Hoos talks Warren Farm, FFP, Loftus Road – Interview
Wednesday, 14th Nov 2018 11:29 by Clive Whittingham
LFW sat down with QPR CEO Lee Hoos on Friday to discuss the three biggest issues facing Queens Park Rangers off the field – the new training ground at Warren Farm, the ongoing battle with Financial Fair Play, and the hunt for a new stadium.
The news that the final legal hurdle has been cleared on Warren Farm must be a big relief?
It’s huge. When I first came here I thought ‘this doesn’t look too terribly difficult, we should have this over the line fairly shortly’. So, it’s nice to know three years later it’s finally there. I put my reputation on it when I said that if I do nothing else in my entire tenure here that training ground has to happen because it’s such a key piece of the strategy of this club moving forwards. It really lays the foundation for producing players, making players better, for the academy, for everything that we’re about going forwards.
What is the next stage of the development?
What we didn’t say publicly at the time is that we were doing work behind the scenes, stuff that was low profile and not too expensive. We didn’t want to make a big thing of it because the last thing we needed was for it to be in the public domain and the people ruling over the judicial review to think we were taking the verdict for granted. The ecological survey has been done and submitted, the traffic management plan has started and will now need the contractor’s input. The first phase of the archaeological survey has been done. The second phase involves having to dig trenches across certain areas of the land, which obviously we couldn’t do prior to the decision. The next thing we want to do is get the asbestos testing done on the existing buildings there which is a key element that needs to be done before we can start demolition work.
The ecological survey being done means the chance of finding some rare fire-breathing newt on there has passed?
Yeh, no hairy German snails or whatever it was I think Fulham had to deal with at one point. That should be fine. Archaeological phase one is fine so as long as they don’t find some ancient Roman football stadium under there we should be good to go.
You know they will find that right, this is QPR?
Let’s hope it’s far enough from Londinium that there wouldn’t be anything out there.
Given the length of time it’s been it’s a ‘believe it when I see it’ situation for some people now. When will we see a spade going into the ground?
Being able to get started on things before the planning permission was finally signed off was a big help. One thing that was a key win for us was the application for the importation scheme because it’s probably a good nine or ten months process to bring in the fill and get everything levelled off before we can even start building the pitches. First thing’s first, there’s the asbestos study, and there’s all the licensing and tendering we’ll have to do for contracts. Finance wise we’ve talked to a number of people who told us to come back when the legal process had ended and now it has we’ve already had people coming to us with interesting ideas. It’s all good. I expect the importation scheme will be signed off early in the New Year, we were shooting for December but there is some more information needed, it appears to be ok and everything is good on that. We’re lining up contractors, the next big tangible thing people will see happen is the demolition of the existing buildings after we’ve had any asbestos removed from them.
How much will it cost, I think the last quoted amount I saw was around £20m, and who is paying for it?
I don’t know where that figure has come from, perhaps it is linked to the original plans. We have a budget for the new training ground but I wouldn’t want to give a figure at this time while we are in the tendering process.
Ultimately it comes down to the shareholders of the club to pay for it all, which is why it’s important to get the right financing in place. While these are wealthy people, people don’t just leave their cash sitting inside a current account earning .5% interest. Financing options are very important, because if you have better use of your capital doing something else and you can finance a training ground by another means then fine. What we’re not going to do in the meantime is lose time while we sort that out. There’s enough low hanging stuff like the demolition that we don’t need financing for we can just get on get started on that as soon as possible.
By financing you mean sponsorship, naming rights, dividends?
Yeh. A potential bond issue. There are a number of things we can do. One of the things we did at Burnley, which worked well, was a bond initiative which the shareholders participated in as well which paid the guys a rate of interest and there was also a kicker if Burnley got promoted so they were very glad when that happened. I like those type of things and we will look into something like that. It would be something I would be willing to participate in as well because if I can get a better rate than the bank and you get a kicker after a promotion everybody is a winner on that.
Can you give us an idiot guide to how that would work?
