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Supporter ownership: Q&A session with Erik Samuelson, CEO of AFC Wimbledon


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Q&A session with Erik Samuelson, Chief Executive of AFC Wimbledon

 

Members may recall that Erik Samuelson, CEO of AFC Wimbledon, kindly agreed to do a question and answer session for Jambos Kickback on the subject of supporters? ownership and particularly on the model which AFC Wimbledon use.

 

AFC Wimbledon are the highest profile, most successful example of supporter ownership in practice in the UK. Erik emphasises that every club will be in different circumstances and that there is no ?standard model?. Erik actually agreed to do this Q&A some months ago, but for various reasons it wasn't really the right time to go ahead. However we now reckon that it would be timely and useful in the current Hearts situation, where supporters? ownership is being mooted by both the club and by Foundation of Hearts (FoH), for JKB members to have an opportunity to explore the pros and cons with someone who has ?been there, done it?.

 

Erik has provided a short message to start off the discussion and also a couple of useful links which demonstrate supporters? ownership in action - I'll post these next. The plan is that members can use this thread to ask questions. Erik will post responses next Monday evening (April 22nd), and then stay online for a while to answer additional questions that members may have.

 

Please keep the questions fair and polite and about the Wimbledon model and lessons learned. For example it wouldn?t be fair to ask Erik leading questions about the Club or FOH plans ? I am sure he would be happy to speak directly to them if they want advice.

 

Erik's message is coming up next.

 

Ulysses

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A message from Erik

 

My name is Erik Samuelson and I am currently the Chief Executive of AFC Wimbledon. I am a qualified accountant and was a partner at what is now PwC until I got involved in the protest against moving Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes and subsequently the re-formation of the club as AFC Wimbledon.

 

Since 2002 I?ve been actively involved in Wimbledon (we never call ourselves ?AFC? ? it?s the ?Wimbledon? part of the name that matters to us!), first as Finance Director and subsequently as Chief Exec. I had never before been involved in any way in a football club, other than sitting behind the goal with my wife and sons.

 

We are a fans?-owned club, with a Supporters? Trust having ultimate ownership of the football club and stadium companies. The day-to-day operation is carried out by the club, while the Dons Trust effectively operates as the oversight company ? one way of thinking of the DT board is as a group of elected non executive directors.

 

In the ten and a bit years since our league place was hijacked up the M1, we have won five promotions, eventually to the Football League, bought and improved our own stadium, and are now aiming to move back to Wimbledon in a new stadium.

 

I?ve been asked many times if our club is a model for Supporters? Trusts and in many ways the answer is ?no? ? unless you too have your club taken away from you and have to start from scratch. But there are probably lessons we?ve learned which could be of use to others who are aiming to set up a Trust with a view to owning their club. I?d be happy to answer questions from anyone about how we got to where we are and what we?ve learned.

 

Cheers,

 

Erik

 

 

Background information

 

The history of AFC Wimbledon can be found here:

 

http://en.wikipedia....i/AFC_Wimbledon

 

 

A couple of interesting schemes which illustrate fan ownership in operation:

 

The ?We are Wimbledon? Fund

 

http://www.wearewimbledonfund.com/

 

"The fund aims to raise ?400,000 a year through direct debits and one off donations under the umbrella of The Dons Trust. Money will go directly to the playing budget.

This is not about switching our generosity from other areas of the club to the playing budget. It is about generating ADDITIONAL money to take us out of the budget league relegation zone and up towards mid table."

 

 

Stadium clean-up weekends

 

http://www.afcwimble...nds-734712.aspx

 

A request for volunteers to help out

 

"AFC Wimbledon?s stadium clean-up weekends have received a superb response from volunteers in the past and we are once again looking for your assistance during the close season.

 

We have scheduled our annual clean-up weekends for 25/26 May and 6/7 July and if you have spare time to help spruce up the Cherry Red Records Stadium in time for 2013/14, then please let us know.

 

Many jobs need doing to ensure that the stadium is in good order when the new season kicks off, including mowing the grass in the overflow car park and cutting back bushes and undergrowth, power-washing the stands and terraces, and painting. Although most tools will be provided, if you are able to bring your own - in particular, power washers - that would be appreciated. Refreshments will be provided throughout the day."

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We're going to let this thread run in the Terrace for a little while, and then we'll sticky it.

 

Don't forget, the Q&A is planned for the evening of Monday, April 22nd.

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I note you allow(ed) one of donations? How did that compare volume wise compared to regualr direct debits, and do many direct debits drop off during time, such as a bad run by the first team?

 

It will be interesting to know, particulalry the latter, though I know you case is different as the circumstances that lead to you forming are different to FoH, so more tolerance of poor performances may exist.

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Francis Albert

First, congratulations on keeping a real football club alive.

 

1. It seems likely that acquiring Hearts will require an up front capital sum of a few million. Although as I understand it the initial establishment of AFC Wimbledon didn't face this problem, substantial sums have subsequently been raised to buy the stadium. How were these (and how would any future) lump sum capital requirements be raised?

 

2. The Dons Trust is apparently composed entirely of people directly elected from the membership,. Has this created any problems in terms of stability or the sound running of the Trust or the club? (FoH say they require control for up to three years, before opening up to a fully elected board, in order to ensure stability)

 

3. What other fan ownership models/examples did you consider when setting up your structure? (FoH have cited only Barcelona, which although we are a bigger club than you, doesn't seem an obvious comparator for us!)

 

4. Has the Foundation of Hearts or the Hearts football club itself consulted you?

 

5. (just out of curiousity, did any or many fans of the old Wimbledon become MK Dons fans?)

