Covid-restricted crowds have forced some Speedway clubs to put the season on hold. Most were hanging on in the hope that “Freedom Day” would come on June 21. It’s been delayed for at least a month and some clubs have found that the numbers allowed inside their stadiums makes racing unviable.
Club Director Ian Jordan and Co-Promoter Lee Kilby, who has a specific brief on the commercial and business side of the Promoter role, talk to co-press officer, Paul Watson.
Q. We have seen what has happened at Birmingham, Wolverhampton and other tracks, what’s the picture at Eastbourne?
Ian: Obviously, we are all concerned to hear of the problems that Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Poole, Newcastle and many other clubs are having. The key issue for Speedway is restricted access to stadiums and how people can access tickets whilst maintaining a full Covid-19 register, the logistics of the design of some stadiums and flexibility of some local authorities is clearly not as helpful as what we have at Arlington and with our local governing authorities.
We have a crowd limit of around four figures (1,000) with a bit of flexibility. However, to attain that limit we have to commit to ensuring everyone wears a mask at all times (with a few exemptions).
I can’t stress how important it is that we adhere to that. It’s unpopular with some we know but it’s not exaggerating to say that if we don’t comply, Speedway will have to close for 2021 at least and possibly longer.
Look, there was no greater “angry young man and revolutionary than me” in my youth. I get why some see it as a “cause célèbre” to not wear a mask, but the bottom line is that if enough people don’t come for that reason, there may not be Speedway in the future under the current Promotion.
We know that if we were to ask to run without masks the limit would be around 500 and we could not run at that figure, it would simply be financial suicide.
We’re massively grateful for what we are allowed to have, we have to cherish and protect it. We all have to understand that this horrible virus is not going away and it’s something that we have to live with and adapt to.
At Eastbourne, we are quite simply, Paul, in survival mode; hanging on and doing all we can to keep the show on the road and our wonderful supporters and sponsors entertained.
It’s massively stressful and no fun at all at the current time but the medium and long-term future I still believe is very exciting and very positive.
Lee: The picture is very clear for us, we have been given an attendance that allows us to keep our heads above water. If the fans back the club and come out and get behind our teams on track, this will happen and we can move forwards with confidence.
But having experienced what is happening at Birmingham first-hand, it’s a day-by-day situation for most clubs including ourselves.
Although you can lose yourself in the excitement of the meeting whilst the boys are racing, the lead up is extremely stressful, and depending on the crowd numbers and meeting outcome, post meeting can be a hard hitting reality check.
Q. Can Eastbourne viably run meetings at Arlington Stadium while adhering to the current crowd limit?
Ian: If we have 1,000 at every meeting, including season ticket holders and match ticket buyers we can move forwards. We certainly won’t be making much money and we will still be reliant on Sponsors and Advertisers, but we can survive and look ahead.
If we fall below 900, we are at the point at which we drive home knowing we’ve made a loss and it’s a long way home mulling that over.
One of the paradoxes of Speedway is that the more points you score the more you have to pay out, so whilst it’s no longer 40-38, with a purely business head on “happiness is 46-44”.
The difference in wage bill as an example between the Kent and Edinburgh matches can be a few thousand pounds.
We want the team to win every match of course. We want to be paying that win money out, but we also need exciting and entertaining Speedway to excite fans.
It’s very difficult to pinpoint an exact figure but at a 1,000 sell -out we’re just OK, 900+ we can survive; but below 900 we’re frankly in trouble.
So far we’ve had 1,000 v Poole; around 975 v Kent and around 800 v Edinburgh. So, we are hanging on but in the short, medium and long-term if we can’t attract 1,000 regularly, we have to start looking at the long-term viability of the project.
Covid brings added costs, some regulation changes to tyres as an example bring less consistency in terms of cash-flow, which can cause problems.
We haven’t been able to benefit from any Government / sports loans or grants, as a relatively new company and the fact we are tenants.
As a result, supporter numbers are critical to us. We have to generate enough to pay riders, the rent of the Stadium, insurance, medics, programme and printing, some security staff and so many other small things that all add up.
In a nutshell, the best way Supporters can help is to keep turning up, bring a friend, spread the word, every little bit helps.
Lee: Just. Balancing the books this season will be extremely tough, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility which is why Ian (Jordan) and Les (Fineing) the Directors have decided to run.
