Friday 20 July 2012

Reflections on the CPO FanCast

Having listened to the full 125 minutes (phew) of the Chelsea FanCast CPO Special we don’t regret for a moment our decision to decline Chidge’s polite invitation. Of course the debate would have benefited from the presence of a more moderate alternative view but we know we would have found it difficult to present our position without being shouted down. However, it did leave us wondering what questions and points we would have made had we been present. So we made a list...

  • There was lots of support on the panel for the idea that the CPO should start to charge substantial rent for Stamford Bridge in order to pay off the loan from the club. What makes the people on the panel - even Gray Smith, a lawyer – believe that there is a legal basis on which to tear up the existing lease for the ground and for the CPO to start imposing a rent on the club? Would the club not be within its rights to also ask for the terms of the loan repayment to be renegotiated?
  • Why do so many people persist in expressing a lack of trust in Bruce Buck and Ron Gourlay but say that they can and do trust Roman? Do they really think anything BB or RG do is against Roman’s wishes? People have to start being honest with themselves. You are entitled to doubt Buck and Gourlay's motives and actions but this also means you have to apply the same measure of mistrust in Roman.
  • People on the panel all insisted that the way the CPO is being used now is no different from its original purpose when it was established. Are they seriously suggesting that protecting Stamford Bridge from our own club's ambitions and using the CPO as a lever to gain fan control over the club is really what it was set up for in 1993?
  • Lots of talk in the discussion about 15-17,000 CPO shareholders being a healthy and substantial number of Chelsea fans to ‘hold the club to account’. But this is the total number of shares sold, not the number of shareholders. And even then only 5796 shares were used to cast votes at the crucial 2011 EGM. For the sake of argument, lets remove the 2686 shares sold in October 2011 - that leaves just 3110 original CPO shares which were deployed in the EGM and only 2227 (shares not shareholders) saying No to the club’s proposal. This is far too few people to be holding such power over the future of the club (and let us not forget that we are told only 12% of CPO shareholders are current members or season ticket holders). The CPO as an organisation is in desperate need of selling more shares to fellow Chelsea fans and therefore becoming more representative and democratic.
  • We also heard another myth being stated and accepted unquestioningly – that if it wasn’t for the CPO and individual CPO shareholders the club would have been evicted from Stamford Bridge. Simply not true. The CPO shareholders of course deserve credit for investing in shares and helping to protect the club from potential threats at the time from property developers. But in fact our protection has never been tested or required. The real battle of Stamford Bridge had already been won by Ken Bates when Cabra Estates went bust in 1992.
  • We were fascinated by Adil Pastakia’s expectations regarding the forthcoming report from Campaign55’s friendly stadium architect. Can we ask, if this architect is not a Chelsea fan, exactly what are his motives for providing expert advice on stadium planning at Stamford Bridge? Is he receiving a payment of some kind? How do we know whether to trust his conclusions without fully understanding his agenda? Anyway, we nevertheless look forward to carefully surveying Campaign55’s plans for the Bridge when they appear.
  • We noted that the panel were still peddling the myth that new stadia equal blanket increases in ticket prices. The fact is that larger stadiums allow a wider range of prices. Therefore, for example, while Arsenal season ticket prices are higher than ours and adult tickets for big matches are also higher (cheapest adult ticket for a top game is £62 at Arsenal compared to £56 at Chelsea next season) the cheapest adult price ticket for the lesser games are much lower (£25.50 at Arsenal compared to £47 at Chelsea). Perhaps this is something for the panel members to consider when promoting the idea of a maximum capacity of 55,000 and telling us tales of traditional fans now being priced out of attending games.
  • We remain completely confused as to why most of the panel members seem to have complete confidence that LBHF are genuinely supportive of the idea of a 55,000 capacity at Stamford Bridge. This question was asked at the FanCast but it was never really answered. Facts: the council has a declared intention to keep the club where it is and, when put on the spot,  they have never supported the club’s ambitions before. But they are still trusted more than the man who has invested more than £1bn in the club and who has made us Champions of Europe? It would be funny if it weren’t so bizarre.
  • Finally, we continually see the new TV rights deal being cited as a reason that the stadium issue doesn’t matter anymore and this same point was made in the FanCast. But this misses the point. According to the latest Deloitte Football Money League report, Manchester United earned £108.6m in matchday income in the 2010/11 season compared to £93.1m for Arsenal and only (a creditable) £67.5m for Chelsea. Regardless of the rise in TV income this builds in a persistent £41m annual deficit in income for Chelsea compared to United and a £25.6m deficit to Arsenal. And given that a proportion of the additional TV income will be allocated on the basis of the on-field club performance, the matchday income gap will go towards supporting an increased TV income gap too. Stadium income still matters, regardless of the TV deal.
Overall, we found the experience of listening to the FanCast illuminating if a bit depressing. Chidge marshalled the discussion very effectively and sometimes the odd sensible and thoughtful point did make it through. But the overall tendency was for everyone to agree with one another a bit too much - which we suppose was always the inevitable outcome given the skewed balance on the panel. Roll on the EGM.

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