Edited by Francis Albert
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scott herbertson

Thank you for agreeing to do this session Erik

 

Can you let us know what the annual turnover of AFC is, and what proportion comes from gate revenue, and what comes from undraising schemes by fans

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How much money did you raise initially from supporters?

 

As time went by, did the level of contributions by supporters increase, decrease or remain static?

 

How exactly is the club board appointed?

 

In what way (or ways) has the supporter ownership model at Wimbledon been a success? In what ways would you say it's been a hindrance?

 

With the benefit of hindsight, if you had it all to do again, what things would you insist be done differently?

 

:thumbsup:

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Guest GhostHunter

Thanks for agreeing to do this Erik - it's very much appreciated.

 

Just one question for now...

 

How hard was it to galvanize and then unite the fans so that they were all pulling in the same direction - what steps did you implement at the start of the process ?

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Charlie-Brown

Thanks Erik for your input.

 

Would you say the Wimbledon fan base have remained United towards the common cause or have factions emerged or existed if so what issues did these create?

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scott herbertson

A sneaky side question Erik - we are being linked with ex Wimbledon and Kingstonian forward Christan Jolley - how do you feel he would fare in the SPL?

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Geoff Kilpatrick

Erik, the demographics of Wimbledon fans when you were in the Premier League showed that your fans had the highest amount of disposable income.

 

With that in mind, how much did that drive the level of contributions needed and their 'stickability' and what insights would translate to our support who, while probably one of the more affluent supports in Scotland, have a lot of diehard working class fans who may find it hard to contribute significant amounts?

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Harry Palmer

Thanks Erik.

 

I just don't see how fan ownership works unless there is significant back up funds and that's probably been queried above but it's probably the main concern/query.

 

It's fair enough in the likes of Germany where clubs have to be 50+1 in fan ownership but they have a massive population, cheap prices and optimistic football (before lawson spraffs). England has ~10x the population of Scotland and there are very few fan owned clubs, although Portsmouth are now out of Admin into fan ownership.

 

What does fan ownership actually mean? Where does the money come from? Just the fans? Or the fans plus investors? Not really a question more of a ramble...

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Erik will post responses to questions on Monday, and will be online to answer any supplementary questions from approximately 7 pm.

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Francis Albert

A couple of others if I may.

 

What were/are are the main channels of communication with the Trust members during and since acquisition?

 

Can you say a bit about how the "supervisory" Trust Board interacts with you and the others running the club day to day? What decisions does the Trust Board determine or have a say in?

Edited by Francis Albert
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Dusk_Till_Dawn

Erik,

 

Lose next weekend and you'll be relegated from the Football League. It'll be a shame if it happens but I suppose when you've had a lot of ups, you have to have the odd down.

 

My question would be this - do you think it's feasible for supporter- owned clubs to thrive long term in professional leagues? Port Vale have had a hard few years and you're obviously struggling this season. Something tells me the Pompey ST have got a job on their hands too.

 

Kudos for the job done at AFC btw.

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How many different supporters' groups do Wimbledon have each with their own ideas of how it should be done?

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tartofmidlothian

Thanks for doing this Erik, and congratulations on keeping your club alive.

 

Apologies for not being up to speed on your funding model, but do you use supporter cash subscriptions as FOH are suggesting for Hearts? If not, did you consider them? If yes to either, what would you say are the pros and cons of this?

 

Beyond matchday and transfer income, which other forms of raising revenue have you used or explored? Stadium naming rights, glamour friendlies, fundraising events, soliciting local businesses for donations and so on. Also, have you used any incentives to maximise matchday income, ie cheap tickets, offers for selected games and so on?

 

The stadium cleanup days are a great idea. How much do you find your fans are able to contribute to the physical upkeep of the club on a voluntary basis? For example, keeping a bank of tradespeople and handymen's contacts from among your support and perhaps offering them a couple of matchday tickets for doing minor maintenance jobs? If you don't do this, do you think it sounds like a workable idea?

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Voice of reason

Erik,

 

You say you had never ran a football club before this. What are the key differences between running a 'normal' company and a football club? What are the pitfalls that the novice prospective new owners at Hearts (Foundation of Hearts) should be aware of in your experience?

 

Thanks

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I note you allow(ed) one of donations? How did that compare volume wise compared to regualr direct debits, and do many direct debits drop off during time, such as a bad run by the first team?

 

It will be interesting to know, particulalry the latter, though I know you case is different as the circumstances that lead to you forming are different to FoH, so more tolerance of poor performances may exist.

 

As a test I?ve decided to answer the first question, just to prove to myself that I can post. I will post my other answers sometime before 7.00 pm on Monday.

 

We get a whole range of donations. I?ll break this question down to the time before the latest two initiatives (?We are Wimbledon? and the ?Blue and Yellow club?) and since they started.

 

Last year (ended 30 June 2012) we received about ?106k in donations. These break down into:

a. A one-off donation by a very generous individual donor ?50k;

b. donations attached to season tickets ?22k;

c. donations re returned ST vouchers ?22k;

d. sundry ?12k.

 

To explain b. a bit more, when we first started the club we asked fans to send ?200 for a one year ST as an advance so we could afford to commit to the rental for our proposed ground share. Given the levevl we were due to play at (if Man Utd = level 1, we started at level 9) we soon realised this was far too high a price so we reduced the cost of a ST to ?150 and asked the fans to donate the balance to us. Almost everyone did. Since then, every season we ask fans to give us ?50 as a totally voluntary donation when they renew their ST. We got about ?22k from this last year.

