Slightly later than planned, we have now met up with Simon Brooke, the General Manager of the Oldham Event Centre.
We have taken all questions sent to us from fans around a number of issues and tried to pull together a comprehensive response. As fans, we have a right to be kept up to date regarding important issues so it’s important meetings of this nature continue to take place. We understand the gravity of the situation given that many fans are being asked to make decisions around season tickets for the 2021/22 season, without knowing whether our newest and best facility will be in use.
Firstly, we would like to add some context as to where we are. Over the last 12 months, one of the biggest talking at the club points has been the relationship between the OEC and the football club prior to and following the closure of the North Stand for matchdays in January 2020.
The survey undertaken by PTB in February 2020 highlighted that of all North Stand season ticket holders who responded (172 out of 732 respondents), only 13% of these would definitely renew for the forthcoming season. Clearly this is a key factor for fans and therefore important that we truly understand the current situation along with what needs to happen for fans to take their seats in one of the best facilities in league 2.
The club have provided information over the last few months via CEO Karl Evans, but we are yet to see any visible signs of progress towards a resolution to this matter.
There is also the issue of the Service Level Agreement (SLA) that was not signed for the 2019/20 season and therefore corporate hospitality boxes have not been in use since this point. This is potentially a significant sum of matchday revenue that is being lost by the club.
One thing that has been clear is that fans have been collateral damage through this process and this situation needs to change. In order for us to force this issue to a much needed conclusion, we need both sides of the story. This has led to this interview taking place.
As there were numerous questions around the occupation of the stadium and things of a similar nature, we asked Simon to offer a reminder of how things have been structured at Boundary Park since 2015 when the North Stand opened):
Simon advised that Brassbank are the landlords, they own the footprint of the Stadium and some pockets of surrounding land. OAFC have a lease for all the areas of football operation in the stadium. This includes, Rochdale Road End (seats/concourses), Chadderton Road End (seats/concourses), North Stand (seats/concourses) and the Main Stand (seats/concourses/offices) and of course the pitch. The club shop in the North Stand also falls under this lease. It has been like this since the North Stand was opened in 2015.
There is no separate lease payment for the North Stand seats/concourses, nor do OEC have control of these areas on matchdays. Simon also advised that the club’s lease is a full maintenance and repair lease. This means that it is the clubs responsibility to upkeep/keep safe any areas that fall under their leased areas.
The OEC is a hospitality business with a lease for the internal areas of the North Stand. Again, lease in place since 2015. Glo Gym is an independent business under the Oldham Community Leisure umbrella. They have a lease in place since 2015.
He was keen to stress that the above situation has not changed since the stand was open in 2015 and is a matter of public record.
As confirmed last year by Oldham Council’s legal team, Greater Manchester Police and in the course of the legal action brought by Mr Blitz against the Club/Mr Lemsagam over unpaid rent and debenture, the leases that are in place and the processes surrounding these were proven to be correct, legally binding and without question completely legitimate.
As mentioned above, until the end of the 2018/19 season, the club and OEC worked under an annual SLA. The football club have the option each year of choosing to use the hospitality facilities in the North Stand on matchdays. The SLA covers both parties on aspects of health and safety, safety operations and insurances.
We were advised that the OEC operates the facilities on an “at cost” basis on a matchday and within the SLA, the agreed costs per head for the provision of the food across the hospitality offerings that the club choose to sell. The club also received the income from the bar in the hospitality area minus the cost of sale and staffing etc on the day.
We asked if the above pricing was fixed, following comments made by the club around proposed increases ahead of the 2019/20 season. We were advised that any pricing is subject to negotiation based on what the club wanted to provide for each type of hospitality package.
We were advised that the football club have always set the pricing for season tickets, 100 Club, hospitality boxes and packages as well as matchday sponsors. For most of these the club received the full monies before the season kicked-off, but paid the OEC monies monthly though the season to aid the clubs cashflow.
We were disappointed to hear that the 2018/19 season payments for the provision of the hospitality service to OEC from the club became, at times, seriously delayed. We asked if any money was still outstanding from this period and we were told that there were still arrears in excess of £12,000 from this period.
It was also confirmed to us that there have been no requests from the club to talk about any hospitality usage since the beginning of the 2018/19 season (where there was a failure to reach an agreement over the SLA). This includes any talks since the new CEO was appointed.
Question – As OEC are leasing from Brassbank as i understand it, are there any talks on future ownership?
