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Club News

New Year statement from CEO Gavin Baldwin

6 January 2023

Club News

New Year statement from CEO Gavin Baldwin

6 January 2023

An annual statement from Club Doncaster chief executive Gavin Baldwin:

First of all, I would like to wish you all a happy New Year. As we move forward into 2023 on the back of three wins in our last four matches and arguably our best performance of the season, we do so with optimism.   

The last year was a disappointing one for Doncaster Rovers. But that disappointment led to significant change to our football structure with the creation of the head of football operations role to help create a culture and identity we can all be proud of. And we feel great strides have been made in little more than six months.

As a board, we have full confidence in the collective vision for our football operations and a significant component of this is the position of head coach. There is a clear style of play matched with an unwavering passion for developing players, which gives a clear understanding of the club’s direction and plan moving forward.

The collective work ethic, attitude and commitment of everyone at the club has been relentless - making sure we give the club the best chance of success this season and many more to come. We feel we are making strong progress, and at the time of writing are sat just one point off the top seven in League Two. We are looking forward to building on this from now until the end of the season.

The aim of this update though is not to focus specifically on football matters. Instead, I intend to provide a holistic overview of the club and its structure, while the head of football operations will issue his own update in due course.   

Particularly when results have been poor, it is often the response of supporters to aim their frustrations at the club, which is understandable. It therefore feels appropriate to try and address some of those comments now. 

As a football club on its own, Doncaster Rovers would make significant losses. The income we receive from gate receipts and commercial activities related to football alone would not cover the wage costs of the first team, the Academy and hosting football matches. 

Several years ago, the owners of the club challenged myself as chief executive and our club staff to shape a self-sustainable business that could support Doncaster Rovers Football Club, both in the short and long term.    

This led to the creation of Club Doncaster, which sees Doncaster RLFC and Doncaster Rovers Belles form part of a trio of teams alongside Rovers. The amalgamation of business activity across the three teams - e.g. commercial, marketing, media and box office departments - coupled with the ability we now have to generate revenue from the stadium, has allowed us to become that self-sustainable business with a playing budget that enables us to compete at both League Two and League One level.    

Owner funding is no longer required for us to remain operational. However, the support of Terry Bramall should not be underestimated. In addition to driving a strategy for how the club should operate - detailed below - he also continues to be available to assist with any cashflow issues, which will become more relevant as the cost of living continues to hit not only the club, but our partners as well.

To transform a football club that required more than £3million of owner funding per year to survive into one that does not require any to stay alive has not been an easy task, and credit should go to every single member of staff who has made this possible.    

In the past 15 months the Eco-Power Stadium has played host to the Lionesses in a Women’s World Cup qualifier, three Rugby League World Cup games, and two of the biggest music events ever held in Doncaster with The Killers and Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott drawing huge crowds. 

These events, coupled with the regular activity of our Sunday market and small-sided football facilities, a continued growth in commercial partnerships year-on-year and improvements we have made across our internal operations, have replaced the need of the owner funding for survival. This has taken incredible amounts of hard work, ingenuity and dedication across the organisation.    

We are very proud of our staff and their achievements. What they deliver day in, day out is rarely highlighted but is vital in safeguarding the futures of our sporting teams and providing the foundation for success on the field. These individuals care deeply about the work they do and run through metaphorical brick walls on a day-to-day basis for our sports teams.    

As a society we have experienced an incredibly difficult period during the last few years with the pandemic, which saw many people suffer both personally and financially. As we emerge from that scenario, we now find ourselves in the middle of a cost of living crisis, which is affecting our supporters and commercial partners. And, of course, we too are directly impacted. 

I know many of you will be looking anxiously at the cost of your utility bills during these cold winter months, and the amount of money it is taking to simply heat and light your house. Organisations are doing the same and we are no different. Despite lower year-on-year usage, we are now in a position where matchday ticket revenues are no longer enough to cover the energy bills for the stadium. Away from utilities our overhead costs have also seen an increase of 10 per cent in line with inflation.

As a measuring stick, our recent FA Cup tie in November saw operational costs rise by several thousand pounds compared to a similar game several years ago. The cost of hosting a game was impacted not just by rising utilities but an increase in matchday staffing costs for both ourselves and our partners, whether that be the national living wage, stewarding costs or medical bills. 

Where possible we try to avoid passing on any increase in costs we face to you as supporters. The FA Cup tie was priced at £10 for adults and £1 for children - the same as our pricing in the competition in 2019. We continue to be one of the few clubs who offer one flat price for season tickets for those aged 17 and under, as well as having another specific rate for those aged 24 and under, and starting senior concessions at 60, not 65. 

In the current financial situation, this is proving more and more difficult to do. But through the decisions we take - e.g. opening only one stand initially for the FA Cup game, keeping the North stand closed when the away support is less than 300 - we are able to reduce operational costs. These reductions in costs, coupled with the revenue we are now generating away from football, mean that we can keep prices as low as possible without taking money away from the playing budget.     

