Chief executive Nigel Clibbens brings us the final part of his December update.
There has been considerable interest in the flood issues faced by Brunton Park, and staff have done a number of interviews highlighting the risks posed to CUFC.
There is another feature coming up on BBC TV connected with the Shrewsbury FA cup tie.
Click HERE for a previous interview on this subject.
While spending priorities in 21/22 remain heavily weighted towards on-the-field activities and the football department, we are making improvements in the ground, although of course they are modest given the scale of the issues:
- Further painting of West stand areas is ongoing – B, C and D stand vomitories are now painted along with tidying and painting of B stand gents toilets, the top corridor and Sporting Inn. It is a long process given the nature of the stand.
- Full Neil Centre lights replacement completed last week with new LEDs in place. This took longer than expected due to availability of the contractor and supplies.
- A lot of minor damage suffered in Storm Arwen now to be repaired.
- The new fan mural was installed on the west side. It will be refitted asap after Arwen– it couldn’t be done straight away on Saturday as the fittings were lost in the storm. We tried.
- Additional new fleece cover is now available for winter Warwick Road End pitch protection, aimed at improving frost resistance. The effectiveness will only be proven when it is called upon.
- Vinyl wraps for the completion of Murphy’s Bar have been completed. Final dedication to be arranged.
- New Sunset Suite vinyl wrap installed - dedicated to Jimmy Glass.
- New memorabilia has been installed by CUSG and more is to follow.
Requests for a football forum with fans have been received. The timing is being considered, but the game schedule is very heavy at present and the new Omicron variant of Covid also complicates matters.
Significant unavoidable works on renewal of essential internal and emergency lighting in the west and east stand is continuing. In the west stand upper floor, the first phase of four (Sponsor’s Lounge) to rewire is now complete. The next phase is the Sunset Suite.
An independent safety inspector from The Sports Ground Safety Authority at Salford to check on our Covid arrangements was favourable. Covid continues to place pressure on match day staffing availability, with late drop-outs affecting stewarding, ticketing and turnstiles.
We are reviewing the impact of the latest national restrictions in response to the Omicron variant. Fans are requested to be cautious and wear masks in enclosed spaces.
Gates across the EFL are down overall since the return of fans, versus both 19/20 (last comparable normal season with unrestricted fans) and the medium-term measure (the five-year average).
Looking at just EFL League Two gates so far this season, these are also down compared with 19/20, and down versus the five-year League Two average, by around 2%. Numbers are down especially in older fan age groups – possibly driven by Covid concerns.
At Carlisle United fan support has been very good despite the results on the pitch. So far after 10 home League Two games, looking at home gates (a) in the short-term versus 19/20 and (b) medium-term over five-years:
- Our overall total average League Two gates are up.
- The average home fans are also up (away fans also up – driven by Barrow and Tranmere).
- Our overall total average League Two gates and home fans are both the best since 16/17.
- They are up versus the EFL and League Two trend this season - beating the experience elsewhere.
Focusing on home fans only, adjusting for the first game, the gates so far are higher or close to the levels of every season since 11/12, apart from the play-off season. They are also still in-line with the five-year average.
Even after removing the anomaly of a cut-price game (first game back), despite our league position and home results so far, and the trend in League Two generally, our gates are still higher than recent seasons.
The ongoing strength of fan support in tough times is humbling. Nobody takes this support for granted. Thank you all.
- Our 21/22 overall total average League Two gate is now around 4,750 after 10 home games, including Walsall (4,350 home fans; 400 away fans):
- The overall total average League Two gate at around 4,750 is +16% up on 19/20 and +6% up on the five-year average.
- The average home fans League Two gate at around 4,350 is +13% up on 19/20 and +3% up on the five-year average.
- The overall total average League Two gate so far is the best for five years (the highest since 16/17 when we were still unbeaten at this point and were in the top three from game 11 to 35, when we reached the play-offs).
- Looking deeper, our average home fans in League Two gates are also the best for five years (again since 16/17.)
- Looking further back, our overall total average League Two gate so far, and the average home fans League Two gate, have both only been surpassed once since 11/12 (again by 16/17).
