Our in-depth report back to supporters on the results of the fans’ survey continues as Eastbourne Speedway Director, Ian Jordan, and Paul Watson pick up on their conversation.
The first part of this Question and Answer session was published on Friday and today’s session responds to ideas and comments from fans and gives an overview of where the Eagles are, both on and off the track.
Paul: The survey gave fans the opportunity to voice ideas and suggestions. How did people react?
Ian: There were some great ideas and suggestions that came from the Supporter Survey that we have noted.
Some we were already considering and can implement, some are new and very workable and a few, for specific reasons, we can’t implement but will either pass to those who may be able to and/or explain why we can’t implement ourselves at this stage.
Paul: Let’s pick up on some specifics. What about post-match interviews with riders in the clubhouse?
Ian: One thing we trialled at the last home meeting (at the suggestion of Lewi Kerr amongst others) was a more formal post meeting interview in the clubhouse. It worked quite well and it is something that we would ideally like to occasionally try in 2020.
Paul: This is something some clubs do, King’s Lynn for instance where Lewi rides in the Premiership.
Ian: Yes, King’s Lynn is one of a number of clubs that do this. I know it is also done at Swindon, Poole and Isle of Wight, for instance.
These clubs and others have the surroundings and stadia that are far more conducive to such a post-match event. However, that should not stop us trying to do it.
There are also sometimes logistical issues like delayed meetings due to injuries etc, that can mean the plans for the end of the meeting don’t always allow time for the interviews to take place, but we will implement the idea at some home fixtures in 2020 and later on will explain why it may work better at some fixtures but not all of them.
Paul: Did the supporters have anything to say about what happens before the tapes go tapes up on heat one?
Ian: There was also feedback that some want more rider / management / general chat and interviews PRIOR to the meeting as part of the build-up and a lot of heated debate about pre-match music.
All comments about the pre and in-match music will be passed to Kevin and Barrie for discussion and we will seek to do more structured interviews as part of the pre-match build up, especially before the bikes are warming up and shortly afterwards and this will involve also some of the ex-riders who regularly attend meetings at Arlington.
Many raised concerns about the quality of the meeting presentation when Kevin is not available and a few questioned Kevin’s availability.
In fairness to Kevin, it is important to point out that last season’s fixture list was arranged before we were able to secure Kevin and Barrie’s return as meeting presenters and, therefore, there were some clashes with commitments they had already made.
To update everyone, this season we have agreed and are delighted to announce that Kevin and Barrie have given us just a few dates when they may not be available and we have ensured that unless completely unavoidable, we will have Kevin and Barrie working in tandem at hopefully every home meeting.
This will form part of an enhanced package to evolve and improve the match presentation still further.
Paul: The survey produced a lot of feedback in favour of junior / second half racing returning. What could happen in 2020?
Ian: At the start of 2019, it was decided by a majority vote of the management team that the focus last season should be wholly on the core product, that being the 15 heats of the team match.
One side-line aspect of this is that it allows quicker access into the pits for supporters after racing and also for those on Community visits to have quick access to the centre green and riders for autographs and pictures, after the Meeting has finished.
So, there is a compromise there, between having more access to Eastbourne Eagles riders after the main meeting and access to the centre green to optimise the Community Programme offering and/or having some form of second half event or racing.
Paul: Can there be a compromise?
Ian: It’s impossible to please everyone but there is a pragmatic solution that we are working on and which we are happy to announce.
We will seek to stage around 6 to 8 SDL/MDL Team Matches at Arlington after the main event in 2020.
We are in ongoing negotiations with a possible team/franchise who will race home meetings at Arlington in 2020 in whatever format the SDL/MDL takes .
There is one proviso that we have put on this, which has been agreed with the team that we will hopefully be able to announce in about six weeks’ time, is that the team they put out should be “developmental”; eg: where possible young up and coming riders who are either at reserve level in the NDL (National Development League) and/or not able to get regular NDL Rides in 2020 (as there are only 7 Teams) but who are of that level in terms of ability.
