There was a good turnout at last night’s Fans’ Forum, with getting on for 90+ supporters braving the cold to attend.
It lasted getting on for an hour and 40 minutes and involved a number of presentations, mostly from those staff whom we rarely hear from but who have such a key role to play in the success of the club, making it a particularly interesting and informative evening.
In order, we heard from Phil Crossman, Matt Price, Hannah Walker, Max Hartman and finally Rowland Winter.
What I’ve tended to do in the past when I’ve posted on a fans’ forum is to try to give a reasonably detailed account of what was said for those who weren’t able to make it and I’m proposing to do something similar again. However, given the amount that was covered during the presentations, I imagine I’ll end up splitting it across two posts.
Apologies in advance if that is the case.
There will, inevitably, be points I’ve neglected to include or maybe misinterpreted. If that is the case, please do let me know and I’ll amend accordingly.
What impressed me most was that very little reference was made to the current success of the team. It would have been easy to turn it into a ‘haven’t we all done well’ evening, an opportunity for a bit of self-congratulation – but there was none of it.
There was plenty of talk about Coventry reaching the Championship, but no one tried to do anything other than present a purely factual account of what was happening in their particular area and what the next steps might be. It was all very focused and reflected the professional approach the club has these day in everything it does.
I wasn’t expecting anything else, but I was taken by the way in which everyone gave the impression that they were but one part of a management/ support/coaching structure whose ultimate goal was to take the club forward into the Championship and then consolidate its position there. Everyone fed into the success of the club, no one was taking credit for it.
I guess what I’m trying to say, somewhat inarticulately, is that it was just refreshing to see everyone working together…
I’ll go through the presentations in the order they occurred, which means first off it’s Phil Crossman.
Phil is the CEO at Cov. It’s the first time I’ve heard him speak and it was hard not to be impressed by what he had to say.
Despite the size of the task he’s been handed and his relative recent appointment, it was evident that he already has a clear overview of the club and of the supporters too and much of what he said reflected many of the concerns that have been expressed on the Messageboard and elsewhere in recent seasons regarding some aspects of what might loosely be termed ‘the match day experience’.
I got the distinct impression that he is very much a doer rather than a talker, if that makes sense, but also someone who is on the side of the supporters, something that immediately endeared him to me, anyway…
Phil C started by breaking down the aims of the club into those in the short-term and those in the longer-term:
- promotion to the Championship and consolidation;
- the installation of a 4G pitch and appropriate infrastructure;
- Cov to become a self-sustaining business.
As far as the 4G pitch is concerned, something which Phil Crossman seemed to indicate was a priority, the club is already in the process of conducting a feasibility study that will last 3 months which will explore all aspects of the installation of a synthetic surface, with the aim to cost it and then, hopefully, put it out to tender – presuming that the monies needed can be found (which would be in the region of between £1.5/1.7m).
2019 – 2022
- development of the stadium.
Even for most of the successful teams in the Premiership, rugby is not a profitable business and it is essential that the club generates revenue/income streams to ensure it is able to fund itself if it is to survive in the long-term.
One of Cov’s key assets is its location and in order to be successful the club will need to develop the brand and exploit the fact it is so central in Coventry. The site has to be used to develop additional revenues outside of just the rugby, something that Jon Sharp has alluded to on several occasions. It wasn’t the occasion to expand on that, but we know the building of retail outlets, hotels and even student accommodation have all been mentioned in the past.
In the immediate future though, the club needs to focus on:
- bar capacity;
- a reduction in service time;
- the fixing of the tannoy;
- the fixing of the scoreboard;
- improved entrance to the ground;
- an increase in steward (which is already happening).
All these have been areas of concern for supporters in terms of their match day experience and enjoyment thereof. Addressing some, if not all, would be very popular with fans and it is something that PC seems keen to do sooner rather than later.
The club hopes that some of the club’s suppliers will become partners, investing in the club as a result. This would be better for both parties – so, for instance, it might mean that as a result more effective ways to pour drinks could be introduced to shorten queues ( as well as the pre-pouring of drinks).
In addition, over a slightly longer period, PC highlighted the need to install as system of electronic tills (which would enable supporters to order their drinks from, say, the main stand before collection from the bar), further develop the wi-fi system and put in place an online ticket office, together with the installation of new floodlights. When monies are obviously tight, the club needs to prioritise and whilst important, these would not necessarily be top of the ‘to do’ list.
He also mentioned that the club is looking at ways to provide more covered standing for supporters who choose not to use the main stand.
In the meantime, the club is investigating improve the site layout, including the Purity Bar being turned 90º to allow spectators a better view from there, an external ticket office so that the selling of tickets can be done more quickly and the moving of one of the portacabins opposite the main stand (to become a second changing area?)…
That’s pretty much it, although in answer to a question from the floor, Phil Crossman did confirm that the club had already been in talks with the council about the development of the ground and they remain on-going, with probably the biggest stumbling block being the environmental impact of any proposed changes.
As I mentioned earlier, Phil Crossman came across as someone who understood what it’s like to be a supporter at the BPA and has set his stall early on to address those issues which have been the bugbear of so many, for so long.
He came across very much as a man with his finger on the pulse.
