The following email update was sent to OxVox members yesterday, March 19 2020:
Below is the update we had prepared to send out some weeks ago.
This release was delayed for a few weeks and I take full responsibility for that delay. Sadly some things in life overshadow what we do at OxVox and I was forced to take a little time away from that work. Ali, Trevor and the rest of the committee have done an amazing job in that time but it did set us back a little.
Now that the OUFC accounts have been released there is more information to digest and further questions to ask, some of which have already been forwarded by our members. Rather than scrap or drastically amend the weeks of work we had done we have decided to release the update as was, while we follow up with the club with questions arising from the accounts. Thank you for your patience with this and we will provide follow up answers in the coming weeks as we get them from the club.
Meanwhile, there is good news about our committee membership for the coming year. You may recall that the deadline for nominations was 29 February. We received four nominations for the four places available on the committee and a membership vote was therefore unnecessary this year. We can confirm that Jemma Hayward, Ian Coleman, Robert Weavers, and Ben Heath will now join the committee.
We are of course still planning our AGM, but during these unprecedented times it is very likely that it will be postponed. We will keep you posted as further information comes out but for those making plans, please keep that in mind. Obviously things are difficult for everyone at the moment and it is hard to see beyond some of the rapidly escalating problems. I lived and worked in New York coaching football many years ago and had just moved to Washington DC when the Twin Towers and Pentagon were attacked on 9/11. It was the last time I was in a situation that felt this surreal or out of our control but the things that pulled everyone together at that time were kindness, compassion and humour. Having taken a peek at Twitter over the last few days, I definitely think we have the last one covered. Now we just have to look out for each other and everything else will take care of itself.
Hope all are well and I’m definitely looking forward to the day that football is one of my major concerns again. After all, we are in third and have a promotion to win!
As always COYY
Hi again everyone and welcome to the sharp end of the season!
One of our most important functions at OxVox is to keep an open dialogue with the club, our members, and key groups involved, to promote the continued success and sustainability of our club. It’s often not high profile or glamorous stuff but keeping an eye on the sustainable future of our club and keeping the connection between supporters and those who own and run the club is imperative.
Alongside the projects that have been running this year we have remained focused on the finances of the club and understanding the reasons for the winding up petitions and financial problems of last season, and seeking assurances that they would not happen again this year. We are all supporters on the committee and as liable as anyone to the frustrations and utter joy that the playing side can deliver. I was as disappointed as anyone to see the last days of the January transfer window play out as they did, but I also weighed that up against where we were last year, what I expected from the club and where I hoped we might get to.
So far this season has exceeded my expectations and seeing the likes of Browne and Holland in full flow, to add to the core of the team that is now coming back to full fitness, I am still confident that we can go on a run and really make this a season to remember. That being said, from an OxVox perspective we take more stock in how the foundations of the club are: financial stability, our academy, and facilities. Add in our reputation as a club and our identity in terms of the player recruitment model and our style of play. To us these things have steadily improved and continue to do so, with everyone from the board and the manager and coaching staff downwards working to move us forward.
We have spoken at length with Tiger and Zaki about these and many other issues, and while we are sometimes asked to keep information confidential, we will always push for as much transparency as possible with the fans. It is to their credit that they have responded with increased communication via local and social media in recent months. While we understand that a level of confidentiality is good business practice, we do press the club for a degree of openness in the area of finance as we feel it would help supporters to better understand the decisions being made.
On Tuesday before the Accrington game we met with Tim Davies the club’s finance director and put several questions to him with regards to finance, stability and funding moving forward. Tim was, as always, open and straight talking and is not one to sugar coat anything he tells us. Some of what was discussed must remain confidential as it involves legal agreements with other parties, but it is clear that a lot of work, and money, has gone into clearing historic debts at the club and building assets for us to move forward.
The monies owed to Darryl Eales have now been repaid and the club are in the process of having the charge over transfers removed from the accounts. This is a formality but may take a little time to be registered. We discussed annual losses and how that impacted on our spending. Given an increase in wage budget, we estimate that in the absence of cup runs and player sales, the club stands to lose around £3.5M a year on current trading. This is covered by the board and by profit from player sales, with cup runs and other playing success also playing their part. Clearly, discussions took place during January as to how to sustainably continue the promotion push. I’m sure as with all boards or committees there were a number of views on how that should be done but it was confirmed to us that throughout the transfer window, including the final day, genuine and sizeable offers were made for several players. It was also made clear that the board were genuinely pressing for promotion and that the added financial incentives in the Championship, meant that any suggestion they did not want it this year made no sense.
