Supporters Direct Scotland Summit 2016

18
Jan
2016

Posted By kevingraham

Posted in Articles, Supporters functions

Community

 

On Sunday 10th January I attended the Supporters Direct Scotland 2016 Summit at Hampden. I had previously meet Andrew from Supporters Direct Scotland late last year when we discussed ticket prices and how we can reach the goal of getting them reduced. He told me about what was planned for this summit and I thought it would be interesting to attend.

 

I have been to Hampden for a meeting before. What strikes me is the impressiveness of the reception area just through the front doors and the plushness of the lounges, suites and the conference centre. Like most big stadiums it’s has a tardis feel. It’s safe to say that they never scrimped and saved when refurbishing and rebuilding the main stand unlike the rest.   

 

First up for the day was Neil and Andrew from SDS. They spoke about SDS now being part of the SFA Congress and what has happened since the last summit. Both see the landscape of Scottish Football changing with the changes to the Community Empowerment Bill, which will make it easier for fans to buy their club if the opportunity arises.   

 

The political theme continued with Jamie Hepburn MSP and Minister for Sport whose presentation was about this consultation. He said that football clubs represent their community and how important fans are to their club and also community.  

 

I find having an SNP MSP talking about caring for fans while the Offensive Behaviour Act is still law and calls for it to be scrapped are being ignored is hypocritical. I never got the opportunity to speak to Jamie about this, which I was disappointed about. He was whisked away as soon as his speech was finished surrounded by aides, blackberry’s and the air of “In The Thick Of It”.   

 

Phil Slumber from The Swansea City Supporters Trust was next. Phil was very impressive in many ways as he spoke about how Swansea was saved in 1991 and the journey they have been on. What was more impressive this all done to the backdrop of his mobile phone telling him that Swansea were being put out the FA Cup at Oxford as he spoke.

 

Phil told us that Swansea have a “True To Twenty Two” scheme which sees Swansea only charge their fans £22 for away tickets no matter what they cost the club. Swansea have not increased season ticket prices since they got promoted and this season saw a decrease in price and season tickets are already on sale for next season. Uptake is good despite Swansea being in a relegation battle.

 

I think the reason for this is that Phil stated that the club have a philosophy, which they have told the fans they won’t deviate from and they also had that dark day in 1991. The supporters trust that their interests are being meet with all the decisions that are being made at the club. There seems to be true engagement and listening.

 

I now have a confession to make. I had lunch with a journalist who works for The Sun. It was completely by chance (due to having a spare seat beside me) and his name was Lee Price who is from London, used to support Man United before he got fed up with the stereotype.

 

No, he got fed up with fans being treated unfairly in the EPL, started going to Bundesliga games and watching Dagenham and Redbridge. He wrote a book called “The Bundesliga Blueprint” and was here to talk about what Scottish Football could learn from the Bundesliga.

 

Apart from the obvious “Beer and Atmosphere” that the Bundesliga excels in it was how they got that beer and atmosphere that was the interesting part. The Bundesliga invested in the fans. They realised that the whole German society was part of the game and set ticket prices accordingly.

 

The Germans also lead the way with the SLO model. The model is not the same as we have in this country as it would be unusual for SLO to help the fans to arrange a protest against his employers but this happens in Germany. There is weekly meetings between fans and SLO and last season Bayer Leverkusan put up ticket prices but the fans applauded the decision as it had been explained to them the fans had seen a better match day experience. You also have Bayern Munich helping pay their fans away travelling costs.

 

Last word has to go to Christian Seifert CEO of DFL: “You will hardly find anybody who would disagree with the idea that the Bundesliga is the most fan-friendly and fan-centred football league in the world,”That has a lot to do with the fact that the clubs understand their fans. As a result, everybody wants to go to games. Men, women, people of all ages and all parts of society”

 

You won’t find a Scottish Football fan that doesn’t wants that type of CEO in charge of the League.

 

The last speaker of the day in the conference suite was Sean Hamil. Sean is a lecturer in management at Birbeck University, a Celtic season ticket holder and has written extensively about supporter ownership. He was there to speak about this and also reflect on what has happened in the last few years.

 

Sean painted a bleak picture of football finances and the circumstances that leads to supporters getting the opportunity to purchase clubs. Football is a loss making business and fans only get to take over burnt out clubs. One of his presentation slides said:

 

“Football supporters are the investors of last resort, e.g from Celtic to Portsmouth. “

 

Did I agree with this? Fergus always said that we would get the chance to invest in the club. I’m I being wet behind the ears in thinking that this was always his plan or was it his Plan B after he sounded out private investors who weren’t going to give him the return we did?

 

Another slide stated:

 

“It makes economic sense for the football industry to have a constructive relationship with football supporters e.g, this has been recognized via the SLO”

 

There was a theme that all speakers so far had captured. From the Swansea City Trust, to the Bundesliga to the academic. It was that engaging with fans made financial sense and in the long term benefited the club.

 

The afternoon then split into workshops. After watching Leigh Griffiths score his 48th goal for Celtic I went to listen to Niamh O’Mahony a director of Cork City FC. She told us the recent story of Cork, two shady owners and now in community ownership. Cork City run a lot of similar programs that the Celtic FC Foundation do in the community round the east end.

 

One thing that struck me was that a few years back we were told that the Scottish League was no better than the League Of Ireland. After hearing Niamh talk we are not anywhere near the League of Ireland in the terms of finance, sponsorship and crowds. But the clubs accept where they are and there isn’t the bleating we see here about what we don’t have. They work for the good of their communities and all clubs have formed a network for the good of their game.

 

Last but not least was Michael Brunskill from The FSF. He spoke about their Twenty’s Plenty campaign, which has had major publicity and how it all came about.

 

Though the initiative hasn’t been brought into play by all EPL clubs, last season the campaign saw clubs work together with reciprocal agreements. This saw 68,000 fans save £735,000 in total. He spoke about Coventry introducing a £20 cap for away fans and some of the Yorkshire club’s introducing a £20 cap when they play each other after negotiations between the clubs and fans group.

 

Again, the conversation emphasised while work is still on-going clubs were taking on-board their fans ideas and were happy to work with them. The FSF are moving their Twenty’s Plenty campaign to Football League clubs.

 

From the speakers to the other attendees I found this day worthwhile. Speaking to fans of other teams the only differences we have are the colour of the scarves. This ranges from stop and searches, over zealous stewarding, poor treatment at away grounds, high ticket prices and lack of engagement from clubs to the rulers of the game.

 

The day proved that we are not a lone voice.   

 

Links to the SDS Website and You Tube.

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