AGM 2020 | Your Questions Answered
At this year's AGM a range of questions were put to the panel by those members in attendance. The answers to these questions have been returned by Nick Hawker, Richard Pym, Peter Holding, Julian Tagg, Keith Mason, and Will Barrett, and are presented in a Q&A format below.
Q. How many members are retained this year?
NH: We currently have 3845 members including 548 juniors. This compares to 3583 a year ago with 521 juniors. 36 corporate members compared to 31 a year ago are also included in both figures.
Q. Do we know how many members are paying the minimum?
NH: At the membership rate of £2 a month, 456 members pay annually, whilst 884 pay monthly, giving a total of 1340 (34.8%). However, another 490 pay £25 a year.
Q. Did you mention a book? Sorry what book?
WB: The Story of Exeter’s St James’ Park – Land of Grecian Glory. The book was released last year and with the first run having sold out, a small amount have been purchased for a re-stock.
Q. Are the voting members recorded by vote, just out of interest. How many people are on line?
NH: We do not record the names of individual voters and their choices. For the AGM, the number of people on-line was typically between 90 and 100.
Q. What is the present state of the share structure of the club, there was a vote?
NH: This will be the subject of a separate post to the website, which is currently being compiled.
Q. Richard [Pym], I was interested to hear that the Club's ambition is to become a sustainable League One team. How will we achieve that?
RP: Competitively we are advantaged by the new salary cap as we have a strong academy but ultimately sustainability in League One depends on gate income, profitability and being able to afford to retain a strong squad and that is what we are focussed on.
Q. Richard, what are your personal targets of achievement for the Club over the next couple of seasons?
RP: We have a vision to be a strong League One club and my personal ambition is to lead the board in achieving that vision by making smart business decisions which support success on the pitch.
Q. There has been talk of a financial bail-out from the premiership is that the case and how do you think that will be divi'd up amongst Divisions 1 & 2? As we are 'doing ok' would we miss out and the imbalance of funds available throughout the Divisions continue?
JT: As reported the PL have said there is £20m as a gift and £30 million as a loan. None was to be made available to the Championship. The offer was rejected on grounds of solidarity between leagues. The EFL (as do the Government) want the PL to gift the £50m. I am not party to negotiations so the next bit is an educated guess that whilst negotiations continue, I suspect the PL will be trying to negotiate something from the deal. As I understand it negotiations continue.
Q. With recent windfalls, which I know will be invested wisely over a number of seasons, is it not time for the trust to stop paying in “loans” to the club, retaining funds for perhaps trust instigated infrastructure projects. In addition, could the club not start to repay some of the huge funds the trust have already donated. This may have tax benefit for the clubs accounting also.
NH: As you will have heard the Trust have asked the Club to repay the long-term loan of £830k. This has been agreed. The £100k pa that we pay in has been stalled for the time being whilst we consider the impact of Corporation Tax following the Ollie Watkins windfall. Typically, short-term loans from the Trust are used to develop projects that the Trust might experience some benefit from, always promoting our ownership model.
Q. What % of the club is owned by the Trust members?
Q. What presumption has the club made in its financial forecasting and modelling for this season about matchday income being possible?
KM: We have constantly remodelled our forecast to accommodate the various scenarios. At the start of the season it was believed supporters would be allowed back in October (limited number), increasing to full capacity in January 2021; we also considered the same scenario but commencing in January (limited capacity); and more latterly without attendance for the entire season. Of course, we are now reconsidering not just the admission of supporters, but the rescue package put together between the EFL and Premier League.
Q. What will the Ollie Watkins money be invested in?
NH: We are exploring a number of capital projects at present, most of which present income generation opportunities.
Q. Who is OTR?
NH: Old Tiverton Road Limited – this is a company set up during the dark days by those close to the club to purchase the building in which the bar is situated.
Q. Can we get a ballpark as to wages as part of the £3.8m? Given £1.5m is the new cap it would be a useful guide.
KM: Within the £3.8m the players wages were well in excess of the salary cap, this season they are lower and next season Matt is well aware the salary cap applies and he will have to fall in line with it.