Having already given a very detailed account of the Community Roadmap during the pre-season, Matt Price’s remit yesterday evening was to update supporters in what has been happening so far this season and look at the WWWs and EBIs (What Went Wells and Even Better Ifs), together with a brief look to the future.
From Matt’s PPt, it looks like there are 12(?) players involved in outreach at local schools, including a new venture into Birmingham to work with schools like Washwood Heath and Saltley.
Both schools mentioned above are pretty much mono-cultural these days, and whilst rugby is not culturally a sport that is popular amongst Asian children, it is something that could prove to be really successful. It’s something of an untapped resource and it will be really interesting to see what sort of response Matt and his team get from working in such a different environment.
Matt and his team have been successful in procuring a number of sizeable grants, including:
- Comic Relief – £5000 (amended = thanks, Pete);
- Tesco Bags for Life – £2000;
- The Garfield West Foundation – £7500;
- +ano (I couldn’t decipher my notes – apologies!) – £9800;
- Another £20000 of bids still being decided upon.
He rightly made the point that such big companies/charitable organisations weren’t going to make these sorts of sums available without being sure of the quality of the product on offer – the belief is that once other charities see how well the funding is being used, more could be made available.
This is a considerable amount of income for the club and Matt and his team are not only providing extremely important outreach work for youngsters, many of whom live in areas of high deprivations, they are also providing important additional revenue for the club.
A lot of work is being done with SEND children (those with special educational needs), a group of students who find access to sport particularly difficult and for whom the social benefits are often just as great as the physical.
In terms of the roadmap Matt set out at the previous forum:
- Scrum Kids is now going to take place in Spring 2018;
- Coaches now take responsibility for different divisions within the Community Department. (A change in Government funding regulations has meant that alternative ways of upskilling the coaches need to be found – it was hoped that all coaches would obtain a level 3 NVQ, but the £25000 that was available has now been withdrawn);
- The Community Dep’t are now working with JCR Construction – JCR will provide a lot of free work for schools (for instance, the putting in of a sandpit), providing additional opportunities for pupils, whilst also enabling the club to receive payment for its involvement;
- The coaches are also being given additional support to quality assure/develop their own delivery from a PE expert;
- The last holiday camp had to be cancelled – there was a lack of youngsters putting their names down, partly due to schools not committing themselves. Matt accepted that the club needed to be even more proactive in advertising the activities and asked for supporters to share notices from the club via social media.
In terms of what had gone particularly well so far this season, Matt highlighted:
- the Pre-Season Camp in which 350 youngsters were involved from a number of local schools;
- delivery of the project to new schools (including Washwood Heath and Saltley – this was an important venture for the club and could lead to an even bigger contract next season);
- work done with ENGAGE;
- the match day activities – a number of new schools had been involved and following a visit to the BPA on Saturday, Cov then visit the school(s) on the Monday/Tuesday afterwards as a follow-up.
Looking ahead, the Community Dep’t will be involved in:
- the February IT camp;
- I Can Play;
- the Reading and Rugby Project;
- Scrum Kids;
- putting in further bids;
- Renegotiating contracts for 2018 and the new academic year.
Despite encountering problems with funding, Matt and his team have continued to develop the work they are doing with youngsters both in Coventry and beyond. Engaging youngsters, many of whom don’t have the best life choices available to them, is hugely important and it is something that can make a real difference to those involved.
When Hannah Walker first arrived at the club some 18 months ago, the medical support available to players was poor. There were only 2-3 therapists available and even then they were unavailable to attend all the training sessions.. The facilities were lacking, with no safe way of removing an injured player from the pitch. There was no stretcher available, no oxygen or splints and access to the medical room wasn’t wide enough to allow a stretcher even if we did have one.
In short, it was all pretty dire.
Now though, everything has been revamped.
There are four qualified physios and a doctor in attendance on match days. Physios are available for 16 hours a week and injured players are expected to come in for rehab even when the rest of the team has time off. Prior to Hannah’s arrival, rehab tended to be done privately (with delays in diagnosis and treatment a common problem).
The team has built up extensive medical links that cover most areas of sports medicine and quick diagnosis and rehab is now available – any concussive injuries to the head are seen by the country’s leading expert in this area at Birmingham University and undergo MRIs and are thoroughly assessed, with recommendations for treatment given.
Close links with universities have been established, including at Coventry University’s Physiotherapy and Sports Therapy Departments. In return, Cov offers student placements and is helping to lead/drive forward important research work.
The club has also hosted a Sports Medicine Conference , attended by over 50 delegates last season and is planning to run another this season, with world renowned speakers taking part and helping to raise the profile both of the medical team and, of course, the club as well.
Finally, Hannah W highlighted the refurbishment of the medical room which now boasts Championship facilities. It is now fit purpose, provides far more space and is a great deal more hygienic. Hannah gave thanks to those who had worked hard to bring about the changes, especially the Supporters’ Club and, in particular, Quent Melhuish and Steve Hood.
And there I’ll leave it until tomorrow’s post which will cover Max Hartman’s and Rowland Winter’s presentations.
Apologies for having to cut it short, but it’s well into the early hours now and I have to be up first thing this morning – Sue’s off Christmas shopping in the jewellery quarter.
I think it’s best if I go with her…