BCFC: Open House Reflections Part I

It’s been a couple of days since the Blues Open House event was held and much has been shared online by various attendees. The event appears to have been a success and the general mood online has been one of happiness with what has been achieved so far and excitement for what is to come in the future.

There has already been some great stuff published by attendees. I’d recommend these Twitter threads by Le Mod, Greek Bluenose and Lee Hinton, while Colin Tattum is also writing a multi-part series on the event on his blog.

I don’t want to take away from these people by rehashing what they have already said. Instead, I thought it might be better to share my own impressions of what was said along with some of the conversations I think we as fans need to have going forwards.

This means that I am going to be critical of some of the stuff the club has done and are currently doing. It doesn’t mean that I don’t support what the owners are doing or that I don’t want them in place.

However, the club said they wanted honest reporting and feedback, and this is me holding them to that word.

Ticketing, Infrastructure and the Fans

One of the biggest talking points I have seen online among Birmingham City fans has been ticket pricing and strategy. There are a large number of fans who state their unhappiness with current matchday pricing and judging by the attendance at Sheffield Wednesday I think it is impacting on the number of tickets sold.

One of the things I think the Open House set out to do was to rectify some of the thinking surrounding that, to give reasoning as to why pricing is as it is, to help Blues fans better understand the long-term strategy.

Blues chairman Tom Wagner confirmed in his live video link segment the need for Blues to “turbocharge” revenue streams. He pointed out that revenue is one of the biggest factors in success; the top finishing teams tended to have more to spend which enabled them to bring in better players.

He confirmed that the profit and sustainability rules are a factor; that while Blues would do what they could in January they were going to have to be careful and that we would need to wait until the summer to see the full effect of what our spending power could be.

While Garry Cook did explicitly state in his opening statement that revenue was more than ticket prices, he also confirmed that there has been a 13% uplift in season ticket sales in comparison to last year, while corporate hospitality is up 16% and is sold out until January.

He also confirmed in the Q&A section that getting walk up ticket pricing right was a tricky thing to do. He said that unlike most things, ticket pricing was something where fans made a decision whether they agreed with it or not by buying tickets and it was on the club to listen to what the fans decided.

Unfortunately, I felt Cook dodged the subject a bit then as he talked about the culture of the club that Knighthead had come into and what needed to be fixed.

It was a shame because I think there is a real conversation needed about ticket pricing and about how this will change in the future.

The superficial argument is one I’ve used on social media when people have complained about pricing; that reducing the pricing considerably affects the take the club gets which in turn affects the revenue earned.

One only has to look at the maths of the situation.

If Blues were to drop prices from £37.50 to £20.00 as some suggested for the Sheffield Wednesday game, they would have had to sell nearly twice as many walk-up tickets to get the same level of revenue.

While I think some people think this would be achieved, I’m much more sceptical.

That being said, I’m of the belief that price isn’t the main factor in purchase decision as much as the perceived value is.

If we accept that times are tight and that fans have limited disposable income, then fans are going to be more careful where they spend their money.

If a fan can only afford a match ticket, then the match absolutely has to be worth the outlay – and of late I don’t think we can say this is the case. However, if we were winning every game, scoring goals for fun… it might be a different story.

I think there is also a conversation that needs to be had with regards to the investment that is being put into the stadium and the changes to culture it’s going to bring.

On the one hand, I’m excited that the lights are being upgraded, the sound system finally fixed, and two new screens being put in above the goals at either end of the ground.

On the other hand, talk of sound and light shows and fan interaction on the big screen may leave some of the older school fans a bit cold.

I don’t know how I feel about that sort of thing.

I think it’s important to invest in things that will bring new fans into the club; however I can’t help but feel we’re moving away from the old school fan experience and leaving our working class roots behind.

A Siege Mentality

One of the big criticisms levelled at the Open House event from people online was that it was in the main a PR stunt; an event to get the happy clappers hyped up and evangelising about the new regime on social media.

As much as anyone denies it, there is an element of truth to that statement.

While I agree that communication offered to fans was far superior than in previous forums, it’s also true that there was a continued message being driven home; namely that the club needs not only money spent on it but that is also needs to bring money in to succeed.

For example, while £1.25m has been spent on the pitch, that has been done with the aim of making it easier to play better and hopefully more successful football.

The Alliance bar

Likewise, the beautiful new Alliance suite was created out of the chaos of the club being flooded in July, but it has also given a new opportunity for the club to have a top-tier space to woo would-be investors and commercial partners.

The key difference obviously is that unlike the previous regime, Knighthead are absolutely prepared to speculate to accumulate.

