The overarching theme was that, although we believe the club has been stabilised and is making good progress both on and off the pitch, there is still a long way to go if we are to achieve our goal of being back in the Premiership by our 150th anniversary season in 2026-27.
Finishing 6th in League One last season was a long-time low and the £1.2m loss incurred was the worst in the club’s history. An urgent turn-around was essential and we’re satisfied that both football and business performances have significantly improved this season so far.
On the pitch, we currently sit second in the league, five points behind Dunfermline and with them still to play twice. We’re now unbeaten in our last 10 matches in all competitions (including nine wins) and we’ve got a Scottish Cup quarter-final to look forward to, with a Hampden semi-final at stake.
Off the pitch, income to the end of January has already surpassed total income last season, and is on track to reach the 52% budgeted increase, which would result in income growth of around £700k. Cost of sales are being tightly controlled so are increasing far slower than sales, and overheads should end up slightly lower than last year despite significant inflationary pressure on them.
On a less positive note, new investment has fallen well short of the level required to cover our £400k operating loss, meaning we have had to find other ways to maintain cashflow to the end of the season. This has been achieved via a mixture of investment, loans and other commercial initiatives.
However, the fresh investment we did receive – from the Patrons’ Group and Falkirk Supporters’ Society, plus a few individual investors – now means that the club is no longer majority-owned by large shareholders; a key milestone on our journey towards a more balanced model of fan ownership.
Overall, we therefore believe that the club is beyond the bottom of the curve and is once again heading in the right direction both on and off the park. While we’ve still got a long journey ahead and can’t be complacent or take our foot off the gas, we’ve made a decent start and are making good progress.
Getting to this point in just 14 months is the result of a huge team effort and we’d like to thank everyone involved, from Jamie and John, plus all of the club’s staff, to its army of volunteers. Also from Patrons and FSS members, plus other investors and lenders, to every single season ticket holder and supporter. If we all pull together and everyone contributes as much as they can in whatever way they can, we will successfully rebuild our club.
However, the best way forward from here isn’t simple or obvious. At the AGM we reviewed previous seasons finances and considered the unpredictable nature of the business model employed in the past. We’d obviously like to enjoy cup runs and benefit from player sales every season, but the past shows that the club cannot rely on fundamentally unreliable income sources. Our goal is therefore to make the club more financially stable and more sustainably successful in the long-term.
We looked at typical budget scenarios in League One, the Championship and Premiership and considered three strategic options for moving forward. We explained why we can’t continue to retrospectively fill large operating losses, and that managing the club to breakeven (on current P&L projections) would be unlikely to generate the football budgets needed to get us to the Premiership.
Of the three options explored no-one thought we should simply cut the football budget and operate to breakeven within the projected P&L’s. A handful of attendees felt we should give up on fan ownership and put the club up for sale. However, by a large majority those shareholders present preferred to continue to expand fan-ownership, while also creating other initiatives to generate extra income in perpetuity, over and above ‘normal’ trading.
We are however aware that, in addressing shareholders at an AGM, we are speaking to those who already support fan-ownership. It’s currently uncertain that the same appetite is shared amongst the wider fan base and it remains the case that around 10%-15% of our supporters are actively participating at present. The next year will therefore be crucial in assessing whether sufficient appetite for fan-ownership exists. A key acid test will be the continued growth of Falkirk Supporters’ Society membership, with the agreed objective of at least doubling subscribers to over 1200.
Gate and Season Ticket prices have been frozen for several years and, with inflation driving the club’s costs ever upwards, will have to increase. We’ll also be launching a new Forever Falkirk Fund for fans’ donations, with all of the money raised going straight into the football budget. Donors to the Forever Falkirk Fund, plus all FSS members, will be offered the option of paying for their Season Ticket monthly. Further details on all of the above will be issued in due course.
We estimate that we need to generate between £300k and £500k per annum, over and above this season’s income, to maintain the football budget at current levels in League One or at the level we’d need to compete at the top end of the Championship. Continued growth of commercial income will of course play a part, but the league we are in places limitations on this, as well as an upward pressure on cost to income ratios.
The bulk of the extra income required will therefore have to come from the club’s owners and supporters, which in a fan-owned club are ultimately the same people – us. Crowd-funding is not a new concept, but it does require sufficient scale to be successful. Put simply, the more people participate, the less each individual is required to contribute.
While it may be superficially attractive for the club to have a single wealthy owner, this does come with huge risks attached, and even such benefactors can eventually lose their enthusiasm for underwriting large losses. We believe our club is safest in the hands of its supporters and that Falkirk fans are most likely to nurture and protect the club for future generations.
While £300k to £500k is an ambitious goal, this ‘only’ requires between 1900 and 3200 fans contributing an extra £3 per week over the course of a season. While we appreciate the economic pressures on all of us, we do think this is achievable for a club of our size.
From next season we’re therefore planning to change the business model and run the club without an operating loss. We simply can’t budget for another large loss in the hope that it will be retrospectively covered via investment. Going forward, we need to know in advance how much extra revenue shareholders and supporters are willing to commit, in order to create a budget at which the club can breakeven.
Those attending the AGM heard both John and Paul speak passionately about their ambition to take Falkirk to the Premiership. This is an ambition we share and is one of the main reasons we recruited them as our football management team. However, we can never allow short-term ambition to place the club at long-term risk, and can therefore only fund their football budget to the level the club can afford.
From next season this will be directly influenced by the appetite we all have for fan-funding our club, over and above it’s typical trading performance. This means continuing to do what we always do – buying season tickets, merchandise, hospitality, player sponsorships etc etc – but also considering whether we can all chip in a bit extra, at a level we can each comfortably afford.
It’s our club. If we all pull together as one, and contribute what we can, we can collectively propel Falkirk FC back to the Premiership. In doing so, we can also build an operating model which can help fund the club in perpetuity, making it financially stable and sustainably successful in the long-term.
We’d like to conclude by thanking all fans – both shareholders and non-shareholders alike – for their support over the last 14 months and ask for their ongoing support in the months and years ahead.
Falkirk FC Board