AGM UPDATE – OCTOBER 2023

Our Annual General Meeting was held last night, Thursday 5th October. This note is intended to update shareholders who were unable to attend, plus any interested non-shareholding supporters, on the key messages relayed at the meeting.

These can summarised as follows:

  • The club improved its financial position significantly in season 2022/23 but still recorded an operating loss.
  • It remains a significant challenge to run a full-time team in League One and another operating loss is expected this season. However, results so far are on budget.
  • Good progress has been made off the pitch with improvements across infrastructure, commercial and supporters services, youth development, communications and operations.
  • Still a long way to go to reach the Scottish Premiership, re-establish the Academy and build the football and operational infrastructure needed to make the club sustainably successful.
  • Now a widely fan-owned club, giving us a much broader set of shoulders upon which to build the fan-funding required to compete against club’s owned by wealthy individuals.
  • We are still well short of our annual funding goal of £400k, required to reach the Premiership and fully re-establish the Academy by our 150th anniversary season 2026/27.
  • Good progress is also being made on the pitch, with a strong first team squad and talented apprentices, plus positive developments in both football culture and infrastructure.
  • However, the pace of progress will be determined by our football budget and current uncertainty around funding could hamper our ability to plan properly for next season.
  • The possibility of becoming part-time, if still in League One, makes it difficult to commit to new contracts for current players or those we may wish to recruit next season.
  • Fans are therefore asked to pledge funds directly to the football budget by subscribing to Falkirk Supporters’ Society by the end of December 2023.
  • All new funds committed from December 23 to May 24, will be made available for the January 24 transfer window, enhancing our chances of promotion to the Championship.
  • Funds available from June 24 onwards will be baked into the football budget next season.

Supporters who would value a more detailed review of the AGM should continue to read below:

Keith Gourlay presented the Financial Review and attendees heard the following headlines:

  • Turnover (income) up 114% from £1.28m in 2021/22 to £2.74m in 2022/23
  • Cost of Sales up by 19% from £1.89m to £2.24m
  • Overheads up by 6% from £612k to £647k
  • Total losses down by 91% from £1.16m in 2021/22 to £107k in 2022/23
  • Trading loss (excluding depreciation) of £13k versus a budgeted loss of £375k.

Underlying commercial performance, excluding concerts and cup income, grew by around 50% to £1.93m in 2022/23 and the business is tasked with growing by a further 15% to £2.22m in 2023/24. This will result in a budgeted trading loss of £327k in 2023/24. To the end of Q1 the business is performing to budget and, as long as this continues, cashflow should be secure for the season.

CEO Jamie Swinney updated the audience on progress made off the pitch. The audience heard that commercial performance last season was the third highest in a decade, with a net profit of over £400k. Both sponsorship and retail income reached 10-year highs last season, and both are expected to grow again this year. Jamie also outlined the significant investment made in stadium infrastructure, with the new pitch laid and Main Stand floodlights upgraded as a result of FSS’s Fans Bank loan and grant-funding from the Scottish FA. Finally, Jamie highlighted the key areas of investment required going forward to ensure a high-performance football department, including further improvements in recruitment, sports science, data analysis and physiotherapy equipment. Our vision for the club is to create an outstanding football infrastructure which enables us to consistently compete at the highest level in Scotland and to outperform clubs of a similar size.

Nigel Serafini then presented the latest picture on ownership and the new operating model. Further to the FSS investment plus the purchase of remaining ring-fenced shares by the Patrons’ Group, all available shares in the club have now been sold. In just 21 months Falkirk fans have invested £800,000 in buying shares and the club is now widely fan-owned, with the make-up of ownership under the three-legged stool model as follows:

  • Large shareholders 39.3%, with ex-MSG members holding 23.1%
  • Medium shareholders 26.1%, with the Patrons’ Group holding 21.6%
  • Small shareholders 34.6%, with the Falkirk Supporters’ Society holding 25.0%

This represents huge progress towards the balanced ownership model which underpins the democratic governance of the club and a culture of collaboration, teamwork and consensus. With the club now fan-owned and fan-run, we have a strong, stable platform from which to build the next phase of development and become fan-funded.

We estimate that the club needs an extra £400,000 per annum to become sustainably successful and to be able to compete for promotion to the Premiership against clubs owned by wealthy individuals. This requires around 2500 fans to contribute an extra £3 per week. We’re delighted that FSS has agreed to be the lead vehicle for driving fan-funding and that over 99% of FSS members have continued to support the club in this way, contributing over £80,000 pa directly into the football budget this season. However, this still leaves us well short of achieving our funding goal.

