KF – Karl Fitzpatrick, chief executive
SB – Steven Broomhead, chairman
SB opened the meeting in the Hall of Fame by welcoming all guests, and advised that questions and discussions around any individual player or coach would be off limits.
KF advised that he wanted the meeting to be transparent and was looking to hold a Fans’ Forum at regular intervals from here on in, before asking all staff members present to introduce themselves.
KF then provided details of his background, giving a summary of his journey from player to CEO, including a period of unpaid work at the Club, whilst obtaining a Sports Performance Degree and then going on to achieve a distinction in a Master of Business Administration.
KF led the group on an in-depth tour of the stadium, which started in the home changing room and then moved into the away changing room, and included an insight into what happens on game day for both the home and away players.
The tour continued onto the pitch, where KF explained what was involved in keeping the pitch in such fantastic condition and how changes had been made following Ben Currie’s ruptured ACL injury.
Some discussion took place regarding the internal screen before the tour moved on to the Martin Dawes Legends Lounge, where there were a number of queries in relation to food and beverage, before the group headed back into the Hall of Fame for an open Q&A session.
Back in the Hall of Fame, KF opened the Q&A session by explaining that when he first took over, he was concerned at the lack of structure and processes in place, including the lack of clarity of roles. There seemed to be a number of business fundamentals missing, and over-reliance on consultants.
KF recognises that there is a need for us to be financially self-sustaining, and not reliant on Simon Moran and Stuart Middleton. KF confirmed that when he went into the CEO role, his primary objective was to put an administrative team in place who could move the business forward. The Club is now working to the 4 strategic aims of people/culture, profitability, performance and fan engagement. In order to help achieve these aims, KF highlighted the importance of improved relationships with supporters, as well as with commercial partners.
The actual game footage on the internal screen is squashed due to the sponsorship on display, can anything be done about that?
The internal screen may appear squashed as there is a requirement to advertise above and below the middle section. The installation of the external screen was part of the requirement of the Halliwell Jones naming rights agreement. KF brokered a deal with screen providers, Elonex, to install an internal screen free of charge as part of the purchase of the external screen.
We are very excited about the opportunities the screen will bring, particularly in relation to fan engagement and the match-day experience.
It was good to hear one fan comment that the positioning of the screen is ideal, as it allows a better view from their usual position in the South Stand.
Why are the BBC permitted to take over the end of the South Stand for their televised games?
We are contractually obligated to allow them to construct a gantry in their preferred position. It is believed that the BBC use an outside studio in order to experience the atmosphere of the game.
There has been an increase in trouble from some fans, how will the Club deal with any known troublemakers?
At the latest RFL CEO’s meeting, a discussion took place regarding the introduction of a centralised system, whereby anyone banned from one ground would subsequently be banned from all rugby grounds.
Warrington Wolves will not tolerate troublemakers and banning orders will be issued accordingly.
Why do the Club give out complimentary tickets in the West Stand, as this can sometimes be intimidating for home supporters?
When issuing complimentary tickets, we are aware of devaluing the product if free places are continually handed out in sought after areas, such as the South Stand or any of the seats in the East and North Stands, but we agree to give further consideration to this matter.
Why are the beer prices in the ground so high?
This is a commercial challenge in conjunction with the Club’s contract with Centerplate; this is not uncommon at other sporting clubs but we are always seeking to obtain the right balance between an acceptable price for fans whilst achieving reasonable commercial returns from our catering operations.
To keep the costs down for our fans, we currently subsidise beer sales by contributing 30p for every pint of beer sold.
Why does the Super League advertise Kingstone Press but it is not sold within the ground?
This sponsorship is part of the central RFL agreement but this particular product is not available from our beer suppliers.
Will there be a yearly membership allowing fans to watch the game from the South Stand but drink in the Touchdown Club (a number of fans said that they would like to enjoy a drink in the Touchdown Club but sit/stand in their usual seat/area)?
The Touchdown Club has been introduced to address the opportunity for a premium ticket offering, positioned in-between hospitality and general admission, and is something which is proving very popular at other sporting and leisure events. We are looking to roll out a seasonal offering that will allow upgrades regardless of where you as a supporter will normally sit or stand. We note that greater clarity and additional communication is required from us.
We are also considering showing away games as well as World Cup games in the Touchdown Club, with additional benefits such as having players and/or coaching staff in the room to provide match analysis.
