We’ll Support you ever more? NOPM and the Sky Blues

Tim Fisher, CEO of CCFC Holdings Ltd, the parent company that controls Coventry City Football Club on behalf of the Cayman Island based hedge fund, SISU, appeared fairly relaxed about the situation when questioned in the summer at the specially arranged fan forums.  When the proposed relocation to Sixfields went ahead, he predicted attendances of around 6-7,000 if the club were doing well and around 3,000 if results were poor.  Fisher’s popularity ratings amongst Sky Blues fans is at an all time low after the conduct over the summer, but he has a background in banking and economics and so must surely be far from the incompetent clueless fool that many depict.  Where did his figures come from, and why did he get it so wrong?

Football fans have pretty unbreakable bonds with their club, that collectively form the basis for a clubs set of ‘hardcore’ fans.  City till I Die.  As the late Eddie Thomson, chairman of Dundee United, wisely noted

You can change your wife, your house, your car, but you can never change your team.  Chairmen come and go, boards come and go, but the fans remain.

A team is for life and this saying applies equally to any woman and her husband. In Argentina the cliché has been evolved to accommodate local cultural values

You can change your wife, but your club and your mother, never.

Who actually came up with the original concept and when, is unclear – probably some wise old boy at the bar before an inconsequential game years ago, his moment lost in history.  The sentiment is that support is unwavering.  And if taken as face value, for those with financial interests at heart that now control clubs, we have the perfect consumers.  Unbinding loyalty to the badge.  You can change the shirts year on year and they still sell.  You can change the clubs name to incorporate wild animals into their title, inviting ridicule amongst rival fans along with widespread sympathy, but the turnstiles will still turn.  You can ignore centuries old traditions and make the Bluebirds play in red, but if the quality of the football is there, the cash till will still ring.  There will be murmurs of disapproval but the majority of supporters on the whole get over it.  They are ripe for picking.

However, the reality is that support amongst the majority of football fans is far from this simplification.  Allegiance may be unwavering, but there are a significant number of football fans that are not part of the hardcore that regularly and habitually attend and spend. A large proportion are more fickle, a more relevant description being that of  ‘armchair fans’, often derided by core supporters as ‘plastic fans’. Chelsea fans, amongst other of course, constantly hear

Where were you, where were you when you were shit?

directed at them at away games.  These are the supporters that will return when the club is doing well, or for important cup games and local derbies.  The majority of football fans fall into this second category – every weekend less than 3% of the population actually go to watch professional football.  American Academics that study fan behaviours call those less committed fans as BIRGers – Basking in Reflective Glory fans.   For City fans, the Ricoh was almost a sell out for one game last season – the Johnstone Paint Trophy semi-final first leg against Crewe.  Where do all these BIRGers, the ‘glory hunters’ or ‘plastic fans’ come from?

Alan Tapp, an academic based in Bristol that specialises in marketing and consumer behaviour, conducted an in depth study on a Midlands based club looking specifically at the behaviour and attitudes of fans over a period of four years at the turn of the century. The club he studied had an average attendance over that period of 21,000 and he concluded that three distinct categories of fan types could be deduced:

 8,000 Hardcore  – Mainly Season Tickets Holders

8,000 Committed Casuals – drawn from around a total of 15,000 fans

5,000 Casuals.  Carefree Individuals with less committed ties to a specific club.

He found that of the even amongst the hardcore of 8,000 season ticket holders, this group was not as static as expected and would fluctuate between seasons, with a ‘leakage’ of around 1,000 fans that chose not to renew the following season, being replaced by a similar number of committed casuals, thereby keeping the numbers fairly consistent.  Tapp’s research, published in 2004, has been expanded upon and refined by others in the field of marketing and brand loyalty more recently, but his core concepts are likely to have informed the basis for Fisher’s figures on attendances.  Rather than plucked out thin air, Fisher is likely to have used recent research to underpin his predictions.  Data is king for a hedge fund and the clubs database will have formed the basis for Fishers assertions.