There is talk of a decade long strategy to take the club forward, with a slide shown stating their ambition for 2030.

2030 vision

Yet for every carrot, there is the shadow of the stick in the background.

In his opening speech, Garry Cook talked of how “firing arrows at ourselves” made it harder to bring commercial partners into the club.

To me this felt like a barb at those who have openly criticised the club in recent weeks over the Wayne Rooney appointment. In my opinion, it felt like Cook was saying “it’s done, get over it and move on.”

During the Q&A session Cook actually said that he felt that the club didn’t need to explain any more as to why Rooney was appointed.

This is where I felt that session fell down, because for me there was a legitimate question surrounding the timing of it all happening – and maybe an acknowledgement was needed by the board that they understood why some fans were miffed bearing in mind what happened with Gianfranco Zola back in 2017.

Likewise, as I have opined on this website before Cook picked up on the fact that increased exposure of the club brings in a lot more views in the press. He intimated that more views was likely to bring in more dissenting ideas and voices, and that they could influence how Blues fans felt negatively.

I suspect I know who this might have been aimed at in part, but in this case I’m going to decline to name names lest I be accused of creating another online pile-on.

In some ways I agree with Cook. I do think people need to exercise more caution when reading things if only to not believe every single rumour out there.

That being said, I also think it’s important that dissenting voices are allowed. Constructive criticism helps us all improve and I think that there have been things that have happened in the last few months that can be criticised respectfully.

There are times when a siege mentality does help Blues as a club, and I’m all for the wagons circling when the vultures are trying to descend on us as has happened in the past.

I just feel it’s important for the club to recognise that some people may have doubts – especially at an event which could be viewed as a big PR stunt.

As part of my feedback after the event, I’ve suggested that the club hold some invites back with a view to taking applications for a ballot for fans who might not have originally been invited.

It’s important that constructive dissenting voices are present because their questions and opinions could be vital in helping structure future strategy.

Matters on the pitch

One of the things that set this Open House apart from previous fan forums was the presentations given by the football side of the business.

At fan forums in the past, it’s been pretty much verboten to talk about matters on the pitch; be it how the team is playing, transfers or anything else. This wasn’t hard to understand, because there was never any staff from the football side of things in attendance.

I was pretty surprised that Wayne Rooney was there, and I think it was a masterstroke to have him present how he wants to implement the desired footballing identity at the club.

Away from the TV cameras, Rooney is a different animal. He was confident in what he wanted to get across and with a little video help was able to showcase enough to make this jaded fan a little bit more hopeful things will improve.

I do think Rooney was helped by the win over Sheffield Wednesday; had we not won that game I think it would have been infinitely harder to make his points and his audience may have been far less receptive.

On the women’s side, Darren Carter and Hope Powell showed what they have been working on with Blues Women since the summer and how it has come to fruition. This was important too, because it showed that there is a cohesion between both the men’s and women’s sides and that maybe with time there is real hope for what Blues could achieve in the Championship.

Craig Gardner also had the chance to show the stats he was using to help drive the search for what Blues need to do to improve.

Just as importantly, there was a presentation by Liam Daish and Louisa Collis about what was happening with the male and female academies.

Those who remember Daish as a player at Blues will remember him as a no-nonsense centre-half and happily he is still the same now he’s running the Academy.

He was matter of fact in accepting the situation the Academy was in at the start of the season, and he was honest in the long path the club has to return to Category One status.

This is the kind of thing that impresses me. I’ve long held the opinion that it’s not just a case of trying to throw money at it as Blues have done in the past.

Both Daish and Collis were honest enough to talk about how much work needs to be done right now to get us to Category One for the 2025-26 season.

A lot of investment is being made in facilities and staffing ahead of the first of many audits in August next year; just as importantly work will continually need to be done to ensure Blues are capable of maintaining Category One status.

One thing I picked up on was Daish talking about how Blues couldn’t just promise a pathway to young players any more.

I think in recent seasons the poor facilities at Wast Hills have left Blues having to try to make big promises to promising players to keep them at Blues rather than signing elsewhere, with limited success.

While Trevan Sanusi’s departure for Newcastle made the press in some places, there has also been an exodus at younger levels with four under-12 players leaving for Category One academies in the local area.

What Daish has realised is that Blues have to offer young players the right things in the present rather than promises of jam tomorrow.

Giving young players the right environment to grow as players is just as important as saying that there is a pathway to the first team for those who perform well.

The sheer length of this piece should give some idea as to how much information was packed into the event.

In the second piece of this look at the Open House event, I want to talk about the commercial and supporter club presentations. I hope to have this online by next Monday.

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