On Tuesday 21st. February, 2017, representatives of the Trust Board (Dan Crawford, Mike Gregg and co-opted member, Gerry Pimm) met Alistair Mackintosh (AM, Chief executive officer) and Sarah Brookes (SB, Communications and Marketing Director) and Sean O’Loughlin (S’OL, Finance Officer) from Fulham FC at the Club’s Headquarters, Motspur Park. The group was joined later in the meeting by Tony Khan (TK, son of Chairman, Shahid Khan), who has been working with the Club’s analytics department since the summer.
TRUST POP-UP EXHIBITION
The Trust formally thanked the Club for their assistance in helping to stage our ‘pop-up’ exhibition of Fulham memorabilia in the Johnny Haynes suite, prior to the recent home fixtures against Wigan Athletic and Nottingham Forest. The arrangements allowed many Fulham fans to view historical items from the Club’s past and they were very well received by participants and visitors. The Trust and the Club will continue to discuss ways of promoting the latter’s illustrious history through similar ventures in the future and we look forward to sharing more details with our members in due course.
CRAVEN COTTAGE AND REDEVELOPMENT OF THE RIVERSIDE STAND
AM told the Trust that the Club was still considering a number of options to renovate the Riverside Stand that had been prepared by Thomas Heatherwick, after being commissioned by the Chairman. The Club is also now also talking to other companies in order to prepare the widest possible selection of options for Mr. Khan to review. AM explained that the Club was not in a rush to complete this process so as to ensure that the eventual development is the best improvement to Craven Cottage that the club can make.
In response to the issue of repeated emails being received by season ticket holders and members in the run-up to Fulham’s FA Cup fourth round tie with Hull City, AM and SO’L told the Trust that the Club had engaged in repeated conversations with their ticketing contractors about the unacceptability of such developments. AM and SO’L also confirmed that Ticketmaster was working on a series of improvements to their software to deal with issues related to the functionality of the ticketing webpages, selection of seats at away games and improving the offer to Fulham fans. The Trust thanked the Club for the recent changes implemented to provide more information about the availability of away tickets.
SEASON TICKET PRICES FOR 2017/2018
AM commented that the Club had begun a programme of work to set season ticket prices for next season and that this would be announced shortly.
After a discussion about the swift action to provide discounted coach travel for the hastily rearranged fixture at Bristol City, both AM and SB confirmed that the Club was looking at promotions and discounted travel options for a number of away fixtures in the Championship run-in and more precise details about arrangements would be provided when tickets for forthcoming matches are released for sale.
SB commented that a number of pieces of additional material would soon be in production for FulhamFC TV subscribers. The Club had hired a new member of staff to provide assistance in the communications and media department and ‘Gentleman Jim’ McGuillion and Jamie Reid were working on a number of features based around their matchday commentary. The Club was currently reviewing pricing arrangements for FulhamFCTV for next season, having launched an extended offer for new subscribers earlier this month.
The Club told the Trust that, whilst subscription numbers to the service are high, the income raised does not come close to covering the production costs of FulhamFCTV. For example, the cost of filming a first team game and producing the match highlights that appear the day after the fixture is in the region of £7,000-£10,000.
There was a discussion about the possibility of adding the price of FulhamFC TV to season tickets from next season as an additional benefit to season tickets, but it was felt that the cost of doing this, the complexities involved and other issues would make it difficult to manage.
SB revealed that the Club is looking to produce more live coverage of Fulham’s Under 23 and Under 18 matches before the end of the season, as well as offering further live streaming of press conferences. The cost of live streaming via the website and implications on bandwidth use has limited the number of live events so far, but Club is very keen to keep improving the amount of material available to Fulham FC TV subscribers.
ANALYTICS, JANUARY TRANSFER WINDOW AND SLAVISA JOKANOVIC
TK joined the meeting at the point we were poised to discuss the January transfer window. He explained that he founded an American sports analytics company, called TruMedia, that already operated across American sport, working with 18 of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises, throughout the NFL and provided data and other statistical information to support ESPN’s coverage of the Premier League and the EFL in the States. His unique data collection, honed in American sports, works closely with the leading British sporting data gatherer, OPTA, and, alongside data analyst Craig Kline, TK has been involved in improving Fulham’s analytics approach since 2014.
