Derek Bond has never known a year like it.
But the man with his hands on Dundee United’s purse strings believes that, with the continued support of fans, normal business could soon resume at Tannadice.
The Tangerines’ finance director has had his work cut out trying to balance the books amid the chaos caused by Covid-19.
The loss of over £2 million in revenue has made it an impossible task.
Pay cuts have been required at Tannadice – as they have at other clubs – and finding alternative income streams has called for a creative approach.
The latest – a campaign to virtually sell out Tannadice for Sunday’s clash with Celtic – has been embraced by loyal United supporters.
And Bond insists continued financial backing from fans, in the first instance when season tickets go on sale later this month, will be essential in helping the club emerge into the new normal on the front foot.
“If I go back to when lockdown started last March, it was obviously serious looking forward,” he said.
“The loss in terms of revenue has been over £2 million out of the budget that we set. How do you cover that halfway through a season?
“With players and staff we’ve gone through a process where people have agreed to take wage cuts, right throughout the whole club, which is fantastic.
“But at the end of the day there’s still a substantial amount of money needing to be put into the club by the owner, which he has been doing.
“On top of that, the fans have been brilliant in terms of the support they’ve given, both financially and in terms of some of the campaigns we’ve run.
“Season tickets last season, people bought in droves – we had record numbers of season tickets sold, even with the uncertainty.
“So it has been extremely difficult, but in some ways it could have been worse.”
Thousands of United fans have already put their hands in their pockets in support of a club campaign to virtually sell out Tannadice for Sunday’s clash with Celtic.
It was a plan that came to fruition after a supporters’ group took it to the club, who had been thinking along similar lines.
For Bond, who revealed it could raise a six-figure sum, the plan is proof the close relationship fostered by the current ownership between club and fans is working well.
“We have been looking at any way of bringing incremental revenue into the club to help us through the situation,” he explained.
“The fans groups have been active in that.
“We have regular Zoom chats with our fans groups and, as well as asking things of us, they’re asking what they can do to help and firing suggestions at us.
“This virtual sell out was an idea where one of the fans groups came to us and said: ‘Why don’t you do this?’
“In gross terms, if you’re looking at selling out the stadium, at a minimum of £5 a ticket, it’s over £100,000 that we could potentially make if we’re successful with this campaign, which is a huge amount of money, obviously.
“We’ve got a bucket that needs filled and this is another tranche of money that’s going in to help fill it.
“The fans understands why we’re doing this and are supportive of it.
“We went over 5000 tickets sold fairly quickly after launch. If we don’t make the 14,000 it’s not the end of the world but I’m sure we’ll get close to it – and the money’s going to help the club enormously.”
Season ticket credit plea
Going forward, more money will be required.
At this time of year, cash is normally raised through season ticket sales.
Renewals will be sought over the coming weeks, chiefly incentivised by the prospect for holders of being the first people to return to Tannadice should restrictions, as is hoped, be lifted.
But Bond admits United will be looking for a big favour from supporters who have already stumped up cash for this season without being able to attend a match.
“We’re going to be heavily reliant on season ticket renewals, that goes without saying,” he said.
“And not just renewals – also on people giving up credits for this season.
“When we sold this time we said we would give a credit from game three, so basically, on the assumption nobody’s going to get in this season, everybody that bought a season ticket is entitled to 17 nineteenths of what they paid, as a credit against their renewal.
“That’s not money going out – we don’t need to write people cheques – but if they’re renewing at £300 for a seat in the Eddie Thompson, basically, they’ll only need to pay £40 or something.
“If a lot were to take up that option, that would have a hugely damaging impact on the budget for next season.”
Bond is not ignorant of the gravity of the request.
But he is hopeful season ticket holders will largely be minded to continue supporting the club financially, as they have done before.
“We ran a survey of season ticket holders and 76% of people who responded to that said they would waive any right to credit and still renew,” he said.
“That’s a good number. It gave us encouragement. But a lot of people didn’t respond, so we’re still sitting here a little bit in the dark as to how those people are going to respond to the season ticket campaign.
“We’ve engaged with the fans groups. We’ve asked for feedback on how we should promote season tickets.
“I’m confident that what we put out there is going to get good feedback – and hopefully good take-up. And it’s heavily influenced by season ticket-holder opinion.”
On the coming season, he added: “We’ve got to plan for fans being in the stadium, based on the information that’s coming out.
“Boris (Johnson) is obviously being a bit more bullish than Nicola (Sturgeon) but I think, one way or another, there’ll be fans in the stadium next year.
“Initially there may be some restrictions on numbers, but that’s going to be a key part of our season ticket campaign.
“We’re going to have an early bird period that’s going to launch in March and a key part of that will be that our holders will be prioritised for getting into the games, almost in a first-come first-served fashion.”