Skip to main content Skip to site footer
Interviews

Transcript: Chairman provides update on MKFM

Pete Winkelman on the Stadium MK business, the 2019/20 season and what the future holds for MK Dons...

13 June 2020

Read the full transcript from Pete Winkelman’s interview on MKFM’s MK Dons Fans Forum show…

On the latest at Stadium MK…
“We’re so pleased to actually have things happening again at the stadium, with the snooker and the darts coming up on July 8th. We’ve worked out how to be Covid secure and I have some great people working on that at the stadium. There is a lot going on but it still doesn’t feel normal. Like everyone, I’m wondering when we’ll get back to something approach normal again. Even with things going on at the stadium, we’re still a long way to feeling like it used to.”

On life in Lockdown…
"My son has just had his third baby and my daughter is just about to give birth to her second baby. It’s been a busy couple of years. The last few months, though, I’ve seen the new baby twice and one of those was through the car window. This is going to take a lot of getting used to this is. It's lasted months and it might be a full six months before there is any sort of real normality. That is a long time for people to be acting differently. I do feel for everybody and we are all going to have support each other through this, as we’ve seen people do all the way through this in Milton Keynes.”

On having time to assess the business…
“It’s been a remarkable time. Normally, in any business, you never get the chance to stop and really take stock or look ahead to the future. You’re usually just busy worrying about this week and next week. I’ve found it fascinating to get right under the bonnet of our business and look at how we are doing things. Over the years, the business has grown so much year on year. No year has ever been the same. I’ve found that the most positive thing through all this. I probably know more about my business now than I have for some time. It’s helping us focus on what is going to be important moving forward and what time of business we want to be in Milton Keynes. We’re proud of being the number 1 hotel in Milton Keynes but what makes it really special, is we can be focused on delivering big events in our area. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes, looking at what else we can bring to Milton Keynes this year and next year. Lots of planning but I’m trying to find the positives in this.”

On the stresses caused by the Coronavirus outbreak…
“The games are usually the most stressful thing you go through. I’ve found it actually gets harder as the years go by too. You’d have thought you would get used to it but actually, because you’ve seen everything, it actually gets more stressful. Part of me actually quite misses it because the stress has absolutely been replaced by the stress of looking at our business through this. We have all the different aspects of the business and the stresses arise when you see crisis occurring. The biggest part of that stress is the people and for all the positives that I have at the moment, we have still had to make redundancies. I cannot see the business coming back as we left and that means we’re having to make fundamental decisions which I take so seriously. It’s such a difficult process to go through but it’s a process we have to take because we’ve got everyone else to bear in mind. The people are the most important aspect of our business. We are a big employer of Milton Keynes and we’re holding onto everything we can to ensure we can move forwards, because I do believe that there will be time when we’ll be back and happening. What we don’t know is how long that time will be before we’re fully back and happening and that’s a big question when you’re such a big employer of people, with a big clash flow to manage. It is stressful but it’s countered by some fantastic things that have happened, like the supporters and so many of them sticking with the Football Club. We’ve sold a number of Season Tickets for next year even when we don’t know when we’re starting. The Marshall Arena is one of the only places in the country that is currently working and it’s working for benefit of people all around the world. We’re continuing to deliver those events and that is helping us as we look to get more things. There are some fantastic things going on but we’re probably only at 25% of what we’d normally be at. Therefore there has to be consequences of that.”

On Stadium MK being described as ‘the safest place on earth’…
“To be able to successfully deliver one of these events and receive a compliment like that, is the best we could possibly ask for. Barry Hearn is one of the major sporting promoters in the world and to have him announcing that to the press – it doesn’t get much better than that, at this moment. What will be better than that, though, is getting a full business back and everybody back to work – that’s still the ultimate goal. In the meantime, that does show how well we’re trying to cope.”