The club had an average attendance of just under 11,000 in the 2012/13 season, prior to the relocation.   First we need to deduct away fans that traveled to the Ricoh from the average, taken to be around 1,000. If we use Tapps model as a basis, the Sky Blues would have around 4,000 hardcore, 4,000 committed casuals and 2,000 casuals that form the basis of support. Yet the season ticket sales for 2012/13 was in the region of 5,800 which if we deduct corporates, which the club funds as part of sponsorship deals with ‘partners’, we can estimate that around 5,500 purchase, around 35% higher than expected from the model, which would have been cause for optimism.  The club has a larger than expected hardcore following relative to overall attendance figures.  The club will have statistical data on those individuals that renew season tickets years on year and will have made an allowance for the leakage of the percentages which were unlikely to renew, likely to be around 800 in a ‘normal’ close season.  The club will have estimated a greater net loss of season ticket holders for the coming season, of course – fewer if any would have been expected to replace those that leave due to the relocation to Sixfields.  Some of those lost are likely to have been assessed as expected to become committed casuals – they will turn up if the results go well – or for semi finals of the JPT – but will not show full commitment by purchasing a season ticket.

Fishers lower end prediction of a minimum of 3,000 assumed that around 50% of the long suffering season ticket holders would remain, either taking out season tickets or becoming committed casuals.  If results went well, Fisher expected the other half of the hardcore support to return, along with a proportion of the established committed casuals, providing the basis for the prediction of crowds of around 6-7,000.  The additional numbers would also see a return of more long-term ‘committed casuals’ that have followed the club in recent seasons.  The quality of the football and results would override concerns about the imposed relocation, levels of investment in the squad and the ambitions of the owners.

But what appears to have occurred is they have seriously underestimated the number of hardcore fans which care so deeply about the club they now refuse to travel – part of the Not One Penny More (NOPM) movement against the owners, particularly to ‘home’ games in Northants.  Away support at this stage is fairly consistent with those that traveled last season.  This show of support through non-participation has been massively under-predicted by Fisher.  His forecast was based on the assumption that fans would eventually travel – 35 miles is not that far physically for a committed football supporter, but the psychological distance was substantially devalued.

Instead of around 50% (2,750) of these supporters showed their commitment by purchasing a season ticket, it looks as though less than 500 fans have actually purchased.  A block of some 250 season tickets were showing as being sold shortly after the tickets were first made available for sale, with the widely held assumption that these were purchased on behalf of the club for corporate sponsors, players wives and families and guests of the club.  On such low total sales, these become more significant than on average attendances of 21,000 for example.  After two ‘home’ games with total attendances of around 2,000, the Coventry Telegraph reported that the club believed

Roughly 1,000 Coventry fans attended the first fixture [Bristol City] compared to 1,500 for the latest. [Preston North End].

So far this season, the club have been involved in some pretty high scoring games, form that would be consistent with a club pushing for the play-offs (if the FL had not imposed a points deduction) and are represented on the field by local lads that have progressed through the ranks, assisted by a few experienced older players from further afield.  This is the stuff many supporters in the lower leagues want from their team – a hint of possible success and a team full of local, well organised, talented players working hard for each other.  And yet instead of the 7,000 predicted under such circumstances, around 20% of the expected attendance has turned up so far.  It is early days and things may change, but only 500 committed casual fans have so far been convinced.  The team is on a high and fans are not traveling.  Will Fisher assumptions, that currently look to be catastrophically wide of the mark, have any repercussions for the clubs eventual return to the city?