This we hope will satisfy both those who want an occasional second-half product and also enable us to still facilitate prompt post meeting access to the senior team riders and Community Project as soon after the main meeting as possible.
It is also worth pointing out the excellent work done over the winter by Martin and Connor Dugard and a small team of helpers in re-creating a new Junior / Pit Bike Track and also plans for Arlington Stadium to regularly stage Ride and Slide, Amateur and Training Sessions in 2020, which will be announced by Martin and Connor and Jon in due course.
Paul: A few years back, some junior riders came on to the track before the main meeting. Would you consider doing that again?
Ian: We have given consideration to pre-match rides/racing but I have to be totally honest and transparent that it is something that I could never be comfortable in staging.
There are some significant logistical issues that apply now that did not apply in the NDL era (2015 to 2018) regarding track preparation and the fact that the track is prepared with more dirt that may not be suitable for less experienced riders.
There is also a spectator consideration that with bigger crowds and expectation that the possibility of young riders getting injured / medical delays and the possibility of air-fence damage, that may delay “the main event” could be a PR disaster for us.
I think it’s most important to start on time or in a very tight window and therefore anything that may risk that pre-match, should be avoided.
Paul: Last year, with the help of the Community Programme, there were more children at matches. Are there any plans to introduce mascots?
Ian: First, let me differentiate between the three different types of mascot we are talking about: We are thinking about a Team Mascot (a youngster who rides a mini-bike), a Club Mascot (who wears a costume) and the young mascots who accompany the team out on to parade.
Let me give you a bit more detail on each of those.
1, We are considering the re-introduction of a Team Mascot, someone who can ride a small Pit Bike or 125 cc type Grass Track bike around the track, integrate with supporters and the team, and who fans can see develop over the years. I think, therefore, that if there are lads or lassies currently in the 6-8 year old age group who might like to contact us to apply for the role, it is something we would very much like to bring back.
2. With regard to a Club Mascot, we have had a lot of requests too for us to have one and to adopt one and we are more than happy to comply with this request and to have a formal Club Mascot (like Plymouth have Maximus Gladiator). All we require really is for a fit and athletic volunteer, male or female, who can attend every home meeting in 2020 to apply, and we can then have a competition to pick a suitable MASCOT design and to get a suit designed and made in readiness for the season.
3. Last year we introduced Eaglets mascots to accompany each Eagle out on the pre-meeting parade and that is something we will continue to do in 2020.
Paul: Are we staying with race jackets or reverting to racesuits?
Ian: It seems that the vast majority of supporters want to see a return to racesuits. It is no secret that I do too, so racesuits will return in 2020 and as soon as we know the identity of the main sponsors for 2020 we will work on design and tender of the suits.
I can confirm that in respect of fans overwhelming wishes that the colours will be blue and yellow/gold and in recognition for our promise when we re-designed the Logo/Badge for 2019 that the identical core logo will remain for 2020.
It was very well received and all of those who purchased Branded Club merchandise in 2019 will be happy to know that we will not be making any significant changes, as promised.
Paul: You raise the question there of the main team sponsors for 2020. What’s the latest?
Ian: As we pointed out at the end of last season, Les Fineing of Fineprint, who is now a Director of Eastbourne Eagles Limited and who will take on a more prominent role in 2020, graciously agreed to step down as title sponsor if it would allow the Club to source additional major sponsorship to make the Team Sponsor available.
Les’s commitment to the Club over nearly 30 years has been massive and will continue both financially and in terms of management support as a non-salaried Director of the Promotional Company.
My own SP2A Speedway Company as Media Partner, also funded and financially supported the creation of the new website, Eagles TV and all ongoing costs which were significant and amounted to a five-figure sum.
