The Blackpool Files - Communication
Nearing the half hour mark in the meeting, the topic of conversation moved onto communication between the club and the fans, a sore spot for most supporters.
In attendance, and representing VitalFootball were 'Crossy', who was designated spokesperson, coupled with 'TorontoPool' (TP) as co-editor of the site. Further co-editors Jerry, 'Sandgroanun' were also in attendance with forum members 'SeasideEssexXile' (SEX), 'Layton_Seasider', 'BisphamTangerine', 'Platos', 'SeasiderTony' (ST) and 'SirHarryThompson', with Nige, Sam and Linda as friends and family of predominant users of the website also sitting in on the meeting.
SeasiderTony started it off by asking: 'many fans perceive there is a lack of communication from the club. Recently you stated you wouldn't look at or post on any internet messageboards. The Gazette has stated that it unsuccessfully requested an interview 3 times this season, the official site is out of date regarding ticket info and the match day programme has spelling and punctuation mistakes. This causes ill-feeling and gives the impression club does not care. How do you feel about this, what do you propose to do to improve these matters?'
Karl Oyston then reported that he didn`t like a phrase that was mentioned in the above, and after his point of view, ST was quick to say: 'Well, this is the lack of communication see, we have communication with the fans, you don't. We know what they're saying to us, everybody knows what's being said about the place we're just communicating it which we're asking you to do...'
Before KO was given a chance to answer, (talk about bombardment!) SirHarryThompson asked: 'Can I just clear up Karl, have you refused to give them (the Gazette) a meeting?' with the reply being a standard 'I'll give an interview for the Gazette when there's something worth saying.' Yes then!
Both KO and Matt Williams then said their piece about The Gazette, which I don't feel is appropriate to publish.
Moving swiftly on from The Gazette, SeasiderTony stated that 'see, there's a lot of myths and untruths surround the club and it all emits from you. If you just come out, say once a week...' to which KO retorted that ST was talking 'rubbish' and that "every football club in the country is no different to this one.'
ST then mentioned that perhaps the club should put a stop to the myths and untruths, to which KO replied with 'You'll never put a stop to them! In football there's always diversity looking in, and I've always said this, you can roughly split supporters into 3 lots. One lot will think one thing, one lot will think another and one, the middle lot, couldn't care less either way. There's always diversity, that's the beauty of the game, that's the attraction of the game...'
In reply to KO's opinion, ST quite rightly pointed out that 'until this evening (Saturday), I didn't have a clue about the South stand, what was happening with it. Now I do know, nothing's happening with it so that's the end of that as far as I can see so that's one sorted...'
KO then asked why ST believed that he should give an interview with The Gazette to say nothing is happening, stating (rightly!) that he 'would get absolutely massacred.'
SeasideEssexXile then put in his two penneth, as he said: 'I think the problem would be there's a lot of talk attributed to yourself and there's no official statement, I appreciate Matt has posted previously, I understand that you personally may have been on. My idea would be if you posted, everyone says you're 'OystonsJockStrap', 'HarryPotter37, 40, 39', I think you get older (laughter) every season by 20 years! I think if you personally went on, I mean I could ask you questions and relay exactly, personal questions that I would know exactly who you are on the internet and you would know exactly who I am 'cause of my dad. However my question to you would be, if the club came up with something official that says 'this is fact, blah blah blah', once per week - Peter Orr used to do it in the programme, he talked about the rubbish, I mean watching the rubbish flowing 'round the ground today, and Peter Orr said 'I'm going to stop that' and he went Stewards on at half time and the stewards sorted it out. Now Peter Orr put the piece in the programme, don't want to talk about personalities, but it was something that people knew exactly what was happening. I think for 6,500/7,000 people who come here every week were unsure 'cause the Gazette do quite....that's there job, their job is to sell papers, they'll come and attribute anything to yourself, Mr. Chairman, same as any messageboard will on the internet 'cause it's public domain. Anything I say on the internet could be related to my job or anything else, I think what people are looking for is, this is Blackpool Football Club, this is me, MRW1, this is what's happening this week. Bang, nothing's happening with the south-west stand, everyone will take that as written...' to which KO mentioned that 'well with the greatest of respects, I think the messageboards are very, very...' but sadly SEX interrupted him so we`ll never know what he thinks!!
