The Yorkshire Carnegie Fans Forum came together for a second Yorkshire Carnegie meeting of 2016 which took place on Wednesday 2nd November and the Forum members heard from guest speaker, Yorkshire Carnegie Finance Manager – Mike Bidgood.

The below minutes are in a condensed format and include all feedback which has come in from either Forum members directly or via fansforum@leedsrugby.com. The responses to all feedback are also included so if you send in emails prior to these meetings, the minutes include the replies from the Club.

If you have any feedback that you would like to be discussed at one of the Fans Forum meetings then please email fansforum@leedsrugby.com and this will be discussed at the meetings and published in the minutes shortly after the meeting has taken place.

Fans Forum Members: 
Attendees: Susie Woffinden, Malcolm Robinson, Andrea Green, Ian Waterhouse, Angela Rimmington Brown, Keith Huggins
Leeds Rugby Attendees: Sian Jones (Head of Customer Experience & Meeting Chair), Jessica Ives (Customer Experience Telesales /Minute Taker)
Guest for the Evening: 
Yorkshire Carnegie Finance Manager Mike Bidgood

Meeting Dates for 2016

  • Wednesday 23rd November, 7pm (Rhinos)
  • Wednesday 14th December, 7pm (Group)

Questions for Mike
1) There’s been a lot in the press that shows the disparity between the finances of the Championship and the Premiership. Much of this is around the cost of provision of welfare for players and examples where (already low) wages are reduced when players are injured. How does the club make provision for and manage this?

Mike: The costs of running a full time professional squad in the Championship certainly outweigh the income of all but a relegated Premiership club. The RFU increased the funding by £180,000 last season and this specifically included £30,000 to contribute to the costs of medical cover for the players. During the last 4 years, we have been covered under a medical insurance policy that has its year end on 7th November. Having received the premium renewal last week which is 5 times last year’s figure it is fair to say that we are urgently reviewing our options. In all but one year of the ‘naughties’ we self-insured and throughout that period that was a general above inflation increase in costs each year.

Irrespective of whether we are insured or not our players are treated as is necessary to fix any issues, as they are our only assets.

All our players are paid an annual salary (none are pay-per-play) so if they are injured they receive their normal pay.
The standard professional contract (PRL) does allow a club to simply end the contract if the player has been incapacitated. If they are unavailable for 9 month in a 12-month period (when they are still being paid in full) they would then go to 50% of salary for following 3 months and then the contract could be terminated. We use the Standard PRL contract but most others in the Championship use either the Standard RFU model contract or one of their own that the RFU have approved. In many cases the players may well have given up some of the protections to get a contract at all. I know that this has never been something we have had to do with a player before.

2) The Rugby Union World Cup did that generate any more commercial interest?
Mike: If the last answer was lengthy then this one is simple. No not in the North

3) Interested to hear an overview of his role 
Mike: My main areas of responsibility are:
Company Secretary of Yorkshire Tykes Limited (YTL) and Leeds Rugby Union Football Club Limited (LRUFC) that trades as Yorkshire Carnegie. YTL has 9 shareholders and 7 directors and the Board meets formally around 8 times a year. YTL 100% owns LRUFC and has done so since it was acquired on 23rd December 2013.

In charge of all financial matters for the two companies. This involves creating initial budgets for a particular year which are approved by the Board of Directors. The task is then to process all financial transactions and help budget holders keep on target. At any time, we generally have a 3 year forward projection for income and costs and associated cash flow forecasts. Given the possibilities of promotion and relegation and new agreements with both PRL and RFU this is certainly challenging, but very necessary. The final act is to complete the accounts and have the figures audited.
I am also on the RFU Governance Committee which is one of the three senior committees under the RFU Management Board. It is responsible for advising on and drafting RFU Rules and Regulations, amendments to World Rugby Regulations and the Laws of the Game an ensuring good governance principles are adhered to by all committees and boards within the RFU and RFU Council.
I am on the Championship Medical Standards Sub-Committee that oversaw the introduction of and the annual review of the standards. Each club is audited in October.
Complete the Minimum Standards Criteria audit each year, achieved with 100% pass this year.