On hosting big events at Stadium MK…
“The big events is what drives our business forward. When we built the stadium, it wasn’t just built to be a hotel, it was built to be a focus of attention for Milton Keynes. That’s where we’re delivering. We’ve had some fantastic events – I’m still not over the fact that we had Brazil here or that we beat Manchester United 4-0 at Stadium MK. Those are the things I dreamt about and they came true. It’s important that events continue here and that drives our business forward. We had some fantastic concerts here last year and it will be a real shame not to see My Chemical Romance here, which would have been coming up in less than a week’s time. That’s what we’re about. I don’t believe that if you’re in Milton Keynes, you should have to go anywhere out of our city for big events – you should have everything on your doorstep. Stadium MK is a big part of that. Where we haven’t delivered and where we’re still frustrated, is that I haven’t been able to replicate the off-the-pitch success with the football team. That’s a massive frustration and probably loads of our supporters. That’s something we can hopefully address over the coming years because that really is, very much, the focus. Everything is, ultimately, about the football.”

On the decision to curtail the 2019/20 season…
“I think lower down the leagues it was the only sensible decision to be made. We were prepared to play on. There were teams in our league who had a hell of a lot to lose by not playing and had they been able to convince half the clubs to keep playing then we’d have been one of them clubs. I still fundamentally believe we’re in the business of football, so if there is the opportunity to play football then we should take it. However, these are ridiculously difficult times and it would have been very expensive to finish the season. For the Premier League and Championship, the TV money matters but when you get to League One and Two, it doesn’t really have much affect on our incomes. Gates, of course, do. It was a sensible decision but do I feel sorry for those who are affected? I do because I can imagine being in their position. It’s all if buts and maybes. Football isn’t fair. We’ve all experienced that. We are where we are and we have to accept it. For us, it means we can go again next year in League One and we’re really looking forward to it. It will be a competitive league and there should be some big teams in it. I know that me, Russ and the players that are with us are really looking forward to just getting back to playing again. I, personally, can see us being back playing in front of some sort of crowds by the middle of September. I think that is a realistic possibility and it’s what one of our plans works on. Football just isn’t the same without supporters. It’s a live event and we’re not going to be able to enjoy in the same way until the fans are back. I still think there will be restrictions but maybe, for once, they won’t be able to sing ‘your ground’s too big for you’ because it will just be about the right size."

On when the 2020/21 season may begin…
“It’s not just an EFL decision, they’ve got to see what the Premier League are doing and they’ll be waiting to see what UEFA are doing. It’s why it can take so long for decisions to be made in football. Circumstances continue to change. Just a month ago, I was starting to think we wouldn’t have fans back in for another year whereas things have started to improve where we can see supporters back in some capacity. There are so many things to work out but I’m very hopeful we will have fans back when we start the season in, probably, mid-September."

On having confidence in the business…
“I can be confident because we have a fantastic back in Santander. They are very important business in Milton Keynes and they have certainly helped us through this situation. I’m hugely grateful to them. We’ve had to make some huge decisions in terms of looking at what our future overheads will look like. We’re waiting to see how the furlough schemes develops between now and October and there might have to be more decisions to make but I’m totally focused, as I have been the whole time, on trying to make sure we have a business to come back to and we have employment for people to come back to. Looking at the positives, maybe we can come out of this running the business better and we can use some of this learning time to make the forthcoming years the best years that we’ve had. I’m going to be positive but definitely, it’s been a tough thing to get through.”

On the situation for other football clubs…
“I’m surprised there hasn’t been more twitching, in all honesty. I know how hard it’s been for us, even with a significant and secure business we have behind it all. I cannot see that in a lot of other football clubs, so I can absolutely see other clubs getting into trouble. Certainly, clubs will have a lot less money to spend over the next 12 months than they did before this. There will be tightening of belts and we will be doing that too. We do, though, have a strong group of players who are signed for next season and therefore I’m confident we’ll be competitive nonetheless. I do feel for all the clubs out there. There are no doubts that the government schemes have been absolutely vital in keeping strong businesses like our own afloat and with the opportunity to plan and move forward.”

