Can We, or Can’t We?

Apologies to all for the lack of stats updates recently. This will be rectified soon. By way of an apology, here is an article I wrote for the Boro fanzine Abandon Chip!, assessing (via guesswork and very little extensive research) the financial implications of SAFC being promoted this season. Constructive comments are welcomed. Feel free to comment at the bottom of this article. JH

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CAN WE, OR CAN’T WE?

Without any doubt whatsoever I want Boro to win the league this season.

Why wouldn’t I?

What’s the point of being a football fan, travelling to places such as Liversedge or Arnold on a cold November Tuesday night, if you don’t want to see your team win the league? There isn’t a point to that at all; you might as well stay at home on a weekend and watch Soccer Saturday with the rest of the ‘plastic fans’. We haven’t all spent thousands of pounds and used up precious numbers of social hours for no reason.

Since our Scarborough Athletic journey began in 2007 we have witnessed just the one promotion. Let’s be honest, it was relatively easy. Brian France, rest his brilliant soul, created a team capable of beating most teams at step six. On the crest of a wave from our ‘novelty’ debut season, we wrapped up the 08-09 title with a month of the season left. It was all very comfortable – both on and off the pitch. Things were good, we all rejoiced and we enjoyed a Scarborough football team winning something. For many it was the first championship they ever witnessed.

Our first season at step five was, shall we say, less successful. Actually, truth be told, 09-10 was rubbish. 10-11 started well, only for our momentum to be lost with a change of manager, exodus of players, and a big freeze which saw us play just one home game in two months. Off the pitch we also struggled – a circa £18,000 loss over those two seasons. The first two seasons’ surplus cash was gone. The economic downturn had hit us all. Football fans were not (and are still not) immune to life’s financial worries. But something had to be done to avert mediocrity.

In came Rudy. He gave us the belief once more that we could compete at step five. He reinvigorated the club’s motivation and enthusiasm – his personality demanded it. His aims were simple – create a winning mentality on the pitch, and excite the fans in doing so, thereby helping the club look after itself off the pitch.

He set about reforming the squad during last season, before adding the finishing touches this year. The squad that started 09-10 has now completely departed the club, one notable top-scorer and three other players who have left and returned (as had the top scorer) the exceptions.

Off the field the club evened itself out financially – posting a very small (yet very significant given the previous years’ losses) operating profit in the last financial year to May 2012. Not sure if I’m allowed to mention exact figures under threat of a flogging perhaps, so I won’t.

It seems everything is now in place for SAFC to take a step up; to compete at a higher level; to cast our net over a deeper pool of higher level players; to travel further, quite literally, in the pursuit of our dream of returning to the upper echelons of the non-league pyramid.

Or is it?

The cover of the last edition of Abandon Chip! asked us all a question: ‘Will we or won’t we?’ Our esteemed editor was referring of course to whether we would finish in top spot and become champions. Was it a cleverly hidden nod towards another topical question though? We will or won’t we… make the choice of accepting a place in step four within the Evo-Stik League? Of course we will, I hear you cry! Why wouldn’t we? “Stop taking rubbish again Hunter,” you shout. Sorry, it’s a common trait among those bequeathed with the surname living in Scarborough.

A step up to level four of the non-league pyramid is our next aim of course, and something we ALL desire. My own question seeks not to cast any aspersions on the financial ability of the club to take that step – for, despite a large predicted loss communicated late last year by the Treasurer, I know not what plans the club has in place for the future well-being of SAFC. Nor am I questioning the ability of those we have elected to run the club on our behalf. Been there, done that, got the Funk-faced t-shirt. Although I left it in St Ives changing room in the 2010 pre-season, while distraught at getting injured in the Seadogs FC ‘show-piece’ game.

I’m certain in the time I have taken to write this piece many emails will have been exchanged, thoughts thought and decisions pondered by all the remaining elected directors and club employees regarding our future. They work bloody hard, and each of them deserves gratitude from each of us for their time, effort and sacrifices.

My next question however, is one that needs asking, and I’m not afraid to ask it. This fanzine is the right medium for that question, as I lost my faith in the club’s official Q&A long ago. Nor am I confident we will attend a fans’ forum anytime soon.