Q. Has the club taken advantage of HMRC R&D tax credits? I believe they are available?
KM: We are currently in discussion with our tax advisors about R&D tax credits.
Q. Do you have a provision for bad debts and if so, what is its value?
KM: We have a bad debt provision of £8k to cover two specific debts. Historically our bed debts have been very low and I consider this sufficient.
Q. With e-sales booming online, what is the clubs plan to increase web sales. The business I work with have 100% growth in this area?
NH: The Club Shop has always had an on-line presence and during lockdowns and furlough we ensured it has been staffed in respect of despatching purchases to. Our new head of ticketing retail is now also in post and will be driving this as part of a broader retail strategy.
Q. Are you concerned that our creditors total £2.5 million and who is the largest creditor?
KM: I am not concerned. The largest creditor is the trust, the next largest is OTR where we have an option to purchase the building, then it is the Inland Revenue.
Q. Why such confidence that money due from creditors will eventually come in?
KM: Most of the people owing us money are committed to the club and will make every effort to pay, history tells us that our bad debts are low, it is that that gives us confidence.
Q. The immediate liabilities have ramped up by £1m - are we able to postpone any of this?
KM: The increase in immediate liabilities is the trust loan move from long term creditors to short term, the cash we received from the sale of Ollie Watkins means there are no issues in paying creditors.
Q. Have ECFC any plans to restrict heading during training etc?
JT: No but we are considering the practicalities/possibilities of joining a research study with Exeter University.
Q. Crewe in the 90s built a production line and become known for it and it led to them punching above their weight in the championships: Can we be the new Crewe?
JT: At a meeting of the EFL, a chairman of a club that had a significant youth record suggested that we had already achieved that goal. Its not for us to say but do know there is no other team regularly and genuinely, in League matches, fielding 8/9 players in their squad. The recent under-16s national final, and the 7-3 result achieved against Crewe, is not proof but it is and indicator that we are doing pretty well.
Q. What is the strategy for retaining our excellent academy talent, so that we gain the benefit, rather than having to sell our young players, to maintain our financial position?
JT: Due to the EPPP rules adopted by the EFL in exchange for significant funding meant that rules (which I am campaigning and working to have reviewed) prevents any serious attempts although we commit significant time energy and finance to retain players before the cut off age of 16.
Q. Why are so many transfer fees classified as undisclosed?
JT: It varies, perhaps because teams do not want their competitors to know levels of spending, sometimes to keep pressure away from a player. There may well be other reasons.
Q. What measures are we bringing in to keep our academy stars at the club, so they don't become another Chrisene or Ethan?
JT: There is little we can do due to the EPPP rules adopted by the EFL in exchange for significant funding from the PL some years ago which meant that rules (which I am campaigning and working to have reviewed) prevents any serious preventative measures. That said we commit significant time energy and finance to do everything we can to retain players before the cut off age of 16.
Q. Any plans to become category 2?
JT: We aspire to level 2 and everything we do we do our best to emulate the category 2 stipulated requirements. Our stumbling block presently is that you must have an indoor facility 60 x 60, on site, That is still a possibility but we would lose grass area which we can ill afford with the number of teams U8’s thru U18’s. its on hold for now.
Q. How are you going to promote Trust membership in the media moving this year? Local community, Club electronic boards, programmes, club website, it appears separate to the club - why?
WB: An excellent pair of questions there. On the first, we have recently produced a new comms strategy for 2020-2025, which seeks not only to increase the volume of communication but also our reach; at both local and national level. This process began through our first annual comms cycle, which can be evidenced by the new website and increase in content across our platforms, including the new podcast. However, there is much still to do and the comms team will be working hard to develop content and to continually develop our approach in reference to the strategy. Additionally, it is crucial that communication is not only one way but also that we find ways in the views of the membership reach the Trust board on a more regular basis. With regards to the separation of content, the club media team do an exceptional job in communicating and engaging supporters of the club and the wider community. In terms of Trust content, our aim is to not create too much of an overlap with the club comms so that the messaging is clear and that supporters of the club - whether members of the Trust or not - are both engaged and well informed. The priority for ourselves as a Trust is to promote the aims, activities and achievements of the Trust, the ECFC family, and supporter/community ownership in football. Sometimes it may appear that the content is separate but we continue to work closely together behind the scenes to achieve our mutual goals. For further reading, the comms strategy can be found here, and as always I would be happy to speak to our members about our communications, so please do feel welcome to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. How much money have we/will we receive from the Watkins transfer?