 

Re ? we ask any ST holders who can?t come to a game to donate their ST voucher to us so we can re-sell the seat (we?ve always been short of seats). Only one or two people who return vouchers ask for the money to be refunded and the other donated returns lead to, in effect, a transfer of 1/23 of the cost of the relevant ST from gate money to donations. If we can re-sell the seat, there is an obvious bonus as we?ve got both the donation and the income for the re-sold seat. If we can?t re-sell it, we can still re-claim the VAT on part of the ST which has a cash flow benefit (yes, HMRC has approved this process). I am pretty sure this wouldn?t work for most clubs but it does very nicely for us.

 

This season two groups of fans have started fundraising initiatives. WAW is targeting regular donations whereas membership of the B&Y club requires a one-off sum annually. WAW has asked fans to donate by direct debit. It is too early to say what will affect the number and value of DDs but the initial returns are very promising. On top of that WAW has had a few one-off donations but I?d say they were a relatively small percentage. But it is early days.

 

In general, given how we started, our fans are very generous and when we have needed money to strengthen the team then some fans have come to help, e.g. with a transfer fee or a contribution towards the wages of the sought-after player.

 

I am not a very speedy typist so if all my answers are this detailed I will be writing from now until 7.00 pm on Monday!

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Dusk_Till_Dawn

How are Ebsfleet Untied doing and what are the differences between them and you?

 

Ebbsfleet aren''t owned by supporters. They're owned by the general public en masse - all of whom have (or had) a say in basically every decision.

 

A total circus in other words. The likes of Wimbledon at least operate in the manner of proper football clubs, with a recognisable hierarchy.

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Dusk_Till_Dawn

Do you pay agents fees for signings or for contract extensions ?

 

One of five Football League clubs who didn't pay agents a single pound in 2011/12

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Ebbsfleet aren''t owned by supporters. They're owned by the general public en masse - all of whom have (or had) a say in basically every decision.

 

A total circus in other words. The likes of Wimbledon at least operate in the manner of proper football clubs, with a recognisable hierarchy.

 

You are right. I imagine when most people invested though, they would be supporters, as why would you invest in a club you did not follow? There is no financial reasons to do so.

 

With regards to a say in everything, that can not work. Fan ownership must allow the fans to vote for the board on a yearly basis and allow fans to stand. The Board must be the ones to make the decisions, but fans must have the chance to vote them off if the decisions made are wrong.

Edited by Simon Says
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Dusk_Till_Dawn

 

 

You are right. I imagine when most people invested though, they would be supporters, as why would you invest in a club you did not follow? There is no financial reasons to do so.

 

With regards to a say in everything, that can not work. Fan ownership must allow the fans to vote for the board on a yearly basis and allow fans to stand. The Board must be the ones to make the decisions, but fans must have the chance to vote them off if the decisions made are wrong.

 

I know about 15 people who bought a share in Ebsfleet. They all support Leeds. But it was ?30 and it was a novel concept so thousands of people across the country got involved. The other night about seven folk turned up to their game.

 

When I say a decision in everything I mean everything - so much so that the team was picked each week on the basis of votes by the thousands of stakeholders. The manager did what the poll told him to. It wasn't (and was never supposed to be) a supporter-owned model as we all understand it. It was a fecking pantomime.

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Hi Erik, thanks for taking the time to do this for us. Much appreciated. :)

 

1. So that we can try and make a very rough guess at comparative levels of interest/funding from our own supporters could you please give a little more info on rough size of your fan base, number of season ticket holders and number of people who have pledged to donate on a regular basis?

 

2. How many people are on the Trust board and what sort of background do they have? I.e. are they generally elected on basis of their professional skills?

 

3. How does the Trust generally communicate with its members? How do the members influence decision making and for what type of decisions are their views sought?

 

4. As others have already said, it would be great if you could give us background to the ways in which your model has evolved over time and the pitfalls or problems you encountered along the way.

 

5. Out of interest, what sort of annual player budget do you have?

 

Edited by redm
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I know about 15 people who bought a share in Ebsfleet. They all support Leeds. But it was ?30 and it was a novel concept so thousands of people across the country got involved. The other night about seven folk turned up to their game.

 

When I say a decision in everything I mean everything - so much so that the team was picked each week on the basis of votes by the thousands of stakeholders. The manager did what the poll told him to. It wasn't (and was never supposed to be) a supporter-owned model as we all understand it. It was a fecking pantomime.

 

Sound like it - that is a format that will do more damage than good.

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Chris Benoit

Question from Jammy T posted in wrong thread

 

Erik

 

Great to have someone with experience of this set up to share his experiences.

 

Probably a difficult question for you to answer but it appears Hearts have two models on the table at present:

 

1. one based on 100% fan ownership (Foundation of Hearts)

2. one based on 51% fan ownership with apparently the current ownership keeping the remaining 49%

 

Now, I am a bit, lets say, jaundiced with the current ownership but even the most fervent supporters of Romanov and his cohorts would concede that most of the time the running of the business has been, well most neutral I can put it is erratic.

 

Do you have any observations as to whether you consider model 2 to be workable? Or will fan ownership only really work in an environment of 100% fan owners?

 

 

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Francis Albert

Covered by Marquis de Carabas. Thanks.

 

I'll use the slot to slip in another of my own.

 

Why did you go down the route of becoming an Industrial and Provident Society rather than say a limited company?

Edited by Francis Albert
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Chris Benoit

As above from Mysterion this time

 

 

 

 

Good point!

I have some questions for Erik:

 

Do you have a financial contingency plan?

