In the fourth part of our exclusive Q&A with chief executive Gavin Baldwin, deputy head of sport LIAM HODEN hears how the Belles could join Club Doncaster and how the Dons fit into the overall structure of the organisation.
Q: What is the latest situation with Doncaster Rovers Belles and Club Doncaster?*
Gavin Baldwin: “The Belles would be a perfect fit with Club Doncaster.
“I think the Belles coming into Club Doncaster would help people understand what Club Doncaster is and it would become a true club and add to that club.
“We’re in on-going talks with the Belles about how we can support them going forward.
“That support may be supplying the stadium at little to no cost, so it takes a big cost away from them.
“It may be assuming ownership of the Belles.
“Whatever happens, it’s got to be right for the Belles because they’re a very proud organisation. They’ve got to be happy that they’re not going to lose their core values by joining Club Doncaster.
“But also, we’ve got to be happy that the Belles coming into Club Doncaster is not going to hurt anything else we do.
“Those conversations are on-going at the moment.
“I’m hopeful at the very least that we can be their best friend. And at best we could come up with a model to work together that means we can get it to where we want to be.
“Again, women’s football is a moving feast.
“We could say that we’d have an ambition to be competing against Manchester City but we don’t know what that looks like at the moment and we don’t know if that is realistic.
“That is where we’re learning more by talking to Faye Lygo and her team but also the FA.
“We’re trying to learn as much as we can so that we can be realistic with our aims for the women’s football team, should we take it over or should we support it in some way.
“I am hopeful something will happen. It’s just what that is.”
*Since this interview was first published in the Free Press the Belles have announced they will play their home fixtures at Rossington Main this season but will ‘continue to work in close partnership with Club Doncaster’.
Q: How do the Dons fit into the organisational structure of Club Doncaster?
Gavin Baldwin: “The Dons were owned by Carl Hall and he was doing a brilliant job running it on his own.
“But it faced challenges because squad budgets were growing and therefore it was getting harder and harder for Carl to have a competitive team.
“We had a chat with Carl about coming into Club Doncaster.
“As soon as it did, it meant Carl lost a whole load of costs.
“We’ve got a core finance team, a core marketing team, core HR – so he lost all those costs.
“And those costs weren’t snapped up, they went straight into the team.
“What the teams here have done, such as the marketing team, is grow the revenues again.
“The sponsorship has increased massively under the partnership model which was introduced by Andrew and John from the commercial team.
“The media and marketing team have grown the crowds with the Challenge 1000 scheme for instance.
“All the Dons’ revenues have increased at the same time as losing overheads.
“It means their squad budget has increased significantly. And when I say significantly I mean it.
“If we keep adopting the model we’re using with the Rovers on budget, it will give the Dons the best chance of getting promoted.
“Essentially they’ve lost overheads because, for example, they don’t have to pay for an accountant, and also their revenues have increased significantly and they have been put into the team.
“When we got the Dons, they weren’t a loss-making organisation. Carl was doing a brilliant job.
“It was just that it was going to get harder and harder to do that brilliant job with squad budgets going up.”
Q: Is the goal for the Dons a place in Super League?
Gavin Baldwin: “We want to get promoted to the Championship and have a look again.
“Rugby at the moment is changing. There are conversations every day about the structure of Super League etc.
“We don’t know what it looks like yet so we’ll get promoted and have another look at that stage.
“That is the clear ambition.”
Q: Do you feel that supporters of the club and the Doncaster public understand what Club Doncaster is?
Gavin Baldwin: “We have got to do more work.
“I think the business community understand it fully. We can say that because we’ve got 50 commercial partners straight away.
“I think the fans of the clubs involved understand it. But I do think we’ve got to do more work on that.
“For instance, we have to be clearer on the revenue streams into Club Doncaster and the fact those revenue streams go straight into the sports teams.
“The whole endeavours that we do here are to generate revenues to make sure we have the best sports teams we possibly can.
“We’ve got to work harder with the fans on that.
“And then the community of Doncaster is a big challenge for us, so they understand even if you’re not a football fan, then Club Doncaster touches their lives, so they want to invest in and be part of it.
“An example is; last season we had 5,000 season ticket holders and a core fanbase of around 7-8,000 that come regularly.
“We’ve got 12,000 DNA Cards so we’ve got 4,000 people that never come to the football that have a DNA Card and are benefitting from the offers on there.
“That’s the sort of story we need to tell more, so the housewife in Askern is benefitting from Club Doncaster, wants her son or daughter to come to the Academy and also has a card where travel, accommodation, days out are more accessible and thinks of us as a friend.
“The more friends we’ve got, it just gives us more momentum.
“I do think that the business community understands us. I think the fans do but we’ve got far more work to do on that. We’ve got to bring greater value to them in Club Doncaster so they understand it more. And then there’s a bigger job on with the wider community.
“There’s a lot of work to do to be honest.”
Q: Do you see the Club Doncaster project as a success so far?
Gavin Baldwin: “Yes. It’s a start-up company.
“At the start Club Doncaster was an attempt to bring sporting clubs together, spread overheads which reduces costs which means more money can be put into the teams.
“That, crudely, was the initial plan for Club Doncaster.
“Now Club Doncaster is so much more.
“It’s now a culture, a spirit where we genuinely want to improve people’s lives, we want to make the football club and rugby club as good as they can be, and, it sounds a cliché but it’s true and we’re passionate about it, we just want to make Doncaster a nicer place to live, work and play.
“We appreciate the best way to do that is by having the best possible teams on the field.
“That is the passion.”