Upon the exciting announcement that BAFA would be recruiting a new, paid, Chief Executive Officer post, I reached out to BAFA Finance Director Stephen Jones to both learn more about the state of the game’s finances, and also ask the question the whole community seemed to be asking: How were BAFA planning to pay for the the new full-time, £50k per annum post?
N.B. It’s worth noting that this interview was done prior to last night’s announcement of the BAFA 2020 Budget, but Stephen Jones has agreed to happily answer further questions the community may have relating to the breakdown of how BAFA will be intending to assign resources moving forwards.
DC: Hi Coach, or I guess Director Jones now? Thanks for speaking with us and helping keep the community informed about the financial situation of our sport.
First things first, congratulations on your appointment as BAFA’s first Financial Director. I guess we should start with something fairly broad. For those who weren’t able to attend the AGM in 2018, I’m sure the community would appreciate a general outline of the sport’s financial situation?
SJ: Thank you. I have retired from coaching now to put some time into helping BAFA get better. When I put myself forward for the role I did think engagement with the general British American Football community was important, as well as looking at the financial processes and governance from the NGB, so I welcome this opportunity.
At the AGM in September 2018 I presented the last two years accounts (2017 and 2018) and the budget for the year ending March 2019. The financial year end for BAFA is 31 March.
In 2017 BAFA ran a deficit (or loss) of £128k and in 2018 there was a deficit of £76k. I committed to make small surpluses (or profit) going forward and presented a budget which had a surplus of £10k for the year ending 31 March 2019.
The big areas of change was in expenditure especially on National Programmes, the previous Board had decided to spend some of the previously built up reserves on the various National Programme teams including men’s Adult, Women’s, Youth, Flag, GB Students etc and in those two years £475k was spent on those activities. There were other areas of spend which we have looked at closely with a view of matching expenditure to the strategic priorities.
There was also a cash flow situation which needed immediate management, in particular, university teams and GB Adult men participants had not paid the fees they had signed up for and if action had not been taken, BAFA would have run out of cash in Autumn 2018 (). With the support of the community, some difficult decisions on where to stop or defer spending were made and working in conjuncture with BAFCA and BAFRA and putting in place better processes going forward we were able to manage a way through the situation and I feel more confident about going forward on this issue. We still have work to do to ensure this doesn’t happen in future, including improving our cash forecasting processes.
The full year accounts for the year ended 31 March 2019 are being finalised and the draft may well have been released by the time this interview is published.
The finances have been particularly brought into focus for BAFA members recently following the announcement of the goal to recruit a full time paid CEO. I suppose there’s two key areas we’d appreciate greater insight into – firstly why was the recruitment of a paid CEO considered a priority by board, over what I’m sure were a wealth of other areas that are also crying out for investment?
Money has been spent in previous years on different initiatives (such as the National Programmes mentioned above) these have not changed the basic structure or governance of the sport, yes some things have been done better, but there has not been the step change needed to substantially move the sport forward.
Although the Board changes instigated by the previous Board are a step in the right direction the segregation of governance from day to day activities has not yet been achieved. Different appropriate skills have been brought onto the BAFA Board but Board members (like myself) are still far too involved in actual day to day running of the sport. It is not appropriate to govern yourself in this case!
Something had to change to move forward, doing what we have always done, even if done better, will not make the significant change nearly everyone in the community wants. The BAFA Board believe recruitment of a skilled professional to fulfil the CEO role is the best way to make the necessary step to change to BAFA for the future. The faith Sport England have shown in the desired changes BAFA are proposing and in financially supporting the recruitment process, is a good indicator this is the right direction for the sport.
The timing is also important as we need to fully involved and engaged in the Sport England funding process for the next phase in 2020.
DC: Secondly, a £50,000 annual salary is no small commitment – given the sports limited revenue streams, there are obviously some concerns as to whether the sport can afford this?
SJ: The job is a big one, it will not be easy, it will require a great deal of skill, knowledge and sports administration and funding expertise to be successful, we want to attract a high quality of applicant. We are in a competitive market for the level of person who will make a real difference. The Board felt after consulting with other bodies such as Sport England that this was the appropriate level.