If so - Do you have any guidance towards determining the amount of money that should be set aside (eg. 5% of ticket sales)?

Have you had to utilise emergency funding during the more recent history of AFCW and how did this influence the club's approach to emergency planning?

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First, congratulations on keeping a real football club alive.

 

1. It seems likely that acquiring Hearts will require an up front capital sum of a few million. Although as I understand it the initial establishment of AFC Wimbledon didn't face this problem, substantial sums have subsequently been raised to buy the stadium. How were these (and how would any future) lump sum capital requirements be raised?

 

2. The Dons Trust is apparently composed entirely of people directly elected from the membership,. Has this created any problems in terms of stability or the sound running of the Trust or the club? (FoH say they require control for up to three years, before opening up to a fully elected board, in order to ensure stability)

 

3. What other fan ownership models/examples did you consider when setting up your structure? (FoH have cited only Barcelona, which although we are a bigger club than you, doesn't seem an obvious comparator for us!)

 

4. Has the Foundation of Hearts or the Hearts football club itself consulted you?

 

5. (just out of curiousity, did any or many fans of the old Wimbledon become MK Dons fans?)

I am going to repeat the questions with my answers underneath - let's see if that works:

 

First, congratulations on keeping a real football club alive.

Thanks very much ? it?s still heartwarming to hear fans of other clubs say that.

 

1. It seems likely that acquiring Hearts will require an up front capital sum of a few million. Although as I understand it the initial establishment of AFC Wimbledon didn't face this problem, substantial sums have subsequently been raised to buy the stadium. How were these (and how would any future) lump sum capital requirements be raised?

 

We paid ?2.4m for the stadium ? remember it was a non-league stadium, although it had already been upgraded for Football Conference national standards in line with the rules in place 11 years ago. We paid for it in stages:

  1. We created an intermediate holding company called AFCW PLC and issued shares. After expenses this raised about ?1.25m
  2. We couldn?t get anyone to lend us the balance but fortunately for us the people who sold us the stadium agreed that they should become our creditors and we paid them a high, but not usurious, rate of interest on the debt
  3. So we decided to issue a Bond. These were for four years, but capable of being extended (and most have done so) and you could select your own interest rate, subject to a cap. We raised about ?300k. About half the Bond holders chose 0% and the average rate paid was about 2%, a nice cheap loan
  4. Then we decided to spend some of our five year ST money on reducing the debt. Spending next year?s income can be a very risky option but we knew we had a pretty certain stream of income coming from the Trust?s fundraising and so it was set aside for the purpose of replacing the annual ST income we?d spent on repaying some debt. In effect, we were spending the next five years? fundraising on reducing the debt.
  5. Then we, astonishingly, managed to get a bank loan which cleared the final tranche of the debt on purchase. We make the capital repayments on the loan from the Trust?s fundraising and the interest is paid by the operating company

As for subsequent fundraising, we?ve self funded substantial improvements to our stadium to make it Football League compliant (plus about ?600k of Football Stadia Improvement Fund grants).

 

For our hoped-for new stadium, we expect most of it to be paid for by enabling development but we are also changing our constitution to allow us to issue Community Shares in the Trust, hopefully qualifying as an Enterprise Investment Scheme, so that investors get 30% tax relief up front on their investment. Supporters Direct have been a great help in pulling the Community Shares plans together.

 

2. The Dons Trust is apparently composed entirely of people directly elected from the membership,. Has this created any problems in terms of stability or the sound running of the Trust or the club? (FoH say they require control for up to three years, before opening up to a fully elected board, in order to ensure stability)

 

No, I don?t think the structure or the way directors are elected has caused any stability problems. It is relevant that the Trust was set up before our league position was shamefully shifted to Buckinghamshire, so the initial idea was to get a place on the board of Wimbledon FC. A mere three months later we were looking at re-forming the club from scratch and it is certainly true that the fans who stood for the Trust board didn?t expect to be responsible for the oversight of a football club. But even then, the transition to that role was fairly painless.

 

Some of the Trust board members have said, fairly regularly, that the Trust needs a bit more business expertise and I agree with that. Not to help run the club on a day-to-day basis , but to provide strategic insight, to challenge what we are proposing by drawing on actual experience of, say, governance, marketing, etc. But the Trust board is stable.

 

Having said that, we can?t arrange for a balanced board in terms of skills and experience when it is all done by a vote but we can co-opt specific skills if needed. In practice, what we get is a range of skills and experience being made available to us by people who just want to see the club do well, but don?t necessarily want to stand for election. It?s all about pulling together and contributing what you can. If this sounds idealistic, well two things: 1, if there isn?t room for idealism and a bit of romance in football then it is all the poorer for it 2, it works for us

 

3. What other fan ownership models/examples did you consider when setting up your structure? (FoH have cited only Barcelona, which although we are a bigger club than you, doesn't seem an obvious comparator for us!)

 

I wasn?t involved in the creation of the Trust but it was initially set up as the best way to try to gain a place on the Wimbledon FC board ? then things changed rapidly. Supporters Direct were brilliant helping us at the first stage and then giving advice and support when we realised the Trust was going to be owning a football club. They left us to make our own decisions but were always available to offer support and advice when we needed it.

 

4. Has the Foundation of Hearts or the Hearts football club itself consulted you?

 

No, nor our Trust so far as I am aware

 

5. (just out of curiousity, did any or many fans of the old Wimbledon become MK Dons fans?)

