Altrincham's board of directors recently held an all-day planning meeting at The J.Davidson Stadium. Here, director BILL WATERSON brings everyone up to date with the questions posed and answers given.
Thank you all for the questions you submitted for the Board Planning Day. I group them below by subject matter. Ironically, we are now seeing on the forum, on the Patrons thread, the kind of input we were hoping for at the planning day.
I will address the points raised on that thread as soon as I can, but please be aware I am on vacation at the moment and internet access is not straightforward.
We had questions submitted in advance of the meeting by eight fans, plus a group submission from London Alty. Unfortunately, no fans were able to attend on the day. We feel this is a missed opportunity for better engagement between the board and the supporters.
There will certainly be further, more formal sessions over the course of the season. It is clear from some of the questions asked that we are not communicating clearly enough the work that we are doing.
We believe that this forthcoming season will be a very important one, as several significant initiatives on and off the field will come to fruition. Our success in delivering these will create a strong platform for future growth. We will be asking for your support to help us achieve this ambition.
We are Alty FC and we’re on the way back.
Here are the categories, the questions and the answers...
Q: If we're going to be as successful as we all want in the long term, we'll need to go full time. What have the board done to research and explore what that would require?
A: We have done a great deal of work over the last six months in researching what it would need to go full time. In this period, we have met with around 10 clubs across the country who have either gone through this process, are about to or decided not to. Alty could not go full time tomorrow – we simply could not afford it. However, we believe there are ways that are within our means for us to begin this journey, and we will share our approach with you at a Meet the Manager and Board meeting in the early part of next season (date to be determined when the fixtures are out).
Q: Gloucester, King's Lynn & Gateshead have all joined the league. Do we do any overnight stays for longer distance away games?
A: Currently, there are no plans for overnight stops, but we do not rule them out. It will depend on the fixtures – last season, we were very lucky to have got the three longest north-east trips out of the way before winter, and this did help greatly.
Q: Have we shelved all plans to sell the shares or are we going to make a real and renewed effort to publicise and look for investors?
Q: What happened to Sports Business - are we still engaged with them, and if not, do we have a plan to replace their seeking of investment?
A: We have been preparing a targeted marketing campaign, aimed at the High Net Worth individuals in our area, which is close to launch. The board, in the meantime, continue to talk to potential investors but, as yet, without reward. We recognise that attracting further investment, bandwidth and capability is necessary for us to deliver our five-year plan. We are no longer working with The Sports Business.
Match Day Experience
Q: Season ticket and Patrons online is great, but are there any plans to start selling match tickets online and taking card payments at turnstiles?
A: We were very pleased to be able to offer both season ticket purchase and the ability to join the Patrons scheme online this year. It remains our intention to move to a more cashless means of ground admission, but it is clear more work needs to be done to overcome the barriers that we have around processing and accounting for cashless transactions. Once we have addressed these issues, we will look at trialling card payments at the turnstiles, with the intent to move to online ticket sales.
Q: Will the pop-up Libero craft beer store be returning for this season?
Q: Are we planning to consider updating the Sponsors' Lounge or make better use of the Vice-Presidents' Suite?
A: There are a number of initiatives in the pipeline to improve the match day experience. We believe it is very important to offer a diverse range of options to appeal to the broadest possible audience. We have been talking to Libero and others about how we can leverage off the success of last season's experiment. We are actively looking at how we can improve the Community Sports Hall and the Vice-Presidents' Suite. We are considering longer term significant investment in the Sponsors' Lounge.
Q: How are we going to make up the shortfall in gate receipts, with no FC United of Manchester or Stockport County home games this season?
A: We had a great season last season, and this was significantly helped by the increase in visiting fans. Our budget for the 19-20 season reflects the reduction in revenue from losing these two fixtures, but we have still budgeted aggressively for next season.
You will see we have secured the best management team in non-League football for another three years, and this is with the intent to progress up the pyramid. Our actions in the close-season demonstrate that, as a board, we are doing our utmost to give Phil Parkinson and Neil Sorvel what they need.
We are actively seeking new sources of income – sponsorship and investment to take this club back to where we belong.
Q: When is tender happening for Fan Catering, Hospitality/Corp. catering, Beer, Kit?
A: Our focus on providing an enhanced match day experience means we will be looking at all our suppliers in this regard, but also looking at the environment in which they deliver, and at broadening our offering across the board.
Therefore, you can expect to see significant activity in many of the areas you highlight in the next 12 months. Kit is the only area not covered explicitly by the previous sentence, but we will be exploring options in this area as well.
Let me add that we have, over the last 12 months, talked to a number of potential suppliers, including kit providers and brewers, to ensure that our current offerings are competitively priced, and we will continue to do this.
Q: What plans do we have to unify the club's branding across CSH, youth, ladies, men's, stadium signage, print, digital? What are the plans to move our brand forwards as we seek to be more professional?
A: I believe more work is needed before we can look at defining the brand identity and thus unifying across channels. We will seek to define minimum standards to facilitate future brand alignment. Our more important exercise will be to define brand values and ensure we are lining up behind them. We can then attract sponsors that are attracted by, and identify with, these values.
