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BST Gazette Column 05/04/2019

BST05/04/2019

Blackpool fans’ homecoming has been feted quite widely and seems to have resonated both with football fans around the country and with people who just have a soft spot for the resort, generating a lot of much-needed positive press for our club and our town. It has obviously been an emotional experience for those of us who’ve enjoyed our first game for years at Bloomfield Road at some point during the month of March. Of course we’re still waiting to celebrate a home win after three fairly dramatic draws, but it will come. Our continued passionate support will help to ensure that.

It has been well documented that the club needs all the revenue it can get right now, a case of ‘every penny more’ in marked contrast to the years of boycott; so for the remaining home games this season, you’re encouraged to bring as many family, friends and acquaintances as you can down to watch the Pool, to re-forge allegiances and to spend money in the ground and at the club shop. We’re back and it’s all about a sustainable future now.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust holds the view that the club’s heritage and football ethos is central to that bright future. We need to re-establish the spirit of the happy community club playing attractive, attacking football. That is our DNA. It’s been the foundation of every success Blackpool FC has enjoyed. It is why the club has won so many passionate followers in its proud history and why it became the second favourite team with fans of other clubs, the place they all looked forward to coming to. It is also why Blackpool FC is quite capable of continuing to work its powerful magic on current and future generations of Seasiders, providing that heritage and ethos are honoured in the right way.

After wide-ranging discussions with a variety of other clubs, supporters’ trusts and football institutions, BST has identified five key principles which we believe require to be followed in order to reinforce that club DNA and move Blackpool FC forward into a new era as a well-supported, financially sustainable and successful community Football Club. Those five are:
- Sound Football Club Management and Decision Making
- Responsible Financial Management
- Positive Supporter Engagement in Structured Dialogue
- Community Interest and Interaction
- The Safeguarding of Critical Assets

They may all seem obvious and worthy principles but we hope the interim board and, in due course, the new owners of Blackpool FC can subscribe to them. BST hopes that prospective buyers will not only recognise the club’s potential but will see how closely the chance of achieving its future potential is linked to honouring its tradition and ethos.

We are advised that the process of putting the club up for sale is now moving ahead, as of this week. Of course no one knows how long it will be before new owners are in place. The Court Appointed Receiver’s initial estimate of 3 to 4 months might still be achievable – in which case they could be in situ well before the start of the new campaign. On the other hand, the process could prove to be more complex and protracted (as Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic fans have found it to be) – in which case the interim board might still be running the club well into next season.

It is probably wishful thinking to imagine that as supporters we would have any involvement in performing due diligence on prospective buyers of our football club, even though it is possibly the most important decision of the last thirty years. We have a huge emotional stake in the club and as fans have contributed millions of pounds to its running costs and will almost certainly continue to do so. The offer is there.

We feel Blackpool FC has suffered enough from rogue owners and having witnessed the problems that have nearly wrecked Bolton Wanderers (with the Anderson/Holdsworth fiasco) and Coventry City (with Otium/SISU), we have set out below the sorts of questions we would hope are being asked and answered on our behalf in the best interests of transparency and the long-term well-being of the club, its supporters and the town of Blackpool:

Who are the individuals behind any corporate vehicle being used to bid for the club? What is their background and track record in both football and business? What is their connection to the town? Do they have any prior affiliation to Blackpool FC? What are their motivations in investing in/ purchasing our football club?

What is the source of funds for these individuals and corporate vehicles? How much debt, both corporate and personal, is being used to finance their investment? How might the club’s assets or shares in the football club be used to provide security against any borrowings?

Is the financing available, unconditionally, on day one or is the financing staged over time? If it is staged financing, what is the time frame envisaged and is future funding conditional or unconditional? If it is conditional, what are those conditions? If future funding is to come from third parties not presently included in the buy-out, how will that be arranged?

Are these potential owners acting as individuals or as part of a consortium? Would they plan to he hands on in managing the club or would they appoint experienced personnel to manage it?

Who are the individuals to be on the Board and Executive Management Team? What is their experience in managing a football business?

Do any investors have preferred terms such as exit-rights, debt to equity conversion rights, control-rights, priority charges over cash flows, enhanced voting rights, rights to fire the board?

How is the business and any proposed turnaround-plan to be financed? What assumptions underpin that business plan? How will club assets be used to provide security over future financing?

Given the club has been losing £2m per season while the boycott was in place, how long will the turnaround to break-even take and how much funding is needed to achieve this? Will this funding be from equity or debt? What degree of asset sales are envisaged in doing this and what assets are at risk?

Have any business plans assessed what level of employee restructuring will be required? How much will need to be paid out to players, management, back-room staff as severance compensation? How will the new board deal with any existing contractual obligations to agents?

And all of that before we get on to questions about community involvement and supporter engagement… (to be continued next week).

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