Eastbourne Speedway returns to professional speedway action in a week’s time when the Fineprint Eagles take on Birmingham at Arlington Stadium in a Championship Shield match (April 6, 8pm start).
Our business and commercial manager, Ian Jordan, has hardly had time to draw breath this winter.
He and everyone within the management team has had hundreds and hundreds of things to do.
Ian did, however, take a break to sit down and talk to Paul Watson from the club website’s editorial team about what happened this winter and what you, the supporters, can expect from the new era Eagles.
Paul Watson (PW): It was something of a strange end to the 2018 season. How did you feel?
Ian Jordan (IJ) It seems a long time ago now since we drove out of Stoke on a freezing cold October night. We had already won the NL League Play-Offs and Knock Out Cup.
I was proud of everyone for honouring our commitments at Buxton, their last NL fixture for now, as it turned out, and Stoke. We had been cruelly been denied a victorious home-coming the night after winning the NL Play Offs by Mildenhall side could not raise a side. That was in the memory.
PW: What happened for you to become much closely involved with the Eagles? After all, you are now the director of a new company which will run the speedway this year.
IJ: A few weeks later, on the morning of the End-of-Season Presentation Awards, I was asked to attend a meeting with Martin (Dugard) and Jon (Cook). From there a completely new direction and opportunity arose for me personally.
Sat in a boardroom with pictures of Charlie Dugard and Bob Dugard looking down on you, and with Martin outlining the options ahead, if didn’t take much more than a blink of the eye to say “yes”.
PW: You said “yes” in the blink of an eye, but how much work had you let yourself in for?
IJ: The change of lease ownership at Arlington Stadium helped facilitate a move up to the Championship. A completely new company [Eastbourne Eagles Limited] was formed to run Eastbourne Speedway and a completely new club management and promoting set-up followed.
From then on, it has been non-stop.
I didn’t know Jon or Trevor (Geer) just a few months ago, and had barely met Mike (Bellerby); yet it feels that we have gelled very well.
Jon and Trevor, with the help of Will Pottinger, look after the speedway side of things, Jon also has the massive task of overseeing the stadium too, with Martin and their new Company [Arlington Stadium Limited[.
Mike has probably forgotten more than most will ever know about the working of the BSPA, the SCB and speedway regulations and rules. That help has been invaluable as I quickly realised that I knew absolutely nothing about the rules and regulation side of things.
“I set about creating a business model that can justify us moving up to the Championship. It also gives us scope to build a long-term foundation for the years and decade ahead.”
PW: How difficult was it to get Eastbourne into the Championship?
IJ: From a business perspective we started with a blank piece – literally – of paper around the end of November. We were provisionally accepted as members of The Championship at that time, although this was not confirmed formally until the end of January. I can’t say that the powers that be make it easy for any side to move up, as ourselves and Birmingham have discovered.
In fairness to them, with other Clubs having failed in the past few years, understandably we have to prove that we can not only survive but succeed in our new surroundings.
Whilst Jon and Trevor quickly assembled what looks to me like a very exciting, all-British team, packed with experience at the top end and massive potential elsewhere, I set about creating a business model that can justify us moving up to the Championship. It also gives us scope to build a long-term foundation for the years and decade ahead.
PW: What are the key factors for that long-term success?
IJ: It is an absolute fact that without some truly magnificent sponsorship agreements from the likes of Les at Fineprint, Michael and George at HG Aerospace; Mick and Ice at Robins the wonderful assistance of Simon at Corporate-Connection, and major new backers arriving by the week, we would not be where we are now.
We are also especially grateful to M Shuttlewood Ltd and The Holly Blue / Marston’s) for their sponsorship which we announced this week.
Without all that, we would not have been able to even contemplate running Championship Speedway at Eastbourne in 2019. I cannot thank them and many others enough for their support.
“The harsh reality of the perilous state of British Speedway at this time means we will need a lot more help during the season from would-be sponsors / advertisers and supporters to build on those foundations and to let us thrive going forwards.”