NH: We cannot disclose the actual amount, but social media and local press have recorded it fairly accurately! It’s important to remember the amount is to be paid in four instalments.
Q. It’s an aim of the Trust to reach 75% shareholding of the Club in order to amend the Club’s Articles. What do the Trust want to amend, and what is it we can’t do without amending the Articles?
NH: The 75% shareholding aspiration has been a strategic aim for many years. Since we have now completed the Governance Manual and Club /Trust Agreement our view is that the interests of the Trust are very well protected. I’m not aware, as this time, what we would amend that either a. we haven’t already; or b. couldn’t is we chose to.
Q. Why do the Trust want the Club to repay the loan? What would the Trust do differently to the Club with the money?
NH: Loans should be repaid! A large portion of this money will be set aside as a reserve for the club, to protect against periods of strained cash-flow, as observed by members at the 2019/20 AGM.
Q. Have the two Club/Trust work groups that were established a couple of years ago related to "Risk" and "Club Board Performance" met formally during the past year and does a Club Risk Register now exist and have targets been established and monitored for Club Board members?
NH: Yes – both groups have met this year. The risk committee has created a risk register but has stalled due to the independent Chairman of the group being unavailable during COVID. The Performance & Audit Board have interviewed most key Board budget holders (up to COVID) and approved the first draft of the annual accounts. Budgetary targets have been set as have improved process and procedures.
Q. Having achieved my objective of having a contested election, I am disappointed to see the turnout increased by circa 8%? Given the excellent process is only a 2-minute click process. How are you going to reach the circa 3550? (1200 voted) members at present. Can we promote the election in the local press, national press, electronic boards, club programme, club media releases 'ParkLife'. There appears to be radio silence from the club channels? Can we develop electronic voting (which I pushed behind the scenes this year with the election Officer) to make sure we vote on issues - Trust player of the Month/Year, Player Kits? [There were great improvements, but more to be done! with only 2% members at the AGM, 1% members at Trust Hustings.] Let’s keep pushing and no rest on our laurels.
NH: I think we improve a little every year, especially given the volunteer status of our team. We have our own pages in match-day programmes and the collaboration with the Club media team has grown and will continue to grow. We will look to expand participation of our membership.
Q. Would Exeter City Council be willing to discuss a community asset transfer for SJP to the trust?
NH: We enjoy a particularly good relationship with Exeter City Council and, as you will know, we have recently signed a 25-year lease on SJP. We have also applied for SJP to be registered as an asset of community value.
Q. Can we look at developing revenue streams for the Trust, linking with community organisations to obtain grants, can we look to develop people in the area and then on benefit the club? Housing development projects etc.
NH: There are a million things we’d like to do but our volunteer status means that things must be prioritised. However, we are always looking at and for opportunities – such as our partnering with Exeter Community Initiatives.
Q. How can trust members volunteer during these current times? As physical volunteering can't really happen right now is there anything that can be done virtually? A challenge the trust maybe? Where all members can get involved to seek solutions to any current issues.
NH: There are always opportunities to volunteer and if members are interested, they can get in touch. Volunteering will usually be organised via one of our working groups (e-mail: email@example.com), which are Finance & Governance, Owners and Members, Community and Communications. Although each of these groups are led by a Trustee, they all have very active volunteers.
Our thanks again to all who attended the AGM online, and to Alan Anderson, Jerry Bailey-Watts, Stephen Dart, Paul Diamond, Tom Farley, Adam Henley, Michael Higgins, Paul Manly, Gary Nelson, Andrew Parsons, Christopher Phillips, Adrian Sewell, Tyler Smith, Martin Thomas, Malcolm Tipper, Alistair Yates, for your welcomed questions.
As always, should should have any comments or further questions, please email the Trust via firstname.lastname@example.org