A Detailed Explanation of What Happened and Why
Eastbourne Speedway Business Director, Ian Jordan, has written this article for the club website to explain the background facts as to why the club called off this coming Saturday’s home match against Sheffield.
The decision to seek the postponement of the scheduled meeting against Sheffield on Saturday, June 1, was only taken after detailed, frank and difficult discussions by Eastbourne Eagles’ management and promoters.
First of all, we would like to thank Sheffield Speedway for their prompt agreement to the request.
We will liaise with Sheffield to find a mutually agreeable re-staging date; and will notify this to everyone as soon as possible.
The fixture was arranged in January and we fully appreciate and apologise for any inconvenience that this cancellation has caused for supporters of both sides who may have made arrangements to travel to the match.
It is, we feel, vitally important to be fully transparent in explaining the reasons for the decision to call off.
The Champions League Football Cup Final between two English sides (Liverpool and Tottenham) is going to be one of the biggest sporting events relevant to UK sport in the past decade.
We cannot ignore the popularity of football and the interest in this specific game.
The facts are that as BT Sport transmit behind a pay wall, as all speedway fans know, as they have to pay considerable sums to watch speedway on BT Sport.
AS a result, it was our original and stated intention was to run our match on Saturday, June 1, as normal, as we felt that despite the game being on BT Sport and also Speedway GP being on BT Sport on the same night, that we had a duty and commitment to maintain the integrity of our fixture list.
However, late on Friday evening we were made aware that BT Sport had decided to remove the “pay wall” and to screen the football “free to air,” meaning that it will be accessible to everyone using the Sky or Virgin platforms and the vast majority using Freeview and other similar portals.
It will also be free via the internet and YouTube.
The entire dynamic of the situation has changed and with it the threat in terms of attendance at Arlington on Saturday evening.
Had the meeting been scheduled to be on BBC / ITV we would most likely have taken this decision far sooner? The reality is, as the final is now “free to air,” we will have a similar scenario.
It is very important though to point out that this is not the only reason for us to make this late and difficult decision.
‘For every meeting we have a detailed analysis of ticket and spectator data from all speedway meetings at Arlington staged since the start of this season’
There are some very specific business projections, that we have made.
We are able to do this because of the detailed analysis we have on income v expenditure, which not many speedway teams have.
For every meeting we have a detailed analysis of ticket and spectator data from all speedway meetings at Arlington staged since the start of this season.
As we explained at the start of the season, we do not have a “sugar daddy / rich investor” to bankroll the speedway.
Any losses would be borne by the directors, if they were made.
We also incurred significant start up costs in excess of £20,000 when we decided to re-enter professional speedway in the winter; and are only able to run in 2019 due to some fantastic and excellent sponsorship and support for which we are extremely grateful.
Our model and projections of our beak even figures and requirements are based around this sponsorship and a very detailed analysis of the numbers we need through the turnstiles at every meeting.
Our crowd figures so far in 2019 have been excellent and well above target and expectations but some clear and significant trends have already emerged.
All meetings have seen us exceed “break even” but whilst our best two crowds (which were double last season’s average) have been on Good Friday and May Day Bank Holiday Sunday.
Our Saturday attendances have been around 75% up on 2018 in two instances (Birmingham meeting on April 6 and Berwick last Saturday).
Our lowest Crowd, which was around break even, was against Glasgow on May 18.
It is highly significant that the two lowest attendances — although both excellent-have been on dates when we clashed with FA Cup Semi Final in which Brighton played on the April 6 and the FA Cup Final on May 18.
The attendance on May 18 was also clearly affected by the first round of the Speedway GP on BT Sport on that date and Eurovision, which clearly was a factor with some supporters.
The Football free-to-air on BT Sport this coming Saturday is also matched by round 2 of the Speedway GP on the same night.
It is a shame that when the 2019 Championship fixture list was decided on January 8 that full Speedway GP Fixtures were not known.
This coming Saturday was one of four unavoidable clashes. This chance to “re-stage” reduces that number, therefore, by 25%.
We fully understand that the hardcore speedway support that we enjoy, and which we much appreciate, will quite rightly point out that we should not postpone this fixture.
We are in a “lose / lose” scenario.
‘We would have had to run speedway next Saturday with a crowd figure of around 350 to 400 people’
The feedback of a big majority of supporters we spoke to on Saturday was that by a margin of 80% to 20% of those who voluntarily voiced an opinion (eg: telling us that they would not be coming on Saturday, due to either football or Speedway GP) that we would have had to run speedway next Saturday with a crowd figure of around 350 to 400 people.
That is somewhat lower than our own projection of around 500 people against Sheffield, but significant numbers have made it clear that they would not be attending, and we cannot ignore this kind of feedback from a business perspective.
We have considered all alternative options.
We cannot run the fixture on Sunday, June 2, as Sheffield have a home match.
We considered the option of a late afternoon start.
However, it quickly became clear that this option would not work because of the number of track staff and spectators who have work and or have other commitments on a Saturday afternoon.
We have also taken in to consideration the fact that this meeting was in a run of four consecutive home Saturday fixtures; which would have:
(a) stretched the pockets of some supporters who may have picked this one as the one to miss anyway; and
(b) means that we do not face the 2018 scenario of up to 6-7 weeks without a home meeting with (weather permitting) fixtures scheduled for June 8 and 22 and a reserved KOC fixture on June 30.
This ensures a nice balance of three scheduled fixtures still in June, which we have sought to maintain through the season.
Whilst we have been bowled over by the start we have made in terms of crowd figures, the bottom line is that if we were to run on a crowd of 400 next Saturday, which is based on an average of our projections and your feedback, we would lose in the region of £8,000 to £10,000.
We would therefore ask all those who are bitterly disappointed — which we fully understand and get the frustration — to ask themselves the simple question: “Would you open your business knowing that by doing so you may lose £10,000?”
The medium and long-term future of Eastbourne Speedway looks very bright and very positive based on all of the fantastic support and enthusiasm shown since the start of 2019.
We are more energised than ever to deliver on our promises and to ensure the long-term stability of the club.
An incredible amount of hard work and effort has gone in to getting us where we are now.
There will be times when difficult and sometimes painful decisions have to be made and this is one of them.
We want though to be wholly and fully transparent in a way that you may not be used to, but feel it is important that we deal in facts and front up and take the flak, however tough that may be at any time.
We simply cannot afford to risk losing £10,000 by staging a meeting that will not attract enough support to make it sustainable.
We are desperately keen to have speedway at Eastbourne for many years to come and are beginning to succeed in attracting the next generation of support.
With the full facts, we hope that you will appreciate and understand a little better why we made the decision to call off the match against Sheffield (and come and support us in all future matches) — even if you don’t agree with the decision.
Image Credits: Tiffani Graveling Photography & Mike Hinves