 

They claim there are a lot. We are pretty sure it is a handful, say 20 or so. Over the years quite a few have drifted back and we?ve welcomed them

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Thank you for agreeing to do this session Erik

 

Can you let us know what the annual turnover of AFC is, and what proportion comes from gate revenue, and what comes from undraising schemes by fans

Response as before - repeated questions first then my replies - this works better for me wttih multiple Qs

 

Thank you for agreeing to do this session Erik

 

It?s a pleasure.

 

Can you let us know what the annual turnover of AFC is, and what proportion comes from gate revenue, and what comes from fundraising schemes by fans

 

From the accounts to 30 June 2012 (which are filed at Companies House, so this is publicly available information):

 

Turnover:

 

Match receipts and prize money

1,614,058

Merchandise and programmes

255,319

Sponsorships and advertising

326,364

Bar and catering

336,769

Community football scheme

82,180

Donations

104,185

Youth development income

318,461

Other

1,626

 

3,038,962

 

On top of this, the Trust raises over ?100k per annum from fundraising. This money is invested in shares in the club and the club then spends it on capital projects or repaying the bank loan, so it isn?t included in the above figures.

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How much money did you raise initially from supporters?

 

As time went by, did the level of contributions by supporters increase, decrease or remain static?

 

How exactly is the club board appointed?

 

In what way (or ways) has the supporter ownership model at Wimbledon been a success? In what ways would you say it's been a hindrance?

 

With the benefit of hindsight, if you had it all to do again, what things would you insist be done differently?

 

:thumbsup:

 

How much money did you raise initially from supporters?

 

Unfortunately I can?t currently find the accounts for June 2003 but, as I said in my answer to a different question, the main money came in chunks ? first a share issue; then a Bond issue; then money from the five year STs, then a bank loan. Plus, in year one we were playing in front of average crowds of over 3,000 and most players were on ?30 - ?50 per week. So we made some money there too!

 

As time went by, did the level of contributions by supporters increase, decrease or remain static?

 

I?d say that the level has been pretty stable with a surge once in a while, when money is needed for a specific purpose. Over the last couple of years, I think we?ve detected some volunteer fatigue and we?re taking action about that. But given where we started I think there is an unusual level of commitment that would be hard to generate in other clubs. I?ve only ever been involved in this one, so I may be wrong about that but my view is that adversity creates a special bond and we?ve been able to keep that together over the years

 

How exactly is the club board appointed?

 

By the Trust, which owns the club via the PLC (see earlier answer). In practice the first directors were two of the men who founded the club, plus me. Since then only three more directors have been appointed in 11 years, with two stepping down, so it is a pretty rare event.

 

In what way (or ways) has the supporter ownership model at Wimbledon been a success? In what ways would you say it's been a hindrance?

 

I like to think it has given us a special spirit and sense of togetherness and belonging. And confidence that no-one can steal our club from us. Plus it is fairly easy for fans to be actively involved and, speaking as a typical fan before all this started, I?d have loved to be able to be involved in some way and feel that I was contributing. Fans here have that opportunity ? we could manage it better I?m sure, but the level and type of involvement is extraordinary. So we have a wide range of skills all dedicated to the same objective ? it?s a powerful force.

 

With the benefit of hindsight, if you had it all to do again, what things would you insist be done differently?

 

Lots and lots of things but none of the massive issues. Anyway, you learn from your mistakes and so long as they aren?t fatal, that strengthens you.

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Thanks for agreeing to do this Erik - it's very much appreciated.

 

Just one question for now...

 

How hard was it to galvanize and then unite the fans so that they were all pulling in the same direction - what steps did you implement at the start of the process ?

 

Thanks for agreeing to do this Erik - it's very much appreciated.

My pleasure.

 

Just one question for now...

 

How hard was it to galvanize and then unite the fans so that they were all pulling in the same direction - what steps did you implement at the start of the process ?

 

First, I?d hate to give the idea that I galvanised anyone. To be honest, my view is that we were a bit na?ve and it just never occurred to us (well not to me anyway) that this wouldn?t work.

 

As for motivation well there was such a massive sense of injustice that it brought everyone together. And there was enormous energy from the four founders, Kris Stewart (my predecessor as CEO); Ivor Heller (still the Commercial Director); Trevor Williams (our first club secretary) and Marc Jones (a former Trust board member and still involved in all sorts of ways). The galvanising came from them but I don?t think it was conscious ? it was just, ?right, let?s get on with this? and they did, which turned out to be inspirational.

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Thanks Erik for your input.

 

Would you say the Wimbledon fan base have remained United towards the common cause or have factions emerged or existed if so what issues did these create?

 

Thanks Erik for your input.

You?re welcome.

Would you say the Wimbledon fan base have remained United towards the common cause or have factions emerged or existed if so what issues did these create?

 

I am confident that we remain united. There are bound to be different views and contentious issues can lead to disputes, for example when we sacked our first manager despite the team being unbeaten in 20-odd games, or when an outsider wanted to buy the club and some Trust board members appeared to support the idea.

 

I didn?t agree to do this Q&A with the intention of plugging anything but issues such as those have been explored in detail by the people who were involved, so you canall sides of the story. It is all in a terrific book called ?This is our Time? by Niall Couper. It?s in our online club shop and, interestingly, the publisher (a fan) said to me that he sees it as a manual on how to do what we did. Advert over.

 

Overall, we don?t seem to get anywhere near as much abuse as it seems directors at other clubs get. I suppose the reason is that fans know the directors haven?t got money to pile in and also, very importantly in my opinion, we are very accessible ? you can catch most of us wandering around the stadium and the car park before a game, so if a fan has anything to say then he/she knows where to come. Plus the regular Trust meetings for Q&A. And perhaps most important of all, we know that most critical comments are from fans who just want us to do better as a club and if criticism is delivered from a good heart, it is much easier to accept.

