SMISA members had their latest chance to put questions to their representatives on the club board at our recent members meeting, held on Tuesday 5 October. Below is a summary of the key points covered on the night.
The meeting was called to allow SMISA to present the results of the recent feedback form submitted to members to help the club learn lessons from some of the operational issues experienced this summer, and for the SMISA reps on the club board to explain what they had done in response.
St Mirren chair John Needham opened the meeting and introduced his fellow SMISA reps on the club board, Gordon Scott and Alan Wardrop. He gave apologies for Tony Fitzpatrick and David Riley – who had both been meant to be there but were unable, with Tony self-isolating awaiting a PCR test result, and David still recovering from having Covid a few weeks back.
Colin Orr (SMISA Board) gave a brief update on the results of the feedback form circulated among members in August. There were 102 responses and all of these were passed to the SMISA reps on the club board. The top issues raised were 1) club communications, 2) capacity restrictions, 3) season ticket renewals, 4) ballots for tickets.
John gave an update on how each of those issues had been dealt with by the club, as follows:
Club communications – this summer saw the club deal with some unprecedented circumstances. John admitted the timing and detail of some of the comms could have been better, albeit there were certain things the club couldn’t comment on at the time.
The board had a lengthy and frank chat and fan feedback was considered. Now, a comms plan is being devised to look at how the club will communicate more proactively on scheduled events and those that arise. John will issue regular chairman’s updates, as Gordon used to. The club will also use the BIG Partnership (PR agency) for big announcements and any potentially contentious issues.
Capacity restrictions – these have now been lifted and it has also been confirmed the main stand red zone will be taken away, removing the remaining restrictions. The club had a significant health and safety issue which arose during internal checks and that meant they took a bit of time to go from 1,039 back to 5,000. The issue is now fully resolved, thanks to a very significant team effort from club staff, Kibble, SMISA chair George Adam, and Renfrewshire Council.
Season tickets – Club board agreed to accelerate changes to ticket system but issues with data transfer from old system caused problems. John acknowledged this was a difficult transition which caused angst for fans and staff. Extra staff came in from Kibble to help when the club had a Covid case among own staff. He believes all complaints now resolved, apart from a small number of season ticket cards being reprinted, and some snagging issues which have been reported to the supplier.
Ballot process – This issue has passed now but all feedback from the time has been taken on board. Team did have to act quickly and didn’t have a process in place, but now have one that could be used if we ever had that situation again.
John then invited questions from the floor and a summary of some of the key points covered is below:
On how club operations are being managed:
John is now meeting with Tony once a week and will help support him with any issues. The club is in a transition phase but he feels as a new chair he is now getting a good handle on what’s happening day to day.
Alan conceded the club may have tried to change too much at one time this summer but there were reasons for each change. The old ticket system was inadequate. The stewarding contract was due to be renewed. Changing the club shop was a board decision as they felt it could generate more revenue.
On how boardroom decisions are made:
John explained no one around the boardroom table can make any decision for the whole board. Decisions are made as a group and they go with the majority. John as chair has casting vote and would take account of his position as a SMISA rep when casting it.
The board will always listen to supporter views and everyone involved will always do what is best for the club. John felt SMISA have put a good structure in place. If he had any concerns about it he wouldn’t be here and wouldn’t stake his personal and professional reputation on it.
On the role of Kibble:
Gordon explained the pandemic has made things difficult as Kibble’s ability to bring young people in to club has been limited. But as one example of partnership in action, their young people have painted large areas of the stadium, giving them real-life work experience. That would otherwise have been a big cost to the club.
He believes as we emerge from Covid more benefits will emerge. The structure is the right one for our football club and has massive potential. He also believes the Kibble reps would be happy to talk to fans in future about their role but as tonight was a SMISA meeting it wasn’t the right forum to do that.
On whether the 1877 Club could be used more:
Alan explained the 1877 Club has a capacity of 240 and there are 220 members. It isn’t an exclusive club - anyone can join. But there does have to be some loyalty to the people who are paying a membership fee – without them the club couldn’t have been built. That model saw the 1877 Club bring in £22,000 of membership income even when the club was closed.
On potential for new facilities at the stadium:
John explained to fill in a corner will cost £1.5m-plus and that’s a lot of money. Banks won’t lend to football clubs so we would need to look at creative ways to raise funding. We need to know it would be commercially successful – any new facilities couldn’t just be open on matchdays, as the stadium needs to be more of a destination and integrated into the community.
Gordon and Alan explained the club have looked at a lot of ideas to add new facilities to stadium but raising the finance and generating an adequate return is always the challenge. The board are not going to take a chance and spend £1.5m on something that may or may not work out.
On the change of operator for the club shop:
John explained the initial intention had been for Kibble to have a role in running the club shop but that wasn’t possible due to Covid. Club feels the deal we now have on club shop is very good one. The company we are using provide same service for Motherwell, St Johnstone and Dundee Utd and make more money for them than our shop did previously. He makes no apologies for change of plan as we have right outcome
On the ticket arrangements for Old Firm games:
John explained there are no plans to change previous arrangements for the next Rangers game but he feels the pain of fans who object to the Old Firm having two stands. The bottom line is the Old Firm having the family stand three times a year generates £120,000 and if we stop that we need to replace that income.
John isn’t confident we would sell that many tickets to our own fans, so he and the board are looking at ways to replace that income for next season – if we could, club would retain the Tony Fitzpatrick Stand for home fans. Ideas would need to be market tested among season ticket holders.
Gordon made the point we used to put away fans in West Stand but the club wanted to keep W7 singing section in place when we came back up to the Premiership.
The meeting closed with a thanks to everyone who attended for their input. We will look to hold more similar meetings in future