Aberdeen’s commercial director Rob Wicks says fans returning in large numbers this season is vital for Scottish football.
After a 2020-21 campaign played almost entirely behind closed doors, clubs are hoping for a return to some normality this term.
From a financial perspective the return of supporters and corporate hospitality is a necessity.
The pandemic left the Dons with a £10million hole in their finances.
That was plugged as a result of measures taken by the Pittodrie board and the support of fans as well as corporate and commercial partners.
We can’t wait to get fans back
Wicks said: “The importance of getting fans back in can’t be underestimated.
“We’ve had an entire season at Pittodrie where all we had was 300 fans for one game (a pilot last September).
“These facilities have lain dormant for more than a year.
“There’s a lot of working going on whether it’s installing new goalposts, the kitchens and kiosks getting ready to serve food again.
“We can’t wait to get fans back. We’ve got to start plugging away at a £10 and a bit million hole to get the club back on track.
“We’ve done incredibly well to make sure that we’ve saved every job.
“We’ve taken advantage of some of the things that have been available with government schemes like furlough and some grants as well.
“Fundamentally Covid has played havoc with sport and football in particular.
“Hopefully we’re starting to see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and getting fans back is absolutely paramount.
“Of all the leagues in Europe the dependency on ticketing income is highest in Scotland.
“Therefore fans coming back is fundamental to the success of Scottish football as we come out of Covid.”
Optimism for the season ahead
Aberdeen start the new season on July 22 in the Europa Conference League against Swedish side BK Hacken.
With the Granite City in Level 1 of Scotland’s coronavirus response system as it stands 1000 supporters would be permitted to attend Pittodrie for a game.
In Level 0 – which the Scottish Government hope to move to from July 19 – 2000 fans would be allowed, with clubs also able to make an application to their local authority to increase that number to 5000.
The Scottish Government hope to move beyond Level 0 and lift all major coronavirus restrictions from August 9.
It hasn’t yet been confirmed what that they may mean for crowds at sporting events, but Wicks is upbeat.
He added: “A thousand fans coming back would put a smile on the face of those fans and put a smile on our faces to see at least some people back.
“But it doesn’t really make a dent and is nowhere near where it needs to be.
“I’m really encouraged by Wimbledon saying next month they will have a full house for the men’s and women’s finals.
“I was at Hampden, which is more than double the size of Pittodrie, for the Scotland Czech Republic game and there were 10,000 fans there which was fantastic to see.
“We’ve got to hope the trends keep going the right way and if we saw a reduction in social distancing from two metres to one that would make a major difference.
“We’ll be utilising every corner of the stadium and putting in all the applications needed to try to make sure we can get as many folk in as we can.
“Would I be confident enough to say we’ll see full crowds this season? I hope so. Certainly in the second half of the season I’d be optimistic.
“If we can get the vaccine rolled out quickly enough whether we’re dealing with the Delta variant or whatever else might come our way.
“I’d be optimistic and I think you have to be. If Wimbledon can be inviting full crowds back then why can’t we see at least 10,000, 12,000, 15,000 at Pittodrie?”
Everybody has stepped up to help Aberdeen’s finances
One option Aberdeen have used to help stabilise the club’s finances was the Scottish Government’s loan facility.
The Dons borrowed £3.119m, with that figure repayable interest free over the next 20 years.
Wicks says that, along with a number of other measures, has been crucial to ensure the club survived and jobs were protected.
“It’s been an important contributor (the government loan scheme). I think everybody has stepped up,” he said.
“The investor group has stepped up and made an important contribution.
“We’ve used furlough and things like that and used it in the right way. We’ve drawn on the government facility which is repayable over 20 years.
“Staff have taken cuts and deferrals, players have done the same thing.
“We’ve got a business interruption insurance claim in and we’re counting on a fairly sizeable contribution from that to help see us through this.
“Put all of that to one side as the measures we as a club have had to take.
“Then you look at the unbelievable contribution from the fans and our corporates.
“Fans have been buying season tickets and DNA memberships for a season where they’re still not entirely sure if they’re going to get in.
“We’re at a level of season tickets sales already that we were for last season and the season hasn’t even started.
“The fans have really stepped up and done their bit. Large numbers of our corporates have left their money with us for hospitality they didn’t get to enjoy last season and transferred their bookings.
“Some have kindly donated that money and said they will rebook again because they recognise the challenge the club faces.”
Fan contribution has been important
As it stands Aberdeen have sold 7500 season tickets the 2021-22 campaign.
Wicks was keen to thank the Red Army for their support during these challenging times.
He said: “We obviously need the income and we appealed to the fans to make what contribution they can.
“We’re very clear and acknowledge not everyone is going to be in that position, we’ve seen the impact of the pandemic.
“But by the same token we’ve got to count on that income wherever we can.
“We’re fortunate enough to know we’ve got virtual season tickets again this season, we’ve got pay-per-view and at some point this season we are going to be getting fans back.
“We don’t exactly know the numbers yet, but we’ve had indications of what they could be.
“I wouldn’t in any way say it’s irresponsible (to be selling season tickets with no guarantees) because it’s everyone’s job to make sure the club keeps its head above water and can see itself through.
“If we’d seen season ticket numbers dwindle and people lose interest you’d be really concerned.
“But the way in which the fans have stepped up has been absolutely amazing.”