Burnley was a straight bond issue. It paid around 6% on the investment, and interest rates were much lower than that at the time, so people were able to invest and get 6% on their money with a 25% kicker if they got promoted which is what happened. The fans were happy, they got it. Norwich ran a similar scheme that was 5% cash paid on the bond and 3% club benefits on top, so depending on the level of investment you might have got hospitality packages or cash to use in the retail shop, so fans got 8% of benefit and the club only paid 5% cost. Norwich were oversubscribed, they raised that money in five or six days with a £5m limit because it was for the academy. They said they could have raised three times that amount because once people realised what it was they wanted a bit of it. They got people who were not Norwich City fans investing in it because it was a better return than on many standard investments. That’s one option. There are others, you could just do a traditional financing package from a bank with a straight interest rate secured against something. There are a number of avenues and we have time to sort out the financing because there is other stuff to keep us busy before we get into that.
Is that not a club with very rich owners asking the fans to dig into their pockets and pay for its infrastructure?
It’s about the football club being sustainable and everybody being together. We need to get away from that reliance on having a rich owner that just pays for everything. I’ve looked at examples elsewhere, Bolton for instance, where that has been the case and we’ve seen what happened, it’s not healthy. I’m not suggesting for one moment that the owners here are looking to pull the plug on anything, but it’s not a sustainable model. Everybody says ‘it’s our club’ until the time comes to pay for something and then they just want the owner to pick up the bill. It’s our club, let’s get in this together and build something together. A bond issue would be financially beneficial for people who invested in it as well.
You’ve hung your hat on this being the most important thing we need to do as a club, what benefits will it bring? Why is it so important?
You can bring in all the raw material you want, which is the players in this case, but you have to manufacture that material into a final elite player. The better the machinery you have to do that the better chance you have of making a success of it. Better medical facilities, for instance. The big improvement straight away we’ll be the pitches - we really struggle with the pitches at Harlington sometimes, particularly in the summer, because it doesn’t have irrigation. When we water the pitches there we water it like you would your back garden, with hoses and sprinkler systems. The hardness of the pitches there is no good for players returning from long term injuries who we’ve found keep picking up recurring problems as they try to make their return. We really need underground irrigation for the pitches and I want at least one of the pitches going in at Warren Farm to have undersoil heating so we don’t lose days in the winter which happens at the moment. The pitch is the most important part. If, hypothetically, all the financing fell apart I’d put portacabins out there, but the pitches have to be right.
We also want to bring the first team, U23 side and academy together under one roof. Long term that’s got to be the right model. At the moment if the manager wants somebody from the juniors to play a certain position for that day’s training they have to call over to the facility we rent at Heston and you can’t always get them there in time, it’s a nightmare. That’s how kids start breaking into the first team when they’re all there and the manager can just walk from pitch to pitch watching them training. At the moment we rent Harlington from Imperial, and we also rent Heston from them as well which is two sets of expensive rents. Even if we got no financing at all, it would be cheaper to pay for this than pay for rent moving forwards so from a financial and business case it makes sense. The costs of personnel are a factor – we have security at Harlington, security at Heston, double sets of everything that could be consolidated into one. Rent paid for these training facilities does count against our FFP calculations, money spent on infrastructure you own does not.
Once the academy becomes part of Warren Farm, what category would it be?
It would have to be category two, as it is now. You have to apply for a re-audit to get to category one, but one of the things you need to get there is build dormitory facilities which we’re not doing. I’m not that fussed about this, I don’t think anybody in the academy is either. Sure it would be great to have a category one academy but the financial expenditure it would take to get one versus what you get back for it I’m not sure that will make much of a difference.
But does that not cause us a problem down the line? We want to develop our own players to sell for profit to make the club more sustainable but the EPPP regulations says a category one academy – of which there are several immediately around us – can just come and take any 13, 14, 15-year-old off us a category two one for minimal compensation.
Yes, there is set compensation fee now for boys below the age of 15.
We got huge money for Raheem Sterling, both his transfer and then a sell on when he left Liverpool, under EPPP we’d get a fraction of that now wouldn’t we?