Portfolio holders and investors in SISU’s funds could now be asking uncomfortable questions to find out how the analysis was so spectacularly wide of the mark. Those investors simply investing in funds without the full knowledge of what exactly SISU were using their money for will now be acutely aware of what they are investing in, particularly after the negative publicity the company has received over the summer, attracting such widespread criticism in its handling of the situation both in local and national media.  It seems likely that investors will be asking some serious questions particularly over the proposed build of a new stadium in Coventry.  Any numbers given for fans returning to the new stadium are likely to be received with considerable caution, that could undermine willingness to release funds for the proposed build, due to be completed at some point, as yet undisclosed, in the next five years.  If predictions for those that were prepared to travel were so wide if the mark, investors are likely to view any predictions on those likely to return whilst SISU remain in charge with skepticism.  One of the problems SISU may face is convincing investors to back the scheme when even hardcore fans will soon have gotten used to not going to the game. Habits are difficult to break, but once broken by force, how easy will they be to relearn? A lot can happen in five years.  Once a life outside of football is established, perhaps many will discover that the sky is still blue away from the game and simply get used to do other things at the weekend.  If the club ever returns home, these disillusioned supporters may, at best, simply become the unreliable, uncommitted casuals of the future.  Only time will tell.

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19 Responses to We’ll Support you ever more? NOPM and the Sky Blues

  1. Yes Fisher has continuous failed to understand that a human being is more than simply a figure or number on a balance sheet. They have taken one step to attempt to repair this mess and win hearts and minds, the ‘hand off’ players line in the transfer window. It is ironic that if Sisu had understood this simple lesson 5 years ago and not desperate to make a quick profit, who knows where the club may be? I say this an an exiled Sky Blue living in newly promoted Cardiff………I hope the investors see ‘the folly’ of Fisher’s figures and the club returns to footballing hands but i suspect Seppala, described as ‘strong-willed’ which is another term for ‘bloody-mindedness’ will dig in her heels. While lets all keep reminding the media, the CVA was never doing to be accepted by the Inland Revenue, they NEVER do, liquidation was simply going to happen, caused by Sisu, so to blame ACL totally is yet another Sisu deflection of the sad reality of their gross economic mismanagement and contempt for the Fans.

  2. vic r says:

    Very good article. I am a London based supporter and I have started to go to Leyton Orient matches just to watch a local team and see some live football. Thinking of going to crystal palace as well. I think you’re right about the fact that people may not return. I do love the Sky Blues though and miss the home games. I think Fisher did not factor in the old Cov Trade Union ethic that says you never ever cross that line.

  3. Mark White says:

    This article sounds about right, I for a long 43 years have supported and followed Coventry through thick and thin, I will not spend one penny more, I have heard too many promises from SISU… all to no avail. My stance will stand no matter what Tim Fisher thinks, if anything, he has made me even stronger to NOT go to watch my beloved team until there are changes made.

  4. Rob Corcoran says:

    I live on Merseyside though I’m a Cov kid. I suppose you’d call me a ‘casual’. One thing I will NEVER do is watch the Sky Blues at Sixfields; I’ll be at Preston and Tranmere for away games, sure, but not one penny more of mine will go into SISU’s pockets. Fisher and Seppalla can go to hell for me.

  5. Arthur Potts says:

    I fear that NOPM might result in the club’s permanent exile from Coventry. As you suggest, it’s likely that many fans (however ‘committed’) will simply lose the habit of watching, or stay away from any SISU owned venue. – making a new build stadium a very risky venture for any investor. What then? Maybe merge with Los Cobbleros to become the Nene Valey Royals or some such nonsense.

    • Dave Bloomfield says:

      Oh well done Arthur! Mr Fisher will be looking into the possibility of creating a Nene Valley Royals now – obviously with the unflinching support of the Football League…

  6. An interesting article Richard but my response is, that it is much too soon to tell. People are getting their football fix by going to away games and other local games. But I note that the Coventry contingent went up by nearly 500 for the Preston game. I predict that if the team continue to do well that figure will continue to go up. Not automatically every week but rather erratically like a graph. For example the attendance for Colchester may very well be lower for both the total and the Coventry contingent. But I expect the gates will gradually drift up over the season.

