Bohemian FC is one of Ireland’s most iconic sporting clubs. As we prepare for the 2020 SSE Airtricity League season, we sat down with club director Daniel Lambert to chat about how they have been getting ready off the pitch and in the community.
SfB: You had a good season last year with performance on the pitch and in terms of attendance. How have you been able to consolidate that as we move towards the new campaign?
DL: It was a remarkable season but it was part of what’s been a long term trajectory over the past three years. Our ticket sales, merchandise and income have risen in each of the last three years.
On the pitch, Keith Long has overachieved on every metric. To qualify for Europe again on a limited budget is a huge achievement and gave a real lift to everything else that has been going on in the background.
We are limited in terms of the attendance numbers and were sold out for nine games last season with lots more very close to it.
In that sense, there is limited upside in what we can achieve so we focused on two areas this offseason that we could have an impact on.
The first of these was in our membership and the second was in long term commercial partnerships.
SfB: Tell us a little about what Membership of the club is all about?
The club is built on the membership ethos. Raising the number of people that we can bring in as members increases not only the financial picture but also the number of people that can get involved at a deeper level and really feel like they are part of the club.
It looks like we will be close to 750 members going into the new season. That’s higher than we have ever been before, even dating back to the 1940s. It represents around a fifty per cent increase on where we were a year ago.
SfB: Where has the growth come from?
DL: It’s down to a number of reasons. Our youth set up has never been stronger and parents within that are being encouraged to play a real active part in the club. The demographics of Phibsboro is changing as well and we are seen as a key element in the culture and the community that is so important.
There is also a sense of a fear of missing out with it becoming harder to get tickets.
We have our AGM next month and we might have as many as half of them coming along, enthusiastically looking to see what part they can play in the future of the club.
SfB: What is the membership package?
It changes year to year in terms of the number of members, each one having an equal share in the ownership of the club. That’s a pretty special thing to go beyond being a fan and actually having a share in saying and delivering how the club should be run.
Every single owner has a single vote and the membership costs €1 a day or €365 for the year.
We’ve seen a fair few transitioning from being a season ticket holder, which costs €210 up to being a member with the same benefit in terms of your guaranteed ticket but that bit extra as well.
Those that have moved up have been replaced by others looking to get a season ticket so the benefit has been very real for the club.
SfB: You signed up a new club sponsor at the end of 2019 as well. How has the commercial feel been around the club over the winter?
We’ve had great new partners over the last couple of years with the Credit Union, Bodytonic the Bar Group and the Back Page, as well as Mitsubishi and DHL. That’s a really solid base.
For the past six years, we have had Mr Green on the shirts. They have been great partners. They came in at a time when things were not so good and have been great.
Together though we realised that the growth of the club was going to come through youth and community and having a gaming partner as our lead sponsor was no fully in line with that. It was a very friendly decision but we did put ourselves back in the game looking for a new main sponsor last year.
The reaction was great with lots of interest and we chose to go with Des Kelly Interiors who have been closely associated with the area and the club over many years.
Des Kelly himself was a great supporter and they are bouncing back now after a few tough years through the downturn and with the arrival of IKEA.
We were both ready to start a new chapter together and they are on board now in a four-year partnership that has given us a greater sense of stability and of being rooted in where we are as a community club.
SfB: You are clearly tapped into the idea of active citizenship. Is that model of ownership viable in days of bigger investment from private sources into other clubs?
DL: There’s no doubt it is a challenge but being so much a part of the area, the people and the life of our community has its own rewards that are perhaps more sustainable and rewarding in the longer term.
When I came onto the board at first I’d wear a suit and dial down the fact that I was a volunteer. That’s changed now and the ethos is a major part of our whole identity. It’s something that is a real positive.
SfB: How important is the development of Dalymount Park?
It’s huge for us. We have grown from having six teams eight years ago, crowds around 1,200 and substantial debt.
Now we are debt-free, we have 24 teams and we are maxed out on attendance.
We have to get bigger in order to meet demand. The youth teams and the Women’s teams are just as important as the first team and we need to grow as a club to give them the support they need. We know that performance on the pitch is important but we will never jeopardise the club to win a trophy.
The next phase of funding for the Dalymount project with Dublin City Council has now been approved and that will give us a base with all sorts of additional community benefit as well as doubling the potential size of those that can come to see the club play to 6,000.
Adding in the income from a larger capacity goes almost straight to the bottom line.
This year we will have only a couple of hundred seats to go on general sale throughout the season so it really can’t come quickly enough.
SfB: So how are you going about building the sense of community that will fill the stadium?
The marketing budget for Bohemian Football Club since I came on board has been zero. We have had to be smart in terms of pushing out beyond the simple fact of coming to games on a Friday night.
We have reached out to different elements of the community. We have a choir now, we have a club poet and we have an arts group that designs our matchday posters.
Everybody gets to play a part by doing what they can do to make being part of us something special.
All the sentiment now is really positive. People like what we are doing and they are helping us to become stronger in lots of different ways.
Having so many new members gives us the challenge of helping them to really feel a part of the club. We have been able to link in new fans with old and get the right balance between those who have been with the club forever and those will hopefully be so into the future.
Some might have questioned some of the ‘hipster’ element od how we have been seen but it has delivered and we will keep pressing on.
Everyone loved the Terraces Not TV video we produced with Jamie at Push and pull last year. It really captured what being a fan of your local club was all about.
We will be dropping in on Bohemians through the season and will also be having a chat in the next couple of weeks with others that are ready to play a big part in the new bright future that domestic football is heading towards.