At the Federation's January Committee meeting on 12 January it was agreed to invite Colin Stewart (CS) and Jim Spence along to our February meeting to provide an update following Dundee United’s decision to cancel the question and answer meeting previously arranged for 19 January. Subsequent events resulted in Colin and David Dorward (DD) also an Associate Director at Dundee United attending the Committee meeting on 16 February. We therefore detail below, (in greater detail than previously in response to a significant number of members requests following the cancellation of the open Q&A), the points raised in a very helpful and informative meeting. It should be noted that at no stage did either of the gentlemen say anything we report on was either off the record or requested it to be confidential. The topics discussed originated from a report prepared by Colin Stewart on items he believed we would be interested in.
1) CS reported that the accounts for the year to 30 June 2016 would be available in the next few weeks and this would allow an AGM to be held and the accounts lodged at Companies House by the end of March 2017.
CS and DD stated they did not know the content of the Accounts however DD said the Clubs statement in relation to the accounts reflected the season in which we were relegated and we were to look at these figures in context of the last five years when the clubs accounts have shown a profit for the financial year in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.
This statement whilst correct was challenged by the Committee as this figure includes the sale of players and in the Committees opinion hid the operating losses which the Club had sustained in each of the years mentioned.
The Federation stated that the operating losses over the same period were so large that it was having a strain on cash flow thus having a huge impact on the decision making of the Club.
Whilst DD accepted this he stressed he was quoting from the published accounts which did indicate profits had been made. The Federation noted that they had flagged up the size of operating losses with the Club for the last 6/7 years and the consequences of this if at some point there was not a player to sell and felt that despite Club's assurances every year that the Club would be nearer break even point next year, this indeed had never happened and felt mismanagement was the root of the problem.
The Federation asked that we have an honest and open discussion with no spin and just accept that the Club made a loss rather than try and view the result as part of a five year period. It was also pointed out by the Committee that whilst the accounts covered a period when the team were relegated the accounts would also include SPL TV money and “gates” receipts from the SPL teams. DD whilst acknowledging this pointed out that the 2016 accounts also had the cost of dismissing two management teams which was not insignificant.
A question in relation to any progress being made in relation to additional investment being obtained was answered that this was very difficult in the current climate and the specific situation the Club finds its self in. Stephen Thompson (ST) was working extremely hard to address this matter and DD estimated ST was working in the region of 60 to70 hours a week, albeit this did not imply he was at Tannadice for all these hours as many meetings etc were held out with Dundee. CS stated that he was 100% confident the Club would not go into administration whist the current Board of Directors were in situ. This comment was welcomed by the Committee on behalf of all Dundee United fans. When asked if the Club had taken an additional loan recently the only response given by DD was that ST had a cash flow which would see the Club through to the end of the season. Finally on this topic there was some general discussion in relation to transfer fees received and the reporting of these in the media which often reported gross figures provided by the buying club whereas Dundee United received these net and normally in instalments and sometimes dependant on certain conditions being met / achieved. DD confirmed that two budgets were currently being set one re SPL and one re championship.
2) CS then raised the topic of the transfer window and admitted that it had been very quiet but that the management team believed the January window was a very difficult one in which to attract players. DD said that in his opinion the Manger was very studious and articulate in his assessment of any potential new players who had to be better than we had and not merely a new face to freshen the dressing room. The required staff had been at Tannadice until late on Tuesday 31 January monitoring Sky Sports to see if anything was happening (this was taken as reflecting the possible Andy Robertson transfer). DD confirmed that the Club now has “sell on” clauses in most if not all transfer fees but that these were specific to the original club who had bought the player and not any subsequent moves e.g. Hull City.
3) CS then moved on to season tickets and stated that 90% of tickets would be priced during the early bird period at the same level as last year. The only seats affected would be in the George Fox stand where the premium and prime prices were to be rationalised. The reason for this was that fans had been complaining that individuals buying the cheaper tickets then sat in empty seats in the more expensive area. The Committee were surprised fans would complain about other United fans occupying empty seats and asked if this was just a way of increasing the price of the slightly cheaper seats (premium). CS and DD both said that no decision had been made on the price to be charged and would take these points back to ST and David Southern and ask them to take account of this concern when making their decision. The 2017/2018 package would be released in March with the “Loyalty” period until 1 May with the “Early Bird” period being until 2 July. Season tickets were very important to the Club and the Committee were asked if they would be willing to encourage fans to buy season tickets. The Committee responded that they would not discourage fans from buying season tickets but that it was a personal choice to be made by each individual fan.
4) CS was asked why Dundee United had cancelled the Q&A and he replied that the Board did not think that either party would get the outcome from the meeting that they wanted and thus it was better to cancel than have both parties less than satisfied with the answers that would have been provided. It was stressed that the Fed had been provided with information in relation to the Clubs financial situation in the past on a regular basis by both the late Derek Robertson and ST and it was difficult to see why this change of approach had resulted. The Committee only wanted the truth and if this was that the finances were not as good as they might have been then the Committee felt confident the Federation membership would try and help in anyway they could. The Committee stressed that they wished to have an open and honest ongoing dialogue with the Club including ST as this was viewed as very important. DD replied that ST had been the subject of unwarranted verbal abuse at a recent game and he had suggested that perhaps ST should sit elsewhere in the stadium. ST was adamant he was not going to move and DD said that sometimes ST looked tired of all the criticism which was made against him, as Chairman. The Committee stressed that in any meeting the outcome was to obtain information which the Club felt they could share with the supporters and that all Club representatives would be treated with the respect they deserved with the aim of making it an worthwhile experience which would allow the Clubs representatives to be willing to return at sometime in the future for another meeting, or Q&A. The Committee raised the matter of the “small group of fans who were hindering further investment in the Club”. CS confirmed this was not directed at the Federation but rather a small section of people who post on the various message boards derogatory comments about Dundee United including comments about the directors.
5) CS then spoke in regard to “Project Brave” and said it now looked like 16 places would be available and he was confident Dundee United would secure one of these places. The current thinking was that the academy and development squads would merge and then combine with a “new” reserve team. Clubs would be rewarded by gaining points for loaning young players out, taking young players on loan and playing youngsters in the first team. CS thought it was possible that a team could be better off financially finishing eighth in the league and playing a lot of youngsters rather than, say, finishing sixth. Installing seating at Gussie was also being considered to allow the reserve games to be played there rather than out of town, as currently happens. The problem was that to do this would result in the pitch dimensions having to be reduced. Playing reserves games at Tannadice was not currently an option and no consideration of installing an artificial pitch at Tannadice was taking place , one reason being that the ground has an eight foot slope and this could only be resolved by removing several rows of seating from the Eddie Thompson stand which was not practical. The majority of the current academy and development squads were from the Dundee area which was pleasing to the Club. The Manager still had to implement his own processes to this aspect of the playing staff as he currently was devoting the vast majority of his time to the current first team and potential summer signings. The budget for the playing staff would be further reduced if promotion was not achieved however the Clubs commitment to youth development remained.
6) Finally CS stressed that season ticket sales were vital for the Club and that they had budgeted in 2016/17 for 4,400 and the actual was just less than 5,000 which had allowed more funds to be made available to the manager. It was hoped a similar figure could be achieved in 2017/18.
The Federation Committee thanked CS and DD for attending and providing an update about Dundee United. CS and DD said they had found the meeting constructive and would report back to ST and the rest of the board and try and persuade them to resume meetings with the Federation committee in the near future.