4)What have been the highlights and lowlights of his time at the Club?
Mike: Highs – Winning promotion in 2001, Crowd on 14,293 at Headingley against Newcastle on 27th December 2003 with gate receipts of £115,000, Winning Powergen Cup 20-12 against Bath at Twickenham on 16th April 2005 in front of more than 60000 fans, Spotting a one line amendment in a set of PRL Board papers that was successfully removed otherwise it would have cost ourselves about £115k and London Irish £270k.

Lows – Relegation from Premiership in May 2006

5) What does he think the biggest challenges for the Club are? And how can we meet them?
Mike: Re-establishing the club in the Premiership when we get promoted. Every year it comes more difficult to bridge the divide between the Premiership and Championship. We have always believed that we operate more efficiently than most other clubs and this needs to continue. In our last couple of year in the Premiership crowds were around 7,000. We will need to get this up to 10,000 which will only come with a winning team.

6) Does you think the Championship is sustainable as a fully professional league, particularly considering the well documented financial problems of London Welsh and the gap in quality between the Championship and Premiership?
Mike: The clubs are making a concerted effort to improve the appeal of the Championship as so far both PRL and the RFU have said they will not increase funding to levels that could help achieve sustainability. The problems are not peculiar to this scenario as if you look Football, Rugby League and the rest of the Rugby Union pyramid the same situations exist. Whilst there is a salary cap in the Premiership it has gone through the roof this year. Virtually all the extra revenues from TV deals go straight to the players and with other costs also spiralling inevitably it is only clubs with very wealthy owners that will progress.
Within any one division of all these sports (Leicester City apart) you can usually pick the top, middle and bottom clubs before a ball has been kicked. At the start of this season I said we would be at the top with London Irish and Ealing third with Richmond not getting double figures. Still looking highly likely so I do not think that there are more than 16 clubs that can be full time professional.
I have been involved as Roundhay, Leeds and Yorkshire in league sizes or 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 and I am still not sure what is the best. Certainly, with higher number you get a greater disparity in performance between the top and bottom but in lower number there just are not enough meaningful fixtures.

7) For how long are we a shareholder in Premier Rugby?
Mike: In simple terms, there are 3 classes of shares in Premier Rugby. The ‘A’ shares are held by 14 clubs now and are gained and lost depending on how long you have been playing in the premiership. For each year you are not in the Premiership you lose 5 shares and if promoted then you gain 5 shares a year up to a maximum of 40 shares. Unless we are promoted we will have no shares from 1st July 2018. 40 ‘B’ shares are issued to all clubs playing in the Premiership so all 12 clubs in any one season have the same number of shares.
13 clubs hold 40 ‘P’ shares. We are not one of those 13 clubs as we were forced by the Articles of PRL to sell them to Exeter a few years ago. All the ‘profits’ of PRL are distributed to the shareholders in accordance with their relevant shareholdings.

Feedback from Susie Woffinden – Fans Forum Member: 
·         At the Rotherham away game there was a great choice of takeaway food – as well as the pies etc. there was also a “Devine Deli” van at the far end of the field – selling soup, jacket potatoes, tandoori chicken sandwiches etc. Excellent quality and choice- is there any opportunity to have a wider choice of takeaway food at HC?
Sian: Thanks for the feedback. Our catering is run by Sodexo who manage all hospitality catering and bars at Headingley Carnegie Stadium.  When it comes to mobile catering this is contracted out to Naturally Best.  They pay a fee to trade and then they recruit concessions vans to come in.  The food choices then fundamentally come down to those companies.  We can suggest some different ideas like soup and sandwiches potentially in the Carngeie Café Bar, which I will do, but this is only a request and not a promise.
·         Is there an update on when (if at all) the South Stand is to be closed?
Sian: We are still waiting for planning permission on the project.  Once we have any other information this will be publicised.
·         Are there any more club events planned for Phil Nilsen’s testimonial?
Sian: As far as events for testimonials, it is run by a committee that is gathered together to work with the player themselves.  Testimonials are not something that are run by the club.  They are organised and run by the player and their committee decide on a calendar of events. We are not aware of any future events.

