Last month the latest Leeds Rugby Fans Forum was held at Headingley Carnegie Stadium, where members were able to hear from guest speakers Sir Ian McGeechan, Carnegie Finance Manager Mike Bidgood and Head of Operations Sue Ward.

Fans Forum Minutes February 19 2014

Fans Forum Members Attendees:

Alistair Senior, Barbara Senior, Sue Millard, Gerry Alleyn, Simon Whitehead, Ian Waterhouse, Martyn Horwell, Julie Brimelow, Jeremy Wright, Mark Nelson, Andrea Green, Paul Coward, Scott Johnson, Danny Frank, Jane Shelmerdine, Mark Cotton

Non-Attendees: Rachel Barker

Leeds Rugby Attendees:

Sian Jones (Meeting Chair), Sir Ian McGeechan (Leeds Carnegie Executive Chairman), Sue Ward (Head of Operations), Mike Bidgood (Carnegie Finance Manager), Hollie Fisher (Customer Experience Sales Assistant / Minute taker)

Introduction from Sian:

Sian welcomed the group to this evening’s meeting and introduced those speaking throughout the course of the night, Sir Ian McGeechan (Leeds Carnegie Executive Chairman), Sue Ward (Head of Operations) and Mike Bidgood (Carnegie Finance Manager).

• Sir Ian McGeechan and Mike Bidgood talking through the latest changes for Leeds Carnegie
• Short Comfort Break
• Sue Ward – Leeds Rugby Head of Operations will be joining us to talk through what we’ve spent/invested in at the stadium over the last few years, what we propose to do next and what’s on hold/in the pipeline.
• Fans Forum Feedback session

Sir Ian McGeechan and Mike Bidgood:

Sir Ian McGeechan and Mike Bidgood joined the meeting to talk through the latest changes for Leeds Carnegie and respond to questions put forward for the meeting.

1) The major question regards the implications of becoming a new club to the Fans Forum. If we are a separate entity should we be able to have a greater control over the match day experience, travel, merchandise etc.
– This will all depend on the arrival of the new owners. We will have to wait for their ideas and plans on how to control the match day experience

2) What has happened to the money from the AP shares – supposedly ring-fenced awaiting promotion / what has happened or where is the £5,000,000 received for our Premiership shares which were supposedly held in trust pending our return to the Premiership.
– “The P Share income was subject to taxation on the full amount and the rest has been used to settle historic debt of Leeds Carnegie. The terms of the P Share transaction is subject to a confidentiality agreement with PRL”.

3) Look the Rhinos representatives in the eyes and ask them if they are relieved that Carnegie are separating from Leeds Rugby and perhaps the management can now concentrate on RL? How do we plan to attract more fans? (Other than promotion which will bring some out of the woodwork) what are we going to do differently?
– Mike stated that in 1995/6 Kirkstall training ground was in fact the headquarters of Rugby Union and this was passed through to Leeds Rugby. Money from grants for the Rugby Union and Premier Rugby has helped with the development of parts of the Stadium such as the new turnstile system and the medical centre/classroom. The management charge contributes to well-staffed departments across both codes.

– Sir Ian: In order for Carnegie to play Premiership rugby we need a venue of a high standard, and here at Leeds Rugby it is as good as ever behind the scenes. We are able to share ideas, including the academy and have the option to develop players to the best of their ability. It is vital for us to keep these things going and continue to share better ideas. It is a huge plus and an asset for the club to be able to integrate the skills of both Rugby League and Union. For example the introduction of Jimmy Lowes to Carnegie was due to joint communication through joint sessions and interaction between codes. Yorkshire will be a powerful name throughout rugby.

– Response from Fans Forum: We understand and are happy with the sharing of both codes at Headingley.

– Sir Ian: It has to be noted that funding will drop if we do not proceed to the Premiership, it will be a huge step for the club and we will be a part of one of the strongest Rugby Union counties. We have a large pool of talent and this can continue to grow in the Premiership. It is a great advantage to Rugby Union that the RFU can look at talent all across Yorkshire. The new processes throughout the region will lead to greater academy strength, through 13-15 year olds across 5 regions, which consists of around 300 kids in each region. These kids will undertake 15 hours of rugby each week, and some may possibly end up within Rugby League. Local schools and Universities are now associated with our academy, receiving 100% support from all involved. We have the structure in place to handle the amount of talent we are seeing and strong business feedback for us to continue under the Yorkshire brand. If this system is kept strong we will be left with a larger group of players to be a part of our system. It is important to keep the links we have already made going forward. The development of the club and academy system has led to players wanting to stay at Leeds Rugby. Going forward we will be of Premiership gold standard and at least as good as any other Premiership academy.

