BCFC: Expensive and Extensive Stand Repairs

Birmingham City’s Chief Operating Officer Lungi Macebo confirmed at a Supporters Forum held on Tuesday afternoon that the work on the Kop and Tilton stands at St Andrew’s was both more extensive and more expensive than first thought. The rumour that work on the lower tiers has not been started was confirmed; with repair costs of more than £2.5million to be shelled out.

Birmingham City FC

It’s a bit of a kick in the bollocks for fans who have had to move from the lower tiers of those stands to other seats. In the club update on June 15, we were told the work was on schedule which I think gave many fans hope that they would be able to move back to their normal seats fairly soon after the season started.

However, it appears a key piece of information was not forthcoming.

We’ve now been informed that the works to the lower tier could not be started on until the work on the upper tier was completed. With work on the upper tier only due to be completed in time for the Stoke game on August 14, the 12-to-18 week lead time means I can’t see repairs being completed before 2021 is out.

There was talk of cashflow being an issue from one of the attendees at the meeting but that hasn’t been mentioned at all in the minutes. Without having been in the meeting itself it’s difficult to ascertain what exactly was said about cashflow but from past experience I think it’s more than possible that what was said and what was heard / interpreted might have been different.

As embarrassing as it looks to have half the stands empty / being fixed during games, from a mathematical standpoint there is an argument that in a time when cashflow is tight due to a long term lack of incoming revenue, that it doesn’t make sense to spend money on something that is going to take time to break even.

If Blues charged £40 a ticket for every game (and I hope they understand why that price point went down badly), then the club would need to sell 62,500 matchday tickets to break even on £2.5M to repair the stand. With capacity reduced to 19,800 right now and 11,000 season ticket holders that means around seven complete sell outs including away fans.

In the last full normal season we had (2018/19), Blues took £5M in match receipts which includes season tickets as well as matchday revenue. As much as I agree that Blues do need to spend money on the stadium, it’s easy to see the financial pain of spending half that on fixing up the stand.

In saying that, in my opinion Blues are paying the price for years of being pennywise and pound-foolish.

So why are we in this situation?

As I see it, the club is now paying the price of mistakes made in the past. The minutes from the supporters group meeting confirm that the original build has fallen short of its expected lifespan.

What that exactly means is open to interpretation and having already had my fill of dealing with solicitors this year because of stuff I’ve written on here I’m going to leave that interpretation up to the individual reader for now

Then there is the anecdotal evidence I’ve heard from multiple sources that maintenance budgets for the stadium might not have been as high as they could have been in the past and one has to consider if it is any real surprise that the club is in this situation now.

As much as I can feel the pain that this is causing, part of me is glad that this has been picked up by council inspection now, rather than after there has been a failure of steelwork.

Remembering feeling the Tilton literally bounce during some of those big moments at the ground in recent years, I’ll admit it makes me cringe a little thinking that bounce might have been more to do with structural issues than the passion of Blues fans.

I have to hope that as expensive, time consuming and annoying as this is, the club have realised that it’s something that needs to be absolutely put right so that there isn’t another cost picked up in the future; whether it be financial or human.

Why are the club paying for this and not the Stadium Company?

It was explicitly stated in the minutes that both Macebo and club director Edward Zheng Gannan confirmed that even though the club are tenants, they are footing the bill for repairs.

I’ve seen some fans talk about this on social media and the fact is, despite what people consider the norm to be without seeing the exact lease details it’s impossible to know how it works.

There’s an argument that the money is coming from the same place anyway technically due to the connections between the elusive Mr King and both the club and the owners of Birmingham City Stadium Ltd.

It was interesting to note the club are to produce a “large comms document” detailing the sale and lease. I’m interested in this not only to understand how liabilities are split between the club and the stadium company, but to confirm just who officially owns the stadium company and potentially their plans for St Andrew’s.

It would also be good to know who would be on the hook for putting money into development of the stadium; or if there are plans from the club to look at moving to a new home as has been mooted a few times in the last couple of decades.

I really do hope that Blues learn from all of this.

As a friend jokingly put it to me, based on how things have gone of late you’d be worried that any club badge affixed to the back of the Gil Merrick would peel off the first time it rained.

While that kind of joke is funny (at least to me), it’s a reflection of where we are right now as a club. That has to change.

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