Simon confirmed that there have been no talks between anyone at the club and the owners/operators of either Brassbank or the OEC in relation to ownership of the OEC, since the offer to buy the stadium in March 2020.
Question – Would you agree with Karl Evans that it’s “just a few small things to sort out”?
We mentioned Karl’s comments about on-going talks of a positive nature. It was confirmed there haven’t been any talks with Karl to date other email correspondence between Karl and Simon Brooke, but no actual discussions have taken place regarding the opening of the stand.
The decision by the council in January 2020 was not to shut the stand, it was to impose a zero capacity on the seating area of the stand. The council were apparently very clear on this, as fundamentally the issues raised were not of a sufficient level to impose a prohibition notice. This would have resulted in the day-to-day OEC operations, club shop and gym having to close. It was noted that other areas of the ground were already under reduced capacity notices at the time and the capacity had been cut to under 10,000. Therefore, the club were still able to operate the same capacity despite the North Stand having a zero capacity.
We were advised that as OEC isn’t the safety certificate holder, the Safety Advisory Group (SAG) were unable to communicate directly with them. Any communications had to go via the Safety Certificate holder (Mr Lemsagam or any person he delegates this task to).
We asked if there was any outstanding work that would prevent the north stand opening again for the entry of fans. We were told that SAG have confirmed on numerous occasions, firstly in March 2020, then at the annual ground inspection that took place in July 2020, that all the required work had been completed. All the work was completed by February 2020. It was followed up to state that they can only assume the work referred to by the club/CEO is to do with work that is the responsibility of the club, certainly, if there is any further work expected of OEC/Landlord this has not been communicated by the club/safety certificate holder.
In light of the above, we asked what it is that actually needs to happen in order to get the North Stand open again for fans. We were advised that there are two options available to the club at the current time, the first and most simple being that the club sign the annual SLA.
The second option is that the club choose not to use the hospitality areas but sign a “Joint Operational Agreement.” with the OEC. The OEC submitted this to SAG in December 2019 and it was accepted. It requires the club to sign this and SAG will remove the zero capacity and the stand can re-open.
We asked if discussions had taken place with the club around the joint operational agreement and the OEC confirmed that the club have refused to enter into discussions and would only agree to a meeting if the clubs own operational agreement was signed in advance. We asked what the difference was between both documents and were told that one condition the OEC was unhappy with was to allow the club to have full control over who the OEC could employ and allow access to the building. This included full time staff. It was admitted by the OEC that if the condition to sign the document prior to any meeting taking place had been removed, they would happily have discussed this face to face in order to discuss any issues and sign the agreement.
Simon went on to add that (as is common knowledge), he is a lifelong Oldham fan, as are many people who are currently employed by the OEC. They are all desperate to get the stand open again and being able to contribute to the match-day experience so that it’s potential can be truly fulfilled. The reason the fans bar (in the North Stand) was originally set up, was to give fans a place to go before and after games and he felt this was a success while it was in operation.
Question- As the North Stand is owned by Brassbank (who are Directors of OEC) ask them for a copy of the Oldham Council Safety team audit that forced the Council to shut the Stand down until the safety non compliances were made good
We were advised that because the club are the safety certificate holder, they receive this document (not the OEC), it is therefore their responsibility to release this should they wish. PTB will speak to the club regarding this matter.
Question – If an agreement cannot be reached over the club using the stand will they be removing the suite from the footprint over which they control on the safety certificate to allow that facility to open independently?
We were advised that the landlord has already made the request to SAG last year for this to happen and is currently awaiting a response.
There was a question asked around a ‘pound for a pint’ scheme in the OEC when fans are allowed back but they didn’t feel this was appropriate to answer at the current time given the current landscape in terms of the pandemic.
We would like to thank Simon for his time and also accommodating the change to the date and time of the meeting at such short notice.
We have arranged with Simon to re-convene at a later date in order to be provided with correspondence that would support some of these answers. We will also look to gain more information around the questions we didn’t get to ask. We feel that the issues regarding the closure of the North Stand need addressing immediately and we will therefore contact the club to try and accelerate this process.
We will also look to follow up with any subsequent questions that this may meeting may generate.
As ever, PTB will continue to strive towards gaining a full understanding in the best interests of Oldham Athletic supporters.
If you wish to contact us following this, please do not hesitate to do so via the usual methods.
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