PW: That’s a very impressive roster but is it enough?
IJ: The harsh reality of the perilous state of British Speedway at this time means we will need a lot more help during the season from would-be sponsors / advertisers and supporters to build on those foundations and to let us thrive going forwards.
It is also very important to recognise and thank the significant number of volunteers who do a myriad number of jobs and roles on race-days, almost all are voluntary and also the guys who seem to work 24×7 all year round at the stadium, supporting speedway and stock car racing.
Let us also not forget our hardcore supporter base, without whom we would not be here.
PW: What has been the driving force in what you have been doing?
IJ: In the depths of winter, just after Christmas and just before New Year, I drove to Sussex one wild and cold Friday for a meeting with Jon, Trevor, Mike and also Barry Johnson and Mick Corby to discuss plans and the future.
At that meeting a number of key decisions were made.
On the way home, and it’s a five-hour drive to Devon, I had a feeling of both massive excitement and gripping fear as to what we were taking on. Since that day, although it has been a roller-coaster, I feel we have moved forwards inexorably, to where we are now.
The abiding memory I have from that meeting was the feedback of Mick and Barry about the “disconnect” in speedway between clubs and supporters, and everything we have done since has been designed to be both as transparent as we can be; as outward looking as possible, and to try to foster an environment where everyone feels included not excluded, respected not ignored; able to voice an opinion and give feedback, and to be part of the Eagles family.
PW: Ian, you were born in the West Midlands and lived most of your life there. You speak with what I call a Brummie accent so, why Eastbourne and not Wolverhampton or Birmingham?
IJ: There is a very simple answer. I first came to Arlington in 1974 to watch speedway whilst on holiday.
I gravitated to Eastbourne as an aspiring speedway rider and I was always welcomed, always felt part of something, and once you have driven through those gates in to the wood, with the stadium on your left, you are an Eagle. And, “once an Eagle always an Eagle”.
My interest in speedway IS Eastbourne. Without being rude, I am not bothered in anything else in the sport, other than helping Eastbourne to be a long-term success. Oh, and by the way Paul, my accent is part Brummie / Black Country LOL.
I was born strictly speaking in The Black Country but as a lifelong Birmingham City FC fan, I am an adopted Brummie. If you ever listen to Eric Gundersen or the Karlsson brothers speak, you’ll hear how easy the accent is to pick up.
PW: While Jon and Trevor have been building the on-track team, you have been busy gathering a strong team behind the scenes.
IJ: We’ve had some incredible help from the likes of Ian Smalley who has built and developed the website, Andy Hague and our outstanding Press team – Paul, Kevin plus Ken and Jackie who have launched Eagles TV and created the media and visual content along the way.
It has been great to welcome back Kevin Coombes – if he is the go-to man for The British Speedway GP at Cardiff, then he simply had to return to Arlington. In Barry Cross we have the best programme designer out there. We want to build a crack team off the track to match the guys on it.
With a new Community Team announced and other enhancements in the pipeline, we want to build strong foundations and a base for the future.
“In aiming for transparency, it is important to set out some expectations and some harsh but true financial facts. To date we have spent in the region of £20,000 to get to this point. “
PW: There’s been plenty of positive news from Eastbourne Speedway this winter but you indicate that the club is not immune from the financial pressures facing speedway as a whole. What is the position here?
IJ: In aiming for transparency, it is important to set out some expectations and some harsh but true financial facts. To date we have spent in the region of £20,000 to get to this point.
We have no major individual benefactor like some clubs. We started with precisely £0 in the bank indeed we did not have a bank account until the beginning of January, once the new company was formed.
Our sponsorship profiles are mostly built around ongoing payments during the season.
That support is fantastic and I would reiterate again, without it we would not be here.
But there is no denying we need more help and we will need to both retain our loyal and massively valued supporter base AND encourage a few hundred back PLUS attract new supporters and a younger age dynamic.