 

Of course there are some scurrilous things put on chat sites about us, but it?s just better not to read them??

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A sneaky side question Erik - we are being linked with ex Wimbledon and Kingstonian forward Christan Jolley - how do you feel he would fare in the SPL?

 

A sneaky side question Erik - we are being linked with ex Wimbledon and Kingstonian forward Christan Jolley - how do you feel he would fare in the SPL?

 

Hah, sneaky indeed!!

 

Christian is a genuinely nice young man with a strong work ethic and he loves to play and learn about football. He would be absolutely brilliant in the SPL and if you think my comments are motivated by us having a sell-on clause, well I couldn?t possibly comment!

 

More seriously, the only game I?ve ever seen live in Scotland was East Fife versus Stenhousemuir five or six years ago, so I?m not well placed to comment on Scottish football. Plus I always say to our manager that I don?t understand football so he shouldn?t listen to my opinions and he seems pretty willing to go along with that.

 

I am not seeking to curry favour, but this seems like a good time to mention my long-term affinity with Hearts. I was born and brought up in Sunderland where our team?s English-born players were never selected for internationals, but we had lots of quality Scottish players. The first ones I remember were Charlie Fleming and George Aitken (from East Fife?) which tells you something about my age, but later there were players such as Jim Baxter, Billy Hughes, Bobby Kerr, Ian Porterfield, Neil Martin, etc. and so I tended to support Scotland.

 

Also, at the age of about 10 and thanks to one of those random whims of a young child, I decided that Hearts was the Scottish club for me. My Hearts hero was Willie Bauld, for no other reason that I can recall other than I had him in a card collection from cigarette sweets.

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Erik, the demographics of Wimbledon fans when you were in the Premier League showed that your fans had the highest amount of disposable income.

 

With that in mind, how much did that drive the level of contributions needed and their 'stickability' and what insights would translate to our support who, while probably one of the more affluent supports in Scotland, have a lot of diehard working class fans who may find it hard to contribute significant amounts?

 

Erik, the demographics of Wimbledon fans when you were in the Premier League showed that your fans had the highest amount of disposable income.

 

 

From memory we had the highest average earnings, which isn?t quite the same thing, but the question is still a good one ? and my memory isn?t perfect anyway.

 

With that in mind, how much did that drive the level of contributions needed and their 'stickability' and what insights would translate to our support who, while probably one of the more affluent supports in Scotland, have a lot of diehard working class fans who may find it hard to contribute significant amounts?

 

 

I think we are like many clubs in that our fans have a wide range of earnings, from people who struggle to afford to come to games, to pretty wealthy. From each what they can afford and want to give, I guess. No-one is regarded less well if they don?t contribute.

I am struggling to give you any insight here. I can say that we aren?t particularly aggressive in seeking funds, but we are also not afraid to ask.

 

Sorry, that answer feels a bit lame.

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Thanks Erik.

 

I just don't see how fan ownership works unless there is significant back up funds and that's probably been queried above but it's probably the main concern/query.

 

It's fair enough in the likes of Germany where clubs have to be 50+1 in fan ownership but they have a massive population, cheap prices and optimistic football (before lawson spraffs). England has ~10x the population of Scotland and there are very few fan owned clubs, although Portsmouth are now out of Admin into fan ownership.

 

What does fan ownership actually mean? Where does the money come from? Just the fans? Or the fans plus investors? Not really a question more of a ramble...

 

Thanks Erik.

 

I just don't see how fan ownership works unless there is significant back up funds and that's probably been queried above but it's probably the main concern/query.

 

It's fair enough in the likes of Germany where clubs have to be 50+1 in fan ownership but they have a massive population, cheap prices and optimistic football (before lawson spraffs). England has ~10x the population of Scotland and there are very few fan owned clubs, although Portsmouth are now out of Admin into fan ownership.

 

What does fan ownership actually mean? Where does the money come from? Just the fans? Or the fans plus investors? Not really a question more of a ramble...

 

 

You are right that raising money is an issue for a fans-owned club. I?ve dealt with part of this (e.g. re funding a new stadium) in earlier replies and my typing speed means I need to ask you to look at them please. However, I?ve not really dealt with success on the pitch and the link to money, so I will cover that now.

 

The FL publishes a league table of wages by division, so we get the League 2 table which is anonymised but which shows that this season we are 21st in the wages table. Last season we were also 21st.

 

In his book ?Why England Loses? Stefan Szymanski argues powerfully that spending on players' wages will eventually be matched by league position. We can all think of short term exceptions, but in the end I think he is right. So, any result above 21st this season would not only be very welcome but an over-performance on our part.

 

The problem for us is how to increase our income and we are relying on a whole range of ideas, some of them independently initiated. In my view we will only get past this hurdle when we have a bigger stadium with better facilities, coupled with our Academy bringing through more young players as it matures and develops. Until then we might have a season or two of over-achievement but overall it will be a struggle.

 

As for investors, well we?d welcome them, but when people call or email to say they want to invest in the club they really mean ?I want to take over control of your club?. A recent survey of our fans confirmed that this is unacceptable so we are looking at what else we can offer investors without ceding control. That is not an easy problem to solve.

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A couple of others if I may.

 

What were/are are the main channels of communication with the Trust members during and since acquisition?

 

Can you say a bit about how the "supervisory" Trust Board interacts with you and the others running the club day to day? What decisions does the Trust Board determine or have a say in?

 

A couple of others if I may.

 

What were/are are the main channels of communication with the Trust members during and since acquisition?

