Dundee United owner Mark Ogren has laid bare the brutal financial realities at Tannadice as the club embarks on a cost-cutting programme that “could get messy”.
In his first interview of 2020, the American-based chairman has exclusively revealed that “everything is on the table” apart from redundancies as employees – players and management included – face the prospect of wage cuts.
Ogren made no attempt to camouflage his dismay at the Scottish Government’s reluctance to allow a graduated return of supporters into football grounds, as well as their lack of financial support for the country’s professional clubs.
He has invested millions of pounds into United since taking over but stressed that those funds are “limited”.
Fans can rest assured that a ‘for sale’ sign is not going up at the stadium, however, with Ogren’s commitment to the Tangerines unwavering.
March to October was the first phase of the coronavirus-hit Dundee United, with his support and furlough grants ensuring it was negotiated with minimum impact on staff. Now the second phase is beginning and it will be more painful.
“The first phase we had budgeted for so we anticipated it but we didn’t budget for this second phase,” said Ogren.
“We expected some fans back. As a result we’re doing a total review of the club’s finances and we’re going to be implementing some cost-cutting measures for the short term and the medium term to counteract what is happening.
“We have to plan now for the worst-case scenario of no fans this season. We’d like to think there will be fans in the ground before then but we can’t plan for it.
“We’d also like to think there will be some government assistance coming but we can’t plan for that either.
“We’re assessing everything from top to bottom.”
The process of consulting employees has begun – with only one red line.
“I’d like to think that redundancies are off the table,” said Ogren.
“We want to do everything we can to protect people and their jobs. But we just don’t know how bad this is going to be.
“This will impact everybody, no matter who you are and what position you have in the club. We appreciate you and thank you for your understanding in what will be your personal sacrifice.”
Ogren is the joint owner of an American baseball team, the Sioux Falls Canaries, and they have been put up for sale recently. But United fans should not take that as a sign of something similar happening with their club – the exact opposite, in fact.
“It has no effect on my commitment to Dundee United. We are absolutely not up for sale.
“We’re looking for local ownership (of the Canaries). It’s four hours from my home but I get there so occasionally. I’m not as plugged into that club as I should be. I’m focused more on Dundee United.
I’ve got limited funds…but I don’t want to scare people into thinking we’re going away because that’s not the case.
“I go to Scotland more often than I go to there. I’m as committed as ever, no question about it. It’s killing me that I’m not over there.
“I feel horrible for our fans. We haven’t been able to properly celebrate our promotion or get into any of our Premiership games that we fought so hard to be a part of.
“I feel their pain. I’m the same way. I haven’t been over there since February when we played Arbroath.”
Ogren added: “I’ve got limited funds. We need to figure this out.
“But I don’t want to scare people into thinking we’re going away because that is not the case.
“There were a lot of concerns about what the future was going to look like before I got involved.
“We’re going to figure this out but we’ll need help from the government, our fans and everybody at the club.”
Ogren wants to see the Scottish football community find a collective voice to encourage the Scottish government to understand, and react to, the crisis that is playing out.
“We’ve waited as long as possible in the hope that something was going to happen,” he said.
“There was talk of getting fans back but so far that’s all it has been – talk. We don’t have any action.
“Just to be clear, we’re only doing this because of Covid but I do have concerns for the future of Scottish football.
“How can businesses continue to operate when customers are banned? In this case our fans. That’s a recipe for disaster quite frankly.
“I don’t understand why we can’t do it.
“I know there are people who think differently but these are all open venues, we have protocols in place and there have been successful trials. We can accommodate fans safely.
“We’re not asking to fill our stadium to capacity but let’s gradually get supporters back in and prove that we can do it.
“Fans need to reach out and tell the government that this is important to them.
“We need financial assistance from them.
“Scottish football is a way of life. I can’t tell you how many times I was told that when I bought the club. The government needs to understand that and fans need to keep telling them.”
There are many sceptics who would scoff at the notion of turning a profit at a club the size of United but Ogren hasn’t given up on that idea. He believes it can still be done.
“I do,” he insisted. “Absolutely.
“It’s hard to make money and that’s why the academy is such a big part of our plan. It’s vital.
“It will potentially be affected like every other area of the club – everything is on the table right now. But we’re committed to our academy.
“Investing in Scottish football isn’t a get rich quick scheme.
“There’s a risk involved and I was told many times that I should get my head examined. I was told that if I wanted to make money this was not the way to do it.
“It was a risk I was willing to accept because I had faith in our plan and I had faith in our fans. They have been awesome.
‘Dundee United are going to survive but it could get messy’
“What I can’t accept is the government saying we can’t have any of those fans in our stadium without financial support to assist us. It’s hurting us badly – not just us but the rest of Scottish football.
“Is Dundee United going to survive? Yes it’s going to survive, but it could get messy.
“I didn’t invest in this cub to see it go away. We’re going to do what we have to do to survive this.”
It isn’t just getting supporters into Tannadice that needs to happen, it’s getting them into Tannadice in “meaningful” numbers.
“Five hundred isn’t meaningful and actually it would cause us more of a problem than help us,” he said. “It wouldn’t meet our costs.
“If it’s 500 to start, then great. But let’s also have a plan to ratchet that up incrementally so we can have something meaningful.
“We’ve got over 5,000 season ticket holders and our goal would be to get them in. We all rely heavily on match day revenue.”
It was around about this time last year that United posted a financial loss of over £3 million in their annual accounts.
Unsurprisingly, the figures are going to make grim reading in 2020.
“We’re definitely going to have another loss,” said Ogren. “It’s just a question of how big.
“We haven’t finalised the books. We got hurt badly at the end of last year and it will be bad again.”
Ogren’s message to Dundee United employees is this.
“I’d like to thank them for their understanding in anticipation of the cuts that are coming at the club.
“I appreciate their personal sacrifice and I’m more committed to them and the club than ever.”