Yeh, you wouldn’t get that now. I’m not a fan of EPPP, it’s not good, I’d rather do an arm’s length negotiation deal on every player we have. I don’t like it at all, I don’t think it’s good for clubs, football or players. That’s a discussion I will continue to agitate for via the league.
In terms of player protection, even if you’re category one then a category one academy can still come and nick your player. If Arsenal or Tottenham come calling and somebody is that carried away with the badge then it doesn’t matter what category we are, we will lose the player. Our big selling point has to be the players coming into the first team right now. You can go to Chelsea and rot in the reserves, or you can stay here and play first team football. I don’t mind being used as a stepping stone, if they want to use us and it improves our team before they move on to Manchester United for money I have no issue with that because everybody’s a winner there.
Brentford decided running an academy that wasn’t category one was a pointless exercise and closed it after losing several players, they now run a B Team system instead. Is there really any point ploughing money into an academy if it’s not category one?
An academy, before you start to see green shoots, is a good seven to ten-year plan. If you were to start from scratch now it would be a different discussion, but having put a lot of money into it and started to see some of the players who are moving through it you have to see it out and not move the goalposts again.
Were you disappointed in the end that we had to settle on the historic breach, given that the legal advice all the way through was that we had a good case?
I like fighting. I’m limited on what I can say on the settlement, but as far as the legal decision that came down is concerned we showed it to several lawyers and my favourite comment was the one who said ‘the more I read it the less I understand it’. It was an absurdly reasoned judgement that seemed to make a decision to start with and then work back from there and try to shoe-horn reasons into it. I thought it was diabolical, but it is what it is. With an appeal there is always a propensity to back up the judges, you’re fighting an uphill battle. It wasn’t good for us, or football, or the league for us to continue that fight. We reached an agreement where the payment terms were logical and didn’t cause us financial distress so it made sense, from a business stand point, to do that. We could have put a whole lot more money into the legal battle and it benefit nobody. At least now it’s benefitting charities, it’s benefitting football, we can concentrate on what we need to do, the league can concentrate on what they need to do, it was taking a hell of a lot of time. We can take football forward now instead of taking the legal profession forwards.
It’s widely reported that it will be paid over ten years, so who pays that as it stands now and does it count against us for our current FFP calculations?
I’ve only ever said it will be paid over a period of time and I’ll leave it at that. Who pays it? The club, and the shareholders fund the club. Does it affect the budget and operations going forwards? No. Does it affect the player budget? No. What does affect the player budget is the new FFP rules, but paying the actual settlement of the old dispute doesn’t affect it at all. That’s been siloed, and it doesn’t interfere with available cash flow. It doesn‘t count against FFP now or it would become a vicious circle when you’re constantly in breach.
It may have been a nonsense ruling but it was a deliberate and flagrant breach…
… well there’s a view on the outside and there’s another on the inside. When you come in here you realise, what were they supposed to do? They couldn’t just get rid of contracted players, it was only a one-year reporting system. What could they do, they were backed into a corner?
… they did sign 16 players that season…
They did. The one I scratch my head at though is the legal ruling said there were 18 players who went out of contract that we chose not to let go, which is just factually incorrect. They were hell bent on finding against us.
…I don’t want to get into raking over old graves and decisions that were made before you got here. What I am getting at is if the fine for it is delayed over a period of ten years and during that period the board who oversaw that season and made those decisions and breached those rules leave the club, does that leave QPR with a millstone round its neck of having to pay that fine which the owners themselves have admitted is totally their responsibility?
Let’s make it clear to start with, the owners have absolutely no intention of leaving. There is no inclination for them to sell whatsoever. Let’s take a hypothetical situation, if they did, somebody coming in to buy a club would certainly take that into consideration. It would be part of the deal. I don’t think anybody would pay the money required to buy this club and not realise there was an outstanding item like that to be paid off.
There is still a lack of understanding of the new, current rules. In a nutshell, what are they?