SeasideEssexXile; No, but with the greatest of respects, how many people read the Gazette every week, how many people buy a programme every week? People use the internet now as Blackpool Football Club, they will use that as the most accessible media access to us, and say 'would it be worth looking on the internet and the official site?' - Matt, I have no doubt that you're the poor bloke who's trying to run the programme, the club and the internet...
SEX also raised the question about the official site, what it should be carrying for fans etc, to which Matt Williams stated that 'It's difficult, you say it's so far outdated yet we've got a programme that is probably - and I take your point on some of the spelling and punctuation in there - but you show me a better programme in The Championship. There isn't one. To produce the size of programme we do every week and it's fresh and it's things that you, 9 times out of 10 you haven't read or listened to before, I'll accept there's one or two interviews, but even in today's (QPR) programme...that brings in massive revenue that programme now, in terms of number of copies...whereas the website doesn't so it's about prioritising but I'll take your point...'
SEX said that he felt fans appreciate ''what format do you like the programme in?' i.e. The front page and you asked for the fan's opinion and took the fan's opinion on that and I think that's one of the things where...' to which MW responded with: 'It would be nice to have...you go to other clubs and even like....we're using Championship clubs, we can't afford the resources at every other club... I interviewed University Graduates with a journalistic/PR background and their immediate salary required is more than I am on!'
KO then stepped in and spoke, saying: 'Matt, just on that point...I've always considered my remit to be to generate as much money as I can and getting it across to the manager. Always. Ever since I've been here, that's...and if we can't do other things that was probably could or should do better, that's fine I'll live with that but that's always been first priority.'
As a response to the above, both 'Sam and SEX' (sounds like an ITV show at nine o'clock on a Wednesday night!) criticised the club shop with SEX saying 'The club shop, I would ask that Matt - I know you did a survey a couple of years ago what people would like to buy in the club shop - I bought today for the first time in 2 and a half years, a club tie. Because I wanted to wear...I wear a tie for work. The club shop is actually, you can look at FC United as a website and look on their club shop it puts us to shame...'
Matt Williams responded as he said: 'well that's one of the things we are addressing, as you know we have these management meetings, one of the things we're getting quotes on now is a different shop solution 'cause at the moment, I'll admit that the online club shop is poor...'
As SEX was about to talk about the club shop, MW stopped him and reported: 'let me just give you some background on what happens with the change of shirt supplier which we did, we were in talks with Carlotti last January/February time...obviously then, you don't know what division you are going to be in the following year, and with all the kit manufacturers you have got to put in a 2-season order, which is what we did with Carlotti. Now at the time, everyone around this table wouldn't have thought we'd have been promoted, I think it would've been nice to be in the playoffs or we've got an outside chance, we had to try and judge it and you've got to give a guarantee...it's almost like a pre-let! You're guaranteeing you're going to sell so many shirts, which is what we did.
We have already had our entire 2-season delivery which has sold out of. Carlotti to their credit are working as hard as they can to get more stock in, but, it's all done out in the Far East, we're trying to get more stock in. There has been a case where some had to be made for the team recently in Burnley of all places recently!'
The club have also told us following the meeting, they have taken delivery of several new lines from Carlotti and they have been told that more replica shirts will be arriving in the next week or so.
KO then had his say: 'just on the flip-side of that, we're not going to defend that position because technology and the development of technology and websites, shops and just generally I think we're pretty poor, but again there's a pretty massive cost to implement the technology and there's some things that we possibly should do, we don't do for the reasons that we need to...that we prioritise with the manager. But I think technology's one we have to look at. When I - again, going back to when I first took over - and I forget who the kit suppliers were...' TorontoPool said 'lotto' and KO continued… 'Lotto, yeah, within a couple of months I worked out that you don't over-order your stock because we've got a thousand goalkeeper tops that we had to knock out for next to sod all...'
Conversation which ensued:
SeasideEssexXile; I wouldn't suggest kits or anything like that, my view would be that - with anything from the club shop - if you ask the fans what they would like to buy, people...I mean the car kits have been a standing joke with Vital for years, car kits...
...with all greatest respect, got in today, was buying a tie and I thought I'd buy a car kit as well, looked at the car kits it's plastic and it's thin, it's not a kit at all, it's a paper laminated thing...