Feedback from Andrea Green- Fans Forum Member: 
·The fans wanted to thank you and the guys for phoning each one of them to explain that there would not be a coach for this weekend’s game. It was a thoughtful touch.
Sian: I will always try and push for coaches to travel to the away games.  Unfortunately, we needed 25 to travel on the London Irish coach and we only managed to get 11 to go so it needed to be cancelled.  We will keep pushing this for some future away games.
·The balloon guy is great and is a real treat thank you. But it takes far too long for one balloon.  Couldn’t he have a few ready-made please?
Sian: I can pass this feedback onto the balloon artist but he is an artist and he is there to perform so it means he will create the balloon for you whilst you are there.

·Gary Hetherington, the fans have not seen him for a while is he taking a back seat?
Sian: Gary has been to every game this season except Cornwall where he had a prior engagement. He loves his sport and will always be at Headingley Carnegie Stadium walking around the stands.

Feedback from Angela Rimmington Brown – Fans Forum Member: 
·Seeing today’s post about downloading the Carnegie Times – heard a few people chat about why it’s started to be available before the match. To be honest, I’ve wondered too. I know people don’t go specifically for it but making it available pre-match can be causing one or two less to attend but more likely not visit the outlets where they can pick one up which is reducing the chance of them spending money.
One guy said it spoilt his looking forward to getting his – there is an answer of not to look, but you get to see the cover in the social message/s.
Sian: We were asked about uploading the programme online and when we uploaded it after the match we were told it was too late.  We now upload the programme prior to the match for people to be able to preview the squad and any of the news from the week leading up to the match.

Feedback from Scott Johnson – Yorkshire Carnegie Fan via email: 
·I’m writing in regards to the news story last week and in Carnegie Times called ‘Twickenham is just the ticket for Carnegie fans’
The title leads you to believe that the prizes were given to Carnegie fans but the story tells they were given out elsewhere.
I’m under the impression that the RFU allocation of international tickets are for club members only and not to be given away to others outside the club especially members of other clubs that already have their own allocation of tickets.
Surely this should have been competition within the club that rewards loyal fans (members) first who have supported the club over the years rather than outsiders or at least have something like 3 prizes (2 for within the club and 1 for elsewhere) to make it a bit fairer to fans that put money through the turnstiles.

Mike: The club receives three different types of allocation of international tickets for matches played at Twickenham. We get a fix number covering different price categories for the top category games and this season are South Africa, Australia, Wales and France. For the games against Italy, Fiji and Argentina there was a different process that also included the ability to buy Junior tickets at a fixed price. For the Fiji and Italy game the marketing department has purchased 2 family packages of 2 adults and 2 junior tickets that have been and will be later used as prizes to help grow our marketing databases. The data used in the draw for the Fiji tickets was gained at our two pre-season fixtures (which included some existing customers that were already on our system but they went in the draw), Brownlee Triathlon at Harewood and the 10 club blitz days on the first weekend of the season. The Fiji match was and still is on general sale on Ticketmaster so it did not impact on club members in any way. The disabled gentleman that was the first drawn out of the hat is looking forward to the experience. This type of competition is a very common marketing exercise that is used throughout sport.  Club members were also eligible to enter the competition also.

Feedback from Andrew Partington – Yorkshire Carnegie Fan via email: 
·         I’ve just got a bit of feedback about the scheduling of matches this year.
My two sons (aged 5 and 7) have the free junior membership, but they are too young for me to take to the Friday night fixtures, as they can’t stay up that late. The “On the Road” games are difficult for us too (although I support the concept in principle). Thus, there were 2 games I could take my boys to at the start of the season in September and then the next match we can all go to is New Year’s Day! I understand that Friday night games get a better attendance, but perhaps they could be spread out through the season a bit more evenly.