The question, simply put, is: ‘Can we, or can’t we?’

No one will be, or indeed should be, under any illusions that promotion to the next level will bring with it certain financial changes. The major cost implication that has been spoken of previously by clubs who have turned down a rise from the NCEL (Winterton, Brid Town, Retford) is extra travelling costs. And those were clubs with well-off backers and various income streams we don’t have.

As far as I am aware, at present – although this may change – these costs are built into our players’ expenses, and I’m certain club officials don’t submit expenses for travel to matches. For all the countless hours they work and travel in association with the club, they are volunteers after all.

So that brings me to my first area of focus – players’ expenses. Not many people know the true recompense our players get for the pleasure of playing for us. It was never discussed openly when I was a board member, and I am a firm believer that what a player takes home at the end of each week is his own business and that of the manager who agrees terms with him. Therefore I have no concrete evidence, so my judgments herein will be based on guesswork.

Garforth Town, bottom of the Evo-Stik Division One North having won just two games all season at the time of writing, recently announced that they are offering players £200 per match to sign for them. That’s a lot of money! Six games a month for Garforth and you won’t need to work elsewhere during the week! I estimate that is a lot higher than the average at step four level.

Rumour abounds the social circles about what this player at Boro is on, and what that player at Boro takes home. While I don’t listen to rumour as a general rule, it can be helpful for the purposes of a guesswork article such as this.

For the purposes of this article I am going to work on the basis of players being paid at set amount of expenses per week, and that those expenses are tax-free (they might not be, I’m unsure). And I am going to use an amount of £140 per player per week. Might be way off the actual average figure, either higher or lower – as I say this is guesswork.

Players don’t get paid for three months of the year… May to July. Only when they begin playing competitive games in August do they get paid. So I’m going for 36 weeks of payments, over nine months, August to April.

There are 16 players in a squad. Again I am guessing they all get paid the same, whether they play or are an unused substitute. 16 x £140 = £2240. At this stage I will add in other miscellaneous costs – salaries for general manager, team manager, assistant manager, other staff expenses, ground rent, cost of match officials, etc. I’m going to guess at a figure of £2600 per week costs. That comes out at £93,600 over a 36-week season for players, staff, and match-based related costs.

A hefty figure sure… but surely Boro’s income from the turnstiles will cover it? Let’s work out some numbers…

After a quick search through a few step four club websites, I can see that the average admission fee at Evo-Stik Division One level for adults is approximately £7.50, and £4 for concessions. Most are £7 for adults, but others such as NCEL premier champions of 08-09 Mickleover Sports charge £8.

Kings Lynn Town, in the same division as Mickleover, are bold and open about their admission fee of £10 for adults and £8 concessions (£4 for 12- to 15-year-olds). On their website they state: “The 2012/2013 admission prices have been set to balance the additional travel expenses in the Evo-Stick First Division South and an increased playing budget to provide a competitive team.” A wise move perhaps and their attendances are certainly holding well at well-over 550 average. They are currently sitting comfortably in a play-off spot.

However, Kings Lynn have forecast a loss of almost £50,000 for this season based on an average of 480, including a £23,000 increase in players and playing staff costs compared to 11-12. They have forecasted that at the end of the season they would be £34,000 IN DEBT, having expunged £15,000 in reserves built up over their first two seasons since reforming. A worrying prospect for Linnets fans and officials alike, and hopefully their attendances will hold around the current average and they won’t carry any debt forward.

So what would Boro charge at step four level?

We are of course already at £7. A rise to £8? I’d be happy with that. £9? Hmmm, yea probably… success has a price after all. But Boro have a distinct disadvantage in the travel costs for fans to home matches. My trusty old Ford Focus guzzles £6 of petrol at current fuel prices to get to Queensgate and back. That cost needs to be considered when pricing admission fees for a possible step up to the next level. Would the majority of fans be happy to pay £14/£15 total for transport and to get to Brid and into a home game? Some may not have that much disposable income. A family of four travelling by car and paying £9 per adult and say £5 for juniors getting into games would shell out £34 a match including petrol. Affordable? For some yes, for others, not so much. I know the Boro Bus is available, but not to everyone. I, for example, usually can’t make the set-up time of 1.30pm due to Saturday morning commitments.