I’ve seen the other side of the coin at Swindon where there was so much to take into consideration off track, that the owners felt best to press the pause button for 2021. The Eagles have always had a good fan base, and we’ve seen that this season against Poole.
If the fans come, we’ll get through this. Sponsorship and business backing is also pivotal to keeping the club alive. Having sponsors like HG Aerospace, Turner Engineering, Robins and Marston’s on board makes a huge difference to us, as does having all other sponsorship support, regardless of package size or financial commitment. Everything helps and is gratefully received.
Options are always open to introduce more sponsors and I’d like to think we can engage, interact and encapsulate anyone interested in getting involved.
Q. We have two of the biggest league matches of the season coming up next month against Glasgow and then Leicester. They almost certainly will be crowd-limited. What affect will that have on the club’s business for 2021? You would surely have hoped to attract more than the current Arlington limit.
Ian: I don’t think there will be a bigger match in the Championship all season than Eastbourne v Glasgow and Eastbourne v Leicester.
In an ideal world we’d have been looking at a crowd of 1,500 plus for both, possibly closer to 2,000 for Glasgow.
We all know what happened in 2019 with Glasgow. We also know what fantastic opponents Leicester were too. Both would normally bring excellent support.
So, if we could have had say 1,750 v Glasgow and 1,500 v Leicester, the difference on those against the 1,000 limit would be, based on the average “income per head taking all categories into account” be in the region of £18,000 combined and that’s a huge chunk of possible turnover lost.
So it’s absolutely imperative that we SELL OUT every single ticket for those two matches and, if possible, every match until crowd restrictions are eased. If we can, we can look forward with confidence.
We can’t sadly consider “Live Streaming” as due to our location we would require the equivalent of an outside broadcast satellite unit to offer anything like a professional service and at around £5,000 a time we’d never sell enough streaming units to make it viable.
What I must say about Glasgow too is that NO Club has helped us more in the past 12 months in so many ways that are mostly unseen; we very much see Glasgow as great friends and have massive respect for everyone there, so I see it more as “friends reuniting” although for 2 hours or so on that afternoon, there will be no quarter asked nor given on either side and it will be unmissable.
Similarly with Leicester, no team led by Stewart Dickson will ever lie down. He has been massively complimentary about what we are trying to do on and off the track also, so another mouth-watering contest in prospect. Must See Speedway, simple as that.
Lee: I am starting to sound like a broken record, but I can’t help but highlight the importance of selling out the tickets we have available. Glasgow and Leicester will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season and both bring quality riders and strong management.
I don’t for one minute think we’ll experience anything like the scenes we saw in 2019 versus Glasgow, but the hype around the fixture will make it a sensational meeting.
Leicester are the defending champions and are looking strong once again. These meetings are what the sport is all about so let’s hope we pack the terraces and grandstand, get meeting sponsorship and make the rest of the league sit up and notice a big crowd and fantastic racing.
Q. Speedway traditionally has a turn-up and pay-on-the-door admittance policy. This is what fans are used to. Now, to meet the regulations in East Sussex, supporters must buy in advance. How do you think that affects attendances?
Ian: I must firstly thank everyone for embracing ONLINE ticketing in the way they have. It’s different and it’s vital to us.
Thanks to Ian Smalley we set up the TryBooking online ticket system. Their help and assistance has been fantastic and much appreciated. We’re so impressed that we have recommended it to Plymouth, Birmingham and Newcastle and I think from the feedback that most fans have found it simple and easy to use.
I must also pay massive tribute to our gate staff (Emily, Holly, Kate, Michelle and Colin) and our security team who have quickly adapted to a completely new concept.
A few weeks ago when Chris and I had to leave the Stadium at 10am to race up to the Midlands due a family emergency, the team, fantastically supported by Lee and Trevor, stepped in.
We can’t thank them enough for that during what was a traumatic and upsetting week.
I think ONLINE ticketing is here to stay for as long as Covid is around.
We have heard of fans who can’t use the system, so I would ask that if any Supporter knows someone like that, maybe they could give you the money and you could do the online part?.
We did open the turnstiles for four hours on the Friday and Saturday before the Kent KOC Match to gauge interest but in eight hours we sold eight tickets and since then we’ve shown six of those purchasers how easy it is to do ONLINE, so hopefully we aren’t losing out too much.
When we can reintroduce walk-up, we will as given the locality of the stadium it’s not possible to do telephone booking.