Sian: We like to try and vary the fixtures to work and promote the game to other markets to build the Yorkshire Carnegie brand.  Fridays do offer a different atmosphere however we have a few factors that sometimes prevents us from playing our Yorkshire Carnegie matches on a Friday at certain times of the year.  When we are playing during the winter season (December-January) it becomes very cold to be stood out watching the game from 8pm on an evening, therefore playing a match at 3pm on a Sunday lends itself to this time of the year as the temperature is slightly higher mid-afternoon to on an evening.  September, February, March and April are better for Friday night fixtures.  With this though we also must take into consideration that we are a dual code club and we have Leeds Rhinos fixtures also being played on a Friday evening plus we have to consider Yorkshire County Cricket match clashes.  February-April is the start of the Rhinos season meaning we will see fixture clashes as Rhinos predominantly play on a Friday evening.

Feedback from Adrian Stelling – Yorkshire Carnegie Fan via email: 
·My wife and I are season ticket holders this season and attended the game on Friday I’m pleased to note there are further Friday games arranged.
It seemed to me a better atmosphere, more people present, Inc. a few interested students and all in all I firmly believe by playing on a Friday this does “free” people up for the rest of the weekend when they may have other obligations such as more local teams or family obligations on Sundays etc.
I assume also better corporate opportunity?
My point on students was that the ones where I was sat appeared to be rugby fans rather than just on a jolly night out – not sure if they were in as concessions but regardless a long time since I heard a “Yorkshire” chant going up from the stand and I note this was mentioned by one of the players on the website. More atmosphere under the lights.
I’d make the additional point that whilst this may affect the community aspect I have also sat adjacent to families and youngsters present on a Sunday afternoon and frankly they have shown minimal interest in the game beyond their half time appearance.
Just a personal view!

Feedback from Stuart Morris – Yorkshire Carnegie Fan via email: 
·         For the next fans forum, I am wondering if it can be discussed the possibility of Leeds University students (both unis or just Leeds Beckett) and the discount on tickets. Last night we probably got one of the best atmospheres at a Rugby union game in years and this was down to the Students that attended free from the varsity game.
The students were buying beer and contributed to the bar and conducted themselves in a manner that wouldn’t cause any concerns. A free (similar to complimentary corporate) or discounted scheme for them (£2/3 per ticket) would really bring in crowds like last night
Sian: In response to both pieces of feedback, we ran an offer for students who attended the Varsity match that we held in October whereby if you text a number and were a student you could attend the match for free.  This had a great response with over 200 students attending.  The response from this with data means we can build on this and try to increase attendances by running further promotions.
I agree the atmosphere was brilliant and we will build on this.  The student market can be extremely difficult to tackle year on year and we work hard to try and bring the students in with various promotions – the one we ran on Friday evening was one of the more successful ones.

Feedback from Iain MacDougall – Yorkshire Carnegie Fan via email: 
Carnegie:
·         We attended the majority of Carnegie home games last season and have a been to all this season’s home games so far. Most home games were on a Sunday last season, and have been a mixture of Sunday, Saturday and Friday evening this season. The crowd          numbers on Friday night, at nearly 2000, were the largest I have seen at a Carnegie home game. Was this due to it being on a Friday night?  Or was it just as much to do with it not being a Sunday? As I understand it, the reason for the name change to Yorkshire Carnegie was to promote union in this region, which is a good thing, but it can only be promoted if people are turning up to watch.  I personally believe that the Sunday fixtures are a turn off for a lot of people.
Sian: See response to Andrew Partington feedback.
Clubhouse:
·         After visiting Selby RUFC last week for the B&I Cup match against Bedford Blues, it was interesting to see that their clubhouse had a few real ales on offer. Is there any possibility of getting another real ale in our clubhouse as well as Black Sheep?  It may help with the situation of running out of sheep on a regular basis, which happened again on Friday.

Sian: Real ale is difficult to provide variety with due to the shelf life and not being regularly used.  At Selby they will have the clubhouse open on evenings and during training periods therefore meaning they can sell the ale more often.  Due to the match fixtures not being every weekend it means a lot of waste, so we have to be careful on what stock we hold.

Feedback from Keith Huggins – Fans Forum Member: 
·It has been brought to my attention that the prices across the bars on a match day are different.  You can buy a pint of Carlsberg in the Sports Bar for one price then go into the Carnegie Café Bar and be charged a higher price.  I just wanted to know why the prices seem to be inconsistent?

Sian: This will be looked into and we will see why this is the case – the supporter’s bars should all charge the same price.