The Post virus future for Herefordshire and Hereford FC

One day, virus restrictions will be lifted. And one day, probably several weeks later, large-scale gatherings will be possible. And then what?   Simon Wright shares his concerns and hopes.

There is a tough time ahead. Tough as in being a re-run of the 1930’s Depression. Mass closures means a sharp economic downturn, with alarmingly high UK unemployment (3 million is one of the lower estimates) allied to rapid inflation, higher taxation plus a baby boom around Christmas. Herefordshire, with 26% of its population receiving pensions, and a similar percentage involved in food production will be sheltered, but only to an extent. It’s never been a wealthy county. People working in service sectors will be heavily impacted as both large and small businesses go under. Desperately sadly, so many self-employed folk will need new work. This is a new world and actively supporting a football club could easily slip off the radar.

  • Elderly supporters or those with health conditions will be reluctant to go out post-virus. Pottering around their near deserted village feels safe enough. Volunteering to join a crowd doesn’t.
  • After x number of months without football, some supporters will have found more enjoyable pastimes and just won’t return.
  • Longer-distance followers – a key element of core support – will feel guilty around their “unnecessary journeys”. That’s assuming they can afford to travel.
  • Herefordshire public transport could easily be further cut back. Transport operators are unlikely to find any subsidies. Out-of-town fans without their own wheels could struggle to attend.
  • Admission charges will become a greater barrier when money for so many, is tighter than ever before. HFC have charged top end Step 2 prices.
  • And, worse of all, some supporters are no longer with us, thanks to the vicious virus.

Hereford FC need to move with the times. There is ample thinking time right now to put together a plan. These are my suggested key elements.

Commercial revenue will sag. Advertising, sponsorship and corporate meals are a post-virus luxury too far. Volunteers will be even harder to recruit.

Without remedial action, gate receipts will match the trajectory of the UK economy. That first game is a vital showcase and yes, attractive winning football is key but it’s not enough by itself. In 2017-18, Hereford FC won the Southern League Championship in style and attendances dropped by ten per cent.

Hereford need to examine their outgoings. Where can savings be made? This is unpleasant to mention but Kings Lynn FC have one paid staff member who is non-football. Just one. Admittedly, volunteers will be even harder to recruit now.

With away support likely to be even smaller, is there flexibility around removing segregation at times? Midweeks perhaps when corralling 20 or even ten people is ludicrous.

For 19/20 season ticket holders, do the decent thing.  A blanket refusal to refund or offer future discounts or even free Cup matches will eventually bite the football club in the bum. Short-term gain will be outstripped by longer-term retaliation. As in refusal to renew.

Admission prices must be reduced. These are unprecedented and fearful times and require realistic thinking. Consider offering very cheap season tickets with added benefits – “Meet the Manager” events, more discounts at local establishments etc. Incentives are needed to gather cash. There are predictions the virus will return this winter, well in advance of a readily-available vaccine, in which case football will go into lockdown again. Again short-term pain for long-term gain. Look at compromises too – consider an instalment offer and/or offering half-season tickets. Offer segregated seating to incentivise the nervous-to-return. We have a lot of them!

Consequently, the playing budget will take a big hit. All our non-bankrolled rivals have the same issues so we’re not disadvantaged. Easier said than done, but to focus on talent who don’t live the other end of the country will reduce travelling costs. Consider some of our Academy graduates for the first team. Realistically, Hereford may focus on recruiting semi-pros again, as in people who already have a day job.

Work with and publicly support anyone who can bring regular money into the club. Make use of people’s strengths. There is an expert team running the successful 50/50 draw. Sensible to let them get on with such key wealth generation.

Start a Car Sharing online scheme to encourage supporters to collect others who don’t have transport. That works on so many levels. Maybe the local authority could reserve part of the Merton Meadow car park for exclusive use of vehicles with multi-occupants.

Wheel Josh Gowling out at every opportunity. For Podcasts. events, everything feasible. His credibility is the highest around the Street. Take advantage of it.

Post virus, our football club must adapt to thrive. Or even survive. The cash reserves will not last long.

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