    The Club are putting on coaches to Northampton at only £7.50 and have reduced the season ticket prices by £100. Match day tickets are only £13, £16 and £18 for adults! Although I live in Coventry, I actually find it easier and quicker to get to Sixfields than the Ricoh because I don’t have to walk 1 1/2 miles to the ground. The Council charged supporters £10 to park at the Ricoh but the club are only charging season ticket holders £2 to park right next to the Sixfields. The Sixfields experience is great because their are no mindless yobs chanting SISU out and likewise no banners. Everyone there, is behind the team and it feels like a throwback to Highfield Road. It is a far more pleasurable experience than the Ricoh. People will inevitably go casually and then find out that despite all the propaganda, it is more accessible and far a more pleasurable experience than they imagined. SISU have factored in, that it will lose 5 to 8,000 supporters for 3-5 years and the claim that CCFC is dead has been greatly exaggerated!

    I haven’t swallowed all the left wing propaganda put out by both the Coventry Telegraph and the Sky Blue Trust. The Telegraph is of course owned by the Trinity Mirror group and sponsored the takeover by a consortium headed by Gary Hoffman, a Non-Executive Director of Trinity Mirror. The Chairman of the Sky Blue Trust is none other than the former leader of the Labour Council, John Fletcher. The Sky Blue Trust would like a sort of people’s co-operative running the Labour Council’s People’s Republic of Coventry Stadium, Football Team. You can fool all the people all of the time . . . .?

    Richard isn’t it time, you did an article on how the Council are going to survive without the anchor tenant of CCFC? That would be far more interesting. I notice that the Labour Council have not only lent ACL £14 million, (the company that runs the Ricoh and is owned by the Council and the Higgs Charity), but the Council have now had to lend £6.5 million to the Coombe Abbey Hotel (the Council owns the freehold and part owns the hotel. There seems to be a pattern developing here. It’s the dead hand of the Labour Council stupid!

    Best wishes,

    Peter Chambers.

    • Richard says:

      Hi Peter

      It will be interesting to see how things pan out. I would imagine that results will suffer as winter approaches, due to a deterioration of the pitch through excessive use and the expected depletion of key members of the squad through injuries and suspension which all clubs suffer. CCFC has a very small squad and so will find it more difficult to adjust than its competitors. This may well have a negative affect on attendances. As the article ends, only time will tell.

      Re ‘left wing propaganda’ from the Telegraph and SBT. I’m not sure many would agree. The paper has at times supported the ‘Keep Coventry in Coventry’ which is largely apolitical. I’m fairly certain that supporters from all political parties would prefer to see a club play in the town from which it takes its name. The paper has given space to representatives from the club to express their opinions without the need to qualify nor answer questions which I, other supporters, forum posters and bloggers feel need answering. The paper has failed to investigate reports in any depth, merely giving space to their interpretation without any investigation. If the need to investigate is the now sole preserve of the ‘left’, then this merely shows the failure of others with political persuasions from the centre/centre right to question and hold to account those that wield power. In my opinion.

      Re Council loans and the survival of ACL. Time is limited but I will bear it in mind!

      Richard

  7. Stefan Robey says:

    Peter chambers, are you a sisu employee or a brainless idiot?
    What has being left wing, right wing or centre got to do with this?
    This is a purely moral issue, and if you do not comprehend this then I feel truly sorry for you.
    Most intelligent people, whether of a right wing or a left wing persuasion, know the difference
    between right or wrong, and the vast majority of the good people of Coventry know that sisu are a stain on our society, not just Coventry City. sisu represent all that is wrong with society today,they
    are greedy, dishonest, uncaring parasites, and have no place in a decent society.
    If you are a sisu employee, then shame on you, if you are a sisu apologist then you have no shame. This whole argument is about decency and honour, your beloved sisu have neither.
    S Robey

    • SSB says:

      Well said, this has nothing to do with the politics of the Left or the Right. On numerous occasions Fisher has shown himself to be economical with the truth and I am no longer willing to trust anything that he says. SISU’s actions have driven us to the brink and I fear for our future while it remains in control.