TK mentioned that the first players recruited by Fulham with an emphasis on data were Sakari Matilla, who was signed as an early test of the methodology, and then Michael Madl, who joined initially on loan from Sturm Graz. Since last summer, the Club has adjusted its transfer policy in line with the ‘two boxes ticked’ philosophy that was outlined by AM during the January meeting. TK, who has taken a more ‘hands on’ role at Fulham since the summer, felt that the summer transfer window, where the Club recruited fourteen players to revamp the squad in the manner that Slavisa Jokanovic had requested, was very successful.
TK admitted that the use of analytics and the acceptance of its success was much more widespread in American sports and agreed with the Trust that offering greater details to the fans about the processes Fulham were adopting would provide more transparency and wider understanding. He reiterated that the data is not used in isolation and that the Club’s scouting network, the head coach, the chief executive and the financial departments worked together on identifying potential targets and securing deals. He believed this way of working would help to eliminate some of the previous mistakes that Fulham – and other clubs – had made in the transfer market when they gave complete control over acquisitions to the manager in the past and reiterated that this new approach would continue.
TK felt that the Club’s recruitment during the January transfer window was strong. He described the deal to retain the services of Lucas Piazon on loan from Chelsea until the end of the season as almost like a whole new negotiation, as Chelsea had not previously envisaged the player remaining with Fulham beyond January. He believed that Thanos Petsos, although he had unfortunately picked up a training injury last week, offered valuable cover in the defensive midfield position and had a strong pedigree in European football. TK and AM were both very satisfied with the deal to bring in Cyriac that was concluded on deadline day, as he had been a player that the Club had been interested in signing during the summer, and that the loan arrangement with K.V. Oostende also included an option to purchase.
The Trust put forward the analysis that, should either Chris Martin or Cyriac become unavailable during the run-in, that Slavisa Jokanovic’s striking resources would become significantly stretched at a crucial time of the season. Both TK and AM recognised the relatively light nature of the squad in forward areas – and attempts were made to sign another striker – but TK also highlighted the ability of Piazon, Neeskens Kebano and Floyd Ayite to fill the forward role if required. TK and AM believed that the fee offered to Fulham by Queens’ Park Rangers for Matt Smith represented an excellent return on that player, whilst Cauley Woodrow would benefit from the opportunity of playing regular first-team football for Burton Albion.
TK also pointed out that a number of players on the fringes of the first team were now getting an experience of regular football, with Lasse Vigen Christensen already performing well at Burton Albion, Ryan Tunnicliffe featuring for Wigan Athletic and Stephen Humphrys continuing his impressive development with Shrewsbury Town. A significant factor in loaning Woodrow and Christensen out to Burton Albion was the fact that they would be playing Championship football and that they would be in a position to impact on the fortunes of Fulham’s divisional rivals.
TK stated that the Club had worked hard to focus their recruitment on attracting players of considerable value in the prime of their careers and offering them long-term contracts. He believed that this placed Fulham in an excellent position in comparison to their rivals in the Championship should the club remain in this division next season, with no other Championship side having a comparable number of talented players at their disposal from the summer onwards.
TK stated the Khan family remained fully committed to Craven Cottage, the Club and the goal of seeing Fulham return to the Premier League. Significant funds would be made available to the head coach to strengthen the squad in the summer and the recent investment of around £6.5m in the renovated Motspur Park training ground facilities proved that Shahid Khan was committed to maintaining a Category One level academy and investing in the football club.
AM confirmed that discussions with Slavisa Jokanovic over an extension to his current contract were ongoing, although the head coach was focused on preparing the squad for important run of fixtures. TK expressed confidence that Jokanovic would still be in charge at the start of next season.
FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY
Both AM and TK confirmed that Fulham remained well within the Financial Fair Play regulations for the current year. In response to a question from the Trust, AM revealed that the EFL clubs are anticipating an announcement about the verdict on QPR’s breach of FFP regulations imminently.
The meeting closed at 12.05