Ahead of our final game of the season at Harrogate Town on Monday, which ends an extremely frustrating and disappointing season, I wanted to provide everyone with an update from the Board on several matters.
ON FIELD MATTERS
Every single one of us who supports this club in any way is completely gutted with the way this season has turned out. We are all really hurting at losing our Football League status. Those of us who serve on the Board are no different to anyone else in that regard.
As a Board, we provided all the backing we could to the technical staff over the summer, including recruiting players they had identified and supporting a pre-season trip to Scotland. The playing budget was increased for 2022/23 when compared with 2021/22.
We found ourselves bottom of the league after four games and, as a Board, acted in mid-August 2022 to change first team management in the expectation of climbing up the table. In January 2023, the Board believed there was still sufficient time and games to avoid relegation to the National League. Although further financial backing in terms of player recruitment and upgrading our training venue to Platt Lane was forthcoming, we have been unsuccessful.
Despite the best efforts of all concerned, performances have simply not been good enough consistently across the season, and our home form in particular was not at the standard required, and hasn’t been for several seasons.
Between 1st March 2019 to last Saturday’s game against Sutton United, the club has had five different managers covering over 200 competitive games in all competitions, but generating just 60 wins. This is a significant turnover of staff and has been costly, as well as creating instability.
As previously communicated, the club engaged MRKT Insights to review and assist with some areas of football operations such as first team recruitment, squad modelling, and player pathways. This service comes at a fraction of the cost of employing a full time Sporting Director and allows as much of the football budget as possible to be dedicated to players. The search for a new Head Coach is ongoing, with both internal and external candidates being assessed, considered, and interviewed. This process is now in its final stages, and we hope to have made an appointment within the next two weeks.
Our commitment to maintaining the Category 3 status of our Academy next season has already been made public. This season, our Academy has seen senior debuts for current U16’s Kevin Dos Santos and Oscar Kelly, as well as current U17’s Darren Ehimamiegho and George Nevett. Academy graduate Ethan Brierley has featured regularly and impressed in the second half of the season. We look forward to continuing our strong youth development record next season.
Most people are aware of the strong correlation between financial resource and league position. In general, the better availability of financial resources, the higher the league position. There are very few clubs in EFL League 2 which make a profit without the one-off activities of either transfer fees or cup competition success, both of which are unpredictable.
In the thirteen-month period ending 30th June 2022, the club made an audited loss of £467,356, which was down from an audited loss of £1,218,559 in the year ending 31st May 2021. We managed to increase our commercial revenues on the prior year and have a good control of costs.
Like everyone, we have been hit by significant cost inflation which is difficult to pass on. In the current year ending 30th June 2023, the club has budgeted to make a loss of £500,000, like the previous season. However, the actual outturn will be a loss closer to £1,000,000. This variance is due to a range of factors, not least, limited player trading, lack of progression in knockout competitions, significant increase in energy costs and costs associated with parting company with two first team managers and their assistants.
Relegation to the National League will regrettably mean some cost reductions as we operate on a reduced income from next season. We will lose out on Premier League solidarity money, which is only available to EFL member clubs. However, in 23/24, we will still receive 100% of EFL central distributions (parachute payments) as well as still receiving 100% of our Academy funding.
Without one-off events (e.g., player transfers and cup revenue) the club has lost approximately £1,200,000 per season since 2017/18 and whilst any one-off event can mitigate that loss, they are highly unpredictable.
The club began its preparations for this season under the dark clouds of both an impending High Court case, over a challenge of who owned the club (which threatened civil legal action against both individuals and the Supporters Trust), as well as a corresponding EFL disciplinary case relating to the events of an attempted takeover during Summer 2021. The High Court case was settled outside of court in August 2022, when seven of the eight serving directors bought out Morton House’s beneficial shareholding of 212,895 shares, sharing the cost equally.
In October 2022, the club was rightly punished for its failure to prevent a breach of the EFL’s regulations over the attempted takeover during 2021. Whilst the failure involved individuals who did not do the right things at the right time and are no longer with the club, it is the club as an EFL member who is always responsible for ensuring that the proper levels of governance and compliance are maintained. The club was found to be severely lacking in these key areas, leading to a six-point penalty, suspended until October 2024. The cost to the club of legal fees and management time from July 2021 to October 2022 in dealing with this matter amounted to over £150,000.
There will be some who will question if the financial resources committed by individual directors to buy the Morton House shares, and/or those financial resources of the club used to pay legal fees to defend its position, could have been applied to supporting our first team. However, as a Board we all knew these problems existed when we joined in 2021, albeit underestimating the scale. The necessity of properly dealing with both still means we have a club to support.
Based on all of the above, we hope you can see why, in November 2022, the club asked for shareholder approval to issue up to 450,000 new shares, which would raise the club over £1m of new capital. With no benefactor, we are unlike most other clubs. Regardless of being owners of our own stadium and carrying relatively little debt, operating losses still must be paid for.
We remain open to the serious and credible investors out there that are attracted to purchasing shares in a club like ours and supporting its development. We have published a list of major shareholdings, headed by our largest shareholder The Dale Trust, so that everyone can see openly and transparently who owns the club as of now.
375,270 shares remain available and may be allotted by the Board of Directors at not less than £2.35 per share, which would inject a further £0.8m of investment into the club. As we reported last week, discussions under Non-Disclosure Agreements are ongoing with several interested parties and further updates will be provided as appropriate.
Following the completion of the season we are preparing to put Season Cards on sale before the end of May 2023. Despite significant cost inflation, we are committed to making attending games at The Crown Oil Arena as accessible as possible, and so are again keeping Season Card prices at the same level as last season, when over 2,000 were sold in the summer of 2022.
We would like to achieve an average attendance in the top six of National League clubs next season. We appreciate that the team doing well and winning plays its part in driving attendance, but we would appreciate your help and spreading the word to encourage as many people to come and support their local club as possible. Further initiatives to help grow the fan base will be announced over the summer.
When I was asked to become Chairman in June 2021, I noted that we are very lucky as a club to have directors, staff, shareholders, and supporters alike that care so much and are so passionate about the club.
Despite the challenges thrown at us all over the past two seasons this has never been truer. I do hope that everyone will reflect over the summer break about what this club means to them, the friends and memories they have made from it, and renew the relationship they have with it, so that we all begin next season focussed purely on returning Rochdale AFC to The Football League.
Thank you all for your support in the most difficult of seasons.
Up The Dale.
On behalf of the Board of Directors