In a nutshell, in the Championship, you can lose up to £39m over any rolling three-year period. On average, it’s £13m a year but we have seen some clubs deliberately take two years’ worth of loss, combine it into one and going for it. Wolves, for instance, may have had an issue had they not got promoted. It’s a risk and a gamble, if it doesn’t work out you’re in big trouble. There are exceptions you can write off in your losses such as youth development, community work, women’s football, capital expense on buildings and infrastructure, but not maintenance costs.
Playing devil’s advocate, why not gamble again? Are we to just resign ourselves to sitting in the middle of the Championship balancing the books forever more?
Two reasons. One, history has shown money doesn’t buy you everything. Look at what Huddersfield did, Burnley did, Sheffield United are doing. Money isn’t always the answer. Secondly, if you did decide to do it, what if 20 other teams all decide to gamble that year as well? There’s still only three going up, and the other 17 would be left to reflect on it not working out and then what?
Well, exactly, then what? Because we don’t know what the punishments are do we?
We’ll find out soon because there are clubs that are going to be in the dock for this soon and it’s been widely reported that the league will push for a 12-point deduction.
Every March every club has to submit Future Financial Information (FFI) to the league, and you wouldn’t be able to lie on that because the league knows what player contracts you’re committed to and they’re your biggest source of expense. They can see how much you’re going to lose and can see if you’re going to breach at which point they step in and your only way out then is to sell a lot of players over the summer. They monitor it, they can see if you’re going to be in breach and if that’s the case then even before they’ve seen that third set of audited accounts they can take action. If you think you can slip under the radar and by the time they realise it you’re in the Premier League, it tends not to work that way.
I think it’s changed the way clubs are going to be run moving forwards. A manager can’t just come in and say ‘I want this player, this player and this player’ any more. You have to look at the future impact of committing to three- and four-year contracts. We’re constantly running future scenarios and not just worrying about the current season. We’ve used the loan market this season because if we’d gone out and tried to buy those three players, or their equivalent, that would have been at least a three-year commitment going forwards at a time when we’re about to lose our parachute payments. It’s trying to balance costs and revenues as best we can.
We’ve lost £7m and £11m so far but it only gets tougher from here on…
That’s right because the parachute payment has been reducing and gets eliminated altogether for us after this season. My first question when I got interviewed here was what is the plan in three years’ time when you lose your parachute payments, how do you replace that? It’s a big, big black hole in the budget. There’s only so much incremental income I can get from the gates, only so many costs I can reduce. I’m not saying that every penny doesn’t count because that’s how we work, but we can’t put the balance sheet up on the big screen and have everybody cheering. It’s about what happens on the pitch and every penny we can save or generate all goes into getting the best players we possibly can out on the pitch. But the biggest revenue hit you’re going to get after parachute payments is going to be a player sale.
It’s about finding undiscovered gems, polishing them up, and selling them on. That has to be the business model moving forwards. The board recognises that, the managers know that - although they always say ‘make sure the fans know that otherwise they’ll be on my case about it’. The managers have been very good and understand the business case. That’s not saying that we go with a whole academy team out there every week because to develop players you can’t just throw 11 kids on the pitch and expect them to develop, you have to have senior heads on there to act as mentors and oversee the development of those kids. It’s about balance, getting the right balance in the team to be competitive and at the same time develop players.
You’ve talked up the positives of the loan market quite a bit today, but is it not dead money? Are we not laying money out to borrow players we could never hope to afford permanently and then where are we in a year’s time when they go back?
It’s about getting the right balance for the team. It’s about having that guy in there who can help facilitate the development of a player like Ebere Eze. He needs that person with him to learn from, almost like a coach on the pitch. We want the kids on the pitch, but we also need to make sure we’re competitive because if they’re all out there getting smashed every week that’s not going to do anybody’s development any good.
Did the plan, in that respect, change slightly between August 1 and August 25, given how we started the season?
I think managers always want more, somebody who can come in and help straight away. We’ve explained to Steve right from the start the importance of bringing the players through and getting them in the team, hence again why we decided to only do loan deals because they satisfied what we needed right now to help the team and players like Eze. It has negatively impacted one or two other players, such as Bright Osayi-Samuel who really hasn’t had the gametime we would like to have seen so far this season. But, as I say, you can’t just throw all the kids out there on the pitch at the same time.