 

 

We use a range of means. They vary from our web site, programme articles, regular members? meetings, social media, letters to members, etc. It?s an area we could do better and one of our issues is that we don?t know who all our fans are ? hence we?re aiming to develop a CRM system to help us to manage this better.

 

Can you say a bit about how the "supervisory" Trust Board interacts with you and the others running the club day to day? What decisions does the Trust Board determine or have a say in?

 

 

The Football Club Board (FCB) meets weekly but once a month it meets with a formal agenda and papers. (Remember that we are mainly volunteers so getting together is essential to help us to keep up as well as the formal meeting as a board.) The chair of the Don Trust Board (DTB) attends the formal monthly meeting and the papers from that meeting are updated and sent as a formal report to the DTB for its monthly meeting a week or so later.

 

The DTB sets or agrees the strategy and is responsible for overseeing the work of the FCB. I tend to describe it as operating as a board of non-executives. The four FCB members are invited to DTB meetings but don?t have a vote. In practice I always go and the other FCB directors attend when they can or at the request of the DTB. To give you an example of how key decisions are made, when we appointed Neal Ardley as our manager in October, the entire process was carried out by the football club board, but the DT board was given a full run down on the process, the criteria, and why we selected Neal. Their job was to make sure we did it professionally, not to second guess our decision.

 

I need to say this somewhere, although it isn?t directly related to this question. We get a lot of things wrong and if you asked our fans they?d no doubt have quite a few gripes, so please don?t think we are exceptional or fantastically gifted. We?re just passionate about our club, in the same way as you are, and so are the very many fans who participate in different ways.

 

And finally, just to be clear, any opinions in these answers are mine and are not made on behalf of the club or Trust.

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Erik,

 

Lose next weekend and you'll be relegated from the Football League. It'll be a shame if it happens but I suppose when you've had a lot of ups, you have to have the odd down.

 

My question would be this - do you think it's feasible for supporter- owned clubs to thrive long term in professional leagues? Port Vale have had a hard few years and you're obviously struggling this season. Something tells me the Pompey ST have got a job on their hands too.

 

Kudos for the job done at AFC btw.

 

Lose next weekend and you'll be relegated from the Football League. It'll be a shame if it happens but I suppose when you've had a lot of ups, you have to have the odd down.

 

 

We go down if we draw, too, given our goal difference, but we also know that if we win we must stay up, due to the way the other fixtures fall. So there?s no need to watch the other clubs? scores, it is all down to what we do on the day.

 

My question would be this - do you think it's feasible for supporter- owned clubs to thrive long term in professional leagues? Port Vale have had a hard few years and you're obviously struggling this season. Something tells me the Pompey ST have got a job on their hands too.

 

 

Yes, I think it is possible. It is a struggle ? see my earlier answer re funding the players? wages ? but it can be done. I think it is harder if you are taking over an existing club, as usually a Trust can only do this if the club is a financial basket case (I?ve got no-one particular in mind here by the way) and if it has massive debts then getting it back on an even keel is a very different battle from the one we faced. But this is where Supporters Direct can help as they?ve ?been there seen it all? and are very practical in the advice they give.

 

The big issue is the way that clubs are funded and the willingness of owners to run in the red. I forget the exact figures but of the clubs in League 2 (based on recent published accounts) about 15 have a note in their accounts saying they are going concerns only on condition of the continued support of their directors and about 10 have negative equity (or, as I prefer to put it, are apparently worth less than nothing). The wage cap systems that League 2 operates is profit based and ignores the balance sheet, so I doubt clubs? underlying health will improve much without radical change. A simple example: a club runs at, say, ?0.5m operating loss which is made up by the owner. The club enters into three year contracts with players and then the owner loses interest or his business starts to struggle - and the club is left with massive contractual commitments and a serious shortage of funding.

 

I will put this another way. Trusts have to run their clubs on a sustainable business. Sugar daddies don?t, so Trusts will always struggle to compete at the highest level until the ground rules are changed. But with good husbandry, investment in youth and a strong, committed fan base which is willing to be patient, I believe it can be done. And don?t let anyone tell you that fans can?t own and run a club. They can and do, often a damn sight better and more responsibly than some of the ?businessmen? who run clubs.

 

Kudos for the job done at AFC btw.

 

 

Many thanks. It?s been huge fun and easily the best and most fulfilling years of my working life.

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How many different supporters' groups do Wimbledon have each with their own ideas of how it should be done?

 

How many different supporters' groups do Wimbledon have each with their own ideas of how it should be done?

 

When you are owned by the fans, there is limited point in having other fans? organisations. There is the Wimbledon Independent Supporters Association which did a great job in the protest years and has taken on some roles that we would have found difficult, for example, negotiating with ?them? in Buckinghamshire for the return to Merton Council of the trophies, trademarks, etc. We talk to WISA and the relationship is good. Apart from that, if fans want to change what we do, they should join the Trust and get involved!

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Thanks for doing this Erik, and congratulations on keeping your club alive.

 

Apologies for not being up to speed on your funding model, but do you use supporter cash subscriptions as FOH are suggesting for Hearts? If not, did you consider them? If yes to either, what would you say are the pros and cons of this?

 

Beyond matchday and transfer income, which other forms of raising revenue have you used or explored? Stadium naming rights, glamour friendlies, fundraising events, soliciting local businesses for donations and so on. Also, have you used any incentives to maximise matchday income, ie cheap tickets, offers for selected games and so on?