I have built a model that allows us to know almost to the precise number how many fans we need to “break even”. That is not unusual in business. However, it seems to be somewhat novel in speedway.
Quite simply, we take every known expense and we contra with every projected bit of income and we arrive at a figure, that we need “through the paying gates” at every meeting.
PW: So why didn’t Eastbourne just continue in the National League?
IJ: In 2015 [Eastbourne’s first year of National League racing], I am told we averaged around 800 – 850 fans. As the novelty of the National League wore off that plateaued at around 650 average. Granted, some of the bigger attendances last season were around the 750 mark.
The feedback was clear. People wanted to move up a League (or Leagues); people wanted to return to Blue and Yellow and many indicated that IF that happened, some who had drifted away would return.
The BSPA were talking all winter of 6 man teams and a 32 point average, that would have devastated our 2018 team and meant more fans would drift away. Really we had no credible option.
The achievements of the past 4 years through the riders, the management of Martin and Connor, the support of Paul Goldsmith are the reason why Eastbourne Speedway thrived in the National League and should never ever be under-estimated. However, as the BSPA dilute the NL product, it is clear that we had to move up to have anything sustainable going forwards.
“We will need to attract an average of between 850-875 paying people to every home meeting to cover our costs for the season.”
PW: How much is it going to cost to run Eastbourne Speedway this year?
IJ: I will share with you the maths of what we need to achieve in 2019. It is important, I think, that everyone knows and understands as we all have a part to play.
We will need to attract an average of between 850-875 paying people to every home meeting to cover our costs for the season.
We will ideally need to attract another £20,000 in advertising and sponsorship through the season, to cover for an unexpected events and to justify; when we sit down at the end of 2019 the decision to run in 2020.
We have a fantastic new website, an excellent new Media innovation in Eagles TV, a vibrant and exciting team and the opportunity to build the foundations of the club to take us forwards.
When I was asked by a leading speedway journalist last month what my definition of business success for 2019 was, my answer was quite boring but simple:
“That everyone gets paid on time, we earn the respect of our fellow speedway teams and our supporter base, and we achieve a minimum of break-even in 2019, so that we can plan ahead to an ever exciting future.”
PW: Do you really think that is achievable?
IJ: Yes, I do. We will need luck along the way and we can’t make any rash promises other than everyone involved will work as hard as they possibly can and leave no stone un-turned to make this season as success.
No-one is going to get rich in this quest, no-one off the track is going to be taking much of a wage if any, and our riders are on good but not silly money.
Anyone who risks life and limb to entertain us deserves every penny they earn. What I can promise them is that they will be paid on time, every time.
We are also owe it to our supporters who pay their hard earned cash to come and support us to run a tight ship and to keep you updated along the way.
“Simply put and in as polite and in a straight-forward manner as possible, the days of people turning up and walking in to the Pits through an open gate, or by claiming “xy or z said I could come in” or “I sponsor rider 1 or 2 or 3” are over. “
PW: Give me some examples of this “tight ship”.
IJ: In that regard, and Speedway is a sport apart from others in my experience, we must close what Jon calls “The Complimentary Gate”.
This is not unique to Eastbourne. All clubs have them. The only one I ever knew that didn’t have one was Coventry under the CO – Charles Ochiltree. Not even Ole Olsen got in there without the right Pass.
Simply put and in as polite and in a straight-forward manner as possible, the days of people turning up and walking in to the Pits through an open gate, or by claiming “xy or z said I could come in” or “I sponsor rider 1 or 2 or 3” are over.
All volunteer track staff and any sponsor who has paid a significant sum, running in to the thousands (and some of those have told me they would prefer to pay anyway) will be offered a Pass.
Track workers for their hard work, which is massively appreciated, and of course our ex-riders, who have risked their lives and limbs for us over the years, will also always be looked after; and more than welcome as our guests.
However; we cannot financially afford, and cannot justify to those of you who do fork out a significant sum to come and watch; which we are very grateful for, that some that can number 50-60 at some tracks including possibly ours are allowed to “freeload”.
