Notes from April meeting with FFC
On Tuesday 14th April at 12:30, the Fulham Supporters’ Trust met with Fulham FC via video conference.
The Club was represented by:
- Alistair Mackintosh (CEO)
- Darren Preston (COO)
- David Daly (Non-Executive Director)
- Carmelo Mifsud (Communications Director)
- Katy Brecht (Head of Ticketing)
- Nicola Walworth (Supporter Relations Manager)
- Charlie Harris (Communications Assistant)
The FST was represented by board members:
HOW IT WORKS
The meeting focused almost entirely on the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on football in general and Fulham in particular and included a range of questions asked by members. If any member has raised an issue that it was not possible to discuss in the time available then please do contact us again in good time before the next meeting.
The following topics were raised and discussed:
IMPACT OF CORONAVIRUS
Day to day operations
The meeting opened with the good news that all present were fit and healthy. Everyone has adjusted to the new way of working.
The Club confirmed that the players have all been given individual training plans and equipment and are keeping as fit as possible in the circumstances.
A discussion took place regarding the financial impact of the current situation. The Club confirmed that they are in regular contact with the other 23 Championship clubs. Whilst the finances of all clubs are confidential, it is generally accepted that the financial impacts are significant, and obviously will increase for all clubs the longer there is no football.
The Club highlighted the unwavering support being provided by the Khan family to ensure financial security and the ongoing operations of the Club. The owners are in regular contact with the Club and provide backing and support while allowing the business to be run independently.
The Club explained that senior staff, including the Chief Executive, senior management and the Head Coach have agreed to take salary deferrals.
Regarding player salaries, the initial intent had been for a collective (league wide) agreement to be struck. However, it now seems likely that agreements will be made on a club by club basis. Discussions are ongoing but the Club does not expect to make an announcement soon.
Following the meeting, the EFL issued a joint statement with the PFA.
The Club further confirmed that they took an early decision to furlough some directly employed matchday staff, initially until the end of April, in order to protect jobs that are not required when there is no football. This was done at the request of the staff members in some cases and uses the Government scheme to provide 80% of wages with the Club topping up the remainder. Similarly, some seasonal and casual coaches in the Fulham Foundation have also been furloughed although others remain working on a number of initiatives.
Most of the business, including the Academy and the new Riverside stand development, has continued to operate even in the absence of football.
Asked about matchday staff not directly contracted to Fulham, for example caterers, the Club confirmed that responsibility for any furlough or other decisions will be taken by their employers.
Operation of Academy
Asked to explain how the Academy could continue to operate, the Club described a range of support being provided remotely by Academy staff to the large number of young players in the areas of physical fitness and mental wellbeing. This is particularly important as players come from a wide variety of backgrounds and will have quite specific needs during this time of uncertainty. In addition, some first team players are remotely assisting the younger players, for example with goalkeeping coaching. It was highlighted that other clubs have ramped down their academy staff and are not able to provide this level of support to their young players.
Profit and sustainability (FFP)
The Trust asked about the implications of the crisis for profit and sustainability / financial fair play regulations across football. The Club said that they anticipated that this would be addressed by the EFL as it would impact many clubs, but as yet there has been no official guidance on any relaxation or temporary changes to the regulations.
The Club confirmed that their forward financial projection document for the current season, combined with last season’s financial results (recently published) shows no breach of P&S rules. The Trust commented that it was pleased that the Club published the 2018-19 accounts and didn’t take advantage of the additional time allowed by the FCA during the pandemic. We will discuss the accounts in more detail at a future meeting.
Sponsorship contracts for 2020-21 season
The Trust asked about the impact of the season delay on negotiations for a potential new shirt sponsor (the two-year contract with Dafabet expires at the end of this season). The Club said that as the timing and shape of the 2020-21 season is unknown and so the ability to conclude sponsorship arrangements is impacted, one of the positive aspects of many people working from home has been the ability to get more ‘face time’ with potential sponsors. The Fulham Pier / Riverside proposition is considered to be a good discussion point for potential new partners.
CONCLUDING THE SEASON
EFL letter to clubs
A letter from Rick Parry of the EFL to clubs was recently widely reported in the mainstream media. The Trust asked for a view on the suggestions included in the letter that
- the League will require approximately 56 days to complete the outstanding matches in the season (including Play-offs)
- matches will most likely be played behind closed doors.
The Club explained that they believe 56 days is well within their capability to complete the outstanding fixtures, assuming a period of pre-resumption training of approximately three weeks, as the squads are big enough to cope with this demand and players would always prefer matches to training.
Games behind closed doors
The Club’s view (and the Trust’s) is that any resumption of this season is highly likely to be behind closed doors. Discussions are ongoing on a variety of issues, including where the games would take place. It is clear that this is not a simple proposition as there would need to be carefully controlled access to the grounds / training facilities hosting the matches. The Trust suggested that there is an opportunity to learn from other sports e.g. cricket, where bio-secure venues are being discussed.
The Club confirmed that they are working with the FFCtv provider Stream to ensure that technical capacity and support capability would be available for significantly higher numbers of users should the remaining games be behind closed doors. This is not considered by Stream to be a problem as they do provide services for a number of very large events. A training and education plan will also be put in place to help new FFCtv users. The Trust offered to assist in developing and communicating this plan.