Sam (interrupting); It's a cut-out...
SeasideEssexXile; It's a laminated paper cut-out, not like they used to have...
Karl (interrupting); Those plastic things?
SeasideEssexXile (interrupting); Yeah, they're £4...I'm sorry, no. Now, again, with the greatest of respects, people buy them to have them in their cars. If you ask fans what they want to buy, they'll say car kits, they're proud to say they're Blackpool fans. They want to display the fact they're Blackpool fans. When they go up and down the motorway as I do everyday from Preston, I want everyone to know I'm a Blackpool fan. If I see a Knobbers car, with a car kit in front of it, I'll go and overtake them and pull up in front of them...(laughter)...This is something I do every day...so they see my scarf. But Matt, it's poor quality and you're missing a steal, people will spend money in that shop and they can't.
Karl Oyston said he took the point and has since spoken to the Commercial director to address the areas raised in the meeting.
SEX then made a point about the 'Pool's merchandising in the playoffs, but this point was evaded, with personal issues getting in the way of the point in hand.
Sandgroanun made his point again, saying: 'can I just ask you one question specific about communication 'cause that was the point we originally started on. You, yourself, I remember saying only too well when you took over from your mum, that you felt that PR at the club was poor and that you were going to improve it. Do you believe now, having been Chairman for what, 8/9 years, it is better now than it was before you took over?' which I felt was right to the point.
KO responded in an honest manner, explaining that 'I think we're going through a sort of stage at the moment that I think has probably caught us all, staff-wise, by surprise. I'm not sure, it's definitely caught me by surprise...and it's the second time it's happened since I've been here, where we all think, up to a point, everything's going pretty well and we're all moving on and making progress and all of a sudden there's this mass tail-spin of negativity. It happened when we moved into the ground, which we all thought was a pretty positive thing and all of a sudden everyone's expectations are up and everyone feels a bit depressed. It's the same after promotion, we all just thought great, we've made it, lets move on from here. All of a sudden there's this massive, I don't know, I don't know what it is...'
BisphamTangerine asked KO if he felt it was more frustration rather than negativity, to which KO replied with: 'I don't know if it's frustration or not, one or two of my older friends said it was exactly the same after the war. Everyone got back and thought life was going to be better and perfect and wonderful and it wasn't, so there was...it was the same sort of thing.'
Platos said that it was to be expected, after moving up a league, with KO saying that he hadn`t expected it at all.
The communication topic slightly digressed as Platos said that fans had expected the club to move up a league as well as the team, to which KO asked 'why?' but before Platos was giving a chance to answer, KO said: 'Colchester didn't. When you look at our behind the scenes staff and what we're doing commercially, they run a really, really tight ship. As do, a lot of other clubs, everyone has this attitude that we should we get this big club mentality that some clubs have and before you know it you've got a massive drain on your player budget and let's not forget here what our average gates are. I know that's constrained somewhat by the lack of capacity, but even if we had the 3,500 extra seats, it wouldn't necessarily put the attendances up massively.'
SEX then asked: 'say that...over a season it'd average a thousand wouldn't it?' to which KO replied: 'Well lets not pick a figure... we're still not up to the 20+ thousands that other clubs get in this division, they've got massive, massive turnovers, some of these other clubs, so we're always going to be punching above our weight and in order to continue to punch above our weight, we've got to make sure that one side of the club is run on a very very lean basis in order to channel as much money across into the playing side as we possibly can. That means 2 things; 1, we don't do things that we probably could or should and then the other one is that we don't get ourselves in debt so we're making the repayments late, say for instance I think Coventry is paying something like £3million in debt repayments per year...we're not going to get into that position. £3million is more than our players' wage budget or very similar to it, you can soon end up in a mess and the problem is with getting yourselves in a mess is that it takes you a long, long time and lots and lots of years to get out of it. So I hear what you say, but we haven't got this magic wand, we are sort of making the best of what we've got and we do consider these decisions, like Matt said, we've got fortnightly management meetings where all the senior management sit around and we go through a lot of these points and the manager's sort of have wish-lists of what they want to do to make things better, but at the end of it all, we're always going to be constrained by that finance.'
That finished the topic of conversation surrounding communication (and the slight digression towards the end!) at 46 minutes gone in the meeting.