4) What happens if we don’t attract the investment we are after?
– Mike: We are looking for a figure between 2 and 4 million, this will all depend on the division we are in. This will be at best with us being promoted and staying up, at worst will be if we gain don’t gain promotion for another two years. Promotion and then relegation would also increase costs. Gaining promotion and staying is certainly the best scenario. We have managed our finances well against budget for years and do not expect this to be an issue going forward, but the potential new owners will make these decisions. If we gain promotion we will not receive full shareholding in the first year and we will only build on quality of players (England quality) as we carry on. This is all built into the financial models.
– Sir Ian McGeechan: The outlays will be smaller. We will manage against teams which we know we can beat both on and off the field. There is a three step target in the Premiership to build steadily with outcomes of finishing 8th, 6th and top 6. We have a five year plan and this needs a strong base of talent on which we can build.

5) Is there likely to be a penalty, financial or points deduction, as a result of change of name and ownership?
– Mike: Absolutely not, we have changed our name twice before with no issues.

6) Will we will be sticking with current shirts or will the colours be changing?
– Mike and Sian: Yes, we will be changing the strip for the new season.

Questions from the Forum to Sir Ian McGeechan and Mike Bidgood

1) How will the name change affect how marketing will still have to market both codes?
– Mike: Looking at the legal side, and how it currently works we will have to consider items such as data protection but our accounting, banking and payroll systems are currently separate between the codes. In the new scheme they will still be separate, however the benefits of shared resources which will be kept where possible. The new owners may also have new ideas and make new choices.

2) How do other clubs feel regarding to the change to “Yorkshire”.
– Mike: The first club to respond with a report was Doncaster. In general the support from those who we have had an opportunity to fully explain the plan have been very receptive. There will be increased strength with the player pool going forward if we can retain more players within the County.
– Sir Ian McGeechan: There is going to be huge financial change as it is a difficult financial process to move up to the Premiership plus the fact that if we are successful this season, we will have a whole extra month of Rugby which will cut into our preparation process for the Premiership. One great strength at the moment is certain money has been agreed, meaning the consistency of player’s contracts, a process which is currently taking place to ensure security. The first month in the Premiership may be hard but with the stability and consistency things are looking good, we have to have the right approach and quality. We must build a strong core in order to add players and keep going, referring back to the 3 step process.

3) Is the Leeds Rugby Foundation likely to separate
– Due to funding the foundation is heavily weighted to Rugby League. The funding we do have has helped Adam Blades to develop community projects, taking children from development to performance.
– Mike: The foundation gains a lot of funding directed towards rugby league and we are looking to do the same for union, this would be built up over the years. There are several projects that gain funding when in the Premiership.
– Sir Ian McGeechan: If the right sponsorship comes along for the region then this may be developed, it could possibly be a different model and be slightly different to how the foundation is now.

4) Was the announcement planned?
– Sir Ian McGeechan: Yes it was. We wanted to look at how we were working and operating before it was announced. We actually thought that the news would be known by the end of January. The process started around 16 months ago and we have always been geared with a positive decision to announce at this time. We did have to wait until we had completed initial discussions with the County decision on the project and change of name.
– Mike: Everyone kept the news under wraps, the project has a big team involved and the plan for an announcement this month was decided around September/October time.

Sian thanked Sir Ian and Mike for coming along this evening and speaking with the forum

Short break was taken

Sue Ward (Head of Operations):

Sian introduced Sue to the forum

Sue introduced herself to the group and gave each forum member a copy of a presentation she had put together for them to go through.

Sue explained she would be covering the key responsibilities of her fantastic role here at Leeds Rugby.

Sue started by telling the forum about her background and upbringing:

– Sue: Born in Castleford, worked for Barclays Bank for 20 years, great interest in Rugby.
Sue’s main responsibilities cover:

– The safety of all spectators and visitors who attend Headingley Carnegie;

Sue: Safety is massive within this company; there is a large range of health and safety to comply with, such as safety certificates, applying for licences and filling out applications. There is a large amount of legislation to keep up with.

– To lead and manage the Facilities, Grounds, Lodge & Human Resource Teams

Sue: I have a fantastic team that I work with so I’m very lucky that I can delegate and share out responsibilities

– To lead & deliver on major initiatives & projects within Leeds Rugby

Sue: My favourite part of my role here at Leeds Rugby is leading major projects, for example the replacement pitch project was something I was involved in for 4 years, the development of the 3G pitch at Kirkstall Training Ground. There are new projects which I look into and to take on, for example two ideas which have been discussed in the last week. One idea was a series of ice hockey matches to be held on the pitch however the timing is not right for us to go ahead with this project due to the timetable of events at the stadium. The second project is the possibility of using car parks D and E here at Headingley into camper van sites during the Tour De France weekend. These are just examples of the many exciting projects I get to look into.

