I hope that all of you reading this are safe and well. We are in unprecedented times due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and this is not the report I ever anticipated having to provide to you.
Update on Covid-19 and the impact on Kilmarnock FC
Those of you who attended the ‘On Board In Person’ event on 12th March may recall that, towards the end of the meeting, I read out an email from the football authorities stating that our match against St Mirren would be going ahead as planned on 14th March. I personally was somewhat surprised at this, based on my understanding of the likely measures that would be taken to try to delay the spread of the virus.
On the following morning, I attended the Pre-Operations meeting at the Club as, in addition to the usual safety discussions, I was particularly concerned to ensure that we would be putting in place whatever measures we could to ensure good hygiene. Just as that meeting ended, we heard via a media source that SPFL matches were being cancelled. This was subsequently confirmed by the football authorities.
The Club therefore had to act quickly to cancel match arrangements, hospitality and the Ladies Day which was due to take place in the Park Hotel. For food which was therefore not going to be used, arrangements were quickly made to distribute it to East Ayrshire Churches Homeless Action (EACHA), and the hospitality team later took surplus food to Ayrshire East Foodbank.
Players and backroom staff were stood down from training and allowed to return home.
As you will be aware, a series of further measures were subsequently put in place, resulting initially in only a skeleton staff remaining in the Club Offices, while arrangements were made for staff to work from home where possible. When it became clear that “lockdown” measures would be implemented, all staff were asked to work from home, and we requested that Just Sport close the shop to ensure the safety of staff.
Our priority has been to ensure staff safety and maintain continuity of Club business. This has meant Directors and Heads of Departments communicating online.
The SPFL and SFA have put in place a joint response group, which provides daily updates to clubs, and a regular online meeting of SPFL Clubs is now being convened. I have participated in this along with Billy Bowie, James Fowler and Karen Costello.
With the future trajectory of Covid-19 still to be seen, it is not possible for me to say at this stage how the Football Authorities will resolve the league for the current season or when next season will commence. In my personal view, I was surprised at UEFA suggesting matches could be played in June. While I would be delighted to be proved wrong, a look at the trajectory across countries in Europe, where things are at different stages, does not make this seem likely.
Various discussions are continuing regarding legal and contractual issues for Clubs and the SPFL.
There has been considerable publicity around the finances of Scottish Football Clubs. Both Billy Bowie and I have responded to media enquiries in relation to Kilmarnock FC, which gave an opportunity to also highlight the work of the Killie Trust.
Kilmarnock FC has paid staff in full for March 2020. We are of course monitoring the financial position closely, including what assistance may be available through various Government schemes, to assist the Club financially. Directors have agreed that we will not take hasty decisions and our aim continues to be to ensure the sustainability of the Club for the long term.
As reported in the media, the SFA/SPFL have brought forward various payments to Clubs, which would not normally have been made available until later in the season. This is helpful given that the Club is missing out on a significant amount of match day revenue.
The Club is very grateful to the Killie Trust for bringing forward the £40k of ‘Trust In Killie’ funding, providing an additional £10k from general funds, and a further £8k from March ‘Trust In Killie’ monthly subscriptions and one-off donations.
A number of fans have asked about early release of season tickets so that the Club can get revenue in. Given that the timescale for starting a new season is still unclear, we have not announced anything at this time, but the media and commercial teams are in regular dialogue over a range of plans so that we’ll be ready to go as soon as we have clarity over the state of play.
Other activities at the Club are continuing as much as they can, with work ongoing on sponsorship, new season kit, retro strips and the 150th anniversary book. We had hoped that the retro strips would be available by Easter, as I reported at ‘On Board In Person’. However, given current constraints on manufacture and retail in the present circumstances, that is not going to be possible. Despite this, the Commercial Department remains hopeful that the new kit, leisure wear and other merchandise for the Killie shop will be available as planned for June 2020.
The Killie shop is currently closed for all orders, both in store and online until further notice, and reopening will be in line with Government guidance. Current stock will be sold at sale prices when restrictions are lifted.
Planning for events such as Sponsors Dinner and Lunch, various hospitality events and the proposed Open Day is currently on hold, until the situation becomes clearer. With the match on 14th March postponed, the launch of the new Mascot could not go ahead, and this will also be rescheduled for whenever matches resume.
The Killie Cares Fund (Lotto) is available online, and provides another way of supporting the Youth Academy, Kilmarnock Women’s Team and KCST.
On the football side, the Head of Football Operations and the Manager are keeping in close touch with each other and the Club Board, working on recruitment and contracts for players as well as developing plans for players returning to team training once it is announced that matches will resume.
The Youth Cup Final has also been postponed.
Players at all levels have been provided with individual training programmes and have been checking in regularly with the backroom staff. This is particularly important given the lockdown period, as players are of course used to training together.
The Board and Head of Football Operations are also looking at how we can keep the players connected with the Killie community. Ray Montgomerie is already making phone calls to local business who sponsor or have connections with the Club, and the Board of Directors and Head of Football are looking at how players might be involved in contacting fans, particularly our elderly season ticket holders, who may not be using social media on a daily basis.
Media and Communications
The Media Team have been working hard to ensure that we have content on Killie TV and social media, and cleverly devised a way of ensuring that the “We are Killie” Podcast was recorded with everyone in different locations! If you haven’t yet listened to the latest one, featuring Stephen O’Donnell, you can find it here along with previous episodes.
It has been great to see so many fans engaging with the Club and Trust social media. A lot of players do watch what is out there, and we have seen some liking our Trust posts! Fans engaging with social media is a great way to show some moral support for the players and other Club staff, as well as for each other.
Future ‘On Board In Person’ and monthly updates
At this time of uncertainty, it is not possible to say when something resembling normality will return. However, I will continue to provide a monthly update to Trust members and ‘Trust In Killie’ subscribers.
We would have been looking to do our next ‘On Board In Person’ in May. As things stand that may not be possible, in which case I would be happy to look into arranging an online Q and A if that is something members/subscribers would wish to do?