SMISA ANNUAL REPORT 2018
The past few weeks have been a wonderful celebration of everything that makes St Mirren special…hopefully you have all recovered!
From the threat of a first-ever relegation to Scotland’s third tier just over to retaking our place at the top table, St Mirren have gone from the brink of the lowest point in our history to one of the best in the space of 12 incredible months.
Be in no doubt you and the extra investment made in our club via your SMISA membership played a role in that. So as a memorable season draws to a close it is a good time to take stock of where we as an organisation sit.
We held our Annual General Meeting shortly before the Livingston game, where we presented on our activity of the past year. We thank all members who joined us. This is our annual report which recaps on and gives extra context to key points covered at the AGM. Detailed AGM minutes are also available on our website here.
Ultimately, everything SMISA has achieved has been down to you, our members – the more of you we have the stronger we are, both now and in St Mirren’s fan-owned future. So if any of your fellow fans haven’t yet signed up to #BuyTheBuds, let them know they can via our website now.
The AGM saw existing committee members George Adam and Jim Cumming re-elected, and Graeme MacPherson, Kev Park and Janette Swanson elected for the first time. They join Kenny Docherty, David Nicol, Colin Orr and Alan Quinn on the nine-person committee.
Graeme, Kev and Janette have all helped out over the past year and each brings new energy and skillsets. We are confident the committee has a good mix of professional expertise and attitudes to allow us to keep moving SMISA forward. You can see who we all are on our website.
David Nicol has been SMISA’s man on the St Mirren board for most of the past two years, and at the AGM gave an overview of what that entails, which he summarises here:
“Being elected to the St Mirren board on behalf of SMISA has been a massive honour and responsibility – as well as a bit of roller-coaster ride over the past two years! Ultimately St Mirren is a multi-million-pound business with massive profile. The SMISA director is one-fifth of the board running it and expected to be able to contribute to all areas of its work.
“But I also have specific responsibility to ensure the views of SMISA and our membership are represented at board level, and that the club is run in a way that protects SMISA's interests. I am the conduit between the St Mirren board and the SMISA board - representing the views of the St Mirren board to SMISA and vice versa. Everybody won’t always agree on everything but all involved recognise we are a partnership and are committed to work together for the greater good.
“There’s been many ways in which fan representation in the boardroom has made a difference to how St Mirren have done things. A good example would be the decision to introduce a singing section in W7 – when this was first discussed the club were unsure but I made the case to run a trial. Thanks to the efforts of those involved, the singing section went on to be a great success.
“At the AGM I also gave an insight into the club's finances, which are healthy, and for the first time in a few years the club is not reliant on directors' loans to cover cashflow gaps. This year’s wage budget was slightly higher than planned, but that was offset by the higher-than-budgeted league position.
“I also passed on the thanks of the rest of the board for the contribution SMISA members are making – and the same goes for Jack Ross, who has thanked you for – in his words – ‘your continued and loyal support, which is greatly valued and appreciated’.”
At the AGM we covered SMISA’s £2 members pot, an original idea of ours – described by the former head of Supporters Direct in Scotland as ‘brilliant’ and ‘the first of its kind’. We are proud SMISA is blazing a trail and attracting attention from Scotland’s wider fan movement, and hope you are too.
We recently formalised a policy for the process and timescales for project selection and ballots. We identified five criteria and while not every project will meet them all, projects should aim to benefit the club, fans and community, and fit club and member priorities. The club is an asset we are committed to buy and the £2 pot is intended to help us add value to it while we save up to do that.
Member priorities are led by the survey hundreds of you filled out last year, where you ranked various areas for investment by importance. The youth academy was by some distance your top priority, but ‘stadium facilities/matchday experience’, and ‘investment to help the first team’ also scored highly. Most projects to date have received 75%-90% support, which suggests members are – on the whole – happy with where their money is going
You gave the lowest priority to ‘community spend outwith the club’ but ‘projects to bring the club and community closer together’ was near the top, and that has been reflected in projects including:
- part-funding the wheelchair platform in the main stand. The disabled facilities at the Paisley 2021 Stadium are described as among the best in the country;
- the community season ticket scheme – an original idea bringing a range of local groups into the club which has given hundreds of people who may not have had, or been able to afford, a day out to see championship-winning football;
- funding for pre-match family entertainment in partnership with our two Supporter Liaison Officers, the Fans Council, and Paisley Panda, to help bring the next generation of fans into the club;
- new strips and equipment to welcome the St Mirren Ladies team into the St Mirren family.