That can equate to £800 – £1000 a meeting and over a season can be the difference not only between profit and loss but with some clubs their very existence.
We have increased gate security and introduced properly trained stewards. Refusal of free entry without the right credentials will always be polite but firm, but in the spirit of being totally honest and fully transparent, it is a monkey that we need to get off our backs and address before we start the 2019 season.
PW: You talk of still more to come once the season starts. Please update us.
IJ: We are not perfect, we will seek to continually improve, some plans and initiatives like the new Teambuilder and Stadium Guides will be launched after the first meeting.
We hope to entertain, we hope to excite, we hope to be open and transparent, approachable, proactive and not reactive.
We will make mistakes, you often learn more from a mistake if you deal with it, learn from it and improve, we will always try to explain what we can do and if we can’t do something we will try to explain to anyone with an open mind, why we can’t do it at this time.
Above all, we want you to feel part of a Team, part of something exciting and something a little bit different and a little bit special.
PW: How’s the online shop going?
IJ: Our new online merchandise has received positive feedback. It will be further developed once the season starts; and new and more exciting lines introduced.
Our Club Shop will take a few meetings to get fully up to speed and fully stocked so please bear with us.
The proximity of Press and Practice Day (we have had little option due to stock car meetings on 16th and 30th March) to the start of the season means we don’t have a lot of the pictures and graphics that we will need initially. Some exciting speedway specific lines designed along the in-vogue Polish lines are being worked on, for our younger and more fashion conscious supporters.
We will carry LESS clothing stock in the track shop than may be in the past. Stock costs and ties up valuable cash and with the Online Store you (and we) can order for bespoke garments and accessories made to order in less than ten days.
PW: A regular comment from fans here and around the country is that speedway does not do enough to ‘sell’ the sport to the uninitiated. How you are dealing with that?
IJ: It is been a recurring and valid complaint that there is not enough awareness about Eastbourne Speedway locally.
We have in the past six months appeared four times on Meridian TV, several times on BBC Radio Sussex and get excellent local Press coverage, I don’t think any speedway team has a better Press Team than ours. I think we have had more column inches in the Speedway Star than any other side this winter.
The new website and Eagles TV have raised our awareness too, but we have to appeal to a far wider “non speedway” audience.
Our sponsorship with The Holly Blue / Marston’s will give us access to other outlets in that group and some Harvester outlets.
We are in active talks with MAD Advertising to have some of those big roadside banners up around the town on the A22 and A27 and are far more active on excellent sites like Best of Eastbourne than ever before.
Roadside advertising (it has to be legal) is a great asset, so if you live near a main route, or know any business situated on or near a main route or foot-fall who would be happy to display our poster material; (we will give free website space on Eagles TV for other businesses in return) please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to organise.
We will be providing a “download section” soon on the website for supporters to download simple posters for their local communities and we are looking continually at other signage and advertising opportunities in the local and wider areas..
We have a major feature film “Adventure Boyz” based partially on scenes filmed last summer at Arlington to give us a lot of exposure and I am soon to meet the new advertising company that cover The Arndale Centre in Eastbourne to talk about some state-of-the-art digital advertising right at the heart of the Town.
We don’t have a huge budget, so we would ask all supporters to help us by spreading the word about Eastbourne Speedway in a positive way, as every new supporter is something to cherish and encourage to become regulars.
PW: Ian, finally sum up for us the ethos of the new era Eagles
IJ: The new management team are here for two simple reasons. We feel passionate about Eastbourne Speedway and want it to succeed and more than that, we are mindful in everything that we do of the man and the family who created this and have sustained it for 90 years.
So yes, I don’t mind saying it, and we are proud to say it over and over again “we do it for Bob” and if at the end of the season he sends a message down along the lines of “you made a few mistakes guys and you need to change a few things but you did OK” then it will all be worthwhile.
PW: Thank you Ian for your time and being so open in answering the questions.