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Archived News from January 2008

9th January 2008 11:57

Stags CEO answers your questions

CHAD.CO.UK, 9 Jan 2008

WE gave Stags fans the chance to put their questions to new Mansfield Town FC chief executive Stephen Booth, appointed last month — when owner Keith Haslam took a backwards step from Field Mill — to stabilise the day-to-day running of the Stags and to find a buyer. Log on to chad.co.uk for daily news from the Stags
Q: I have been a Stags supporter for 45 years, and I am one of the many people who refuses to put another penny in Keith Haslam's pocket. I watch the Stags as often as possible at away matches, but I will not attend Field Mill. I totally appreciate the fact that the club will suffer without mine and other supporters' attendance. But that is small compared to the mess we find ourselves in because of the lack of funds caused by money taken out of the club, for whatever reason, by its current owner. I am a director of a business in Stockport, and trust and honesty with our staff and customers makes the business. Until the supporters of Mansfield Town receive that trust from the club, they will not return. Mr Booth, what can you say, that has not already been said, to get that trust back, and also guarantee that the owner takes no more cash out of the club?

A: May I first say that the current predicament of the club is not due to Keith Haslam taking funds from the club, but rather the lack of revenue from the club's core activity (league football) resulting in mounting losses which are eating into the reserves accumulated in previous seasons. When he took over the club it was heavily in debt, played in a ramshackle stadium (which the club didn't own) and was on the brink of extinction. Compare that situation with today:
1. The club is debt free (and has money in the bank)
2. We have a new, purpose-built stadium
3. The club owns the ground.
There is little or nothing I can say to win back the trust that I have not already said i.e.:
1. I am in control of the club and its finances.
2. I am attempting to re-engage with all constituencies.
3. I am actively pursuing the sale of the club.
Whilst I have to respect your views continued boycotts only serve to make my job that much harder.

Q: In rough figures, how much does Mr Haslam want for the club - whether it's the whole lot or similar to the Derry deal and renting the ground. Based upon your evaluation of the business situation at MTFC what is a fair price for the club? Does your valuation match what Keith Haslam is asking for the club ?

A:As I have previously stated no negotiations will be conducted in the media and all parties are the subject of confidentiality agreements. If you wish to make an offer for the club then, subject to proof of available funds, I would be happy to enter into a confidentiality agreement with you at which point your questions would be answered.

Q: Do you have the authority to allocate manager Billy Dearden extra transfer funds and increase the wage bill for the crucial January transfer window? Will Mr Haslam have any influence on transfer decisions?

A: You should already be aware that I have recently met with Billy to discuss the strategy for playing staff during the transfer window – including giving him an indication of the potential funds available. Any decisions on players rests with Billy but he must also convince me as to the reasons for his decisions before I will authorise any expenditure.

Q: Keith Haslam is still the majority shareholder. If you succeed in the brief you were given, then by the end of the season we will see Mr Haslam with a more profitable football club to sell, and surely at a higher price than he is currently asking?

A: Most unlikely as the value of the club as an asset neutral trading operation (i.e. debt free and excluding the land) is its franchise value. This will not be materially affected by any stemming of losses, but would be if the club were to be relegated.

Q: Why is the club losing money when money has been taken out of the club by Mr Haslam's company through a loan and not repaid? Is MTFC Ltd going to ask Stags Ltd for the £585K monies owed for the Beck Lane land loan? You state that the club needs 500-1,000 more paying fans to keep the club above water. Even if the maximum 1,000 fans paid the maximum £18 entrance fee for the maximum 23 games a season, this would generate £414,000, £121,000 less than Keith Haslam's loan which is repayable on demand. So, using your own figures, the value of Keith Haslam's loan would keep the club above water for over a season at the very least, and more likely to be two seasons. The true test of whether you are here for the club or Keith Haslam's benefit lies in whether you demand this repayment. When are you planning to demand repayment?

A: You are confusing balance sheet items with profit and loss items. The loan is an asset which will be repaid prior to any sale. The repayment will not, however, have any impact on the profit and loss account. On the other hand the income from increased attendances would serve to reduce the losses which have accumulated during the current season and are eating into reserves from previous years and, as a consequence, the cash balances of the club.

