mansfield were the best side we’ve faced so far – I’ll go so far as to say they’ll probably be one of the best sides we face all season. Though it wasn’t comfortable viewing at the time, some of their passing and movement, particularly on the break, was breath-taking at times. But enough of the love-in, however good they were, the U’s stood up to them, kept them out for the most part, and eventually got the point we deserved.
Queens Park Rangers Polls
[ Vote here ]