It doesn’t take much to make Reading’s fanbase angry. Whether it’s another embarrassing 3-0 loss, another managerial change or another player not living up to the hype, you can be sure that supporters will make their feelings known.
This morning, attentions turned to the matter of pre-match food. I know, how very home counties.
Blue Collar Street Food - the company that was behind all the food stalls outside the Madejski Stadium on matchdays last season - announced that the club had not renewed their contract. Instead, the company in charge of the kiosks in the concourse will now control the outside areas too.
Let’s just say this hasn’t gone down too well. From a supporter’s perspective, Blue Collar are as close to the perfect matchday caterer as you can get.
Firstly, speaking subjectively, their food is genuinely delicious. It’s as simple as that. Good food will always get people on board, and the standard from Blue Collar was exceptionally high and much better than the standard burger and chips.
In a similar vein, they brought a great range of options to the Madejski Stadium - last season the number of stalls outside of the ground increased from three to 11. Whether you were a fan of the heavenly sausage, jerk chicken or Greek souvlaki, there was something for everyone, including multiple vegan and vegetarian options.
Hungry anyone?— Reading FC (@ReadingFC) August 2, 2019
This is our matchday menu for our game against @swfc on Saturday
Get yourself down to one of the stalls and try some of the delicious food from @bluecollarfood #REAvSHW pic.twitter.com/sgNZPbctub
The club have really improved the fanzone outside of the East Stand in recent years, making it a true social hub before games, and Blue Collar’s stalls were a big part of that last season. They helped create a jovial atmosphere right up until kick off, contributing to a really special matchday feeling.
Blue Collar had plans to improve that even more too. Last year they pitched “Coppell’s Corner” (see below) to the club, which would have added more character to the stadium surroundings and maybe even made Reading a bearable away day. The Madejski Stadium is often criticised for its bland nature, so the club are making a mistake in seemingly pushing these ideas away.
One of the most important things about Blue Collar for me is that they are a local business. Good food is great, but when you know it’s been made by Reading people, it is that extra bit special. The Blue Collar team are Royals fans and season ticket holders, and providing food at the Madejski Stadium was their “dream gig”. At a time when many local businesses are struggling, it would have been particularly good PR for the club to show that they are continuing to support a Reading-based caterer.
Instead, this appears to be a decision based solely on the club’s own economic rational. There is no doubting the success and popularity of Blue Collar - outside catering sales went up 120% last season - so it is not as if their contract has not been renewed on a performance basis.
Reading’s financial position is well documented as being precarious, and those in control of the purse strings will be looking to cut costs in whatever way they can. Clearly, appointing one company to control all aspects of catering at the Madejski Stadium is cheaper than splitting responsibilities between two.
Anyone from an accounting background - for example the club’s chief executive Dayong Pang - would look at the numbers and say the decision makes perfect sense. But you cannot put a price on fan satisfaction. The backlash on social media following Blue Collar’s announcement this morning has been a public relations disaster for the club and a petition has already been started to reverse the decision.
Perhaps it is too much to have expected supporters to have been consulted if the pound signs were ultimately going to rule the day, but this seems like the sort of matter that at the very least required a focus group.
It is that disregard of fan opinion which hurts the most.