Barrow Chief Executive Levi Gill provides a comprehensive update for Bluebirds supporters.
Hello everyone. It doesn’t seem that long since I last provided an update on developments at the Club, but in that time a lot has happened both at the ground and nationally with respect to COVID-19 so it seemed worth bringing everybody up to date with where we are ‘off the field’.
Often when I leave the Club at the end of the day, I don’t feel like we’ve made much progress. It’s such a diverse and varied working day that it can be hard to remember exactly what you’ve been working on. 8am could be a meeting with police, midday a trip to Hopwood and 5pm an EFL Zoom call on domestic streaming rights. However, in the seven weeks that I’ve been in post I can’t speak highly enough of the team and the effort that they’ve put in. The Club has had to adapt and grow at an alarming pace, constantly pivoting to reflect and adhere to the latest COVID-19 guidance, and it can be easy to forget that when I agreed to take this role we still had the office closed and only two members of staff who weren’t on furlough. I’ve asked everybody to fundamentally change the way they work – and in some cases literally change their jobs – and their collective response to that challenge has been fantastic.
In those seven weeks we’ve written and gained approval for our Stage 3 COVID-19 protocol allowing games to take place behind closed doors. We’ve also migrated to a new website and created a brand-new retail site to go alongside it. With this has come a steep learning curve with iFollow, but I think that everyone will agree that the content Mark Simpson is creating for us is excellent. I couldn’t be happier with how he’s settled into his role as Media Manager and the high quality of our social media content and matchday programmes.
In ticketing and retail, we’ve been equally busy. Anya Wood is now the Retail and Ticket Office Manager and quickly learned that this time of year will be her busiest. Replica shirts and season tickets have both launched, the latter selling in record numbers, alongside dealing with a backlog of ‘Champions’ merchandise orders which had to be processed and delivered. Anya has made reforms to how we post out orders which should hopefully streamline the process over time. We simply weren’t sized to cope with the demands of our fan base created by promotion to the EFL, but success is something that we want to ensure that we plan for in the future at Barrow.
Finally, commercially we have faced a difficult climate this year. COVID-19 has constricted the disposable income that’s available to businesses, and as a result it has been a challenging time to approach sponsors. Nevertheless, most ground boards have been renewed and we have some new partners that we’re very excited to work with this year. The appointment of Mark Simpson also creates some exciting new digital sponsorship opportunities which we will be exploring as the year progresses.
Ground development and the impact of COVID-19
Most people will now be aware that the government have paused the planned return of fans to stadiums. This is obviously a significant blow for the Club and for all supporters who were hoping to be back in grounds up and down the country as soon as next week.
Prior to yesterday’s announcement, the Club had previously been given the option of putting ourselves forward for a pilot event of 1,000 fans this weekend against Colchester United, however we opted not to. There was simply too much left to do to the ground, including the construction of the permanent broadcast gantry and finishing off the new toilet facilities. We’d always worked to an October completion date and we remain on target for this despite the fact that fans will now, frustratingly, not be able to attend our games early next month as we had planned. We take some comfort in knowing that the ground will soon be fully EFL-ready and waiting for our return when the restrictions ease. The amount of work undertaken this summer to get to this point can’t be over-stated and it’s an incredible achievement for our groundsman, partner organisations and in particular the volunteers who once again have exceeded all expectations to get us ready for the new season.
Work continues toward drafting and gaining authority approval for our Stage 5 protocols. For those who aren’t aware, this is the document that we need to work to in order to give assurance that appropriate safety measures are in place for fans to return safely when the time comes. While we might arguably have been able to halt this work for now given yesterday’s developments and focus on other areas of the Club, we’ve decided to carry on as though nothing has happened. This way, we can have our Stage 5 protocols approved and on the shelf in the coming weeks, enabling us to participate in any future pilot event schemes as they arise.
A final point I’d like to make on the impact of COVID-19 is to reassure people that the ambitions and plans of the Club remain intact and that there is a bright future for us once this pandemic is overcome. The Chairman’s budget for this season has already reflected a fairly pessimistic forecast for COVID-19 which shows no fans this calendar year and if the reality should prove to be even worse (e.g. if no fans can attend at all throughout the season) then while this would obviously have a significant detrimental impact on us, it will not be the same impact that we may sadly see at other Clubs up and down the pyramid. Barrow are uniquely placed, having had a sizeable increase in revenue relative to last season as a result of our promotion, and outgoings which have not yet increased to the size of other, more established EFL clubs. We’re still a long way from self-sufficient, and we owe a debt of gratitude to our owners who continue to give financial support to ensure the continued success of the Club, but rest assured that once the worst is behind us everybody at Barrow AFC stands ready to press ahead with our exciting vision for this Club’s future.
Final Season Ticket sales were 1166. This is an incredible achievement for the Club and huge thanks must go to all of our fans who have purchased season tickets for the 2020/21 season. I understand the risk that many have taken in making this investment, not knowing when they will be able to return to The Progression Solicitors Stadium to see their first live game, but the revenue that these Season Tickets have generated is absolutely vital to the Club’s ambitions.
We’ve consciously exploited the time that COVID-19 has allowed us on Season Tickets, with the first of the cards only arriving this week. Ordinarily the Season Tickets would obviously have had to be distributed to fans in time for our opening home game against Stevenage, however knowing that fans would not be in the ground until October at the earliest enabled us to plan our workload accordingly and prioritise COVID-19 planning. All Season Tickets will be on site in the next two to three weeks at which point we will arrange for delivery/collection. There will be further communication on this nearer the time.
Anybody who heard Paul Hornby on BBC Radio Cumbria last night will know that the Club can’t yet access our iFollow data, so we don’t know how many people paid to watch our opening two fixtures. While this isn’t ideal, iFollow revenue is something else that the Chairman hasn’t factored into his budget so whatever revenue it generates is upside for us. When we have some data, I’m happy to communicate this to fans as I’m aware of the interest in seeing the figures. Believe me, it’s an interest I share!
I also appreciate that a minority of fans are struggling with iFollow on matchdays. The Club can’t directly influence this as iFollow isn’t our service. However, we obviously want to do what we can to help. Hopefully today every Season Ticket holder who registered an email address with us will have received their unique codes for the next home match on Saturday. We will also be drafting an FAQ guide for fans which may help with some of the common issues. Please refer to our website and social media channels for more detailed advice on where to direct matchday queries.
Expanding the Club Shop
One of the things that excited me about taking on this role was expanding the range in the Club Shop. With everything else going on, this has had to be pushed down the priority list so far which is a shame. However, plans are now taking shape to have a much more vibrant shop in time for Christmas. We want to expand the clothing range, including access for fans to the First Team training wear, and ensure that there are plenty of stocking fillers available too. Keep an eye on social media channels for more information on this as things develop in the coming weeks.
A short reminder that all fan ideas and suggestions are welcome at email@example.com. We continue to collate everything received to date and later in the year we will present back the data and how we intent to progress the suggestions you send in.
Supporter Liaison Officer
Finally, the Club has today published an invitation for candidates to come forward to be our first-ever Supporter Liaison Officer. The SLO role is a unique one within the Club and the fan base, and it’s an exciting opportunity for somebody to get more involved with the Club and engage with our support, both Barrow-based and also those Bluebirds further afield. More information is available by clicking here now.
Please note that the deadline for submitting a 500-word personal statement to firstname.lastname@example.org is 4pm on Friday 2nd October.