Q: What are the plans to improve our visibility in the town centre? Do we have plans for any visual posters, artwork or signage, similar to Manchester Storm's signage outside The Station pub?
A: This is certainly something we will be looking at, but this is not an area where we have focused much attention so far. More work to be done.
Inclusion & Diversity
Q: Are the board committed to Inclusion & Diversity?
Q: After the success of the Football v Homophobia Rainbow Kits last season, what plans do we have for this season?
A: Last season, our support for Football v Homophobia gave us an unparalleled level of media coverage and support and recognition from the football authorities and diversity groups. Inclusion and Diversity is now a fundamental component of our identity. We plan to reflect this with the forthcoming formal launch of Alty4All – championing all our inclusion and community activities.
Q: What is the plan with charity kits for this season? Being the 75th anniversary of D-Day, an armed forces charity might be appropriate.
A: This is a great idea – and I would love to hear from more of our fans with regards to their preferences.
Q: Under the aegis of the Diversity & Inclusion section, the club has undertaken some recent laudable initiatives pertaining to breast cancer and LGBT issues. There have also been regular promotions offering discounted admission prices to season ticket holders from Premier League and Football League clubs. However, there has been no attempt whatsoever to re-engage with those former Altrincham FC diehards who have ceased attending home fixtures in recent years. Therefore, I would be interested to learn whether there are any plans to try and reconnect with these presently ‘lost’/exiled supporters, as their ongoing absence continues to have an impact on gate receipts, player and match sponsorship promotions, bar revenue in the CSH and so forth.
A: For a club of our size to lose a section of our fan base, especially a group that has been so loyal for many years, can only be detrimental. We have worked hard to put the club on a better footing over the last two seasons. We are successfully rebuilding our footballing reputation, with the club playing football that bears comparison with the great Alty teams of the past. We are winning plaudits on and off the field and are showing ambition in all we do. We have to look forward, and, to achieve our aims, we have to grow our fan base significantly. We would love to see those still staying away back where they belong – inside The J.Davidson Stadium. We are open to working with you to get you back; but if your precondition is a change at the top, this is not something we will accommodate.
Q: During the last season in the conference and again more recently in the last few games, we have seen a very small minority of "fans" (10-15) aged 16-20 who have come only intent on goading or causing trouble with opposition fans. This stretches much further than the usual "banter", as could be seen outside the ground vs Blyth. I believe they are local "lads" coming to the football only looking for bother. If incidents occur (and they probably won't until games get bigger again), it may be worth seeking out some of the more familiar fans, who would be able to give sufficient intelligence to the stewards.
A: We have been aware of this small knot of individuals, and their potential to disrupt, for some time. They appeared at a couple of games in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League and were also at a number of games last season. As you observe, in numbers terms, they have been swamped by a very vocal group of new young supporters, who have massively increased the decibel level on the Golf Road, but you are right to raise your concerns. We ask any fan who sees any such unseemly behaviour to make Nigel Bunce and his team of stewards aware of this, so the appropriate action can be taken.
Q: I'd like to ask if there are plans to tidy the ground up - repairs to the scruffy bits of the ground, fitting bird netting under the roofs and keeping the ground clean of bird droppings on a regular basis. Maybe also look at the trees sprouting out behind the Golf Road, scruffy sign boards, damp around the front door, fixing the crumbling concrete on the Chequers end and levelling out some of the trip hazards on the pop side walkway.
A: The tidy-up days, now in full swing, are designed to address some of the more minor issues you outline above – those that can be carried out by volunteers. The second scheduled tidy-up day is this weekend (Saturday), and, with some of the first-team squad in attendance, we will continue to work our way through the list of tasks. You are all welcome to join us. Those more complex tasks will be worked on with the support of the appropriately-skilled contractors.
Q: Any chance of a grant to fund ground improvements? The popular side could do with new roofs either side of the one in the middle. Also, as previously mentioned, a roof for the away end, but only after the popular side improvements.
Q: Are there any plans for any significant ground improvements (eg roof on away end) in the near future?
Organisation Structure and Succession Planning
There were several questions in this area and I believe this response covers all areas.
We are doing a lot of work on our organisation structure, both from the top down and from the bottom up. This includes succession planning. This work has led us, as a board, to better understand where we need to strengthen. And as a consequence of this, we have been able to move quickly to appoint Paul Carter, formerly at Stalybridge Celtic, to replace Derek Wilshaw as football secretary. And having Paul in the team enables us to redistribute some of the existing board activities.
No business would share its succession planning with its stakeholders, and we are no exception. But you can be assured from Paul’s appointment that we are on the ball in this regard. We are also identifying new requirements as we evolve our operating model, and there will be more again as we flex as needed on our journey to full-time football. Specifically, we will not be addressing the role of vice-chairman until we have finished our deliberations into the organisation structure.
There were also questions specifically aimed at individuals on our board, and their future intent. I think these are more appropriately addressed to them personally, one-to-one.