Guest post: Derby County’s “Your 90 Minutes” night at the iPro Stadium

Our guest columnist enters the iPro Stadium to meet Rush and the gang

On Wednesday night, I was invited to attend another of the club’s regular “Your 90 Minutes” sessions.  These are now run monthly and they have 900 fans on the database, from who they choose invitees at random each month.  So if you’re interested, contact the club and put your name down.

Representing the Club were Sam Rush, Commercial Director Lisa Biesty, Finance Director Stephen Pearce, Marketing Manager Faye Nixon and Concessions Manager Nick Richards. The evening was split into four parts: a session from Lisa on commercial ideas, an update on finances from Stephen, an overview of new ideas for matchday food & drink from Nick and finally an open Q&A with Sam.

The first thing I noticed was that there were more than 30 guests in attendance, as opposed to smaller groups of 10-15 fans I’ve seen at previous events.

Lisa was up first to explain a new idea the club has for offering a multi-season, two or three-year price fix on your season ticket.  This is likely to be communicated in August and will involve making an up-front payment in the region of £40 to fix your season ticket price for the given term.  This would be offered to a limited number of people – a figure of 5,000 supporters was mentioned – on a first-come, first-served basis.

My gut feeling was that the club weren’t 100% convinced that this would be well received and suddenly, the reason for the excess of guests became clear – they obviously wanted to canvass a decent number of season ticket holders.

In general, the idea went down OK, but it left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.  Call me a grumpy old man [Never! – DCB], but this is effectively the club selling an insurance policy against inevitable future season ticket rises.  Sam admitted this was true.  The idea of taking money from the fans up-front by subconsciously instilling the fear in them that large season ticket price hikes are on the horizon, while telling them that this is their “reward” for being loyal fans doesn’t sit right with me.  I just hate insurance salespeople on principle, so I’m probably over-thinking it.

Like I said, nobody seemed too fussed in the room.  5,000 x £40 would give the club £200,ooo for the transfer kitty, so not all bad – I just hope they pitch it right when the time comes.

One interesting aside from Sam during this discussion was that the season ticket base dropped by a quarter during Nigel’s era.  Given that prices were frozen for much of that time, it’s clear that the Financial Director (who came from Chelsea FC) was horrified by the situation.  A club with a fanbase as big as Derby County’s absolutely has to be making more from its season ticket revenue.

The Concessions session was thankfully brief and I won’t cover it in detail, but basically, they are trialling a lot of new ideas to try to increase matchday revenue on food & drink.  I don’t eat the food or drink the beer, because it’s frankly awful and over-priced [Amen – DCB].  It sounds like they recognise this and finally the penny might have dropped that if you deliver quality food and drink, more people will buy it.

There will be a trial real ale bar (sadly only in the West Stand for now) and, best of all, they are getting rid of the Marston’s Smooth Flow bitter.  This was music to my ears, given that Derby is the self-proclaimed “Real Ale Capital Of The Midlands”.  Who even drinks Smooth Flow?   Au revoir, weird slimy beer-flavoured cordial.

Oh and look out for pulled pork burgers in the South Stand (insert your own joke here…)

It seems the main objective for concessions is to get people into the ground earlier and keep them there longer after the final whistle.  This is why the Fan Park on the main car park will be increased in size for the coming season.

Finance man Stephen Pearce seemed a personable chap and is clearly very astute.  He covered the investments they are making in Moor Farm and the Academy – all exempt from Financial Fair Play accounting – which should hopefully lead to the Academy getting Category 1 status (the audit is still under way according to Sam).  One of the developments they were happiest about was an under-soil heated grass pitch, as this means the team can train on a decent pitch all winter.  It seems that precious few clubs have this facility, for some reason.

FFP was covered, but there didn’t seem to be much to report.  They expect QPR (and possibly the Premier League) to mount a legal challenge against the fine they will be hit with, but any teams remaining in the Championship (e.g. Forest) who have failed to comply will be placed under transfer embargo.  There are ongoing discussions to change some of the criteria, but it needs 17 clubs to agree and currently, consensus has not been reached.  If and when changes are made, it will likely be small adjustments to the figures, rather than wholesale changes.

The Q&A with Sam was probably the easiest ride since the Teacups at Blackpool Pleasure Beach [Thanks for keeping it clean – DCB].  The timing of the meeting was such that we had absolutely NOTHING to moan about.  Even my esteemed host at DCB couldn’t think of any questions to prime me with in advance!  We’d come within a few minutes of the Premier League last season, all the major players and the manager had signed contract extensions, Thorne had signed, plus plenty of new exciting talent recruited for the development squad.  All smiles.

I planned to bring up some contentious stuff, such as, why did we sack our Chief Scout after six months?  Do we really think our defensive frailties will be fixed by a League One signing in place of a Premier League loanee?  Does the fact that all the youngsters we’ve signed – McDonald, Santos, Roos, Calero, Bunjaku – come from Full Contact Soccer Agency mean that we’re not actually casting our net that wide?  But with the prevailing mood, it all felt churlish, so needless to say the questions went unasked.

The highlights of the chat were as follows:

Sam was delighted to have signed Thorne and felt that the deal was good business for both clubs.  He made some comments about the media not really helping and pointed out that while journos were reporting we’d made two bids, the West Brom chairman wouldn’t even take his calls!

Rush said that we had an option of waiting it out until August, which may have driven the price down a bit, but Thorne had already made the decision that he wanted to be at Derby. Sam thought that if we’d tried to play it cool, that he may have had his head turned by other clubs, who would have started to sniff around if his agent put the word out that Derby were playing the long game.

Chris Evans was praised for his hard work in securing some of the other players.  Calero had flown home to talk to a Spanish club, so Evans flew after him and talked him into coming back to Derby.  He was also credited with doing similar with other players, including Santos.  A comment from the floor was that he’d perhaps been reading Brian Clough’s autobiography!

Stephen Pearce confirmed that funds are earmarked for Premier League loanees again, but until the clubs come back from their pre-season tours and name their squads, we won’t know what’s available.  At that point, he expects Premier League managers to be phoning Steve McClaren begging him to take players – not the other way around.  A good place to be.

Also, Sam Rush made a point of talking up Jamie Hanson, who he said is being trained up in the holding role and doing really well.  This seemed a bit tangential at the time, but in hindsight, could well have been related to Thorne’s injury.

In general, Sam’s message was that he feels the club is back under control and going firmly in the right direction.  All we have to do now is win some football matches…

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