  8. Pingback: The Sky Blue Daily | Sky Blue Daily Digest 6 September 2013

  9. Rod Green says:

    Really well written and well researched article and it will indeed be interesting to see whether attendances start to rise if our current good form continues. However I am not sure whether SISU’s investors will get too hung up on attendance figures either way. There are very few football clubs that generate significant levels of profit, so I expect the investors see their return coming from increasing the value of the club with a view to a sale in future rather than from the yearly profits that it generates. It wouldn’t surprise me if the investors are fully accepting that they are likely to run the club at a loss for a few years but if they come out of it owning a stadium rather than being a tenant then their investment will be worth a lot more. Even under ACLs revised offer of lower rent it is worth noting that the club would not share in any of the match day car parking or food/drink revenue so it is clear that stadium ownership is essential for ccfc long term. I am a life long fan and wish the club was playing in Coventry but would reluctantly accept a few years at Sixfields if it means we have a viable club at the end of it. The decision to sell Highfield road and rent the Ricoh arena is the real cause of the problems we are currently facing.

    • SSB says:

      I wouldn’t disagree about the start of our troubles being before SISU took over. However it wasn’t due to the idea of moving from Highfield Road, but the way in which it was handled by Richardson et al. However unlike you I can’t accept the exile to Northampton for most of the current problems have been caused by SISU. If it had operated honourably from the outset then there could well have been a satisfactory negotiated agreement. I am now unwilling to accept any more lies from Fisher and I do not trust him or SISU to do what’s in the best interests of the club or us supporters. SISU are only in for themselves and, as they’ve shown, do not give a stuff about the supporters.

      • Rod Green says:

        I totally agree with your point re Highfield Road – not the idea that was wrong but the execution. Moving from ownership to leasing was mad, particularly given the terms of the lease they signed. My view is just that SISU can absorb the losses and will almost certainly do so until they can either build a new stadium or buy the Ricoh. With this in mind crowd attendances are irrelevant to them so I choose to go along and support the team.

      • SSB says:

        I can understand why you and others wish to support the team. I too will go along and do that but only at away matches. I honestly think that our only way forward is to be rid of SISU and at the moment our only course of action is to starve them of income. I’ve been a supporter for 50+ years and it pains me to miss matches. However I feel that I have no alternative as a future with SISU is not one that I wish to contemplate. Fisher has continually lied to us and I see no reason to trust him not to do so in the future. The trouble is that by you and the minority of others going to Northampton they will continue to think that they can do what they want. I’ve chosen not to go to Northampton but I would ask you and the others who are going to spare a thought for those have no choice as they cannot get there. Also just think for a moment of those who are unable to get over to there.
        PUSB

      • Rod Green says:

        Agree with you about the way it has been handled by Fisher. There should have been a more open dialogue with the fans throughout the whole process. I just don’t think it makes a big difference to SISU whether 7000 people turn up or 1000 or even 0. Their end game is a sale of the company which will significantly eclipse the proceeds they can make from selling tickets to the games. In the meantime I expect they have a significant portfolio of other companies that they are buying and selling and the proceeds from this will enable them to absorb losses on CCFC until they eventually sell.

      • SSB says:

        I really think that the lower the crowds and income then the greater the pressure on SISU. You mention about there being no impact of a gate of 0 but just imagine what the publicity would be like for them. Even if it was only for one game. Fisher is hoping that enough people will attend in order to give some credibility to the move to Northampton. Without that support, SISU’s hand will be forced and it will need to sell sooner rather than later. I cannot in all honesty give any such support to Fisher and SISU for what they have done to the club and its supporters. I am more concerned about the long term future of the club and for me that’s worth the short term sacrifice of not watching ‘home’ games. Fisher’s promises for the future should be ignored as they mean absolutely nothing.

  10. Sky Blues says:

    Interesting bit of research there and a plausible possibility for Tim Fisher’s figures. I made a prediction about average attendances at Sixfields before the start of the season too – 1,906. My methodology (see http://www.skybluestalk.co.uk/threads/33491-quot-Home-quot-attendance for details) wouldn’t win any prizes from the statisticians’s guild, but so far I’m a bit closer than Mr Fisher…

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