– Relationship management with outsourced suppliers such as G4S & MTech IT Support

Sue: I am currently and constantly working hard with the G4S team to make improvements such as recruiting locally, feeding back all spectator complaints/compliments. This team of stewards are the best I have worked with for a long time.

– Lead on Business Planning sessions and strategic matters

Sue: I organise and arrange the Heads of Department strategic planning sessions. This involves anything to do with strategy and business planning for the next 3 to 5 years.

– Undertake annual cost centre review exercises

Sue: Another aspect of my role is reviewing stadium costs and auditing operational expenditure. This involves the negotiation of contracts, tendering for best price etc.

Sue then moved on to look at the structure of staffing in forms of Heads of Departments.

– Sue: Looking at this chart you can see that we have a flat structure and a close knit team of key people

– Question to forum from Sue; How many people do you think work for Leeds Rugby off the field? Answers given: 150, 85, 65.

– Sue: We have 59 full time equivalents which equates to 63 employees

What is our vision?

– Sue: To be recognised as the number one rugby club both on and off the field. I am confident that we’ll receive an award for the best company to work for, we’ve been finalists twice. We’ve won other off the field awards, around November time last year our former Head Groundsman Jason Booth was recognised as best rugby league Groundsman, Ryan Golding was also recognised as the IOG Young Groundman of the Year and Headingley Lodge has been in the top 10 hotels on late rooms in certain months.

What are our business objectives?

– Sue: We are all geared towards 5 main objectives which look at different areas of the business.

– Sales Growth – to achieve a profit of £500,000 by 31st October, 2014 & increase this by 10% year on year over the next 5 years. We have a constant need to re-invest therefore we need to blow sales targets out of the water. I believe we’ll do this in 2014.

– Operational Excellence – to create & maintain a venue of excellence. The work done to improve the stadium is of vital importance.

– People who Perform – to develop our people, recognise and reward those who succeed and create an environment which is celebrated as a great place to work. We have great people in our team who are very much looked after and recognised and tend to stay with the company.

– Financial Control – to work within budgetary constraints and seek to quantify all returns on investment. Every business should have a budget in place. It’s vital that before we invest we understand the benefits and how these will be realised.

– Customer Satisfaction – to deliver quality, value for money products & services to exceed our customers’ expectations. Without customers we would have no business, they are our priority.

2013 Investments

General repairs include;
– Shop roof £28K
– Shop refit £16K
– Western Terrace repairs £10K
– Main Stand Boiler controls £8,700
– Glazing & balcony repairs £12K
– Electrical repairs £31K
– Crush barriers £5,500
– Decoration £21,500
– Other repairs < £5K totalling over £100K

– Sue: Throughout the last 12-18 months there has been a huge amount of money spent on the stadium. For example the work done with the shop, the re fit included expenses such as re-wiring, additional power supply for tills, new air con, lights etc. We do tender and obtain at least 3 quotes for any works required. Firstly to ensure we gain the best price and to justify the spend. The Western Terrace is another area that requires constant repairs, it has to well looked after to ensure that it is completely safe. An example of an investment is the Main Stand boiler controls, the 4 separate large boilers which we had either ran on or off and could not be regulated. Since having the controls fitted we have calculated we will save and receive pay back in around 9 months.

Question from fan: Pigeon droppings

– Sue: The netting we used to prevent this problem in the Carnegie Stand cost £24,000, with the bulk of the spend going on installation not the actual netting. We’ve priced up the Main Stand and put forward a proposal to our Full Board for consideration.

– Sue: The development plans for the South Stand are available for the public to view. It will be the same height, however further back from the pitch without going further back into the car park.

-Sue: We have lots of smaller repairs which cost less than £5,000. For example, grease being removed from the traps; this cost around £300 each time we have it cleared. Overall there has been expenditure of quarter of a million pounds just on general repairs.

Major works include;

– Replacement pitch £844k
– SportsCode analysis software & hardware £81k
– Carnegie Stand deterrent netting £24k
– South Stand public address system £20k
– Lodge refurbishment £20k (12 rooms pa)
– Training ground changing rooms (x2) £25k

-Sue: In relation to the PA system, for 2014 I have undertaken an Invitation to Tender process involving 8 different suppliers; this has been narrowed done to one. I have therefore recommended a way forward and requested £125,000 to replace existing PA system, ideally I’d like to commence this project straight away and continue throughout the Rhinos season. Currently the South Stand has new speakers and processors but does require additional work.