We expressed our opinion to Tim, as we have to Tiger and Zaki, that the club needs to continue its player recruitment model in the summer and contract fresh young talent to replace the ones who have left. We also discussed how our stadium licence fee impacted our overall spend, and while significant, it is a much smaller percentage of total outgoings than wages. We also spoke about the potential stadium solutions which we will cover later but overall the financial health of the club has improved significantly over the last year but that the previous year will have left the club with increased levels of debt. Major debts which have been settled or updated include the ‘inherited’ arbitration case, the purchase of the training ground lease and the work undertaken there, and other historic debts. We were also encouraged to see the hard work that has been done by Tim Davies, Niall McWilliams and the owner and board to improve the financial management and avoiding further winding up petitions and similar problems. We continue to press the club to avoid such problems in the future. The release of the accounts will of course allow us to gauge where we were in the previous year and we will follow up on those results in due course.
As supporters we all want exciting new signings and to hang on to the very best players we have, but being pragmatic and stepping back, we are also aware of how much it takes to keep our club running and stable and able to compete. I’m sure there were difficult decisions among the board about levels of investment in January, but it is fair to say that the financial situation has improved and the summer offers us a chance to build on an excellent squad and to continue the hard work of the recruitment team.
When discussing finance and stability the stadium situation is obviously an important factor. While often being built up to being the cure for all ills, which it is not, it is still vitally important to the club that we gain some control over our stadium situation and to maximise our potential. There has been a lot of speculation over the last few months and a fair amount of adding two and two and getting five. None of this is a problem but expectations for some seem to have been raised to the point where only a 40,000 seater stadium with free parking for all will do. OxVox have been working with the club and independently to assess the situation for a number of years and over the last year or so we have had meetings with Firoz Kassam, Members of Oxford City Council, planning consultants, architects and of course the Oxford United owners and board.
As it stands, our current licence agreement runs out in 2026. At that point we would have the option to extend the licence on the same terms. The stadium is also a designated sports area and the council have confirmed they would oppose any change to that without the club having a new ground approved and under way. While this guarantees us a home, we as an organisation feel that a simple extension of the licence we are on would continue to hold the club back and leave us playing catch up with many of the other clubs in the league.
OxVox historically have worked for a resolution to the stadium issue and we continue to do so but we also understand there is a wide range of opinion regarding the various options. Since joining OxVox I have always pressed for an open attitude towards the solution and we will continue to do so. The idea of a brand new stadium is very persuasive and as a fan I would love to press a button and make it happen but the reality is it would be an incredibly difficult process that would require a very significant level of funding just to get to the point of applying for planning permission. That is not to say these alternatives should not be investigated fully or pursued if viable, but there must be an understanding of how complicated and expensive this process is and the potential strain it could put on our football club. Our league alone is littered with examples of clubs that have been taken to the brink, or sadly beyond while spending beyond their means.
When we asked what it would take to have the board sanction the building of a new stadium some time ago we were told they would need a return on their investment. This is not surprising or indeed unreasonable when you consider potential costs starting at a minimum of £30m and moving up from there. Again it is absolutely the right thing in our eyes to investigate this option and have it as part of the negotiating plan but it is also important to be in dialogue with Firoka about our current ground and the nature of the licence we are in. If a deal can be made which brings the stadium under the club’s control and allows us to generate profit from the sales, functions and off season events, together with the West End being filled in, then it’s not unreasonable to think that far more revenue would be generated for the benefit of the club, even if the agreement is used to allow time to evaluate a move away or a purchase of the stadium further down the line.
OxVox have for a number of years been in discussions with Firoka about the possibility of a community buy out and that dialogue has continued in a very positive manner but at present that option seems unlikely.
Potential new stadium
Community purchase of the Kassam
Sale of the stadium to the club
Given that Firoka appear reluctant at this time to sell to the community, it seems to us to be unlikely that they would consider that same offer from the club but again this option remains open for discussion in the future.
While some may feel they wish to move at any cost, we feel this would be a dangerous step for the club to take in any other circumstance than a very short term period to bridge between moving from our present home to a new ground. It could fracture our support, lower our gates and potentially weaken our hand with the council. OxVox feel the club would be no better off financially and potentially in a far worse situation.
Renegotiation of licence
Thank you for taking the time to read this rather wordy update and I hope it sheds some light on these issues. We will keep everybody informed if there are any new developments but on a very personal note, if you have any questions, suggestions or even challenges then come to us. Email us. Speak to us. We will be holding another stall at a home game in the coming weeks and we would love you to come along and speak to us in person. We also have our AGM at the stadium on Saturday the 18th of April before the Fleetwood game and we would love to see you all there. It is much easier for us to engage with people in person or one to one via email than it is to take to Twitter or the Forum and try to root out your points. We are all just fans and while we may differ in approach, I like to think we all just want what’s best for our club.
On that point I will sign off as I look forward to Saturday’s game with a loud and optimistic COYY !