Q: "Keith (Haslam) has made it very clear that he is a very willing seller. He wants and needs to move on, but the deal has to be right . . . what is right for Keith Haslam will be right for Mansfield Town FC. He wants to see that the long-term future of the club is secure."
How can you expect any fan to believe your statement? Why should anybody believe that Mr Haslam, the major shareholder of MTFC, is not 'pulling the strings'. Do written guarantees exist, signed by Mr Haslam, ensuring no 'back tracking' or on any statement made by Mr Haslam regarding the running of the football club?

A: As you may be aware I am a Chartered Accountant by profession and, as such, have a professional reputation to protect. If I was not satisfied that Keith Haslam had relinquished control I would not have accepted the role and if I ever feel he is attempting to exert control you won't see me for dust. Having said this, Keith has vast experience of the intricacies of the football world and I would be failing in my duties if I did not seek his advice on matters that I have little or no experience of.

Q: Why would MTFC as a business close down instead of selling it as a going concern? Lots of other clubs in the last few years have headed into administration rather than fold. Yet you state MTFC will fold without investment. MTFC has no debts by all accounts, even actually having creditors, so why would the club fold rather than head into administration? Winding the club up would secure Keith Haslam's nest egg, going into administration would put it at risk. Are you here to protect Keith Haslam's nest egg at the expense of the club?

A: Administration is only an option when an operation is, in essence, insolvent. This is not the case with MTFC which you rightly state is debt free (although I think you mean it has debtors rather than creditors). Winding the club up is very much a last resort and would be extremely detrimental to the shareholders as there would be no 'franchise' value and the value of the stadium and land would plummet. A more likely scenario would be that the club would continue to operate as a non-league team on a vastly reduced budget. Is that to anyone's benefit?

Q: How much money will you be taking from the club in terms of a salary, % of club sale fees or bonus payments if you get the amount Mr Haslam wants for the club? Fans are more likely to come back to the Mill if they know that Mr Booth is not just in it for a quick smash and grab himself.

A: I am unwilling to discuss my remuneration save to say that:
1. It is far less than I would normally charge and
2. I have to date paid from my own pocket in excess of £2,000 (none of which has been charged to the club) for the staff Christmas party, travelling expenses and the Wembley draw prize.
As for me being here for a quick 'smash and grab' raid, I would have thought that the time and effort I am devoting to the club rubbishes that theory.

Q: Surely, the only difference now is that we put our 'tenners' into your hands . . . yet if we stay away it forces Mr Haslam to put a bit back and stops him taking more out of the club.

A: I won't demean myself by responding to this preposterous suggestion.

Q: Mr Booth has stated that he is now in charge of the club and that he wants fans to return, how can he guarantee that any extra revenue will be used to move the club forward and not be taken out by Keith Haslam who is still the owner?

A: See above.

Q: Mr Booth stated that the club needs £20k immediately to sort out the gates and some seats, but that money is not available. I would like to know where has the money gone from the FA Cup game against Harrogate Railway?

A: To help stem the losses from our core business.

Q: The forecast loss of £500,000 for this year was documented well before the FA Cup tie and Harrogate TV money. Why hasn't this projected loss been decreased by at least £75,000?

A: It has and has been further reduced by the Brighton monies but:
1. Some of these funds have been allocated to playing costs and
2. No-one should lose sight of the fact that the core business continues to lose money.

Q: Does Mr Booth see the continued involvement of Keith Haslam, however passive that might be, as the main obstacle to MTFC moving forward? If yes, how would he recommend to Mr Haslam that he extracts himself from the sorry situation? If no, what does he see as the real obstacles?

A: The real obstacles are:
1. Our current league position,
2. The continuing protests (football is a leisure industry and people don't want to spend their hard-earned money to hear abuse directed at someone who has clearly distanced himself from the club) and
3. The fact that, at present, there is no viable suitor (although I am working hard to address this).


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