2014 Investments:-

– Living wage
– Pension contributions
– Grounds machinery

Proposed major works include:-

– Ice bath facility
– Training Ground car parks
– Strengthening the access bridge to Abbey Fields
– PA System at HCS
– Main Stand deterrent netting
– Tree removal and replanting scheme car park ‘F’
– Refurbishment of the remaining 12 bedrooms in HL

– Sue: We had increased the salaries of those earning less than the living wage with effect from the 1st Jan, 2014. The changes to the workplace pension scheme is a huge cost to us and other small business, these changes were meant to go live in April, however have now been proposed until July. We have undertaken a review of the repairs and maintenance of our machinery and proved that by replacing the same with new we will save money in the long run. We have a fair few proposed works to undertake this year. Question asked to forum members; how much do you think all the 2014 major works will cost? The works altogether will cost half a million pounds, all these works have been recommended for approval and are with our Full Board for approval.

Question asked by forum: What star is the hotel?

-Sue: Currently it is a four star accommodation only due to the fact that we can’t ‘cook’ breakfast on the premises; however we looking at different ways that we can offer breakfasts.

Have you considered using Group On?

-Sue: The offer Group On give is too cheap, we would not benefit. We have increased the price of certain rooms on the Late Rooms website without seeing a noticeable difference in reduced bookings. People do not seem to be using Late Rooms to book a room last minute as we have bookings from the site for July 2014.

Summary

Are we creating a venue of excellence?

-Sue: We are very much trying, as well as assisting other clubs with this.

Are we achieving our business objectives?
Sales Growth, Operational Excellence, People who Perform, Financial Control & Customer Satisfaction

-Sue: We are making development in all areas. Question to forum: Are we satisfying customers? Yes, keep up the work.

Am I doing my job?
-Sue: I would hope so.

The forum had no direct questions for Sue. Sian thanked Sue for coming along this evening and speaking with the forum.

Final Feedback
Western Terrace roof?

-Sue: There are no immediate plans to put a roof; this would be difficult to do with upsetting the Turnway residents (the residents whose property backs onto the stadium)
Feedback from Bradley Hynes

I have often wondered about a subscription service for the Rhinos TV, As you are probably aware Wigan offer what looks like a great service at £3.99 Per Month or £.9.99 for 3 Months. They recently showed the full coverage of the NZ Warriors game on this service as well as archive footage, player interviews, preview to the week ahead. I realise we have a Rhinos TV in place at the moment with interviews with coaching staff and players but just wondered about being able to show full games via this. I’m sure there will be plenty of fans willing to support the idea.

– Unfortunately we do not have the budget to outlay on a project like this. It was reported Wigan had an initial outlay of £250,000 to set up Wigan TV before any ongoing costs which will obviously be incurred. They have shown their pre-season games live however they will not be able to show any Super League, Challenge Cup or World Club Challenge games, it works great obviously for the match in Australia but one of the two of pre-season games were testimonials and I’m not sure we would have done that as there is a danger fans do not turn up for the games themselves. We want to offer a free service to all our supporters. At present however we are working with Super League at a premium package that would sit behind a subscription service but which would offer a great value package for all fans. This is likely to come in in 2015, it was held up with all the issues in the close season. Hope this gives a better understanding of where my thinking is at. However if the directors decided we wanted to go down that route and allocated £300k to do it, I would go along with that as I love the idea but our budget can be better spent elsewhere in my opinion.

Carnegie Feedback

1) If someone opts out of Carnegie emails, could they please not keep re-adding their email address every year?
Sian – Response from Abigail Furniss (Leeds Rugby Head of Marketing) ‘I’ll look into the email issues. Please pass on apologies. This should not be happening so I will take it up with our data house. It may be that we need to adopt more stringent recording of people’s email preferences. If the individual could e-mail Sian, then we could test this.’

2) Not sure if you’ve mentioned it at the Forum before but allowing us to put on a Match Day Experience for one game so we can show what we can do.

Maybe next year, away from Leeds Rugby, might be the best chance.

Oh, and keep Terry, no more mascot changes, there are still folk in therapy after the last one!!

Sian – Response from Abigail Furniss (Leeds Rugby Head of Marketing) ‘Terry’s not going anywhere. He’s a Yorkshire terrier. You are welcome to do so – why not put together a proposal and we can work from there. In regards to match day experience put together some proposals.’