Our season ticket prices for the 2022/23 campaign were one of the lowest in the EFL - at £35 for 17 and under, through to from £229 for adults. They were also the lowest they have been for the club in close to 20 years. Thankfully, despite relegation, you as supporters continued to show your support in numbers and our total season ticket sales dropped by just 24 year-on-year. While that still resulted in a reduction of season ticket income due to the reduced prices, as was stated when we went on sale, the revenues from Club Doncaster made that affordable. 

A self-sustainable business model, with the delicate balance of generating our own funds away from football and trying to ensure match-going is affordable for the majority by keeping prices low, is not easy. There are times when it is particularly tough.   

We understand that to many fans, the approach of being prudent and self-sustainable is not glamourous and often not welcomed - particularly during transfer windows. It is also not the easiest marketing message when trying to sell tickets either, but as Club Doncaster continues to provide competitive playing budgets it is one we should all be proud of. 

Having now reached the point where we are not reliant on their funding to survive, the owners should be credited for both pushing forward a business model which makes the club an attractive proposition to any would-be investors, and safeguarding the future of the club.David’s business acumen and support throughout this process has been unrivalled.

There are very few football teams that can survive without owner funding. Nor are there many with a scenario where the arrival of additional investors would see every penny they spent inserted straight into the playing budget. At the last Meet The Owners event, we were asked about the legacy and succession plan to the ownership of Terry and David Blunt. The investment proposition they have created for whoever follows them is the answer. 

Across the group, we continue to strive to operate as a club that supporters can be proud of. Operationally, off the field we are now seen as one of the stand out models for other clubs to follow. In 2022, we hosted the local derby with Rotherham United without the presence of police at the stadium - something I am not sure has been replicated at any other South Yorkshire derby. Again, this was due to the tremendous planning and diligence of our safety team who delivered a safe event and saved the club money at the same time. 

From a community perspective, we also continue to try and do the right things for the city of Doncaster and, of course, our supporters. The club once again won the EFL Family Excellence Gold award and received a nomination at the Football Supporters Association awards for our approach to supporter consultation, with the migration of our former Supporters’ Board into a fully fledged Shadow Board being one of the main components of this. Our relationship with the Supporters Trust, who act as a safeguard on behalf of all Doncaster Rovers fans through our Memorandum of Understanding with them, was also a key feature. 

The concept of a Shadow Board is new to UK football following recommendations in the Fan-led Review and Doncaster Rovers are one of only a handful of clubs to have one. This group of dedicated supporters have already played a major part in shaping our approach to ticketing and supporter experience and will continue to do so in 2023. As a club, we understand that we need to do more to educate supporters about their existence and their role and we will do this during 2023 as the board readies for the first election of members later in the year. 

We have also been able to hear from supporters more directly than ever thanks to the work with Bulbshare, who created the online Rovers Voices community. Bulbshare are a global leader in customer engagement, working with major brands and government bodies. The company approached the club directly due to our reputation for fan engagement. We have been able to ask for opinions and feedback on all manner of topics including matchday experience and ticketing, and the responses will feed into our long term planning and decision-making. 

Community remains at the heart of what we do. The pandemic made that difficult in logistical terms but this has been the year where we have headed back out into the local area with full force. 

The All Rover Doncaster day in September was a great success, with the first team squad and staff heading out across the city to visit schools, businesses and charities. This will become a regular feature of our work, with the next date already in the planning stages for early spring. The number of our junior season ticket holders increased after our first All Rover Doncaster day. 

Supporters were also central to the launches of the home and away Rovers kits. A fantastic night was put on at the Eco-Power Stadium for the launch of the home shirt with hundreds of fans in attendance to get first sight while the away kit was unveiled with the help of dozens of young supporters who signed for the club for the day and had an unforgettable experience at our training ground. 

Sponsoring the Doncaster and District Junior Sunday Football League remains a great source of pride for us and we will be engaging with clubs more than ever in the future. We are still one of only a few professional football teams to sponsor their local grassroots leagues. 

The work of the Club Doncaster Foundation continues to be a source of pride. The most recent annual report of the Foundation shows:  

  • 8,700 volunteer hours coordinated through the organisation 
  • 99.3 per cent pass rate for the sports college 
  • 6,407 school sessions delivered in the past year 
  • 120 youth mentoring sessions delivered 
  • The Fit Rovers group has lost a combined total 51.2 stones. 

Their outreach work during the pandemic was outstanding and they are flourishing once again following the return of in-person school visits and community programmes such as the Social Cafe and Walk and Talk. 

The Foundation Fitness gym is a major feature of the stadium, with special rates available for season ticket holders. The facilities are excellent and the feedback received from members has been extremely positive. 

The Club Doncaster Sports College delivered near-perfect pass rates and has continued to grow its reputation as an excellent provider of post-16 education. 

As we come back to football, we head into 2023 with confidence that we are moving forward in the right direction. A return to League One remains a priority and, while there will inevitably be ups and downs along the way, we believe we are giving ourselves the best chance of achieving our goals.

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