 

The stadium cleanup days are a great idea. How much do you find your fans are able to contribute to the physical upkeep of the club on a voluntary basis? For example, keeping a bank of tradespeople and handymen's contacts from among your support and perhaps offering them a couple of matchday tickets for doing minor maintenance jobs? If you don't do this, do you think it sounds like a workable idea?

 

Thanks for doing this Erik, and congratulations on keeping your club alive.

 

Apologies for not being up to speed on your funding model, but do you use supporter cash subscriptions as FOH are suggesting for Hearts? If not, did you consider them? If yes to either, what would you say are the pros and cons of this?

 

I think I answered this in an earlier question but if there is anything I didn?t cover, please do say so.

 

Beyond matchday and transfer income, which other forms of raising revenue have you used or explored? Stadium naming rights, glamour friendlies, fundraising events, soliciting local businesses for donations and so on. Also, have you used any incentives to maximise matchday income, ie cheap tickets, offers for selected games and so on?

 

 

Our stadium naming rights are taken by Cherry Red Records, which is owned by a fan. Then three of the stands are also sponsored. Glamour friendlies aren?t as easy to arrange as we would like and the general appetite for such games has eased in recent years, but we do play such games pre-season ? the objective is foremost to get the team fit under the manager?s schedule but he understands we need to raise money (after all, its for him to spend!) so it is always a joint approach to PSFs.

 

We do offer ticket deals, for example when we are playing a club with limited numbers of visiting fans and we can sell more seats. We don?t do this a lot, maybe three times a season. But then we?ve not often got a lot of spare capacity, so the financial benefits would be limited.

 

The stadium cleanup days are a great idea. How much do you find your fans are able to contribute to the physical upkeep of the club on a voluntary basis? For example, keeping a bank of tradespeople and handymen's contacts from among your support and perhaps offering them a couple of matchday tickets for doing minor maintenance jobs? If you don't do this, do you think it sounds like a workable idea?

 

 

One day a week, two fans come in and do jobs from the ?defects book?. Also, there is a Stadium Working Group which looks at all sorts of things from planning applications, the design of a new stand, regular stadium inspections and organising tenders for work that is too extensive or specialised for volunteers. The group has access to lawyers, engineers, planning experts, etc. and meets monthly.

 

Once a year, all volunteers are invited to an away game of our choosing and they get a pre-match meal and drink, free coach travel, free entry to the game and a programme. This year over 100 volunteers took up the offer, which is partially funded by Cherry Red Records (see above re stadium sponsorship). This is a good bonding exercise and a more public way of thanking the volunteers than just occasional tickets. Incidentally, ?volunteers? includes tradesmen who give us very low mates rates for work at the stadium, because they are fans.

 

To put it another way, fans coming together, each with their own skills and abilities for the common purpose of a takeover/running a club is a good thing. It's a fundamental part of the way a model like this works.

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Being a fan lead club is ticket pricing cheaper as fans are more involved in the setting of pricing etc ?

 

Being a fan lead club is ticket pricing cheaper as fans are more involved in the setting of pricing etc ?

 

I would say we are in the middle of the ticket price range for League 2. We can?t be the cheapest as we don?t have a sugar daddy to make up the difference. Even then, prices can be controversial. Last year we increased the cost of an under 16 terrace ST from ?25 to ?40 and this caused quite a stir, as it is a 60% rise, but that still makes it only ?1.74 per game, which I continue to believe is cheap!

 

As a result of the feedback from that, we are committed to engaging with fans on future price increases in a more effective way.

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Erik,

 

You say you had never ran a football club before this. What are the key differences between running a 'normal' company and a football club? What are the pitfalls that the novice prospective new owners at Hearts (Foundation of Hearts) should be aware of in your experience?

 

Thanks

 

You say you had never ran a football club before this. What are the key differences between running a 'normal' company and a football club?

 

 

There is extraordinary pressure as a result of the massive number of people who devote a significant part of their time and energy to following and supporting their club and who are very emotional about it. The benefit is the loyalty of fans, the down side is the sense of responsibility to them to make sure that your stewardship is responsible and sustainable.

 

There is the pressure of not over-extending the business while knowing that failure is very, very expensive. I tend to describe it as running a business as well as we can so that we can blow the profits on having a football team!

 

Also there are employment issues. I don?t know of any other business where someone will come and negotiate improved wages for one of your existing employees and then demand to be paid for the privilege.

 

And just let?s say the ethics of football can be rather different from my previous work as a partner in PwC.

 

What are the pitfalls that the novice prospective new owners at Hearts (Foundation of Hearts) should be aware of in your experience?

 

 

Trying too hard to please and to be a success. You mustn?t put the long term future at risk for the sake of short term success on the pitch.

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Can you borrow money for say ground improvements or for a training ground purchase ?

 

Can you borrow money for say ground improvements or for a training ground purchase ?

 

Not easily ? it took us several years to get a bank loan and I?m not sure we?d get one in the current environment. But a combination of fundraising and grants has seen us through so far re ground improvements. I?ve not got the figures in front of me but I?d say we have spent over ?2m improving the current ground, of which nearly half has been in grants.

 

But a major new capital acquisition like a training ground would be a problem and, for now, we will need to continue renting our facilities.

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How are Ebsfleet Untied doing and what are the differences between them and you?

 

How are Ebsfleet Untied doing and what are the differences between them and you?

 

 

I never thought the experiment would succeed and it clearly hasn?t. I know the manager fairly well and admire him for the super job he has done on limited resources but I don?t think the project helped him, except maybe in year one.

 

I am not an expert on how it was meant to work but the idea of selling a local, community-based club to anyone who fancies investing seems to me to be going in the wrong direction for football by about 180 degrees.

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