On how the Coronavirus will affect next season’s player budget…
“It will be affected. I can’t tell you how much it will be affected. We are looking at how we can create our strongest squad and then working out if we can spend that money. I have multiple different budgets for all the different scenarios. What I can say is that I believe we will be in one of the best positions. I don’t see us going out and signing players for money, but I do think we’ll be in a great position to pick up free agents and, of course, loan players. Russ has loads of strong relationships as do we as a Club, and so I think we’ll be in a relatively strong position. What that looks like and what the budget is, I don’t know. At least we’ve got a business where these things can happen when there are going to be businesses where the question will be whether anything can happen at all.”

On MK Dons’ out-of-contract players…
“There are a number of players that will be leaving us that we would rather didn’t leave us, and therefore there will be negotiations going on with them. There will also be players who will be leaving us and not coming back. This is a really tough time because some of these are players that have given us good service and that we’ve got relationships with. Next season, we cannot carry anything. We have to make sure the players that we have, have the ability to be fit and available as much as possible. We need to make that squad the very best it can be. We have a very good base that we’re building on. The spine of our team is very strong. That gives us a good chance to make sure we’ve got a competitive situation for next year. With Russ at the helm, I don’t see us being near the bottom of the table. I do have that ambition for us to be near the top of the table but, of course, who knows in football. We’re very busy and we’re all over everything. Russ knows what he wants to do and let’s see how far we get with that. That will explain to our supporters where we will be for next season.”

On squad sizes next season…
“Across football, there will be smaller squads. We had a very, very big squad this year. We will not be repeating it player for player. That will happen across the board. Squad sizes are going to be very relevant – they are even talking about restricting squad sizes. That makes the development of youth players all the more important. If you tighten squad numbers, it does give opportunity for some of our talented youngsters to be blooded earlier than they might have done. There will be not be the budgets to have some extra players. I think every club will be thinking extra hard about the players they sign.”

On the MK Dons fans…
“Our supporters are quite special. I know everyone will say that but we have to remember we are a controversial club, so to support MK Dons takes a little bit more effort than with most clubs. Those supporters, so many of them, have stayed with us on the journey, even though we haven’t achieved what we set out to and become a sustainable Championship club. “

On the Club’s compensation policy…
“Fundamentally, our Season Ticket holders didn’t get the games so they should get their money back. In this climate, giving money back, with no real income coming in, is a hard thing to do so we looked at some other options and for every supporter who does something different, I’m really grateful. Some of those refunds are needed. Everyone is in different circumstances and if they’ve got to have their cash, they can have their cash. To be fair, even if we had been behind closed doors, they didn’t get what they paid for. We will continue to the right thing for our supporters. Every penny helps because we’ve got to navigate our way through this and reduce the impact that this has on us moving forwards. Even when we come back we won’t be in the same place we were before and that’s why we’ve taken some really difficult decisions. At the end of the day, I want us to go forward and continue to deliver great events for Milton Keynes.”

On the 2019/20 season…
"Last season is definitely a season I want to forget but one amazing thing happened – hiring Russell Martin. He has delivered everything that I hoped he would. We gave him a really hard task. He had to take over a team that was in the relegation zone and had completely lost its confidence, with strikers that still weren’t back. He had to change completely the way that we played, to bring us back to the Milton Keynes Dons identity and our philosophy. I think Russell is a serious manager and I’m really excited to see what we can do next year. My task is to make sure that I can get as many as the players on his list as possible to give us the best fighting chance of going back up the table. I’ve got great confidence in him being able to get us back to what MK Dons has been about since Paul Ince in 2007. We are a dynamic, football-playing team. We want to be a very entertaining and exciting team to watch. We want to improve our players and increase the value of our players. It’s been great to get back to that. Russell is getting back us back to that Milton Keynes Dons way. There is a Milton Keynes Dons way and our supporters know what that looks like and it what it can look like at its best. He wants to get us back to that. It was that belief that made me give him the job after 10 minutes of talking to him. Even in the bad times, there is always some good things to come out.”


Advertisement block