The Media Partner Title offers potentially massive advertising and brand awareness opportunities too and, as with Les, if it will assist us in raising increased commercial funding is something that I am more than happy to make available, whilst continuing both similar levels of financial support and unlimited day-to-day time and management experience as a non-salaried Director.
We are, therefore, in negotiations with some potential new and of course our excellent and very much appreciated existing sponsors and welcome enquiries from anyone who is keen and eager to support the short medium and long term future of Speedway at Eastbourne by sponsorship, advertising or benefit in kind. (Click here to view our 2020 Sponsorship & Advertising opportunities.)
Paul: What news is there about club merchandise in 2020?
Ian: In 2019 we deliberately made certain items available either with just the Club Logo or with the Club Logo and Title Sponsors name, and this is something we will again do in 2020.
We have again secured the backing of Corporate Connection about whom we received a lot of very positive feedback in terms of quality and service and they will be our main online and track shop suppliers in 2020, together with the more speedway specific items again from the Barber family.
We have also negotiated a deal with a major Polish manufacturer (foremost in their field) who will supply us with the kind of modern bespoke Speedway Specific clothing that Corporate Connection cannot supply.
Whilst the focus will again be on moving more Track Shop Sales “online” we must address the vexed issue of the location of the Track Shop in 2020, a very hot topic in the Supporters’ Survey.
The fact that the “old shed” is not fit for purpose to sell items and also that the space outside it is no longer Health and Safety compliant in terms of overcrowding and access remains a major issue and problem for us.
The move to the Back Straight Upper Grandstand, whilst appreciated by a minority was not liked by many and blamed as a reason why many did not purchase as many items as they may have done in the past.
We are working with Jon and Martin to find and develop a ground-level facility that is large enough to walk around and to have all of the clothing and speedway specific items on display as well as being secure and easily accessible for things to be set up and removed quickly.
We also want to enhance the ONLINE proposition by having an Online Ordering option at the track on race days.
This is something we hope to be able to announce well before the start of the season.
Paul: The weak and sometimes non-existent 4G signal at Arlington Stadium caused issues on occasions for people wishing to pay buy debit or credit card. Have you managed to solve the problems or at least found a ‘work-around’?
Ian: We had a few technical issues with card machines in 2019, although this was only seen as a negative by a few respondents.
It is staggering that in 2019 we were one of only a few tracks to actually offer card payments (many are still Cash Only) and we will continue to have “state-of-the-art” Card Readers in 2020.
We have to live with the fact (which we can do nothing about) that Arlington Stadium is in one of the worst 4G reception areas in the UK, that the transmitter serving the area had some major maintenance issues in 2019 and that the stadium does not have modern digital cable installed in that part of the stadium.
To mitigate these issues, we will be announcing a new EPOS (Electronic Point of Sale) payment facility before the start of the season which will allow those who wish to pay by card or other secure electronic payment methods, to purchase match tickets in advance that can then be swiped for access through a dedicated turnstile on match night.
We will also look at back-up options to ensure that the Card Readers we have can be used if 4G drops out completely.
There were a number of complimentary comments about the Turnstile Staff, who do a fantastic job but a few who complained of queues and asked for more turnstiles to be open.
The fact is that in 2019 at most meetings EVERY AVAILABLE Turnstile was open from 105 minutes before the meeting started to around 10 minutes after it commenced.
The one turnstile we cannot use is the first one as you queue and this is because the entry through it is no longer wide enough to be Health and Safety compliant.
We have regularly asked spectators to arrive a little earlier to reduce last-minute queues but it remains a fact that 60% of all transactions are done at the turnstiles in the 25 minutes before the meeting starts and on a few occasions has caused us to delay the start of the meeting to get crowds in.
The 4G “drop out” has also regularly been exacerbated by dozens of people in queue at 7.15pm all on mobile phones, therefore becoming a bit of a “Catch 22 nightmare” for the turnstile staff as the machines work less effectively.
Sadly, UK Broadband infrastructure is not even third world standard, as those who have travelled around the globe will testify.
