If you have not had chance to read this announcement, you can find it on the official website at this link.
With Tom Wagner and co now having their feet firmly underneath the table at St Andrew’s, I think it was only a matter of time before they put forward their plans for fan communication.
Judging by the reaction I’ve seen online the ideas have been received fairly positively, and as further proof that the new regime is willing to listen more than maybe others have previously.
However, I’ve seen a few people qualify their praise with constructive caveats and I think that there is definitely a conversation to have about how these programmes are going to work.
Blues Open House
The first of the initiatives offered is a quarterly open evening which is to be held for the first time on November 21. The “Open House” will invite 100 fans, with a selection criteria that identifies them as:
“…fans who are committed to Blues and whose work helps shape the views of Bluenoses across the globe.”
While it’s dangerous to read too much into a single sentence, the inference I take from this is that the club are looking to invite fans it considers are “influencers”. Invitations to these fans will be sent out next Monday.
This is backed up by a point stating that:
“We expect these Blues fans to share what was discussed and provide their opinions.”
Although many Blues fans online seem to think it’ll be some sort of Q&A session, I have a sneaky suspicion it’ll be more like a “Town Hall” style meeting.
These kinds of meetings are common at big companies, especially American ones.
I’ve worked for a big American firm for the last six months or so and as they’re hot on corporate communication we frequently have these kinds of meetings.
With so many invited guests, having a big free for all Q&A doesn’t really work. Instead, what tends to happen is senior leaders give a presentation on their sector of the business and then after there is a short structured Q&A.
Now, I have to admit that I’m shooting in the dark here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this was something similar.
I am somewhat torn by the idea of a Blues “Town Hall” meeting.
On the one hand, I can see the merits.
It seems clear from the theme of the first meeting – “Transformation” – that any presentations that are given will be based around taking the club from where it is now to the next level.
I’m excited to see what details are released and what timeframes we can expect.
I also think this meeting could also be a sign that Cook and co have learned from the whole Eustace situation.
I hope they’ve realised that it’s imperative to have at least a few people on board with more specific ideas and knowledge to help share the board’s vision, as the alternative appears to be a statement which has generated this month’s cynical Blue meme online.
However, the whole idea that this meeting could be an exercise in creating cheerleaders for the club is what worries me.
I’ve already seen a clamour from some fans on Twitter hoping to be invited, which makes me afraid that any chance of constructive feedback given to the board will be lessened.
As fun as it is to be in the same room as the powers that be, we need fans to be present who are not too overawed to ask questions; and more importantly who are intelligent enough to keep those questions pertinent.
Likewise, if it is true those fans attending are going to be the ones disseminating what is discussed at the meeting, then it’s important that those fans are capable of understanding and sharing info in a complete manner that isn’t massively editorialised.
After all, the biggest criticism I’ve seen of these fan forum type affairs from fans online is that they’re somehow “secret” and that not everything is properly released.
I sincerely hope that the club will follow what other clubs do and at least share presentation decks and videos online so that fans can make their own minds up from the source material should they wish to.
The second phase of this plan is to have a quarterly fan engagement meeting called Blues Matters, beginning in January 2024.
The impression I get from this part of the announcement is that this is a much more structured group who meet in a much more structured fashion.
While the first group appears to be like a “town hall” style meeting, the Blues Matters group will have officially minuted meetings with agendas and action points shared for transparency.
The group will apparently reflect “the diverse nature of the fanbase” but no mention has been made as to how this group is going to be selected, and if it is going to change over time.
I suspect that these meetings will be much more like the fan forums that I’ve been to, and as such will be a lot more about the day-to-day stuff around the ground such as hot water in the toilets.
I can already see the criticism from some quarters about how the fans in this group will end up being the same old faces, turning up for the biscuits to have some pitiful semblance of power.
As much as I hope that the club can bring new people into this Blues Matters group, it’s been my experience that these kinds of groups attract the same old people as they’re the only ones who have the time and inclination to be involved.
Take Lynda Courts and Redditch Blues for example.
I know Lynda has come in for stick in the past but the truth is she runs a large supporters group which travels in huge numbers home and away.
Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if people like Lynda and Tony Routley (who runs the Central Blues Travel group) take more fans than the official coaches do to the games.
With that in mind they’re exactly the kind of people who should be involved in this kind of group, whether people like it or not.
Blues Official Supporters Group
The final initiative on offer is a new official supporters group to be launched in January 2024.
From reading the announcement this group would subsume all official supporters groups under one umbrella regardless of geographical location etc.
This group is to have a “new digital and physical home” which I take to mean a separate website from bcfc.com and maybe some sort of meeting space / bar within the ground.
On the face of it, there is a lot to recommend this idea.
Having everything under one roof would help to normalise and homogenise how groups act and ensure that all are treated equally and fairly.
However, as someone who is anarchic in nature I can say with a fair amount of confidence that an official supporters group is not something I would want to join.
Although I do know people at the club I’ve always found it’s better if I keep some distance between the club and myself.
My fear has always been that as an “official” part of the club it would reduce the amount of criticism I could offer and potentially put myself in the situation where I am forced to censor what I write on my website.
It’s for this reason that I hope the club understand that some of the people involved in these initiatives have to remain independent.
Despite my reservations, I want people to be clear that I think that all of these ideas are steps on the right path.
Although there have been fans forums under previous administrations, most were haphazardly organised affairs that senior management tried to dodge for fear of having to make promises that they couldn’t keep.
I hope and believe that these will be different. It’s clear that the SCL regime understand that it’s imperative that fans are brought on the journey along with the club.
My only hope is that they also understand that questions, queries and complaints can be forces for positive improvement too.
It’s all well and good promoting this “Alliance” ideal but there needs to be some semblance of balance in power between all the allied stakeholders.
Otherwise it’s just another empty buzzword.