“I was contacted last year by a man who asked me to give him an interview for a Leeds United fanzine. When I, quite reasonably, asked him what its circulation was he replied, “That’s none of your business”, before disappearing into the night. If there is to be transparency then it has got to apply to everyone.”
- from Ken Bates’ programme notes v Nottingham Forest, April 2, 2011
Dear Mr Bates,
In your programme notes for the match against Nottingham Forest you wrote about the Government’s ongoing football governance enquiry. Following Shaun Harvey’s appearance, the spotlight of this enquiry has become firmly fixed on you and the opaque offshore ownership structure at Leeds United, and it now appears that you wish to deflect the focus from yourself and onto various independent fan’s organisations and collaborations by demanding transparency from all.
During your six year tenure we have learned to read your programme notes with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Normally we simply laugh them off in the same way we would politely ignore the embarrassingly drunken uncle at a wedding, but in this case we cannot allow the implication that The Square Ball is anything but transparent to pass unchallenged.
Your programme notes misrepresent the nature of your encounter with The Square Ball, and your conclusion besmirches the good name of the publication we help to create. We are prepared to excuse your poor recollection of events that evening because, as the Jersey courts are well aware, your recollection of the truth is not always accurate. We are not, however, prepared to excuse misrepresentation, whether deliberate or not.
When We Contacted You
The occasion you speak of in your notes was the Lorimer’s Bar event on April 20, 2010. The night was attended by the co-Editor of the fanzine, Michael Normanton. You may recall an interesting evening where several searching questions were asked about the club’s ownership and the fans’ right to know who owns our club, and where our money was going. You will no doubt recall telling those present that the owners wished to remain anonymous, we had no right to know who they were, and that any complaints about your chairmanship could not be directed to anybody from Forward Sports Fund. In essence, we would have to like it or lump it. (As an aside, Shaun Harvey recently told the football governance enquiry that neither he nor you knew who the owners of Leeds United were. If he was telling the truth then how could you possibly know that nobody from Forward Sports Fund would be prepared to listen to fans with complaints about your chairmanship? If you do not know who you report to then how can you possibly speak for them?)
At the conclusion of the question and answer session, Michael approached you, introduced himself and asked you for an interview for The Square Ball. Your response was to ask what the magazine’s circulation was. Michael asked you who owned Leeds United. “That’s none of your business”, you replied. “In that case,” responded Michael, “our circulation is none of your business.”
Quid pro quo.
You will recall that, at that point, you turned away from Michael and engaged in conversation elsewhere. Far from “disappearing into the night,” Michael stayed at the Lorimer’s Bar event to its conclusion, and actually returned to you before he left. You may remember that he handed you a Visit Beeston postcard containing his name, telephone number and email address. He handed you these precisely so he could not be accused of approaching you anonymously. He told you to give him a call if you decided to take us up on the offer of an interview. We’re disappointed not to have heard from you yet, although you have mentioned the event twice in your programme notes since, so you can’t have forgotten it.
Our circulation is not and never has been a secret. We have written about it on several occasions previously on Waccoe, the largest fans internet messageboard, and there is a very recent discussion about the matter on The Square Ball forum. The information is in the public domain if only you look for it. On April 20, 2010, you were told it was none of your business on principle, because rightly or wrongly, we believe the fans of Leeds United have a right to know who owns our club.
In order to prevent any future implications from yourself about a lack of transparency on our part, we will put The Square Ball’s publication figures here on our website and in this open letter to you.
This season we will print ten issues of The Square Ball, with each print run being between 1,000 copies to 1,400 copies. Print runs are determined by the number of fixtures covered, and the day and time upon which they fall (like you, we curse live TV appearances because they impact our sales). With two issues still to print this season we cannot give you a final definitive figure for our circulation, because the playoffs will have a bearing on the size of our final print run, but let us estimate that we will publish 12,000 copies this season.
Of course that is a modest figure compared to your programme sales, which no doubt swallow up that number in two matches or less, but we are proud of resurrecting an important part of Leeds United fan culture from a standing start, without a penny in the bank. Demand for our fanzine often far outstrips supply, but we cannot afford to financially overstretch ourselves when we judge the size of the print run, because we operate on such fine margins.
As a further point, The Square Ball is now operated as a limited company, so records of our finances, including any tax we may pay on any profits we may generate, will be available from Companies House. We would not have the brass neck to demand transparency from anybody else unless we were upholding that standard ourselves. So we are.
The Next Question
We must admit to being curious as to why you wish to know the size of our circulation. We do not wish to leap to a false conclusion, but going on past evidence and the self same notes in which you deride the Guardian’s circulation figures in relation to Yorkshire Radio’s audience, we are sadly drawn towards the assumption that you wish to belittle our publication and declare it unrepresentative of the fan base. You will have to forgive us if we are wrong, but you have form in this respect.
To claim that The Square Ball is unrepresentative would be to entirely misunderstand what we are doing and why we are doing it. We do not claim to represent anybody; we simply offer a platform for fans to express themselves in an unrestricted, uncensored way. The club’s public face and its media output is so tightly controlled, with any uncomfortable or unwanted questions kept at a safe distance. The hardest thing to stomach about your programme notes is that there is absolutely no right to reply when you denigrate Leeds United fans. The Square Ball, in all its forms, aims to offer exactly the opposite: open, healthy discussion. If somebody reads something they disagree with, we offer them the platform to respond, whether we believe they are right or wrong. We encourage it. Vive le difference.
Our circulation may be miniscule in the grand scheme of things, but in my opinion it’s what we stand for that gives us great integrity.
So while our sales figures may only be modest, there is more to it than that. The beautifully democratic thing about the internet, and in particular a news aggregator such as NewsNow, is that it gives us equal standing to the club’s website, through which you channel some of your opinions. Of course the internet has its downsides, allowing any and all opinions the platform to express themselves, but it also allows me a place to publish this letter to a number of people far in excess of those that will read your programme notes. To us, that seems fair. All we can do is politely offer our response for the sake of balance. As always, the reader will judge.
If you would like to offer us any further response then you can rest assured that The Square Ball has pages available for you.
In order to finally put the implication of a lack of transparency to bed, we will publish our final figures for the season in the first issue of next season. We fully agree that if there is to be transparency then it should apply to everyone. We look forward to your contribution to transparency by all.
So, our circulation figures are now in the full public domain, you have them, and you are free to use them as you please. We’ve done our bit, so how about that interview now, Mr Bates? You have Michael’s number. Quid pro quo.
Michael Normanton & Dan Moylan
The Square Ball
Company no: 7355076
In your programme notes from the Nottingham Forest game, you state that the circulation figures of the Guardian are lower than Yorkshire Radio’s audience figures. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures for the Guardian show a daily circulation of over 262,600. The latest audience figures, supplied by the Radio Audience Joint Research (RAJAR) body, show Yorkshire Radio to have an average of 70,000 listeners a week. Could you please explain how you came to your conclusion?
With further reference to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the body owned by the media industry, whose role it is to independently verify circulation figures of newspapers and magazines, you can find circulation figures for both Manchester United and Chelsea’s official magazines. However, there is no evidence on ABC’s website of circulation figures for the soon-to-be-defunct Leeds Leeds Leeds magazine. Is or was Leeds Leeds Leeds a member of ABC? Have its circulation figures ever been independently verified?