In part four of our coverage of last week’s club director press conference, catering and marketing issues are discussed.
How frustrating is it that there have been quite significant match day issues recently, given that professional caterers have been appointed? Fans have an expectation that the level of service should be better?
PK – I understand those frustrations, but there are specific difficulties to operating here at Brunton Park. It’s a decent sized stadium and there are a lot of catering outlets. There are some challenging facilities, with it being an old stadium, which adds to the issues to be resolved. The Pioneer Stand concourse is good but, if you look at the Warwick, the facilities aren’t as good. As a caterer, working with that takes a bit of adjusting to and you can hit problems you wouldn’t otherwise expect when it becomes a busier game. I think staffing is always an issue, because we’re asking staff to come in on a temporary basis – effectively one match every two weeks, for five hours – so that in itself is a challenge. We’re trying to work through the issue of having to decant drinks from bottles into plastic containers, which slows down service, particularly when it’s a busier game. The local Safety Advisory Group put that in place and it is a consideration when you have a higher volume of people needing to be served. We’ve brought in professional caterers, which we’re pleased about, and we think that was the right decision to make. The good thing is that the performance over the last few games has really kicked on and improved.
You were seen around the club at the Crewe and Sheffield Wednesday games in relation to the recent catering issues and the match day experience at Brunton Park, so how important do you feel it was to be visible and able to talk to fans about the issues?
PK – The good thing is that all of the staff at the club are there on a match day to speak to fans. We’ve stepped that up a little bit in certain areas, with regards to some of the issues we saw on Boxing Day. We’re trying to make sure that things happen and we’re keeping an eye on how things operate. It is important to see that first hand and, Boxing Day aside, the general feedback we’ve had since the start of the season has been positive. There were some teething issues, and we then obviously had the Accrington game, so we’ve put measures in place and changed a few processes, alongside our caterers, to resolve some of the problems we encountered. There are still things that all parties want to improve and achieve, and meetings are held weekly to continue that process. The match day experience is certainly a priority for everybody at the club and, having been through a detailed tender process ahead of this season, we feel the caterers we’ve gone with are the right choice. We’ve held our hands up that we do have things to iron out, but we are putting measures in place to improve it.
What plans have you got on the marketing side of your role? There’s been a question mark over whether the club actually pushes itself out enough into the city centre and Cumbria as a whole? People do comment that sometimes they don’t even know that a game is on unless you’re a fan?
PK – We take some of that on board and we’ve tried to do some of things that have been suggested in recent weeks. It isn’t for lack of thinking about these things, or a lack of trying different options, but sometimes they don’t work, and we have to learn from that. We’ve struck a partnership with CN Group where we have some advertising in the evening paper and through their website. That goes into the West Cumbrian papers as well, so we have that on an ongoing basis. The effect of that from a fan point of view is open for discussion. We started a relationship with Wates Construction in West Cumbria and they are working alongside our Community Sports Trust to help us to deliver community programmes with primary and secondary schools in that area of the county. That’s not something that fans will see every day, but it’s a huge positive that we’re able to take our message out to that region. These kinds of things are going on in the background all the time. Yes, we’d like to do more, and if we had a significant marketing budget we could buy adverts and poster spaces in the centre of town, but it isn’t always an option for us. We’ve got to pick our battles on that. We put a bit of investment into our season ticket campaign and we saw some very positive results from that, for example.
One criticism from some fans is that they don’t hear quite enough from you as an individual. They don’t think you’re out there enough at all, so how would you respond to that?
PK – I think there’s a discussion to be had. Do people really want to hear from me or do they want to hear from Danny Grainger and Keith Curle? They’re the ones they want to hear asking them to come to the match on Saturday. If we have a season ticket campaign, or a significant event, they want to hear the football staff talk about it, and I think that’s the kind of discussion we have internally to get some of those messages out there that way. I’m not one to think that I want to be the centre of attention or have the limelight. I’m more than happy to speak to the press to back those messages up, or to discuss any issues to cover what we’re doing or, of course, what we aren’t doing well enough in people’s opinion.
NC – We’ve always formed the view that the face of the club should be the football side, and maybe we got that balance wrong.
PK – For me, when we’re trying to push initiatives and events I think the fans do want to hear about it from the people they see on the pitch. That’s the view we take, but if it’s more strategic stuff, with regards to future plans and initiatives, we’re more than happy to come out and speak about that.
There are some fans who would like to hear more from the owners, who we don’t hear a great deal from, apart from maybe the chairman’s programme notes, so do you think there’s a case for them to be more visible and out there?
NC – I’m confident that everything I say, and the information I put out, is consistent with their views and how they think. It may not be their voice but it’s their message just as much as it’s mine. I wouldn’t deliver it if I didn’t believe it. I do get the point that on occasion the supporters want to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and I think that’s right. It is always a balance and, in the past, when the shareholders have had meetings, they haven’t always gone as planned. They’re keen that they don’t repeat that kind of thing, so it is a balance, but I do get that. The relationship we’ve been building with CUOSC, and their involvement in the club, is certainly miles better than it was when I walked through the door. They can answer for themselves on how they think it compares with how it’s been in the past. That voice is always there but it’s very much that the other shareholders delegate all the other stuff to us.
PK – We saw a step in that direction when we had the forum on Radio Cumbria where John [Nixon], Nigel and Jim Mitchell were involved.
Are there any plans for another forum at any time?
NC – Yes, there will be. I talked with James [Phillips] on the radio about the need for us to do more in the New Year. A forum is very much part of that. I think the best timing would be after the transfer window because we’ll know where we are in the cup, we’ll have completed the window, and some of the issues already raised here will have moved on.