|RIFT OVER NAMING DEBATE
(Thursday 27th July 2006)
A consultation document seeking opinion on the sale of the naming rights for Adams Park is causing yet more rifts between Wanderers followers. The document, which can be read via the wwst.org website, was produced in conjunction with the Club by the Supporters' and Founders' Trust groups but has been branded a charade by some observers and has also been accussed of being heavily biased with PLC spin.
Variations of the consultation document have been sent to an estimated 3,000 people connected with the Club and derived not only from members of both Trusts but also from the Club's CRM database that includes non-Trust members who may be shareholders, season ticket holders or just casual supporters who could have just brought just a few matchday tickets. Voting is also possible via wwst.org but these are understood to require a degree of verification of authenticity. Voting ends 31st July 2006.
Distribution of the document comes three months after the PLC Board stated their intentions to seek further sponsorship for the stadium. Those intentions come despite the previous deal, struck in the summer of 2003, receiving widespread criticism for demeaning the heritage of the Club. The negative comments cornered Club officials into admitting that the decision had been a 'mistake'. Club Chairman Ivor Beeks said at a Fans Forum in October 2003, "I hold my hand up and say OK we've made a mistake but none of the decisions we make are made to upset the membership. The decisions are made which at the time are in the best interests of the Club, how ever difficult, how ever much stick we are going to get and believe me, we've had a lot of stick over this and probably quite rightly so." Beeks, who has remained Chairman of the PLC version of the Football Club, repeated the admission of guilt at a members meeting held in January 2004 where he added, "Certainly The Adams Park/Causeway Stadium (deal) was a mistake and I've already held my hand up to that, but all these things were done, believe me, with the sole benefit to get income streams into Wycombe Wanderers and for the benefit of the Football Club." The Chairman concluded at the Fans Forum, "So at the end of the three years, quite clearly you've made your views known and it's quite clear we are going to have to find other ways of getting that income which was brought into the Club at the time. Now I really hope that this puts this to bed."
However, the topic is now very much awake again with Beeks seemingly taking a backseat role and letting Club MD Steve Hayes take the reigns of trying to placate a significant number of dissenters who feel that the honour of naming the stadium after Wanderers' greatest benefactor should not be sold off again.
A placatory tactic this time around is that the Adams Park name is retained in the address of the ground, while the stadium would go under a sponsored monika. Eg [Brand X] Stadium at Adams Park. But supporters may recall a similar scenario when a naming rights deal was first discussed in 2003. Financial Director at the time Rod Tomlin said to the BFP, "There is no half-way house. If you don't drop Adams Park from the name, the benefit to the sponsor is diluted because people will continue to call it Adams Park." However, it's unlikely that the philosophy of any potential new sponsor willing to inject a significant amount of money will be any different. Steve Hayes' response to what guarantee there is that the name Adams Park will be incorporated in any future deal was recorded in the consultation document. He said, "The only guarantee we can give you is our word. The whole essence of our relationship is based upon trust. If I, the Board or you, break that relationship then we will not achieve the goals we want for the Club. In short this is all we can give but there is no benefit for us to try and deceive now or at any time in the future."
The consultation document concludes by asking the reader if they 'oppose sponsorship of the stadium name under any circumstances' or 'accept the principle of sponsorship of the stadium'. Those that chose the latter opinion are then given three further options on the level of sponsorship that they feel is acceptable. It's the latter options that appears to have muddied the water of the vote. The previous three year deal is estimated to have been worth less than £20K per year of profit to the Wanderers and those willing to sell the name this time around want a lot more. Steve Hayes concludes in the interview within the consultation document, "In our own minds, and as a rule of thumb, we would be expecting to see a deal over a minimum period of 5 years with a net revenue of £50K per year for Wycombe Wanderers." Those comments are likely to sway the 'yes but at a decent price' option but those hoping that the financial details of any deal will be revealed are most likely to be disappointed but it would be naive to believe that financial details would be made public and equating a 'net revenue' to actual finanical benefit to the Club would be even more difficult to assess. But more significantly any such deal in what appears to be the acceptable £50K per season category would have little impact on the £4m plus level of debt that has been built up and with ongoing annual losses now running close to the £1m mark, wouldn't match the losses made in little over two weeks of trading since the conversion to a PLC. or even cover a fraction of the costs employing the rapidly expanding sales and marketing staff now employed by the PLC.
The Trusts are trying to remain neutral on the topic, stating in the document, "Neither the Trusts nor the Club want to deceive or to sway the opinion of any supporter. We have tried to capture the thought processes of the Club as they stand today in order to help supporters form their own opinion on the topic." This stance of the Trusts has been a disappointment to several onlookers. The Founders Trust state as one of their objectives "To preserve and uphold the proud heritage of Wycombe Wanderers Football Club." The retention of the Adams Park name would seem to be a 'no brainer' from their point of view. Meanwhile, the Supporters Trust are not so rigid in their objectives but have not been afraid to advise members the way to vote in the past having prompted Trust members to vote against a PLC resolution at the 2006 Football Club AGM.
The call for a vote has led conspiracy theorists to suggest a ground deal is already on the table but is tied in with an extension to the ground sharing agreement with London Wasps. The Rugby Union side are currently looking to obtain planning permission to expand Adams Park to a 15,000 capacity but will have to fund the extimated costs of £4m themselves. No decision is likely before the spring of 2007, hence the need to return to Adams Park before the deal is agreed. Steve Hayes denys that a deal has already been struck, commenting in the consultation document, "There is no deal on the table at the moment and we are not actively looking for one." He added about a potential ground sponsorship tied in with London Wasps, "We are currently negotiating with Wasps over a number of issues but this isnít one of them. In short we donít know but we guess if they were to bring a potential sponsor to the table then they would be entitled to a larger percentage. If we bring the sponsor to the table they will have costs to be covered as a result of the name change and thus would be entitled to a smaller amount. But this is all supposition. We cannot give you firm parameters as it would jeopardise current and future negotiations. However it is our stadium and we have control and will only enter into an agreement if it is beneficial to Wycombe Wanderers.Ē
The whole affair is a real mess and one that has polarised the views of the fans at a time when there is still an unsettled feel surrounding the Club following the messy depature of John Gorman. The PLC looked to have missed the chance to use the return of the Adams Park name as a way of getting fans back on the same side, or 'pull together' as they so regularly preach. Instead the PLC appear to be using the tactic of leaving an arbitary selection of supporters help dictate an apparent serious financial decision, as opposed to having the confidence to take on the full responsibility themselves.
Adams Park was named as a tribute to one of the main reasons why Wycombe Wanderers exists today. To change from Adams Park once can be and has been branded a mistake. To even contemplate changing it a second time shows again the complete lack of understanding of the heritage and history of the Club and football in general. As the saying goes, 'A fool knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.
View of a One-One reader - July 2006
Letters to the BFP - 14th July 2006
Letters to the BFP - 21st July 2006
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