Doncaster Rovers chief executive on plans for return of fans

The return of 2,000 fans to the Keepmoat Stadium would be a loss-making exercise for Doncaster Rovers - but the club are still desperate to see it happen.

By Liam Hoden
Thursday, 17th December 2020, 12:00 pm

Should the town move into Tier 2 of the government’s Covid-19 alert system, Rovers will be permitted to welcome back crowds of 2,000.

With just over 2,000 supporters holding season tickets, there is little likelihood the club would be able to sell individual match tickets.

And chief executive Gavin Baldwin has revealed that staffing levels for matchdays will remain at the numbers used for pre-Covid games, to ensure the best possible safety measures are in place for supporters.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Will the South Stand at the Keepmoat see the return of fans soon?

While the return of fans would initially hit the club in the pocket, Baldwin says everyone at the club is committed to getting supporters back in as soon as and in whatever numbers possible.

“It would be a pure cost,” Baldwin told the Free Press when asked about the impact of crowds being limited to 2,000.

“Although there would be far less fans, we’d probably still go with the same number of stewards because we want it to be a safe experience.

“We want the experience to be best in class in safety terms.

“We’d be looking at one-way systems, how people enter the stadiums.

“We want people to come and genuinely feel safe, and walk away saying they really enjoyed it and want to come back.

“At the start we would over-staff it. We genuinely wouldn’t make any money from it and it would probably cost us £3,500 to £4,000 to staff those games.

“But that is something that doesn't cause us concern whatsoever and we’re willing to do that because we’re so keen to get the fans back.

“The players are so keen to see the fans back.

“It’s what we should do because the fans have been outstanding so far with season tickets, with match bundle tickets.

“It’s what we need to do as a club because it’s the right thing.”

Baldwin revealed Rovers will likely be required to take part in a pilot event limited to 1,000 supporters when Doncaster initially is moved into Tier 2.

But he is confident the club is more than ready to host much larger crowds in a safe environment after working on plans to welcome in more than 5,000 for much of the summer.

The government will announce next Wednesday which areas are placed in which tiers, though it appears unlikely there will be any easing of restrictions prior to the five day relaxing of measures over Christmas.

As part of their final preparations for the return of crowds, Rovers are to carry out a survey among supporters to discover what they want from a matchday during the pandemic.

Baldwin said: “We’re talking to the Supporters’ Board next week and Shaun [Lockwood, head of communications] is looking to do a survey with supporters to ask when they do come back, what do they want the stadium to look like.

“We want to have matchday experience with food and drink but also acknowledge that may not be possible immediately and it might just be a case of just coming to watch Doncaster Rovers play football.

“Everything we’re about right now is trying to be ready for as soon as we’re allowed fans in and trying to make it as safe but also as great an experience as possible.

“And we want to try every week to do more and more to bring it closer to a normal matchday experience that fans hopefully love and are used to.

“Those are the sort of conversations that we’re having at the moment with the Safety Advisory Group to say how can we do this, when can we serve food so it doesn’t restrict the capacity of the stadium.

“In the first instance when we’re allowed to, it’s likely the catering will be in the car park.

“If you go in the concourse, it takes up capacity and you’d have to reduce numbers watching the match.

“We’re confident that as soon as we’re allowed to, we'll be able to do the pilot with the thousand and move straight to the 2,000. And then if we’re fortunate and we move into Tier 1, we’re very confident we can do 4,000.

“We made full preparations to do just over 5,000 so we’re ready for every eventuality.

“Ultimately, and I don’t know whether this is realistic, but you would hope we’d go Tier 2, then Tier 1 and if we have any opportunity whatsoever to have full access to the stadium before the end of the season it will be incredible.”

As part of the survey, the club will also be asking supporters if they will attend when the stadium is reopened as some are likely to be shielding or awaiting vaccination against Covid-19.

“We’re aware that not all season ticket holders will want to come to the first few games,” Baldwin said. “There are some that might want to wait to get vaccinated.

“That is part of the survey we are doing where we’ll ask supporters if they feel safe to come and if they do want to come.

“We’d hope the atmosphere and excitement would be unbelievable and we would try to make it into an incredible day out for everyone whilst also being very respectful to those people who have struggled through Covid and we have to be mindful there are some who have lost their lives.

“Equally, we’re aware that if we did this great celebration with lots of activities, that may make the fans more nervous than just coming to watch the game.

“What we do will be the outcome of talking to the fans and asking them what they want us to do and the best things we can do to make them feel safe.”

*

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.