Friday, 25 June 2010

Future of the official site

This statement from Airman Brown aka Rick Everitt has now appeared on a couple of other sites so it is now in the public domain:

Someone asked recently on Charlton Life about the promised redesign of the
OS, which we all accept is now looking rather dated. The reality is that we
look like being forced down a road we do not want to travel, so rather than
present this as a done deal here is the situation we face.

The strong and consensus view within the club is that we want to maintain an
independent site. Other than attendance at matches, it is the main point of
contact for fans. It is the principle way the club communicates and it acts
as our shop window. And who in the high street would deliberately set out to
have a shop window that looked like all the others?

We have never seen it and don't see it now as just another piece of
inventory to sell off to the highest bidder. It is a vital part of our

On the other side of the equation is Football League Interactive, a
subsidiary of the Football League, which operates about 80 websites,
including the sites of all other FL clubs - barring Leeds United and recent
arrivals in the League from either end.

There are good reasons for this dominance and they are financial. By
bringing all those clubs together, FLi is able to make an attractive pitch
to advertisers and share the revenue according to size of club. More
significantly, from our point of view, the League controls the rights to
live action - commentary and video - and licences it in such a way that it
is very difficult to escape the financial logic of handing over your

Two years ago, in response to the demand from fans for commentary, the club
entered into a deal with FLi that enables us to stream commentary (provided
by us) and match highlights (provided by them). No other club has such an
arrangement outside of an FLi website and to get them to agree to this we
had to accept terms that are overwhelmingly in their favour. They get the
vast majority of the revenue Charlton fans pay. The contract is up and they
have made clear that the terms of an extension are non-negotiable.

If we give up the independence of our site we get a more equitable share of
this revenue, plus a a cut of the advertising, plus a share of the
syndication money the League gets from selling the internet video rights on,
for example to the BBC, based on the number of Player subscribers we have.
At the moment we get a flat rate of the syndication based on League One
status, although our website traffic is healthy and hasn't fallen since we
were relegated from the PL.

We would no longer have to pay hosting or design costs, although they don't
offer a shop or tickets interface and these would remain under our control.

Against this, our site would look like the other FLi sites. Our staff would
still maintain the club specific content, but we would have less control of
how it looks, our messages would have less prominence and there are
restrictions on the ways we can prioritise our own commercial activities,
for example with splash pages. In addition, the contract ties us to this
arrangement until 2017. This is also non-negotiable.

There is nobody at Charlton who want to wants to go down this route, but our
research suggests it is worth a minimum of £50k extra a season to do so.
Given that we are faced with making people redundant to save much less than
this, we have build a credible alternative financial model if we are to
avoid it. That is going to need the active support of fans to achieve. Hence
this post and the question - do enough of you care sufficiently to help us
fund the alternative?

We have plans in place to rebuild the existing site now in a much updated
and improved form and continue to host it independently, but that is a cost.
The only secure way of offsetting that and matching the income stream from
FLi is through subscriptions, but it would make little sense in view of the
values we attach to the site to put it behind a paywall. The subscriptions
need to be attached to premium content. Again the League will take a
significant (but much lower) share of the income just to allow us the rights
to include this live action and we would have to obtain our own match
footage and edit it.

We believe the main driver of subscriptions was match commentary rather than
match pictures, not least because these are also available in limited form
via the BBC site.

Are we correct about this? Again, you can tell us. The simplest option would
be to offer a premium content service with no commentary or match action as
the League cannot demand a cut of that, but even if we offer two packages
and exclude premium content from one they are likely to demand a cut of both
through the terms of their licence.

Whichever route we go we are likely to focus on adding more non-match video
content in order to encourage subscriptions, but to take the independent
route we probably need more like 2,000 subscribers than the existing 1,200.
And to stay independent we might have to push the price up, probably to £4
or £5 a month. Bear in mind also that all payments include VAT and we will
incur additional hosting and bandwidth costs if we run our own premium
content service.

We do have some ideas around advertising and sponsorship, but experience
suggests they should be discounted for the purposes of the current

In the end, the board will have to make a decision with finance in mind.
They have consistently supported our resistance to the FLI route in the past
and recognise the importance of preserving our identity, but cannot be
expected to do so regardless of cost.

There will be people out there who are as passionate as those of us at the
club are about this, but how many of you are there?

What we didn't want to do is end up presenting a fait accompli without
canvassing opinion. Unfortunately, and whatever we might like to be
different, this is the financial reality of the club's situation and we have
to deal with it.

My suggestion to Rick was that perhaps small husinesses would pay to have a link on the site or some form of sponsorship, but apparently we no longer have a sales team that can deal with that. The problem is that one gets in a vicious cycle of decline: no money to raise revenue, so revenue declines. For example, this has been apparent for some time with player sponsorships.

I would like to keep our distinctive site, even though the content is sometimes a little bland, but that is inevitable with an official site. Unfortunately, it looks as if financial logic may dictate otherwise.

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