The budget for 2020 and planning forecast for 2021 have been produced on the basis on having the costs of a CEO in place from September 2019, this is based on income staying at similar levels as previous years with a small positive impact from the fees review that we have recently undertaken. There are small surpluses budgeted for in each year.
There is risk in every budget, income may be lower, expenditure may be higher than anticipated, this is normal for any organisation and it is the BAFA Board responsibility to ensure that any changes are managed properly.
One of the objectives for the new CEO will be to facilitate commercial income to help boost the available income to invest in the sport, the initial plans do not include any additional funding from this source so should allow an improved investment position as early as possible.
DC: One of the key points mentioned in the announcement of the CEO role was the goal to build towards greater financial support from Sport England. Are you able to provide further information about how this appointment will contribute to Sport England looking more favourably on potentially providing greater support to American Football in the UK?
SJ: To obtain significant funding from Sport England a sport must be able to demonstrate that they are compliant with Sport England’s Tier 3 Governance Code. The board have been working behind the scenes to become compliant with this code and bringing in a CEO in the first step to ensure there is a division between the board and the day to day running of the sport.
BAFA is one of the largest NGB’s to not have a full-time paid member of staff with sports such as Baseball and Softball employing 7. Sport England are very pleased with this way forward and have said in their experience the step we are taking has been a real game changer for other sports and once we have the CEO in place, they have committed to BAFA some additional support around getting us ready to be considered for funding in the 2020 cycle.
DC: An area of the sport mentioned in the announcement as a priority for investment should greater funding of the sport be attained was the National Programme, the GB Lions. As there are so many areas of the game also crying out for further investment, what places the Lions at the front of the line over things such as the BAFA Schools Initiative, further support of struggling formats of the sport such as U17 and U19, or just investing in effective promotion of the sport in order to increase funding through greater participation?
The current Board has prioritised development activities such as Coaches, officials, U19 and youth parts of the game, but has also maintained a substantial contribution to the running of the National Programme. The adult contract programmes should be the area’s most likely to help bring in commercial funding and that is why they were mentioned in the communication.
There are a lot of areas of the sport that need work and it is never easy to prioritise. Each commission lead we have has/is putting together their budgets and requests for what funding they need in their area of the sport. Areas such as the school’s initiatives cost less to run as there are partnerships in place with the NFL, Jaguars and others who help run programmes at no cost to us and gives us a lot of value around bringing kids into our sport.
Participation growth is a key area for the NGB but we are still playing catch up in putting in effective structures and programmes in place that can support those new participants. We often only get one shot at attracting people into our sport and if there is experience is poor, we will lose them forever. The Lions programme being successful is one of the greatest opportunities for the sport both commercially and from a participation perspective as that is the area where our youth and junior players should be aspiring to be.
DC: Will fees have to go up to pay for the CEO?
Fees will be increasing in some areas for the 2019/2020 registration period – but also reducing in others to hopefully help encourage participation, particularly for youth and junior football. So, no, fees are not going up to pay for the CEO.
At the AGM in September I committed to review the membership fee structure, fees had not been reviewed since 2014. There was a feeling that they were too low when compared to other sports in the UK and European American Football.
In practical terms the review meant comparing fees to other sports (and activities) in the UK, comparing British American football fees with other European countries for American football and speaking to influencers and key volunteers in the sports to gain a view on what was an acceptable level and structure, this included administrators, and team managers.
The proposed changes are currently being checked to see if practical by the registration team and will be published as soon as possible thereafter.
The expected overall income from this new fee structure was the assumed income for the 2019-20 budget and set the level for expenditure to make a small surplus. This expenditure includes support for National Programme, competitions, Youth support, Insurance, etc and includes CEO costs as well, as you can now see in the released budget break down. So any changes in fees are not related to any particular initiative, but many.
DC: Thanks for all the information Coach, it’s great to get further insights into the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of some of the decisions being made by the board. I suspect we may speak again quite soon once the community’s had a chance to take a close look at the newly shared budget!