We will do our best to work as well as we can with what we have and the introduction of EPOS and further back-up measures should be of great assistance.
Paul: I guess there were a few queries and suggestions that Eastbourne Speedway will not be able to prioritise, or which are outside of our jurisdiction.
Ian: There were a lot of comments about having an electronic scoreboard or repairing the existing/old one.
As far as I am aware, and based on a number of conversations in the past year, the option to repair or revamp the old one is simply not viable as the technology and therefore replacement parts are now obsolete.
We have looked at various electronic options either permanent (which would require stadium approval) or temporary/portable and to date can find no viable option that is affordable that would be visible to all or the vast majority of spectators.
In some ways the fact that you can stand all around our stadium is a negative in this context as at tracks like Wolverhampton / Kent / Redcar / Birmingham where the majority (though not all) spectators are on one straight or a straight and bend, location to be visible to all is not an issue.
At Arlington we would have to locate in a part of the stadium that has a sufficient access to power and also that is not affected by the location of the sun on a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon.
There may be other, less technological options, like the manual scoreboard at Berwick, that we can consider and it is something that we will continue to discuss.
Certainly in terms of electronic options (like the one at Glasgow) costs are extortionate and would certainly require some form of specific sponsorship to purchase; operate and maintain.
Paul: Injury delays have become more commonplace it seems in speedway while clubs wait for the NHS ambulance to arrive, what speedway fans tend still to call the “county ambulance”. Is there anyway round that problem?
Ian: There was a lot of feedback about the delays at a few meetings where there were serious injuries/incidents specifically Tom v Glasgow, Kyle Howarth in the Sheffield match and Lewi and Kevin Doolan v Berwick.
The ultimate and over-riding issue here has to be rider health and safety.
We have to abide by the decisions of the medical professionals and also have to rely on the arrival of the South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb) – the “county ambulance”.
For meetings, the speedway club has a contract for medical services with a private provider, In Pulse Sussex Ambulance.
We receive a great service from them and like all speedway teams pay considerable meeting costs for top-quality cover.
We are looking in to the option of a second ambulance that would not replace the need for the county ambulance to arrive and take the injured rider to the relevant A+E but may allow for a qualified medic to oversee the injured rider in one ambulance whilst another ambulance and qualified medic was available for the Clerk of The Course and Referee to be happy to continue racing.
There are obviously significant extra costs involved but something we will actively discuss with In Pulse Sussex Ambulance before the start of the season, as well as reviewing all Heath and Safety protocols with our Head of Health and Safety to ensure the best available medium between rider welfare and supporter considerations.
Paul: Finally, can deal with one or two other points in brief? What about the return of the 50/50 draw?
Ian: A number of people wanted to see the return of the 50/50 Draw in preference to the Programme Draw and this is being considered, although it will have to be in a format that ensures that the Draw is done and paid out at every match and on the night, as this was a major cause of complaint with the previous draw which seemed to be done over several meetings. We will update supporters on this closer to the start of the season.
Paul: What about a supporters’ club?
Ian: Again, there were some calls for the creation of a Supporters’ Club and organised away travel.
We have considered and discussed this amongst management many times in 2019 and the current thought of ourselves, and indeed the BSPA, is that any Supporters’ Club function should be independent of the club management.
We remain ready willing and keen to help to assist any group or individual who wishes to create such a Group, either a Supporters’ Club, Away Travel Club or indeed Car Share Group to organise travel to Home and Away Matches and we are willing to give programme / website and social media space to help promote anything of that nature.
We will do a further wrap up of items raised in the Supporters’ Survey early in January to coincide with the formal announcement of the 2020 Fixtures, 2020 admission and standard season ticket pricing, updates on anything in this article and also news of team planning and preparation and the dates of Press and Practice and news on some Team Away Days and Track Training dates.
Image Credits: Tiffani Gravelling Photography & Mike Hinves