- If you look even more closely and take out the first game (cheap ticket game), with a gate of 6,382 and 6,180 home fans, as a ‘one-off’, the analysis shows:
- The overall total average League Two gate falls to 4,600 but is still +14% up on 19/20 and +4% up on the five-year average.
- The average home fans League Two gate falls to 4,350 but again is +10% up on 19/20 and the same as the five-year average.
- Of course, compared to peaks of season, like 6,180 for Colchester, 5,841 Barrow, Salford 4,589, the averages so far are lower (this is a mathematical inevitability), but that gap shows the scope to increase gates and potential from other fans attending, those who we must give a reason to come and watch us more often.
Progress to improve all aspects of catering is continuing within existing resources. 1921 has no club funds for any significant new investment, so everything we have done so far has been self-financed by cost savings and efficiencies made elsewhere, off the field.
The west side Fan Food Zone is developing and growing – we are pleased so far. Further recent additions include the Horsebox Bar with real ale, coffee outlet, discount ice cream vouchers (for Community Ticket Scheme children, and also available to fans from SLO team) and free vouchers for fish and chips on offer each game (randomly included in five programmes). Three more seating benches are now in place.
Options for a sizable semi-permanent marquee are being considered.
It is important fans use the Food Zone for it to continue to be viable and worthwhile for the third-party vendors to keep coming.
Other catering developments since September include:
- Catering APP launched for pre-purchased food and drink in bars and kiosks – fans are encouraged to pre-order for click and collect, and use cashless payment.
- Further investments made in Sporting Inn cellar to improve beer quality and temperature.
- Further roll-out of cashless payment is being planned to improve speed of service and reduce queuing time – cashless will become the norm at almost all selling points in due course. It is planned that cash payment will be retained in limited places, but not in every bar and kiosk.
- Fans seating.
Foxy’s bookings are increasing. Use is now close to capacity each game and filling quickly. If you haven’t given it a try since the new set-up, please give us a chance. The Sponsor’s Lounge has now reopened and is in use to provide extra capacity – a redecoration of the room is to be completed this week. Non-matchday trade is growing.
The in-house new catering operation is now generating some profit, allowing reinvestment. New ideas to improve further, and feedback, are most welcome.
A lot of hard work has been done already in pushing the catering on and it is bringing improvements, but there is a lot more work ahead.
Operations and off the field business:
Latest scheduled Academy audit is now taking place focusing on being ‘Safe to Operate’ – this covers safeguarding. This is a key area.
In retail, our Black Friday offers were 26-28 November. Back-office IT for the online store has been upgraded but we suffered some short-term disruption. Retail sales to 31 October are the best since 16/17, which is encouraging. A new online store is on the projects list for the future.
No ticket system issues have reported for a number of games. The system is back to normal operation after early season issues.
Ticket walk-up income so far this season is really strong, better than budget, and the best since 16/17 (only 16/17 is higher than this season so far, since 12/13). This is driven by attendances being up on previous years (see the update on gates).
Season ticket (circa 1,800 sold so far) income looks set be the second highest since 2013/14 (and second best in the last nine years). Half season tickets are now on sale, they make excellent Christmas gifts and are great value for money at just £12 a game for an adult in the terraces.
Click HERE for more on half season tickets.
Commercial income remains a challenge, as expected, with many businesses prioritising their recovery from Covid over discretionary spending with the club. This is understandable, expected and could continue for some time. A lot of opportunities exist for those able to support the club.
My approach is to continue to consistently and honestly lay out the financial facts of the club, no matter what is happening on or off the pitch. To be crystal, on-the-field must always be the top priority, and has been throughout 2021.
We must continue to be self-funding day-to-day, including our football spending, and funding our recovery in the league and the January window. This overall approach is unchanged.
This makes the club’s financial backdrop now important, especially as we approach the next transfer window.
In my last update two months ago in September 2021, I said:
“We ended the financial year [ie June 2021] with a very strong working capital position compared with previous years, with a significantly increased cash balance compared with 30 June 2020”.
Click HERE for more information.
The cash balance at 30 June 2020 was £500k for reference. So, at 30 June 2021 the cash balance was “significantly increased on that”
I then added in September:
“Since the year end [ie 30 June 2021}, with two further player sales, this position has improved again. Overall, financially, on a day-to-day basis, the club is in the best position since I joined in June 2016."