But to some extent have we not put ourselves back in that old QPR position of paying money for senior, name, players, all but one of whom are in their 30s, and pushed the players we want to develop further away from the first team? Take a player like Aremide Oteh, who scores every week for the U23s, but is now looking up and seeing four senior strikers ahead of him two of whom aren’t even ours and we can never hope to own given the money they’re on. Does that fit with what we were saying over the summer and what we’re trying to build here? Ryan Manning is now behind Geoff Cameron, Darnell Furlong is behind Angel Rangel…
Well Geoff Cameron enabled Ryan to go out and play in the Championship. He was slightly down the pecking order anyway and needs games. Oteh is another one who, if he was ready for the first team we wouldn’t have had to do it but the staff believe he’s not quite ready yet. Yes, he needs games to get ready and it’s about how he gets those games, we’re looking at loan options for him as well because he needs to be playing. As I say if we had these players in the first team, and we didn’t have Nahki or Tomer, and we’re getting smashed every week, they don’t develop and their heads go down.
I take the point but at the back end of last season a number of those players – Bright, Manning, Smyth, Chair – were playing and we were winning games and playing well, at home at least. Did we panic because of what happened in the first four games of the season?
We didn’t panic, we’re very careful with what we’re doing here. We didn’t just hand a black cheque book out after the first four games and say ‘off you go Steve, go and spend some money’. We made it clear to Steve what we had by way of budget and he had to justify who he brought in and how it was going to affect the players and I think he did that. In terms of the footballing philosophy, that’s not my area of expertise. I’m concerned with the structure, we’ve got to make sure we’re developing players. Is this fitting in? Can it be explained? What’s the logic? If that all fits then I sign off on it. There will be a chance to ask Steve and Les Ferdinand about this in more detail at the fans’ forum on November 22.
The loan market has changed massively since they removed the option of short-term loans, and Premier League teams are notorious now for demanding loan fees, inserting conditions saying the player has to play games and so on. Given the situation we were in at the end of August were we over a barrel in that sense?
Honestly, the loan market changed between August 1 and August 7. When the transfer window was open players and clubs were saying ‘we want this, we want this, we want this’ and we were saying we couldn’t do it because of FFP, it doesn’t fit into what we’re doing right now, and moving on. When that first window closed they realised we weren’t bluffing and deals started to change. The supporters may have been panicking in August, I wasn’t panicking and we weren’t panicking.
So we haven’t gone from a long term strategy back to just giving a manager whatever he wants to stop him getting the sack in the next five games?
We can’t go back to that. We can’t go back to just looking at this season. Everything has to be done with a broad view of what we’re doing going forwards.
Nedum Onuoha, long serving club captain, recently said publicly that QPR asked him to play for free this season - is that true? What happened there?
I am obviously not going to go into the specifics of an individual player’s contract but what I can tell you is that during the time Nedum was with us he got PAID!
I’d like to touch on the cup competitions. There was the defeat at Blackpool that a lot of us were very upset about because it was a rare opportunity to go deep into a cup competition. Those early round games, first of all, where there are three sides of the ground closed and there’s nobody here, do we lose money staging those?
Almost, yeh. It’s break even or a small loss, depending on the game. That’s why we don’t open Ellerslie Road, it wouldn’t add a single extra person to the gate and it would increase the expense of staging the game. It’s difficult. Blackpool, very disappointing, but I wouldn’t blame the manager either because the team just did not perform, it should have done better than it did.
It was a team that was just slung together though, never played together like that before, a collection of people who knew they wouldn’t be playing on the Saturday. My point is, having gone through two rounds of it making a financial loss on the games, if we’re trying to get our house in order and run the club well financially, why are we then so keen to toss away the chance of playing Premier League teams in the latter stages in money spinning ties - Blackpool got Arsenal and I think we would have been away at West Ham given the way the numbers divvied up.