3) An old chestnut but I am once again receiving Rhinos emails. It can’t be that hard to keep the distribution lists separate?
Sian – Response from Abigail Furniss (Leeds Rugby Head of Marketing) ‘From time to time we will cross – promote the clubs but if fans don’t want that then it should be possible to opt out. Again apologies and I’ll take up with the data house. Just require names please.’

4) What are Leeds Carnegie doing about nominating members/supporters for The Pack – RWC volunteers
Sian – I am unaware of the information regarding these packs, needs to be looked into and some clarity gained. I will email and ask relevant questions.

5) Perhaps the last forum in the current format – it was set up as a joint Carnegie and Rhinos group: no longer relevant?
Sian – As it stands the forum remains in the same format however this does depend on what occurs going forward – unfortunately cannot make that comment at present. Members of both codes were extremely happy to share information, in particular this evening’s meeting with Sir Ian and Mike.

Feedback from Brenda Wilson

There are two huge A Boards on Kirkstall Road which advertise Rhinos matches, even out of season. In an attempt to increase crowds and awareness of Carnegie could something be slipped over these on match days or even a few days before giving details of the next match? I do not live in Leeds but often notice when driving through the city there is no promotional advertising for the Club.

We display banners for Leeds Carnegie at the stadium and at the training ground, both sites have high footfall. Over Christmas we ran a successful campaign with local clubs for the Christmas game where we put up around 10 banners thought the city.

The Rhinos A-boards advertise Rhinos membership in the close season & are paid for from the Rhinos marketing budget.

The Leeds Carnegie marketing budget has been reduced with a focus on growing the game through grassroots activity. The level of marketing activity reflects that.
Over the years we have spent significant resources on marketing the club and have yielded limited success in attendance growth and certainly achieved no sustained growth.

It is now our strategy to grow support for the club throughout the rugby union community of Yorkshire. This is a long term plan spearheaded by Ian. At this stage advertising is not a part of that strategy. We have yet to have internal discussions about the rebrand but there will no doubt some budget put toward advertising during the close season.

Feedback from Sue Millard

On the discussion at the last meeting about the Boxing Day match. Bearing in mind that there didn’t seem to be much attachment to it as a tradition, a member of our supporters group suggested moving it to New Year, and perhaps having a double header with a Carnegie home match. I don’t know if that is feasible, but it would allow the players time with family over Xmas and presumably also reduce the cost of staging it.

If it is preferred to keep it as Boxing Day, I think a later kick-off might be a better option for supporters.

Boxing Day v. New Year’s Day
1. There is much more tradition to Boxing Day. We do know of fans who attend this game annually when visiting relatives.
2. Past New Years’ Day games have attracted less attendance.
3. Just as costly to stage on NYD
4. Double Header worth considering!

Sian – It does seem to have possibly lost its touch with fans, maybe this year with it being a younger team due to players being unable to play due to the World Cup and injuries to senior squad members during close season. The double header is something worth considering.

Feedback from Gerry Alleyn

Something that came up in a meeting of the tour guides might be a good idea for the club. When I was on a tour of Anfield a few years ago, the real highlight of the tour was the trophy cabinet where the replica cups are on permanent display. Rugby League doesn’t do this but is there anything to stop Rhinos from being the first yet again to do something. Our trophy cabinet would be amazing. We could create our own replicas? There would be eleven trophies to show since Super League began.

Sian- We have actually transferred all the trophies now to the trophy cabinets in the Taverners Suite – maybe suggest that as part of the tours you visit there? Perhaps this is something that needs mentioning to Bob Bowman (Director of Operations – Leeds Rugby Foundation)

Question in relation to Meeter’s and Greeters at Carnegie games

Sian – In regards to volunteers helping directly with fans, it is very hard to get people to volunteer. However a big group has been made from the World Cup volunteer which is something we can look at for Leeds Carnegie.

Why did the price of Black Sheep increase by 30p?

Sian- This is something that I cannot answer at this time, the question will be asked and get back to you. (AWAITING RESPONSE)

Last General Feedback amongst the forum

– Simon Whitehead: The new Rhinos IPad app was given a great response, it was a real surprise as to how good it is and that it is free.

This feedback will be passed onto the PR department.
– Carnegie fans were disappointed at the end of the game against Ealing as the players did not acknowledge the fans who had travelled over to watch.

Sian – I will pass on the frustrations with regards to this and ensure that players acknowledge the fans at the end of the games.

Sian then finished the meeting by thanking everyone for coming along.