117th Aberdeen FC Annual General Meeting

The 117th Aberdeen FC Annual General Meeting took place this evening (14 December 2020), which was held as a virtual online meeting on Zoom.

Chairman, Dave Cormack opened the meeting: “I’m sure we’re all ready to move on from 2020, a most unusual and worrying year with the pandemic. They say that fortune favors the brave. And in adversity I’ve witnessed so many associated with the Club and Trust dust themselves off, step up, and make sure we focus on the things that matter to get the Club and our community programs through these challenging times.

One year into the chairmanship and this, my fourth year back on the board, let me share some reflections and thoughts on where we are as a Club, aligned to our aspirations and strategy.”

COVID impact

We’ve implemented a clear strategy as a Club both on and off the field. The devastating effect of the pandemic has hit Aberdeen Football Club for around £7mm in cash so far.

The strength of our Club is such that we are still debt free thanks to everyone, and I mean everyone, doing their bit. The board has brought in £20mm in cash in the last 3 ½ years, unparalleled in the history of the Club and any other SPFL club outside Celtic and Rangers. This delivered about £12mm towards our £14mm state‐of‐the‐art training complex, the first in our 117‐year history, with around £8mm in cash helping us invest in the first team, our football operation and navigating the collapse in pandemic‐related income which we continue to suffer from.

Our 8,000 season ticket holders and 6,500 AberDNA members have responded magnificently too. The strength of our overall commercial operations, including hospitality, retail, and advertising, makes us the envy of our closest rivals. Together, the board, staff, manager, players, fans, and corporate clients are all doing their bit. It’s not one or the other, it takes the whole village, so to speak, to come together.

Fan engagement

Maybe it’s because I’ve lived in the states for 25 years, but personally, I don’t think we talk up our Club enough when it comes to how well we are run, which we always have been, and what we achieve. Never relegated. Never gone bust. More European trophies than any other Scottish club. Other clubs have unfortunately had to making redundancies. Thankfully, we’ve been able
to avoid redundancies so far because of the strength of our business. We absolutely need all our staff as we come out of this pandemic and introduce, for example, the fan engagement initiatives we’re itching to deliver. The Red Shed trials were a great success. We’re determined to get big screen TVs into Pittodrie too, so for example Rob Maclean’s RedTV pre match show can be seen by those at the game and not just overseas. And much more in the way of game day events for fans and to attract families.

Initiatives like the free Under 12 AberDNA membership allows us, for the first time ever, to truly embrace and nurture fans of the future. Launched recently we have almost 7,000 members, almost all local primary school children. As a Club, even in the glory days of the early 1980’s, our season ticket holder base has fluctuated between 8,000 and 10,000. It’s initiatives like this that we believe in a generation or so will help us consistently lift our number of season ticket holders.

Our performance on the pitch

On the field, during Derek McInnes’ tenure we’ve gone from being ranked 289th to 148th in Europe today. Why? Because we’ve qualified for Europe every season under Derek. Our aspiration is to get into the Top 100 and to do that we need to qualify for the Group Stages of any of UEFA’s three competitions, including the new Europa Conference League which starts next season. Something much harder to do than when we last achieved it. But it’s absolutely an aspiration to get there.

Derek has made it clear that our strategy is to play an attractive and entertaining style of football. This season, prior to losing 8 players through COVID‐19 isolation and injuries, we were being roundly applauded for how we were playing. Close to half‐way thru this season we are on track for over 70 league points which would see us qualify for Europe once again. The last time we reached 70+ plus points was 2017/18 when we finished second in the league.

Our projected turnover for 2020/21 is now only £10mm (it was £16mm in 2018/19) due to the pandemic. A critical part of that is football performance‐related income, prize‐money if you like,
of around £2mm. Derek has consistently helped us achieve this level of income every season.

Something our closest rivals aspire to do. The absence of that £2mm in prize‐money, which we plan to achieve every season, would seriously affect our football budget.

At the heart of our community

As a Club at the heart of its community, our #stillstandingfree campaign through spring and summer is something we should all be proud of. Delivering about £300k of food through the AFC Community Trust to families in need from Mastrick to Macduff. Our community call center of 20 people made over 20,000 wellbeing calls, 16,000 of which were live conversations. These calls took about 10 minutes each.

Fast‐forward to today, we’ve put the community call center team back together again for our Calling Home for Christmas campaign. Our goal is to reach at least 6,000. It’s clear through the first 2,500 calls that isolation, loneliness, depression, and mental health issues are taking their toll. This campaign’s average call time has doubled to 20 minutes. We stay on as long as those we are calling need us.

As a football club, and we are not alone, directors, staff and fans continue to donate millions to look after our NE community, with mental health being a key priority. AFC and the AFCCT has won two prestigious awards from UEFA and the ECA as best professional club in the community across all of Europe. For what! Our mental health programs. And across the SPFL our charitable efforts deliver millions and employ hundreds directly in support of our communities. For every £1 that Scottish Football clubs invest in programs in the community, the value it returns is ten‐fold.

Getting fans back

And let’s not forget that football is our national sport. It makes a significant contribution to our economy and to society. Football contributes well over £1.2B of value annually to the Scottish economy. We are thankful to be playing. We need a plan for fans to return safely. Why is getting fans back in limited but progressive numbers at Level 2 important. Many of our fans live for football and are consequently suffering through this pandemic. Over 90% of our fans surveyed want to return to a Pittodrie and 80% of these fans would travel to games by car.

When compared to other indoor events allowed in Level 2 it leaves us scratching our heads. Especially when we have the backing of a top epidemiologist, our local Council and environmental health. We’re committed to standing up for our fans and will continue to push for their return to football at Level 2 to provide a bit of relief, joy, and hope.

Furthermore, a plan to get back to full crowds during 2021 is critical for football. Of course, plans are subject to change, but with the vaccine now being deployed we need a plan that progresses from where we are today. There’s good news! NHS Scotland has embarked on putting together a plan for mass distribution of the vaccine over the next few months and through 2021, and Pittodrie is a potential venue to make this a reality. We’re happy to help, no strings attached. For the football sector, 300 fans in Level 1 is a stop‐gap measure, already proven. It is not a plan. We’ll continue to put our case to the powers that be to develop a detailed plan for the full return of fans.

Cross‐border league

Looking ahead! At Aberdeen FC and all Scottish clubs, we’d be naive to ignore the drive towards cross border leagues and changes in UEFA’s club competitions. We believe they are inevitable.

Whether it’s a European Super League with different divisions, or, as an example, Holland and Belgium forming their own league, the big clubs, broadcasters, and investors will win the day.

The Slavic and Eastern European countries are making progress on cross border leagues too. Looking at UEFA’s club competitions, you can get knocked out of the Champions League, get dropped to the Europa League, then get knocked out of it and still qualify for the new Europa Conference League! As each year passes storied clubs like Aberdeen are being marginalized and squeezed out to ensure the biggest clubs stay in UEFA’s club competitions as long as possible.

It’s therefore critical that all clubs in the SPFL discuss and contemplate what lies ahead. If a cross‐border league offers a significant uplift in commercial income that benefits all Scottish clubs, and it provides a level of competition that resonates with our fans, it should be worthy of serious consideration.

I trust what we’ve communicated tonight gives you our shareholders and Dons fans a perspective on where we are. Confidence that we’re not only aware of the challenges we face, but the opportunities too. We aim to be proactive in fighting for positive change for our Club and Scottish Football.