Ah we worked out we would have been home to Crystal Palace I think. Point one, one thing I have never, ever, ever done in 20 years of football is get involved with the manager over team selection. Point two, people do need games and cup competitions are a good way to get them games and get them match fit. From there it’s down to the manager, I don’t see training every day. One of the biggest problems in general is players viewing it as a lesser competition, it’s the wrong attitude to have, it’s a chance to go out and stake for your spot.
We, as a club, do perpetuate that attitude though. The way we treat the cups, we do project that to the players don’t we? Reserve team game, reserve team atmosphere begets reserve team performances.
I don’t know. Reserve team atmosphere is the club as a whole, because people don’t turn up to those games.
The Sky red button midweek games has been in the news lately, The Times produced a study saying it had led to nearly a 9% fall in midweek attendances compared to Saturdays when usually the drop off is nearer 4%. Where do we stand as a club on this?
It’s too early to judge the effect on general attendances, but I think it definitely hits our own streaming product domestically without a shadow of a doubt. Our international streaming is showing a steady increase but since the start of the season our domestic streaming has declined because people have realised it’s available for free on the red button. The quality is not as good, it’s a single camera with no replays and one commentator who isn’t at the game, but it’s free with a Sky subscription. The red button is currently being assessed, the first four games were an experiment and I’ve no idea yet what is happening with the next game at Rotherham, they haven’t said what will happen with that it’s up in the air.
But, logically, how can it not affect attendances?
Logic tells you that. I don’t have the facts. Our midweek attendances have been down, but so were our Saturdays until the Villa and Brentford games and the suddenly bam it’s back up again. Villa was a Friday night, live on TV never mind the red button, and yet that was a big crowd. You need a whole lot more data to figure it out.
Does the money you get from Sky, which is going up next year, negate any negative effect on attendance anyway?
My view is in the short term yes it probably does, but long term you have to look at it. How can you build your platforms if you just take a little bit of extra money in the beginning for something that has the opposite effect? The face of football broadcasting is changing, it’s content and there are so many different players that want a piece of it – Amazon are getting into it, Netflix. My son consumes all his sport via mobile. Over the next five years there will be a sea change in how things work and how you get your football.
Loftus Road, presumably, is at the heart of almost everything we’ve talked about so far finance wise. You’re on record as saying we cannot build a sustainable business while we’re here, as much as we love it.
I put the training ground ahead of the stadium. That is the most important thing. We could get a brand, spanking new, shiny stadium that all the supporters love but if we don’t have the team out there performing on the pitch we’ll still struggle. We have to get the training ground right, it’s where they go to work every day, the stadium is where they go once a fortnight.
When it comes to the stadium, we want to stay in this borough. We’re an important part of the borough and we want to make sure we stay central to that, but we’re pretty limited on where we can look for a new stadium. The Linford Christie Stadium seems to be the last viable option for that, people want to develop other available plots for housing which is worth a hell of a lot more than a football stadium.
Playing devil’s advocate, why can’t we stay here?
The maintenance costs on the stadium are terrible. Growing the fanbase here is a nightmare. Complaints we get from first time visitors, or reasons given for not coming back, usually start with lack of leg room, then comes facilities like toilets and not being able to get a beer or hot dog at half time. We are limited. You would never get planning permission for this stadium today because the footprint is too small. People ask why we don’t build up, well firstly it would restrict light for property around the ground, two you can’t make the concourses any wider even if you did build up so you’re still stuffed into the same concourses which are really difficult to move around and get a flow. We’ve done a little fact finding trip to LAFC which is a fantastic set up and I think there’s a lot we can learn from that – you look at the size of their concourses and there’s no wonder their sales per head are so high. It’s difficult here, we’re stuffing people in. I’ve sat around the ground in those seats and your knees are killing you at the end of the game through being jammed in there. It’s just too small. The only way you could do it is reduce the capacity to make it more comfortable, but that’s rather counter productive.
That accepted, do you think we do enough with what we’ve got here?
How do you mean?
Ok, for a start, there have been empty seats at games this season, is it too expensive to come and watch QPR at Loftus Road?
