The Board of Cheltenham Town Football Club would like to apologise to supporters for the queues and delays at the ticket offices before last night's match against Ipswich Town.
Although the match itself brought about the result and occasion we all wanted, there are clearly some issues with the return of supporters to football grounds that we need to address.
Please be assured that the Board are working hard to improve all aspects of the matchday experience for supporters and we aim to have some improvements in place for the next home match on September 4.
The past few weeks as football has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging to say the least and the Board would like to provide some additional information for supporters regarding this process.
A number of supporters have addressed questions to the club in recent days and these have been answered by Chairman David Bloxham and Director/Club Secretary Paul Godfrey below. We welcome all questions, feedback and suggestions from supporters. Cheltenham Town is a community football club and as a community, we can all work together to try and foster a culture of improvement across all areas.
WHY HAS THE CLUB APPEARED TO STRUGGLE WITH RE-OPENING AFTER COVID?
All football clubs were affected massively by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some have faced huge financial challenges, having to borrow large sums or rely heavily on benefactors for funding, but Cheltenham Town has survived largely unscathed from a financial point of view. This is due to a number of factors: careful control of costs, additional income from transfer fees and the maximisation of revenues from last season's FA Cup run as well as the government's Job Retention Scheme. A lot of very hard work went in from all Board members to make sure that the club survived when at times the outlook appeared very bleak.
Unfortunately, the enforced shutdown had other consequences for football clubs. Many, including Cheltenham Town, had to furlough nearly everyone and run with a skeleton staff, basically mothballing all operations from March 2020 onwards. In our case during the lockdowns we also lost a number of long-serving staff who either retired or, having had the time to reflect, decided to take their careers in different directions. Over the summer we lost our commercial manager, bars manager, catering manager and safety officer so managing those changes has been a challenge. We were also hit by COVID itself with outbreaks among the commercial staff and academy staff which hampered our preparations.
Finally, we are only now starting to see the changes in society that the pandemic brought about. People are not carrying anything like as much spare cash as before and card payments are becoming the norm. We are also aware that a lot of our older supporters have yet to venture back to football, which is completely understandable but raises its own challenges.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE THINKING BEHIND CASHLESS TURNSTILES?
There appears to have been some confusion around this and we need to be clear with our messaging. The Jonny-Rocks Stadium is not a cashless stadium and we have never stated it to be so. We still accept cash in the ticket office, in the bars and the catering outlets.
However, even before the pandemic we found that more and more people wanted to pay by card and we have to adapt. We cannot take card payments at turnstiles because of the delays this would bring about - since the Hillsborough disaster access and egress to and from football grounds has to be managed carefully and we cannot have bottlenecks at the entrances as a result of cards being declined etc. This means that payments have to be taken online or through ticket sales points and this is now extremely commonplace in football. We would estimate that very few, if any, Football League clubs now accept cash payments at turnstiles.
WHAT ABOUT THE QUEUES AT THE TICKET SALES AND COLLECTION POINTS LAST NIGHT?
We are going to tackle this in a number of ways. Adverts have been published today for more matchday staff to assist with sales and collections and for the next home game we will be opening a dedicated ticket office in the Colin Farmer Stand. This will be in a room that we have not used before and we aim to combine ticketing with merchandise sales from a permanent location.
We will also be re-thinking the management of queues, the number of collection points and signage to try and avoid the issues we experienced last night.
The ticket office will open much earlier on a matchday and we have invested in some new ticket printers so anyone who is not happy with the print quality of their season ticket can have it re-printed on request.
We are also aware of an issue last night with the Red and White Club season ticket holders and we will be contacting them before the next match.
WHY HAVE TICKET PRICES INCREASED?
The reality is that League One football is not cheap to fund. We're going to be competing against several former Premier League clubs with big stadiums and big home crowds who can afford expensive squads. This is a challenge we will relish but it's not going to be easy and sadly price rises have had to form a part of the budgeting for this season, although they are the first price rises for several years. Hopefully, though, we could all agree that the two home matches so far have offered excellent entertainment despite the contrasting results.
The biggest thing for us to try and persuade supporters to buy their tickets as early as possible. There has been a lot of citicism about £28 tickets but the key thing is that we don't want people to pay those prices. Please buy in advance, as early as possible, so that tickets can be distributed or collected in good time and supporters can save money. Ultimately, the best value of all is a season ticket. There are some clubs, even in the lower divisions, where up to 70% of the home support is season ticket holders and it would certainly be nice to increase our percentage further.
WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH THE PROPOSED FANZONE?
This is something our Head of Commercial had started to work on before he left. We are aware that the Jonny-Rocks Stadium is in a residential area with few eating or drinking places nearby and a number of local pubs have closed in recent years. We are keen to expand on the social facilities in order to encourage supporters to arrive earlier and perhaps stay a little longer after games so this is now a priority. We have also invested in new tills and card readers in the existing bars in order to speed up service.
WHY DID THE HEAD OF COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS LEAVE?
Steve Hobin is from Preston in Lancashire, which is clearly a long way from Cheltenham, and he was having to split his time between the two locations. We had hoped that he would stay with us for a couple of years but an opportunity came up at another club in the north of England so we completely respect his decision to move. We have already lined up a new person for this role with a start date at the beginning of next month.
PEOPLE ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE CATERING AT THE GROUND
The stadium catering is out-sourced to an external company but clearly if their customer service is falling short then this reflects badly on the club as a whole. Our Supporter Liaison Officer Jenny Hancock has asked supporters to contact her with any specific complaints/observations and these will be taken up with the caterers. Jenny's email address is email@example.com.
WHAT IS THE CLUB DOING TO REPLACE THE DISABLED ‘PATIO’ AREA?
Another consequence of COVID was the loss of the former wheelchair bay between the dugouts. This area is now ‘red zone’ and with the ever increasing number of backroom staff at clubs, it is also needed to house medical and support staff for the teams. Furthermore, it is adjacent to the fibre-optic cable connection for broadcasters so last night, for example, Sky Sports were doing live reports from there.
We are currently looking at two or three different options to replace the wheelchair bay with a new structure on the Main Stand side of the ground and our consulting engineers have been asked to put forward a solution.
CAN THE CLUB COMMUNICATE BETTER WITH SUPPORTERS?
Without doubt and this is something we have been giving a lot of thought to. We recognise the importance of communicating our plans and developments to supporters. We will be starting a series of regular updates with David and other members of the board, starting this Saturday at Fleetwood Town. We will email our season ticket holders regularly and share short videos through our website and social media channels. We will also restore updates to the matchday programme and intend to announce the details of a live Q&A via Zoom in the coming days, enabling supporters to ask their questions and share their concerns directly with the club.