We also aimed to correct a few misconceptions around projects where funds have gone directly to the club – such as SMISA buying match-day quality balls for the first team to train with. To explain, the club sets a core budget each year – but at any given time has a long list of added-value nice-to-haves.
This season the club budgeted for footballs through the Joma kit contract but Jack wanted the team to train with the same – far-more expensive – balls they use on a matchday, which were not covered. So SMISA – in funding one of the nice-to-haves – covered something that otherwise may not have happened.
The same applies to the extra hours for the sports scientist and video analyst – also approved by our members. In a league where six or seven of the teams have very similar wage budgets, the marginal gains SMISA funded undoubtedly contributed towards this season’s success.
We shouldn’t forget SMISA members topped up the club’s wage budget (roughly equivalent to one player) for the last third of the 2016/17 season. This isn’t something we plan to make a habit of, but if ever a short-term fix was needed it was then. Instead of being on our way to the Premier League, we could very easily be in League One. Be in no doubt St Mirren’s revival was in part kickstarted and then sustained by you…and be proud of that.
The proposal to put £50k towards the relaying of the pitch at Ralston generated a bit of discussion, although this passed with approval of almost 90%. At the AGM we reiterated the reasons for putting the proposal to you – ie the youth academy is your number one priority for investment, and that many members have suggested their £2 money be used for a big project.
The initial email outlining the proposal was a long one and – due to their complexity – we simplified the finances behind it. At the AGM, we explained this in more detail and will do so again here.
Our £50k for Ralston will – assuming the work is going ahead as planned – be made available over the summer. That will include £15k of discretionary spend (comprising £5k from the April spend, £5k from the July spend, and £5k of pre-#BuyTheBuds money).
The other £35k will come from the £50k rolling credit facility we are contractually required to make available for the club. The background to that was explained at last year’s AGM, but to recap, this is a financial safety net allowing us – as one of only two major shareholders in the club – to loan the club money in the event of cashflow difficulties, as the old board often did. Our ability to do so was one of the biggest concerns people had in 2016 when we first launched #BuyTheBuds. The money remains SMISA’s and the club is required to repay anything should it borrow from it.
As this facility has not been needed to date and the club will not need it in 2018, it was agreed £35k of this money could be used temporarily to fund the rest of our Ralston contribution. It was agreed we should restore the full credit facility by the end of the year (as if any cashflow problems ever happen, they will be in the spring). To be clear, we are not loaning the club money for Ralston, we are spending, then replacing, some of our own funds.
The £35k used will be reinstated from the £10 bit of your monthly subscription between September and December this year. That money will then be replaced by the £2s (ie £5k from each of the following seven quarterly spends). So by January 2019 the credit facility will be back to £50k, and by April 2020, the share purchase pot will have been restocked using the £2s.
So to summarise – we are using our credit facility money to fund the bulk of our contribution to Ralston, then share purchase money to restore the credit facility, then £2 money to restore the share purchase money.
Some members have questioned the principle of money intended for the share purchase being used at all. We can assure you those comments have been taken on board for the future – but we reiterate two things: 1) SMISA’s entire £50k contribution to this project will over time come entirely from the £2 pot, 2) all money set aside for the share purchase will still ultimately be used for that purpose. We would also add that all transactions will be clearly recorded and monitored in the accounts to ensure transparency.
On that basis, we don’t believe this contravenes the principles of #BuyThe Buds and we wouldn’t have asked you to vote on anything we thought did. The individuals on the SMISA committee have put a huge amount of our own time and energy into making majority fan ownership of St Mirren possible and will not do anything we think risks detracting from that. Ultimately, #BuyTheBuds was intended to allow SMISA to take St Mirren forward as members decide. This proposal does that, and with the support of an overwhelming majority.
Finance and membership
The formal accounts for the year to 30th November 2017 had been made available to members prior to the meeting. The most significant change was the reduction of the amount due to the outgoing directors from £272k to £127k at financial year end. It was also highlighted the money we loaned the club in December 2016 to fix the undersoil heating had now been fully repaid.