How much time off were the players given, ahead of The Qualifiers?
All players attended a Club function on the evening of Friday 21st July and were then allowed some free time before returning for training on Thursday 27th July.
Why has it taken 8 months to engage with and consult fans?
We did consider putting out a statement during the season but subsequently decided against this due to the poor performance of the team. However, we are aware that there should be more focus on fan engagement and we are addressing this.
Why did the Board allow the lack of structure within such a well-established Club?
We are now aware that there was previously a heavy reliance on the use of consultants and, as with any new management regime, a Board needs to give a reasonable amount of time to assess the success or otherwise of the strategies that are in place.
What is the impact of having a number of players in the squad who are coming out of contract – could this have a negative impact?
This is in fact the opposite; players coming out of contract are hungry to achieve an extension at the Club or to impress other Super League clubs, and therefore perform accordingly.
Who takes the decision when bringing new players in?
As Head Coach, Tony Smith has the final say. Simon Moran may also play a part in the process.
What are the plans for new players next year?
We are actively recruiting, and we are constantly scouring the globe for new players. We probably have to accept that some of the top NRL players may only come to the UK if they have had issues within the NRL.
We are always in a good position to move quickly on players as they become available, as we have the resources at our disposal.
Is the Club identifying talent and seeking replacements now for key players?
The player market is difficult at the moment due to the NRL salary cap being significantly higher than Super League and because the majority of the top Super League players are tied in to long contracts. Therefore, our youth programme is critical, and there is a need to continually produce players. We are always monitoring the market and have an on-going succession plan.
Is it acceptable that only 2 players have made their debut this season, despite the Club’s youth development?
Within the first team squad, there are at least 11 home-grown players and bringing 2 per year up through the youth ranks is in fact a good position to be in, particularly if these 2 then become regular Super League players.
What are the reasons for the poor performance of the team so far this season?
There is not one lone deciding factor but a number of factors, including poor performances from players in key positions, players missing due to injuries, as well as some players with personal issues.
Has the slump in play affected sponsorship?
Poor performance does make it more difficult to sell the product but, in spite of this and during a period when Super League viewing figures are falling and all Clubs are facing difficulties, we are pleased to have secured some new sponsorship/commercial deals.
Is the uncertainty of match-days and times impacting on gate income?
This is the case but it is being looked at by the RFL.
The rationale behind opting for Saturday at 15:00 for the Middle 8’s games is as follows; our priority is to secure Super League status for 2018 and holding games on a Saturday will allow for at least a 7-day turnaround for all but one fixture. This turnaround time is vital for player recovery, and also eliminates the risk of losing players to the 6-day mandatory stand down for concussion injuries. If we were participating in the Super 8’s, then the home games would have been scheduled for a Friday night.
The 15:00 kick off time is to avoid disruption for those games scheduled to be shown on Sky, as the final rounds are still to be determined and it would be unfair to fans to confirm a later kick off only for it to subsequently be brought forward.
If we maintain Super League status for 2018, what will be the chosen day for the home games?
Our preference is for Friday night games, again this takes into account turnaround times. However, we will explore the possibility to have some games on Saturday or Sunday if the fixture list allows it.
What are the plans to get more people in to watch the games?
For maximum fan numbers and enjoyment, we have to look at the offering on the pitch, engaging with supporters, and our admission prices; in other words, to try and ensure an excellent match-day experience in all areas.
Will the Early Bird offer be finished before the fixture list is released, as in previous years?
We are aware that this has been an issue for our fans and we will certainly take this into account when setting our dates for ticket sales.
The Toronto Wolfpack are receiving great support, do you agree that there is a lot to learn from their use of social media and marketing?
We do agree and we have already been in talks with them.
Are some of the bigger sponsors secured and tied in for a number of seasons to come?
We are working hard to extend existing contracts as well as bring new ones on board; we are spreading our net to see what additional sponsorship is available.
Do you agree that some of our sponsors do not engage enough with the Club? For example, the Wigan sponsors have a high social media presence with lots of offers yet no similar level of support appears to be offered by Emirates.
Some partners wish to engage with the Club more than others and we have to respect this.
Three new partners have been signed up, and these are yet to be officially announced. Regardless of what has been happening on the pitch, there are still plenty of opportunities to pursue and it is a great boost to us to continue to receive support at this difficult time.