Firstly, the problem goes back to FFP. I could charge less and get the same amount of people – we drop the prices for cup games and people don’t come. Every pound I get is another pound we can put on the pitch. Secondly, if it’s only about cost, why aren’t we sold out down here when we only charge £10 for a cup game? If I ask fans that question they say it’s because it’s only the cup and we’re only playing whoever it might be, so what we’re really saying is the level of match and opposition dictates what you’re willing to pay. That’s why this place was still full and sold out when Bernie and co raised the ticket prices to an astronomical level. In fairness to Ruben and Tony when they came in the first thing they said was in the Premier League you get the bulk of your revenue from sources other than tickets and they did lower the cost. It’s not like I’m collecting the money because I get a big bonus out of it, I’m collecting the money because I’m trying to put something on the pitch that’s worth coming to watch, trying to put money into the academy so it’s able to develop players.
I take the example of the guy who sits behind me whose son was back for the Villa game and wanted to come, looked online and as a non-member to pay on the day and sit with his dad in gold I think it was £39 plus the booking fee so he didn’t come and watched it on TV instead.
Yeh it is more expensive in that area but there are cheaper places to sit.
Fine, but Friday night, a game on television, £42.50 including the booking fee is a lot isn’t it for Championship football.
It is, but if you’re coming a lot then it’s cheaper because you can get a season ticket or if you can’t commit to that for whatever reason we’ve developed things like the flexi-ticket. Make the commitment, you can pay in stages we don’t take it off you all at once, if you can come to even six games then it makes it a lot less. The least expensive way to do it is season tickets. If you just bowl up on the day as a one off is that really any different from going to see a show in town as a one off, where you’d probably end up paying more. My wife wanted to see the Michael Jackson show and it was £70 for a ticket, I mean good lord you say football’s expensive. And MJ doesn’t even need the money any more.
You know what you’re going to get when you go to a show though. Here you might get the Villa game, or you might get the Norwich game.
Well, you should know what you’re going to get when you go to a show. I hope we’re getting to a stage here where you have a good idea of what you’re going to get. Every once in a while there will be a blip but the football has evolved – Sheff Wed was a terrific performance, Aston Villa was a resilient and professional performance, then a blip up at Blackburn.
We always lose at Blackburn don’t worry about that. But those one off people, are they not the people we want to attract here to start getting them hooked?
Again, if you want to pay cheaper, commit to a flexi-ticket, commit to six games, or even three games. We’ve done it so you can choose your games, as long as we know you’re going to come you choose your games and it’s a lot cheaper than that. It’s difficult for us, the ones who show up on the day are the most expensive fans for us to cater for because if I didn’t have to sell tickets on the day I wouldn’t have to have a fully manned ticket office. I’m just allocating costs to where I’m incurring those costs. If you buy in advance that makes it a lot smoother for us, on the day is where it becomes the most expensive part to process.
And if I ask you about the booking fee you’d say the same thing?
I knew you’d ask me about this.
But it is like a stealth tax on top of the ticket isn’t it? You say it costs £34 to come and see us tomorrow against Brentford, but it doesn’t does it it costs £37.50.
It’s not like we’re making money out of the booking fee. It’s not just about the handling charge, TicketMaster charge us a licensing fee on a per-ticket basis. We don’t have the resources and I don’t think many clubs or even big venues have the resources to develop their own ticketing system, eliminate that and not pay any kind of licensing fee to a ticketing agency. It’s part of doing business. We’ve got one year left with TicketMaster and if I can reduce the cost of the licensing fee we will, by all means, certainly do that.
On the point about doing more with what we have, you’ve mentioned the catering, we know the concourses are a nightmare, you’ve said before you can either go to the toilet or you can get a beer but you can’t do both at half time…
… we did have a discussion about serving beer in the toilets…
… well funny you should say that because the beer does taste quite a lot like the piss doesn’t it? A fiver for a plastic bottle of 3% Carlsberg isn’t encouraging anybody to spend money here is it? You’d have to be mental to buy that.
When I go home to the States and see the cost of beer at sports events I think, wow, and we complain about paying a fiver.