I am sure Lee has some other initiatives he’ll be happy to expand on too in terms of ticketing.
Lee: It does make a big difference as you’re having to introduce something which is predominantly alien to our sport.
At Swindon over the last few years we put a big focus on online tickets and we slowly but surely saw a rise year on year in people booking online. We dropped in complimentary programmes for early-bird bookers and were in the process of working on a rewards scheme for regular bookers.
At tracks like ours at Eastbourne, it had never been done so it is a big re-education process.
Birmingham are suffering more than most with this and it has a lot to do with their hitting of the pause button for four weeks as the easing of restrictions were delayed. Having to turn people away with cash in their hand is just awful, especially when people can come in and buy food and drink with cash inside the stadium.
TryBooking is secure, simple to use and self-explanatory. If people know people that aren’t attending due to not having the facility or opportunity to book online, all I can do is ask for the Speedway family to come good once again and help each other out.
I’d happily book for people and collect the cash, but as part of the management team I am unable to do so.
Online booking is here to stay now. I’m sure cash payment will return at some stage but online booking is the future and I hope people can get their heads around it and get involved.
Q. Some people may worry about what happens to their money if they buy tickets in advance and the match is postponed. What guarantees do Eastbourne Speedway give to fans when purchasing tickets?
Ian: All monies received are securely held by TryBooking so we can access funds after a match has taken place. As we saw with the Newcastle rain-off, some people have carried the tickets over to the rearranged Match (to be announced imminently); some have transferred to other matches and a significant number asked for refunds.
In almost every case, refunds have been done promptly and quickly, a few slipped the net initially as mailboxes got full, but we’ve added extra capacity to counter that so if a Match is Rained Off there are 3 simple options and no one should have any concerns at all.
Lee: I’ve nothing to add.
Q. We can all see these are difficult times, for Speedway, business in general and, of course, many supporters, some of whom could still well be furloughed. What’s your message to the fans and sponsors?
Ian: We know it’s tough. It’s tough for business, it’s tough for individuals. We are actively talking to current, past and future Sponsors and Advertisers and Lee is doing great work in that regard.
We know disposable income for the majority was a lot less than it was and things are tight.
What we have to do, and will continue to try to do, is to convince everyone that if they have to choose a night or afternoon out that Speedway wins the vote based on the excitement and affordability and the passion it can generate.
It actually staggers me to read in some newspapers that what seems like a significant number of people either haven’t suffered or are better off. Frankly, those journalists must live in a parallel universe.
We are somewhat “hemmed in” by 2020 deals done before Covid-19 and without a clue when those deals were done and agreements made about what was about to happen.
Whilst I feel it’s very important that we honour those deals and we will honour them where possible, I do think that next winter WILL have to see a reset and part of that will be to strongly consider REDUCING prices where possible and offering more season and block match offers.
We’re not able to do that at this time due to crowd limits but I promise that when we can we will, and our £10.00 NDL offer is an opportunity to show everyone our commitment and good intentions going forwards.
Lee: Thank you. Simple as that. The sport needs the support more than ever and for those that are coming out and supporting Speedway, it is a massive thank you. We have so many plans for the future and my Eastbourne involvement will stretch past 2021, that I can assure people. It’s a wonderful place and we have so many ideas to get people involved, engaging and interactive opportunities. As soon as the restrictions start to lift we can get more involved.
Q. There have also been troubles for the riders. Lewi Kerr injured, Drew Kemp quarantined, others not hitting form immediately, while others have. What’s your assessment of the team so far?
Ian: I have a simple view about “luck” and that’s born out of running a sports advisory business for more than ten years. Losers blame luck, winners wipe themselves down and get on with it.
In my view, over any reasonable period, it levels out and I strongly believe in both CL and NDL sides and am convinced both will soon deliver what we anticipated.
Lewi is an inspirational guy on and off the track, we miss him massively. We tried to book Steve Worrall as a guest (against Edinburgh) but he declined the opportunity and there was very little else available to us so when I got a call from Drew last Saturday somewhere on the M27 to tell me about his “positive trace” it was devastating news.
Again we tried a few options at short notice. Sadly Jake couldn’t make it due to work commitments, we couldn’t contact Danyon Hume in time but Alfie came in and did a great job.