It was also noted that UEFA have relaxed the 3pm Saturday blackout restrictions and that there is a likelihood that TV rights holders may wish to broadcast a large number of the remaining matches. If the season is completed with behind closed doors fixtures, the Trust’s understanding is that the Premier League have indicated they will seek to avoid their remaining fixtures being played at 3pm on Saturdays, so the relaxation of restrictions will most benefit EFL clubs via streaming services.
Ways of concluding season
There was some discussion on various suggestions that have been made on how to conclude the season, including the idea that the current top two Championship clubs be promoted to form a 22 team Premier League with no relegation, with five Clubs relegated the following season. It was noted that all Championship Clubs have supported playing the remaining fixtures (including play-offs) to conclude the season, and that is also the case for Premier League clubs; the focus of current discussions is on finding the most practicable way of enabling that to happen in accordance with public health advice from the Government.
Player contract extensions
The Trust asked about how players’ contracts would be treated in the event that the season continues past 30th June. The Club’s understanding is that FIFA will dictate current contract extensions across the whole of football during this period, and that this will include loan players.
SEASON TICKET POLICY
Given the increasing likelihood that any resumption of the 2019-20 season will be behind closed doors, the Trust asked the Club’s views on compensating season ticket holders for the remaining four home games. No decision has been made but all of the options suggested by Trust members are possible, including refunds, free access to streaming of fixtures with a credit against next season, and a charity contribution option.
The Trust underlined that, given the wider economic impact of the current situation, there will be fans who will find they are less able to afford a season ticket than anticipated, and that should also be factored into any policy regarding refunds or credits. The Trust offered to be a sounding board during any discussions in this area, as circumstances become clearer.
In discussion on the 2020-21 season, the Trust noted that whilst other clubs had previously put season tickets on sale, Fulham had decided to wait until the outcome of this season was known. There is now additional complexity regarding the shape (number of games) of the 2020-21 season and the duration of the close season.
The Club stated that although lack of season ticket sales was not ideal from a cash flow point of view, there is little point in making decisions in this area now until much more is known about the 2020-21 season structure.
The Club also explained that when 2020-21 season tickets do go on sale, renewal packs will be distributed digitally. Their view is that moving to a digital renewal brochure will encourage more supporters to renew online, which helps make the Club more sustainable. While there will not be a posted renewal pack, supporters’ details and information will be made available via a personal season ticket site.
The Club are contacting those supporters who do not currently have an email address registered with the Ticket Office to help facilitate this and will help support those season ticket holders who usually prefer to renew by other means, with supporters continuing to have the option to buy their season ticket in person at the Ticket Office or over the phone.
The Trust offered to assist in formulation and communication of season ticket policy at the appropriate time.
NEW RIVERSIDE STAND
The Trust asked about the impact of the coronavirus on the new Riverside stand construction project, including any delays and possible advantages of no matches being played. The Club confirmed that building works have continued but that workers must observe Government guidelines on distancing. This is less of a problem at the current stage of the project than it would be in, say, the final fit phase. A shorter close season is not considered to be an issue and the overall impact is considered to be “net slightly negative” as a result of the pandemic.
Asked about progress since the last home match, the Club explained that concrete for the new Riverside walk has been poured and that the site now looks flatter than it did at the last home match (Preston). The Trust asked for a photographic update to be published on the Club website, which, since the meeting, has been done.
In response to questions about the current suitability of the ground to meet Premier League regulations for hosting football in 2020-21, the Club confirmed that they have two plans in place related to the additional requirements (mostly related to broadcasters) and that there would be no significant impact on overall ground capacity as a result.
Regarding the commercial side of the new Riverside stand (and the associated Fulham Pier development), the Club explained that although many of the businesses likely to be tenants are not able to operate normally at present, it has still been possible to have significant discussions with interested companies who will be looking for opportunities to grow again once the crisis is over.
The Club agreed to share the findings of the Riverside stand survey undertaken last summer with the Trust at a future meeting.
Supporting the NHS
Asked about the Mayor of London’s request for London football clubs to provide assistance to the NHS, the Club said that they are in direct contact with the Gold Commanders of their two local NHS CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) and that a number of the Club’s medical staff are already engaged with the NHS, including the Club doctor working with the homeless in Hammersmith.
The Club further explained that they have offered use of their estate if necessary.
Potentially vulnerable fans
In discussions about any other activities being undertaken during the current pandemic, the Club described a telephone exercise led by the ticketing team whereby staff contacted 650 Fulham supporters considered most likely to need some assistance or contact. Of these, 78 asked for more regular contact, 12 were referred for further help and three received direct support from the Club.
There are now plans to extend this exercise to a total of 1,400 supporters. The Trust offered our thanks on behalf of all Fulham supporters for this initiative.
FFCtv match re-runs
The Trust passed on the thanks of many members for the re-runs of key matches being made available. The Club said they are pleased with the feedback and viewing figures, particularly for the Juventus and Manchester City matches. Future plans include Hamburg and Tottenham at Loftus Road from 2002-3, with other content marking the tenth anniversary of the Europa League final appearance. Supporters are encouraged to suggest other fixtures, noting however that 2002-3 is about as early as footage is likely to be available.
The meeting closed at 13:40.