It’s not like these guys are running a bar and can spread out their costs over time with income coming in all the time. They’ve got one point to make the income, they have to bring people to do that, they have to bring people in for five hours and they’re not allowed to serve for an hour and a half of that. I do keep an eye on other grounds, and we are comparable to other grounds. I went to the rugby sevens at Twickenham this year, my first experience, and we’re a lot cheaper than Twickenham.
Yes, it’s expensive at rugby and American sports, but there’s also a huge selection there. The choice and the quality in our catering is poor isn’t it?
I’d love to try and introduce more. Again, it comes down to facilities they have to work with here which aren’t great, both production kitchen wise and in terms of selling space and what they can do. At other clubs I’ve been with where we’ve introduced a fanzone there has been beer and food there, we don’t even have that option here because we’re bumping up against licensing regulations. A new stadium would certainly help with all of this – you’d have better sellers, better facilities, better production kitchens and you could do a better job.
So it’s not the case, in your view, that if we had a better selection at a lower price we’d sell more, simply because they can only serve so many people in the time period with the facilities we have?
It’s not just about serving so many people, it’s also about physical capacity. If we brought in extra barrelage where would we put it? We had a lot of people asking us why we don’t pre-pour before half time, then we started doing it and people said they didn’t want one of the pre-poured ones they wanted a fresh one.
The Scrubs and the Linford Christie Stadium is obviously a difficult site. Where are we with that idea and proposal?
There’s a lot of work to do on that. Much of it is in the hands of the council and we need to be led by them. You couldn’t pick a more complex piece of land. You have the MOD and The Charity Commission involved in it and just those two factors on top of the normal planning stuff that goes on makes it very difficult. I know the council are working out a masterplan, we’re making sure we engage with them and get our twopenneth worth in, but then other groups like The Friends of Wormwood Scrubs will do the same thing. We just need to keep plugging away at it.
We would want to work with friends groups like that wouldn’t we? We’ve learned from Warren Farm and particularly Old Oak Common the problems with just rampaging into places and saying we’re going to put a football stadium here.
I’ve met with the Friends of Wormwood Scrubs, we’re trying to work with them. We’ve met with the charity’s committee but it is starting to feel like they’re just going to object to anything we put in front of them. We could have a retractable pop-up stadium and teleport the fans in there once a week and I think they’d still object. We are willing to work with them, we want to enhance the whole community, we’ve discussed ideas like having a nature centre there as part of it, but so far they don’t want to hear it. There’s an attitude of ‘anybody but QPR’, and they’re reaching out to all kinds of other people.
What can supporters do?
We have the Stay in W12 team that’s up and running. We need to make it clear this is our home and this is where we want to be. Now that group has formed together they will be putting things out about what we want to do and where we want to go with it. It’s better when these things are supporter led, if it’s the club directing it then the council may not pay as much attention but if it’s the people that vote for them saying they want this to happen that’s when it gets legs. It’s how Brentford, Brighton and a lot of clubs did it.
When you look at the Premier League, Bournemouth are there pushing for Europe in a 11,360 seater stadium. They got promoted from this league in that stadium, albeit in breach of FFP. Your former club Burnley went out of this division on an average attendance similar to ours here (16,823) on cheaper tickets than we have here. How can they compete and we can’t?
We can compete, we’re trying to compete. Huddersfield did it. It’s about getting the balance right in the team.
But when we say we absolutely have to leave Loftus Road, people will point at those examples and say why?
The Bournemouth scenario and I know for a fact the Burnley scenario, those stadiums are a hell of a lot cheaper to operate. The revenue generated on non matchdays at Burnley was significant.
Even at Turf Moor, which has two old stands round two sides of the pitch?
Absolutely. It had executive boxes that you could break down and use as facilities for conferencing or banqueting. It had a car park, so people who wanted to come and use the stadium could actually park at it. I don’t have any of those things at Loftus Road. Non-matchday revenue here was at £15,000 a season, to their credit Neil and the sales department have got it up to around £100,000 a year but, not to go into confidential information from management accounts at previous clubs, I can tell you at Burnley it was well in excess of £1m at Turf Moor. The football club is the centre of the community up there.
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