SMISA is now on target to completely paid off what we owe to the former directors by July this year. That means we will have paid them the full £385,000 owed for their shares, entirely through member subscriptions – when we started out we didn’t think it would be possible to do this without external borrowing.
Of course that only happened because of the ongoing support of you, the members. While total member numbers fell from the initial peak of 1375 in the summer of 2016, they have held steady at around 1260 for the past six months. These numbers are well above our initial target of 1,000 members, putting the whole project ahead of where we thought it would be.
SMISA’s finance team – having successfully converted the financial records onto a web-based accounting system with direct bank feeds to reduce the workload involved – are now turning their attention to streamlining the work required to maintain our membership records. The plan is to replace all of these with an integrated web-based platform which will reduce the workload, provide greater security of data, and allow member access to their data.
In addition, there is a bit of work to be done to ensure compliance with the new Data Protection rules (GDPR) which come into effect later this month. Members will be receiving information about this very soon.
At the AGM, Kenny Docherty gave an overview on the objectives for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. We set ourselves annual objectives to make sure we focus our attention on the key issues. The objectives are set after a review of what we’ve done well and where we want to do better. We had a few for 2017/18 – below we list them and show how we did.
1. Public target of increasing the SMISA membership to buy the buds to 1,400 by April 2018 – At the 2017 AGM we had 1287 members – we now have 1,257. We deliberately set an ambitious target because we wanted to aim high. However our numbers are healthy and remain well in excess of what we needed at the start to make the project work.
2. Events manager to be identified and made responsible for coordinating all SMISA events – We were committed to run two events a year for plus and premium members but while these were well received, attendance was low. We consulted with premium and plus members on some alternative benefits, which you can see here. These are available to any members who upgrade – as a number of you already have. Kenny Docherty, having agreed to be events manager, will manage those benefits.
3. Drive to ensure the trust board better reflects the diversity of the St Mirren support. Have at least two women attend SMISA meetings during 2017/18 and encourage at least two women stand for election at the 2018 AGM – A year ago we had an all-male board and felt we needed a gender balance which better represented the support. Jeanette Swanson has now been elected to the board and Louise Swanson has made a big contribution to SMISA’s work by taking on a lot of our admin duties.
4. SMISA to have a regular meeting place to meet fans at least once every three months – we picked times pre-match and let members know we were available, using popular venues including The Bull Inn, The Bankhouse and The Court Bar. We received some excellent feedback, mostly positive, on what we're doing. We will continue to do this.
5. Encourage SMFC directors to attend SMISA meetings once every six months starting September 2017 and continuing indefinitely – Our whole commitee had one meeting with the entire board and another with Gordon Scott, which have helped SMISA-club relations.
We have agreed the following objectives for 2018/19:
1. Develop a plan outlining the principle of how the transition to majority fan ownership will work, and how SMISA and St Mirren will operate once we are majority owners of the club. To be presented to the members by March 2019 – We appreciate people have questions over how majority fan ownership will work. In the past two years we’ve learned a huge amount which will help us plan that. While it remains years away, we will publish a more detailed outline of how we see it working.
2. Have a strategy to increase the membership to 1,300 by March 2019. Strategy to be written and agreed by July 2018 – the higher our member numbers, the stronger we are. Last year we set a target but didn’t have a proper strategy to meet it. This year, we will develop a better plan aimed at persuading more people to join SMISA.
3. Membership database to integrate with finance systems. To be implemented by April 2019 – we have a number of back-end systems but they aren’t all joined up. Procuring a more professional set-up will streamline our workload and make it easier for members to keep their details up to date.
4. Increase our meetings with the SMFC board to every three months – to make sure SMISA and SMFC have a good understanding of each other’s positions and continue to work well together.
To sign off, we thank all the members who have given us useful feedback – positive or otherwise throughout the year. We will always attempt to answer any questions you may have via [email protected].
We appreciate it can be hard to keep everyone happy but also know the vast majority understand the SMISA committee are volunteers, balancing the often-substantial demands of this against busy personal and professional lives and hope the detail in this report conveys the level of thought, professionalism and commitment which goes into the running of SMISA.
We do this because we love our club and are proud to have built something which is not just taking it forward but which will make it possible for it to stay in the hands of the people of Paisley forever. We hope you share our pride in what your membership has achieved so far.
See you in the Premier League
The SMISA committee