Getting through Covid-19

An update from Nottingham Forest Supporters' Trust

With a new season now underway, and football still behind closed doors, the season starts with frustration, as much as excitement. Every Forest supporter wants to see fans in stadiums, but currently that isn’t possible, and it hurts.

At the Supporters’ Trust we decided to play our part in helping Forest fans through this tough period by:

During the pandemic we’ve gained many new members, a huge number of new social media followers and received many supportive messages, which makes it all worthwhile. However, we would also like to address some common questions.

 

What does the board do and how is it appointed?

The Trust is a wholly democratic organisation. Anyone can join and stand for election. All of our board members are volunteers, buy our own tickets and juggle the Trust between full time jobs, Zoom calls, running businesses and caring responsibilities.

We are hugely fortunate to have people on board who not only have supported Forest for many years, but bring wide-ranging experience in businesses, finance, IT, communications and the voluntary sector. This all feeds into our work with the club. Our election cycle has been disrupted by the pandemic, but if you’d like to get more involved, please get in touch.

 

Does the Trust provide a ‘voice’ for me?

It has never been the Trusts’ role to speak ‘for’ supporters. We take all constructive feedback seriously and feed in comments, views and suggestions into our regular meetings with senior Forest officials, whether we agree personally or not. Our relationship with the club is a huge positive. Dialogue is constructive and collaborative, but also open and honest when needed. This means we have influenced and delivered change and outcomes for the benefit of supporters, and that is always acknowledged by the club. Without dialogue and constructive engagement, our mission as a Trust is much diminished.

Sometimes, suggestions cannot be actioned due to competing priorities, but we are able to report back and provide context and reasoning. This relationship is widely seen as best practice within the UK game. For example, recently we were asked about the what the club has done to increase the number of BAME supporters. We were able to feed back to the individual details of a number of initiatives that have taken place to increase diversity, and offered help in the future.

In short, we will always weight our discussions towards the topics and interests of supporters but we are also pragmatic and realistic when it comes to balancing, and understanding, other factors that influence decision making.

 

Do you represent members and non-members?

The Trust is a membership organisation and is funded by its members. While we often prioritise member feedback and offer certain benefits to members, our email and social media channels are open to fans to engage with us. We also invited members and non-members to a recent focus group for supporters with disabilities and will help anyone involved with Forest in any way we can – whether that is accessing iFollow or helping them to make a suggestion to the club.

We have previously undertaken two member surveys which were well received by the club and it is our intention to open out the next one to all supporters to ensure a full picture of views across the fanbase. In short, get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

 

What discussions did you have on COVID-19 and season cards?

The pandemic has been by far the most challenging period for football clubs and supporters in recent times, with our regular matchday routine, and income to clubs, taken away suddenly. Through our dialogue we held regular discussions on what might be offered to season card holders, both last season and this season.

Season card sales represent a large outlay for supporters and millions of pounds of critical income for EFL clubs. After asking for feedback from supporters, it was clear that many fans had significant health and financial concerns, and were worried about losing their long-held seats should they wish to postpone their return until next season. These issues – financial hardship, health vulnerabilities and retaining priority for seats (where possible) – were our top priorities.

In this regard, the Forest offer is reasonable and fair, protecting those most affected by the pandemic and welcoming them back in the medium term. It offers choice; full, immediate refunds and rolling refunds until full attendance, and the opportunity to attend/stream games for those who can. Refunds represent a significant financial sacrifice which not all clubs are taking on board in the same manner, alongside the need to improve the squad and comply with Financial Fair Play.

It is our view that the Forest offer, when scrutinised in detail against other similar Championship clubs without parachute payments, compares well. There are a range of approaches that have different pros and cons for different groups, but all are centred around returning to grounds when possible and facilitating legal streaming to bring in crucial guaranteed income directly into clubs.

It is important to point out that the ‘value’ of the new offer cannot be compared to a ‘normal’ season. These offers are calculated on a c29,000 capacity for 23 games. All clubs are now having to significantly modify their business models with the new realities. Another key point is that the COVID-19 situation is changing politically all the time. Regulations and infection rates changed within the period between our meetings and announcements, and will do so again. Neither the club, nor fans know how many games each season card holder will attend over the next months. The club puts health and safety first, but wants to welcome fans back when safe – offering exclusive access to ballots when possible. We’ll keep those lines of communication open as the situation evolves, listen to feedback and share views with the club.

As we don’t know when a normal matchday experience will return, it is difficult balance and an almost impossible situation to navigate to everyone’s full satisfaction. The Trust has never taken the option to protest – dialogue has always been the approach. On social media particularly, it is easy to react or criticise in hindsight, or suggest things that are undeliverable or unrealistic. We are able through our dialogue to give supporters an informed insight into the financial, commercial and administrative issues which influence decisions – and feed into those decisions through our memorandum of understanding with the club.

We hope this update provides a useful update into how the Trust operates, our impact, our dialogue and some of the challenges of the COVID-19 situation. You can read our FAQs and feel free to get in touch, or join us to help grow the impact and work of the Trust.

While COVID-19 and its impacts are out of our control, our dialogue remains central to our purpose and gives all an opportunity to work through this crisis, and look forward to better times.

Stay safe, and enjoy the season.

Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Trust