Shareholders then heard from John McGlynn and Paul Smith, who shared their thoughts on progress made on the football side. John and Paul confirmed that they are very pleased with the quality of the squad assembled, as well as the players attitude, application and performances. The audience heard that the squad is slightly smaller than optimum, but that the management team understand the necessary constraints on their football budget. Attendees were then updated on players currently injured and took the opportunity to ask a range of questions. Finally, John highlighted that planning for next season must start soon, particularly with so many players out of contract at the end of this season. The management team feel they’ve built a strong squad, who now have a great team spirit and sense of togetherness. It is therefore crucial to retain the core of the team going forward, to maintain continuity and consistency. John thanked fans for their great support so far, but asked for more to sign up to Falkirk Supporters Society to enable contract offers to be made to key players as soon as possible.

Kenny Jamieson then summarised where the board believes the club currently is on its rebuild and outlined plans for moving forward. Attendees heard that while the club is financially stable for now, its situation remains precarious and its business model unsustainable. The short-term improvements achieved over the last year don’t fix the underlying, long-term issues the club will continue to face out with the Premiership. The club cannot depend on unreliable income sources such as concerts, cup runs or players sales and is therefore at an important fork in the road. Without a significant uplift in fan-funding we still cannot guarantee full-time football if in League One and are unlikely to be able to compete at the top end of the Championship.

Kenny agreed with John that planning for next season must start soon and emphasised that our players are able to sign pre-contract agreements with other clubs from January. We will therefore be at a significant disadvantage if we have to wait until May, to know whether or not we can remain full-time. We are therefore asking all fans who can afford a little extra to sign up for fan-funding by December this year. This will not only enable us to plan for next season, but every penny pledged by December through to May will be made available to the manager for the January transfer window.

At present it remains unclear how much appetite Falkirk fans have for making fan ownership work for our club. There’s clearly some appetite – around 15% of our core support is currently participating in fan-funding – and the club is hugely grateful to all fans who have supported the initiative so far. However, there’s no way of knowing whether we’ve now reached peak appetite or whether there’s still capacity for further growth. We must therefore use sign-ups between now and December as a gauge and plan accordingly going forward. Ultimately our ambitions for our club, and our collective appetite as a fan-base for funding those ambitions, will have to align.

Conclusion

The club is in a much better place than it was 12 months ago. Improving financial performance by over £1m stabilises the club in the short-term but the fact that such a large improvement still resulted in a loss, highlights the precarious nature of the business. Higher cash reserves enabled us to remain full-time for another season, but this isn’t sustainable in League One. We’ve invested in the playing squad and are confident we can win promotion to the Championship. However, unless the business plan significantly exceeds budget this year – which realistically can only come from another cup run – those cash reserves will simply cover the projected operating loss and we’ll be back at square one again next season, irrespective if which league we are in.

In either scenario the only way to achieve our objectives is to increase the fan-funded element of the football budget in time for next season. This will require considerably more fans to participate and a clear indication of their intent to do so by the end of this year. Supporters should be reassured that the club now has the ability to be run within its means. However, without an uplift in fan-funding this possibly means becoming part-time or hybrid next season, if still in League One, or having a Championship football budget which isn’t significantly larger than it is this season.

As a Board we fully believe we can win promotion this season and, with the right backing, can still achieve our goal of reaching the Premiership by 2026/27. To do so, we not only need to get out of League One but need to hit the ground running in the Championship next season, with a squad capable of achieving another promotion within two seasons. While nothing is ever impossible in football, it is our assessment that the next few months could be critical in determining whether or not our club can achieve this ambition. To this end we’d ask all fans, if they haven’t already done so, to start now in giving a little extra in our push towards the Premiership. The simplest way to do so is to sign up via Falkirk Supporters Society here https://falkirksupporters.org/subscribe/.

Although we still have a long way to go, it’s also important to reflect on how far we’ve come since embarking on this journey in December 2021. In less than two years, we’re now a widely fan-owned, fan-run club, and we’re making good progress on fan-funding. Although by no means wealthy, our club is financially stable and is performing well both on and off the (brand new) pitch.  The support our club has had from fans and supporters’ groups, investors, commercial partners, staff and volunteers has been amazing and really does demonstrate what we can achieve when we all pull together. The backing the team is getting at matches is absolutely outstanding and there’s a palpable sense of togetherness once again, amongst everyone associated with the club.

However, we are at a critical point in the journey. We believe there’s still time for our club to really kick on, not only gaining promotion this season but also making a big impact in the Championship next season. By coming on board before the end of December, fans can help us get over the line this season, by creating a budget for the January window, but also by enabling us to sign and/or re-sign players for next season, with the assurance that we can definitely remain full-time. We believe that all aspects of the club are heading in the right direction, but we do need more fans to help just a little more. FSS membership costs just £2.30 per week so please take this opportunity to make a massive difference.

Falkirk FC Board.

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