Friday, 10 June 2011

Synthetic turf and humble ambition

Oliver Ash
I went to the conference at Aston Villa on synthetic turf and very interesting it was too.

The most significant piece of information to emerge was that the FA is going to revisit the question - perhaps next year - of allowing (good quality) artificial turf to be used up to FA Cup Third round. This will require the approval of all the clubs but they feel, as we do, that there is a strong case for it now seeing as it is proven (by those nice people at Fifa) that today's high quality synthetic surfaces play like good natural grass surfaces and cause no additional levels of injury to players.

Additionally they also agree with us and others (the Chairman of Folkestone was also making a similar point) that such turf is the way forward for many clubs such as ours who only have room for one pitch and need to generate commercial revenues to survive. And if all that were not enough argument there's also the fact that you can get all your junior and community club teams playing 'at home' on a good surface.

Now if this is done and approved it is fantastic news! It can only facilitate further changes up the line in favour of allowing artificial turf because more and more influential football  people will realise just how good these pitches are and that they favour high quality football.

I had good meetings with suppliers and installers and now know a little bit more about what we need to install and how to go about it. We should be able to choose a supplier in the next few weeks. I'm not sure exactly what payment terms we may end up with. However you may be interested to know that all the pitch related costs are 'only' about 20% of the total project cost. We are still chasing after the final third (£500k) of our overall project financing. This means that while we are planning to start on site we don't yet have the funds to finish!

We will have to beg, borrow or print in order to make up the shortfall over the next few months as we go along. That is why Terry, Bill and I keep urging you to contribute as much as you can afford to our efforts, raise money, buy lottery tickets, keep the ground fund rising, etc. We are very sensitive to your efforts and every time you dig deep into your pockets and show support it really encourages us to do the same.

As for the thorny question of admission cost I know times are tough but I hope all our supporters and those from other clubs will still be able to come along in great numbers this season. As stated above every effort helps the cause and is recognised by everyone at the club. I am sorry if there are some who may not be able to afford to come. As you know we don't yet have any other significant sources of revenue next season to help us along the way.

Finally, is it arrogant to be ambitious? No of course not! I am ambitious for the club to get back to James Whatman Way as soon as possible. I am optimistic because a town the size of Maidstone should be able to host a professional football club at Conference level. I am ambitious because Maidstone has a huge catchment area and we expect new business and individual supporters to rally to the cause when the new ground is under way. If and when that happens, any and all ambitions will be limited simply by the revenues we can generate through the club. We will run it like a normal business.

The more money we can generate from the facilities and supporters and business locally, the more we can plough back into the playing side. The more money we have to borrow to build the ground however, the more interest and capital we will have to pay back for a few years to come. And this will have some knock-on effect on how much is left for the playing side. It's simple. So yes, we are very ambitious but with all our feet firmly on the ground; we are humble, not arrogant.

Sorry for going on a bit but you know we like to keep you posted.

Have a good summer.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A small but significant step

Oliver Ash
It's a small but significant step: we are now completing the acquisition of the freehold of the James Whatman Way site after a lengthy negotiation process.

In little over six months we have cleared out £200k of debt that was strangling the business and turned the long leasehold into a freehold. The battles are being won at great cost but the war is long.

We also have other problems to deal with, dating back to before we took control. Unpaid taxes are an unfortunate and unpleasant subject. Terry and I are going to fight our corner and negotiate to the last penny on these issues so we reduce our costs as far as possible and free up funds for the ground.

Speaking of which there is the ground fund: now that we have secured commitments for two thirds of the money needed to build the stadium. We are asking the local aithorities to support us financially and we are also asking synthetic turf suppliers to provide flexible payment terms. I am attending an FA conference next week in Birmingham on synthetic turf and intend to return with a deal in hand.

We will keep asking supporters to share the financial burden as much as they can, hence the ticket pricing debate. Please do what you can to pay to support the club. I sincerely hope nobody will be put off coming because of the pricing, that would be a blow.

Within 18 months, assuming we have a new ground, we hope to start raising even more money from supporters far and wide, individuals and corporates, by improved client relationship management (all serious sports businesses are now focusing on it) and offering more club products for sale - but that's for later. The basic idea is to raise enough money commercially to make the business wash its face so owners don't have to keep pumping money in. Absolutely necessary I can assure you...

I won't bother mentioning actual football...June is the pro football and rugby holiday month so I'll just have to get my kicks from cricket, golf and tennis for a few weeks.