Today’s column, as trailed last week, was scheduled to address issues of the match day experience, the role of a supporter liaison officer and the importance of structured engagement between club and supporters as steps to reinforce our club’s DNA and move Blackpool FC forward into a new era as a well-supported, financially sustainable and successful community football club.
However, that is being set aside for a week, in favour of addressing other, more immediate issues as explained below.
There has been a lot of debate since the fans’ forum, on social media, on the concourses at Bloomfield Road, about season ticket pricing policy for the 2019/20 season; set prices low in the hope of encouraging the widest uptake versus set them high to ensure a stronger revenue stream from core fans - and of course various options in between. By the time you are reading this column, it is almost certain that the club will have announced those prices, including early-bird discount options, and that season tickets for the upcoming season will go on sale imminently.
Meanwhile, there are rumours circulating that Owen Oyston is still trying to secure the loan which would allow him to pay off Valeri Belokon, circumvent the Receivership and retain his controlling interest in Blackpool FC; furthermore that he might even attend the Easter Monday game against Fleetwood Town.
Understandably, fans are asking is it okay to buy season tickets now if there is a risk that Oyston might find a way back into the club? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until the arrival of new owners puts that spectre to rest once and for all? The BST committee has been reviewing the situation, recognising that some fans may be looking to the Trust for advice, information or a lead on the matter. This, then, is BST’s assessment of the predicament.
It should come as no surprise that the football club was in a precarious financial situation in the wake of the Oystons’ departure, following years of misrule. Nearly everything was broken, particularly links to the fan base and the business community – both important sources of revenue for any football club – and there was less in the football club coffers than might have been expected. There is much to be done with limited resources and it is generally agreed that the interim board of Blackpool FC has worked extremely hard to steady the ship and provide a realistic financial forecast for the club until such time as a new owner arrives. As a result, the EFL last week chose not to trigger a 12 point deduction, because they were satisfied that the club is currently financially viable. However, if the financial status should change, the sting in the tail is the EFL may revisit that decision.
Forecasts regarding strong season ticket sales formed a large part of the interim board’s financial planning and the fact is Blackpool FC needs to sell as many season tickets as possible in the closed season for those financial projections to remain on track and for the revenue to be there to fund essential work on the pitch, the stadium and on rebuilding the team.
Clearly there are two inter-related and conflicting risks: that Oyston might succeed in regaining control of the club and that Blackpool FC may struggle to remain financially viable.
BST cannot categorically state that the former won’t happen. It is something we were warned about when the Court Appointed Receiver first arrived. However, we believe the risk is low – given Oyston’s inability over the last 18 months to negotiate and secure the necessary loans to pay off Valeri Belokon.
By far the greater worry is that fans’ concern over Oyston coming back may lead to them playing a wait-and-see game resulting in poor season ticket sales in May, June, July. If those season ticket sales don’t materialise the far greater risk is that there could be very serious consequences for the club’s viability and the EFL might choose to revisit last week’s decision.
In order to try and further minimise the chances of Oyston ever holding a position of power at Blackpool FC, and to help fans feel a bit more confident that he will not be able to return, BST has this week written to the CEO of the EFL advising him of the independent legal advice we were given by a QC regarding the EFL’s interpretation of their Owners and Directors Test (ODT).
That QC, versed in sports litigation, was provided by BST with information relating to the EFL's ODT, the EFL's interpretation of its own rules, its refusal to apply the test retrospectively, the EFL’s transcript of its meeting with Blackpool fans and various communications between the Trust and the EFL concerning the matter. The QC has delivered an opinion on this interpretation and agrees with BST that the EFL has not applied its own rules correctly, that the ODT is in fact applicable retrospectively (exactly in line with the Premier League’s position) and that Owen Oyston should be deemed not fit and proper to own Blackpool FC. The full QC report will be made available on the BST website shortly.
BST is seeking to emphasise to the EFL that if there is anything which poses a threat to the long-term financial viability of one of their members clubs, Blackpool FC in this instance, it is the unwelcome prospect of the return of the Oyston family.
Fans have a decision to make with regard to the purchase of season tickets. It is of course up to each individual to assess the risk to the club versus the risk of Owen returning but the collective view of the BST committee is that our club needs our backing and we will all be purchasing season tickets at the earliest opportunity,
All of these issues and more will be up for discussion at BST’s next General Meeting which takes place on Easter Monday prior to the Fleetwood Town game, starting at 12.30 at the Bloomfield Social Club on Bloomfield Road. Blackpool FC non-executive director Tim Fielding will address the meeting and answer questions. As with all BST General Meetings, this one is open to the public. We hope to see as many Blackpool fans there as possible.