There was a survey done recently, and I think about 10% of your current average fan base responded, and 90% of them said the reason they were unhappy with the club at the moment was down to the way the club was being run by its board of directors. How conscious are the people running the club of that situation and the barrier they may be creating to people wanting to come and enjoy the club?
NC – I saw a bit on social media about that. Part of what we do is keep an eye on what’s going on, we don’t live in a bubble, we’ve got to live in the real world. I think it’s been acknowledged before that for some supporters, however many that may be – and one is too many in my eyes – that it is an issue. It’s not something I can control or that the people who work at the club day-to-day can control. What we can do is try and build a club that is sustainable, successful, and that is also something we can be proud of. That’s what we’re all focused on because we want as many fans as possible to come and support the club. I know they all love their club, even if they’re disgruntled in some way. They don’t want to see us struggling, they want to see us being successful. The more people who support the club the more scope we have to improve it, because money counts. If we don’t have that we risk heading into a spiral, and we want to create a virtuous circle. All we can do is keep doing the things that make the club better. We’re doing that, and it’s where we make some difficult choices, but that’s because we’re driven by making things improve here at the club. What happens with the other stuff – I think in time, if you’re a good club, a sustainable club, you have more chance of getting a change in your ownership because you start to attract people who are saying that they want to be part of it, rather than people who see it as an opportunity because the club is in a bit of trouble.
I feel you’ve said a lot of this before. It’s good words but it’s not actual targeted and direct things to deal with things like falling gates, falling revenue streams and people who are no longer coming to watch Carlisle United? If we’re talking about more debt to help with that then surely that can’t be good or healthy?
NC – we’re trying to keep control of the debt so that it doesn’t become a mountain. Even with the way we’ve changed the budgets now, if we don’t have the support externally to go with the fan support then while we think we’ve had to cut our cloth to get to where we are now, the alternative would be bleak. We have to be realistic about things. It’s not just a matter of you saying you’ve heard it all before. In reality you’ve heard it all before because that’s what we believe and that’s what we’re trying to do. If you look at the last seven days, for example, it can be a case that sometimes the negative stuff can take over. I’m not saying we’re perfect, because we do make mistakes, but the good work we’re doing can be drowned. So, in the last 7 days we’ve had a Junior Blues party where over 160 young fans came to meet the players and had a great time. They then come with their parents to matches and they are our fans of the future. We’ve worked with Jigsaw Hospice to take a child and their family to London for the trip of a lifetime. We had over 100 children in our Community Stand and at the same time we had over 100 people here as part of our play on the pitch scheme. We’ve changed things in the Blues Store to make it easier for fans to shop, and we’ve launched an independent Supporter Liaison Officer, who is not a part of the club, and who has been recruited by CUSG. He’s been given a job spec by the groups and they all think that will improve relations between the fans and the club. We held a foodbank collection with CUOSC, which was a huge success, and we’ve entered into a support relationship with Hospice at Home to help them to collect Christmas trees so they can raise funds to help them and their needs. We had a Business Club meeting on Saturday morning [before the Colchester game] with over 25 businesses, where Billy Rafferty was guest speaker, and we had our Business Club Christmas event that same evening. All of these things have happened in just a seven-day period. They’re all great things which stand the club in good stead and it’s what a community club should be about. It’s also worth pointing out that, as we sit now, compared to last season after 22 games we’re two places better off in the league, we have more points, we’re closer to the play-offs than we were, and that’s with us having dropped points we feel we should have picked up. Against the top 10 last season we won one out of 20 games. This season against the current top 10 we’ve already won four. That shows we’re competing with the best in the league. We’re third best on away form, but on the other side we’re seventeenth best at home. Obviously home is the bread and butter because that’s what the fans see most. There are a lot of good things to talk about, but we also know there are other challenges. I just thought it was important to talk about the fact that the good things can get buried and overwhelmed. We know we aren’t perfect, nobody is hiding from that, but we are doing a lot to try to make the club better every single day.
JM – as chair of the Carlisle United Community Sports Trust I just wanted to mention that throughout the year John Halpin has community activities going on with schools, clubs and groups that cover all ages and abilities. The CST has a great bunch of staff and the services provided are very popular.
Anything else positive for the supporters?
DH – we’ve been in negotiations with a new kit supplier and we’ll be delighted to announce the detail of that very shortly. It’s going to be very exciting for everyone, we feel. We’ve got an excellent financial deal, a good quality of kit and I think it’s something the fans will enjoy. We’ve asked the fans for their feedback and the comments we received were fantastic. It certainly gave us some ideas and I can say categorically that it’s the supporters who have basically picked the kit for next season. We thank them for that and we want to include them in as much as possible. The delivery will be in time, this year, and we’ll have a launch of it when it’s the right time to do that, and I think the fans will really buy into it.
iFollow – does the club have any figures that help form conclusions as to whether it’s a good thing which is worth doing and will benefit the club?
NC – we’ve got data from all of the games that we’ve streamed as to how many fans subscribed. It may be that some pooled their resources and watched it together. We know broadly where our subscriber numbers are compared to the rest of the division. We’ve got data on where they subscribed from in terms of geography. It’s pretty rough and ready, because I don’t think these things are ever 100% accurate, but it gives you a flavour as to whether the subscribers were local to Carlisle, in wider Cumbria or further afield. The conclusions I’ve drawn from that are that it was never going to be possible to draw full conclusions on the impact from four or five games. For anyone to say they were going to make a decision based on four or five games, I thought that was flawed before we started. What you can say is what has actually happened, and what we’ve found is that more than half of the people who subscribed have been over 50 miles away, and that isn’t the case for a lot of other clubs. We’ve averaged about 250 people subscribing. We’ve got quite a high number who are a long way away, which ties into our London Branch, so we know that works for us. We’re near the top end of the division in terms of the actual number of people who subscribe and use the service. A surprisingly high number subscribed to the Checkatrade games, and whilst they may want to show their disgruntlement at the competition itself, they remain very interested in Carlisle United, and they want to support their team even if they don’t want to be here to support the competition. From our point of view, we don’t think it will be detrimental to this club on midweek games. Given our geography, we actually think on midweek games it could be positive for us. We’re supportive of that, but we’re not supportive of streaming on a Saturday or Bank Holidays, because they’re big games. If we streamed Oldham on Boxing Day, you might end up with people from Oldham or even Carlisle watching the game at home rather than coming, so that doesn’t work. My view on what will happen is that there will be no Saturday streaming in international breaks in League Two, I don’t think any club wants that, or Bank Holiday streaming, but there is support for midweek streaming. Displaced games, which could come around if we play someone who is still in the FA Cup or through a postponement, will be looked at case by case.
Part four of the press conference transcript will be on the official website on Sunday morning.