Richard is consistently outstanding, a pleasure to work with;
Tom is improving all the time;
Jason will benefit from more racing now that Mildenhall have started their season in the NDL; and
What about Kyle last week, just off the scale – magnificent. His first words to me were “sorry”. That kind of commitment brings a lump to your throat and a tear to the eye, the reception he got summed up from all of you what a hero he is and he should be proud of his efforts.
Drew needs a run of matches to just get fully into the swing of things and I’m sure he will very soon as his outstanding efforts in Europe show.
Edward is clearly struggling for form and consistency, that’s clearly affected his confidence.
Confidence is easy to lose and hard to regain. I refute any suggestion he’s either not trying or not bothered, as I’ve read in some quarters.
He is a proud and honest man, his family circumstances have changed with a wonderful young son and family, and with it possibly his outlook but I know by looking him in the eye that he’s desperate to deliver and wants to deliver.
I do believe that sometimes you can try “too hard” so we’ll do what we can to help and the same goes for any rider.
Ultimately though, successful teams bring commercial success and everyone in both teams knows that if changes have to be made for the long-term viability of the business they will be made and we are constantly probing to see what the options may be in event of injury or loss of form.
We would be remiss if we weren’t doing that.
Similarly Henry’s loss offers Danno a chance in the NDL team. He felt aggrieved at being left out of the team but I’ve massive respect for the way he handled it and he now has the chance to take his career to another level and to remind me how wrong I was to leave him out initially. I hope he does.
Lee: Both teams have all the makings of successful teams. Experience, youth, potential, I see no reason why both teams will not end up near the top of their respective divisions. You need a bit of good luck, and really we haven’t had that good luck just yet.
Losing Henry in the opening meeting for the Seagulls for Leicester and an opening race 0-5 for the Eagles versus Poole really highlights this. But at times when things aren’t going your way, you have to pull together, stick together, work together and support each other.
Drew’s situation really shows the unpredictable times we are living and working in. Through no fault of his own, or ours, we were denied a rider against strong opposition that had the potential to score big and win us the meeting.
There is no question this was a contributing factor to the defeat versus Edinburgh. But these are the times we are living in and we must do what we can as a club and a sport to get through them. No-one at this club would deny a rider the opportunity to race and earn elsewhere.
After four league meetings for the Eagles our points difference reads -9. And for the Seagulls after two meetings it reads -4. I think we’re in for some close meetings and excitement this season.
Q. We have discussed the difficult times but supporters can see that Eastbourne Speedway is not standing still in terms of investment. What are the latest updates?
Lee: I think I’ve mentioned already that I see my involvement at Arlington as more than just this one season and a major factor in that is the relationship I have struck with Ian Jordan and Trevor Geer and their long-term goals for the club.
In what capacity I’ll remain will become clear as the year develops, but I see big things happening here.
Ian has a long-term plan in terms of investment, development and engagement. Arlington will undertake a facelift this season with noticeable improvements in appearance.
We have new business support with crowd facing banners on the home and back straight.
The business landscape is very different now and has been so challenging for so many, and we fully appreciate this, so our approach is very much about bringing new companies in at a financial level they can afford and manage.
Speedway is one of the best sports for interacting with sponsors and supporters and I take great pride ensuring this continues.
We are well on the way to funding the new air fence that will see us put safety measures in place to offer maximum protection to the riders and we are proud to have Team GB using the track for practise and track days.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the sport at the present time it is great to be at a club that is still fully focussed on what the future can bring, and believe me that future is good.
I read so much about the negativity of the sport.
So many people seem to want to put us down and pick every pulled thread to make the hole as big as they possibly can, but when speedway is done right, there is no nothing better.
I’m sure there hasn’t been that many occasions where home football fans have collectively applauded an away teams goal, but I’d hazard a guess in speedway home fans applaud away fans race wins at every meeting as the respect and admiration for the riders stretches past your own team.
Our sport is exhilarating, entertaining, exciting, and spectacular and I know that when we have ridden this current wave of uncertainty and unease, our sport will be back and I for one will be doing all I can to promote and progress it at Eastbourne and beyond.
Q and A on Zoom
Lee and Ian will do a live Q and A Zoom meeting next weekend. If you’d like to submit a question in advance, please watch out for further details about the live Zoom and how you can take part or submit a question in advance early next week
Click on the image below to purchase tickets for The Eagles V Glasgow Tigers
Image Credits: Mike Hinves