Let’s use a presumed figure of £8 adults and £4 concessions. And let’s also presume that it’s roughly 50/50 percentage wise of adults to concessions at each match. We still thankfully have a large number of older ladies and gents who watch games, and it has been great to see more youngsters at games recently. So then, an average of £6 per person per match.

Next figure is an easy one: 21 league games in a season at home.

We – well I – figured our earlier – well, I guessed – that a figure of roughly £2600 a week income is needed to cover football-related costs – £93,600 over a season. Let’s guess that around £18,600 income to put towards football-related costs can be found by the hard-working volunteers behind the scenes in profit from other activities such as Society memberships, merchandise, programmes, sponsorship, etc. Or it is handed to the club tax-free via donations or bequeathed.

And I am obviously ignoring all cup matches, and possible income from those games. You can’t use unknown variables in these calculations, as that would be silly – even in guesswork!! More often than not cup game income/prize money and outgoings even themselves out… unless you don’t win a game of course! I’m also going to ignore VAT payments on admission fees… because that would just get far too technical and difficult to work out. Perhaps that is the reason many football clubs ignore it too?!

That leaves, therefore, £75,000 to be found through the gates.

Over a 21 game season, with an average of £6 per paying fan, we would need to average 595 per league home game to bring in £75,000. It’s easy maths – £75,000 divided by 21 divided by 6.

This season we are averaging around the 420 mark. Can a promotion to a higher level bring in another 175 fans to Queensgate paying an average of £6? If, hypothetically, the average admission fee is further increased to £7 it would bring the average required down to 510. But would 90 more people come, paying £2 more per match than this season, with transport costs and the general cost of living remaining higher than ever?

As I have said throughout this piece, it’s all guesswork. I know I am asking questions and then leaving them unanswered. That’s simply because I don’t know the answers – and wouldn’t put myself in such a position to state ‘this will happen’ or ‘that is definite’. I’m just thinking out loud, and putting my thoughts on digital paper. I’m certain that club officials will have had similar thoughts though. Every time Blotty hits another goal, and every point we climb higher than our challengers, it will be on their minds I’m sure.

But it isn’t just about their meticulous, lengthy and precise planning and collective board decision-making. It’s about what we all do. We ALL have a collective responsibility to make SAFC a success. We enjoy the successes together, and so we MUST collaborate to avert any possible negatives. I managed to get my brother and nephew across to a game recently – their first time. They both enjoyed it and will come again. An extra bit in the pot for this season. If every one of the 430 average brought one or two others with them next season, we would hit my imaginary £75,000 target by Christmas! And if they all became Society members?! Wow… step four championship? No worries!

If I said I wasn’t concerned I’d be lying. But if I preached a message of positivity and ignored the pitfalls and possible losses I’d be doing myself a disservice as both a fan, and a co-owner of SAFC. So I am happy to ask the question, and I hope everyone reading this will see my reasons for doing so. I mean not to scaremonger, nor do I mean for this piece to come across as negative, or in any way salacious against the current elected guardians of our club. Quite the opposite – I hope the figures included are helpful.

I’m sure they are pleased people care enough to think this way and take an interest. As the old saying goes… a problem shared is a problem fractioned into 420 equal parts. It’s OUR club. Let’s make sure that, should (sorry, when) we lift that trophy in April, we are prepared to collectively move onwards and upwards together.

If we do that the answer to my question is certain: Yes, we can.

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4 thoughts on “Can We, or Can’t We?

  1. Very good article James. My personal thoughts have always been that a promotion before we got back to Scarborough should be seen as a bonus but taken with open arms. However the costs that you have used would suggest that a serious push for promotion in a step 4 league would be financially beyond us and so could I suggest that should we be fortunate enough to gain promotion this season it would be wiser to ‘tread water’ & stay within our means at least until we get back to Boro when the gates should increas.

  2. Good and interesting article. I’m not sure about 09-10 being “rubbish” though as we went unbeaten at home and scored 100 league goals! But yeah, away from home it was rubbish!

  3. Good article. We certainly can’t hide from the fact and it is worrying when you know we don’t have a sugar daddy.
    Personally I am hoping when we return to Scarborough we will be able to get involved with the catering and use that as a revenue stream.

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