Our independent audit will show an overall £400k profit in 20/21 after a near £800k profit in 19/20. The Date of publication of the 20/21 audit accounts is to be confirmed by Holdings, but at this stage is still anticipated to be in 2022 (unchanged from what I said in September).
As is the case every year, we started again initially facing a significant budgeted overall loss. This is before unpredictable Football Fortune (from player sales and cup runs). This starting point loss is normally around £500k of cash required.
As I said in September, we expected the loss to be higher this year, reflecting the ongoing expected impact of Covid on Business Turnover and Business Costs, and also the additional planned spending on football players costs this year. This was a 20% increase in the playing budget to start with.
We are performing better financially than the starting budget (as detailed below), but still expect a loss in 21/22 at this point. This could change significantly depending on the rest of the season, and spending from January 2022.
Since September, our financial position therefore has again improved up to the end of November. It is also better than anticipated because:
- Ticket income so far is strong, better than budget, and the best for five years after 10 home games. This is on the back of attendances being up on previous years (as explained above).
- Progress in the EFL Trophy (£50k earned so far) and FA Cup is not budgeted, which has also given us a boost. Further progress in the next two cup ties could lead to more financial windfalls.
- Last week we received confirmation that we will receive circa £0.3m of additional Premier League grant support in 21/22 – again unbudgeted. That support must be seen in the context of our calls for a ‘Fair Game’ and a fair financial distribution from the Fan Led Review, but equally it must also be welcomed as the Premier League did not need to give the unconditional support.
- Our other business trading, retail, commercial, catering, etc, is doing well, even more so given the season so far (again as detailed above).
- We have continued to collect cash from historic player sales.
- These gains have offset the increase of 20% in our playing budget for 21/22 versus 20/21 (put in place from June 2021). This is before any additional spending in the January window.
- Our trade creditors position is good - also the best in my time here, and so our cash position continues to improve.
- Our debt position is stable.
Putting all that together, as we approach a vital time, we can fully focus and support the manager to improve results and league position without the additional shadow of any day-to-day financial concerns to divert us.
That means we are in the best position we can be, to be able to support Keith Millen with all the financial backing he feels he needs in the coming months.
That is what the club is committed to do and what the board told Keith last week. He can plan ahead accordingly, and David Holdsworth can be ready to do the deals as required, with everyone on the same page.
Obviously, the more income we earn going forward, the more funds we can have available, equally the less cash we need to spend on unnecessary costs the better. This is where fans can play a part in supporting catering and coming to games and helping us avoid extra match day security costs.
I can’t answer every question on ownership, I’d love to, but it simply isn’t possible - but it’s important that supporters know I am listening - I hear what you are saying. I get it. Your messages get through to the heart of the club, into the boardroom.
I also understand the frustrations, worries and fears. I read them on social media, listen to fans when they speak to me, and when fans shout and rage at me at games. They are understandable given the circumstances of late. I understand what you are saying and how you feel.
I see our problems, they are real and clear to me, but I am definitely not accepting them. We must face up and deal with them.
I see the plans of some fans to start a ‘board v fans’ battle, as explained before. I honestly believe the damage and consequences from that could be irreparable. That fight done now definitely won’t help us rise up the league, and it’s hard to see how it would do anything but make it more difficult in getting players in, and to win games. I don’t believe it will bring change either.
The only thing that matters until the end of this season is doing all we all can to get up table. Full stop. Anything that risks that will do the club no good.
That is not about avoiding the ownership issue or looking after personal positions either. I accept this is a really tough ask for many fans right now. The time is now to set aside all of that and put the club ‘on the field’ first. I don’t doubt you all understand why I say it - even if you might disagree.
The board understands what fans think and what fans need and want from them. No doubt about it - it’s my job to make sure they do.
They do care - they are lifelong fans. They know their responsibilities and that supporters are looking to them, and relying on them. They know what is at stake.
Everyone within the club is giving absolutely everything to make things better. That’s from shareholders down.
That starts with a total commitment to supporting Keith Millen with all he needs to turn things around on the pitch. That’s what counts most.