The long-termness of this project was made explicitly clear by chairman Steve McCarthy at the beginning of the meeting, which held an increasingly open format. My initial expectation was that the board members would give a lecture on their strategy proposals, and offer a Q&A at the end. Yet the word ‘proposal’ was more relevant than ‘strategy’, as the meeting evolved into a mutual collaboration of ideas, with an inclusive feel.
Given so much uncertainty surrounding the future of BCFC, perhaps the Trust have had no choice but to go with a more laid-back stance. As much as I was hoping for the members to turn up with a decisive, bullet-pointed list of what needs to be done, it would have been impractical for them to do so. Taking an open democratic, albeit slightly wavering status, is probably their most realistic chance of making a difference in the long-term.
However, the unfortunate side-effects of this enforced philosophy, is that it won’t accommodate the attitude of apathy amongst Blues fans at the moment. Hence a very chicken-and-egg problem.
Blues fans who know about the Trust but choose not to join, are of the opinion that it doesn’t have the power to make an influence on the club. The Trust though, is only as powerful as it’s membership. For example, if it could accumulate 10,000 members, the group would be in an incredibly strong position and very difficult for a board to ignore, due to the collective knowledge, newspaper contacts and potential loss of season tickets it would create. A board, regardless of it’s motives, would naturally want to keep the large a group of fans satisfied, and so the influence within the club would grow.
The reason the Blues Trust is struggling to gain members, is because it’s a small trust, and the reason it’s a small trust, is obviously because it’s struggling to gain members. Therefore, I feel that PR and marketing had to be not only a key issue for the Blues Trust currently, but almost it’s sole focus. As it stands, the trust has no influence on the club. This is largely because Peter Pannu is acting chairman, and he has actively avoided communication with the fans, it is also because of the trust’s limited numbers.
Whilst the use of Social Media and Internet have been a big part of the Trusts’ marketing strategy, it needs expansion. No more than perhaps 1,500 Birmingham City season ticket holders will be on Twitter. Out of those who even have the internet, who will happen to type into Google: ‘Blues Trust’? And from what I’ve heard, when links are provided on various Blues forums, they tend to get a negative response, from the types people who like hide under a username, whilst doing little to help the problem themselves.
The time that all Birmingham City fans are in the same place is on home match days, so for me it logically follows that the next step for the trust is to hand out leaflets outside the ground pre-match, as Dave Thomas has done selling Made in Brum. Personally I’d agree to do this, as I’m sure quite a few members would. Every Saturday, there will be 17,000-odd people walking into the ground, of which maybe 2,000 will notice each flyer-distributor, of which 200 would go up to find out more, of which about 30 would sign up that week. Those would be my rough calculations. If we then had 4 people situated around the outside of the ground handing out flyers, we’d get over 100 new members a week. And if we then had people handing out flyers every week, the people who noticed us the first time, would have another chance to pick a copy and it’d stick in their minds. Plus for every new member we get, we’d probably get one more member in, because they’d tell all their mates about it, so the word would circulate. I predict that if we started giving away flyers at games on a consistent basis, when the season starts, we could treble the membership by the end of September.
Whilst much progress is still to be made before it can have a bearing on the club’s fortunes, my opinion of the trust has changed somewhat since I wrote my last article. I was questioning it’s methods, under the idea that they were looking to improve communications with the club whilst Pannu and Yeung are in charge. This wasn’t accurate. I still feel that the Blues Trust has been born out of frustration in this Carson Yeung era, with the club in severe financial problems and no longer in the Premiership – we had the same ‘lack of transparency’ when the Golds and Sullivan were in charge, and most people were grudgingly satisfied.
But if there’s one thing this meeting has made me understand, it’s that we are very much a long-term operation, something I perhaps underestimated. In my interview with Steve McCarthy afterwards for Sports Radio, I posed him a question about whether, given Pannu has evaded dialogue with fans, the Blues Trust and it’s ideology had come at the wrong time. His reply, was that now is the time to build a platform, so when new (reasonable) owners come in, the Blues Trust is an established group.
Bearing this in mind, I begin to wonder if now is, in fact, the perfect time for Blues Trust. Fans are more frustrated with the club’s board than ever, and will be looking for a solution to benefit the security of Birmingham City FC. Because of this, I feel the next stage for the trust, is to be assertive in it’s marketing strategy. It’s one thing to start off being democratic and fair, but when the new season starts, we must follow this up with noticeable action, and have a presence at games. We must be passionate, iron-willed, and like an annoying fly that doesn’t go away. As well as spreading the word to friends, it’s vital that we start to get the message across at the matches, and surely the best way to do this is by giving away flyers outside St Andrews. If we commit to this project enough, other people will follow our lead eventually, because at the end of the day, we’re all united in wanting the best for BCFC.
By Gabriel Sutton
(Next Blues Trust meeting will be in October, details to be confirmed.)