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Norwich City FC – The Canaries continue to fly off the field

Norwich City currently sit at the bottom of the English Premier League table after winning only three games this season. Whilst their team hasn’t particularly impressed on the park in the world’s most popular league, a change in ideas off-the park well over a year ago is being associated with their rise back to the top division of English Football.

Adopting a shared leadership management structure, three people were left in charge of making decisions at the top table. Chief Operating Officer Ben Kensell believes this type of approach has encouraged innovation throughout the club when it came to dealing with the industry, the fans, the community and its staff.

“There is Stuart Webber, who deals with the footballing side, myself handling the non-football sides of the business, such as all commercial areas, finance, operations and Zoe Ward who is very much the glue in between the two areas driving behaviours and culture on both sites whilst managing support services such as Legal, HR and our fantastic community work,” he told FC Business.

“We are all experts in our fields but we communicate and run the business as a three and as a collective and that means you can be across everything and we can focus key objectives across all areas to really drive results and what’s best for the club as a whole.”

Owners Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones are adamant the club must look after itself financially, which brings about an element of self-pride according to Kensell.

“We are immensely proud to be a self-financed club, as are our fans,” he claimed.

“Delia & Michael lead by example and they are brilliant owners of this great club, we do it our way and we want to be the best we can be in everything we do. Being self-financed certainly sharpens your focus. We know how much responsibility we have to get it right and that means we take responsibility for every bit of the detail because your margins for error are very small. Our attention to detail for each other’s business needs comes from the knowledge we have little wiggle room and we have to get things right. Across all areas of the club we look for continuous improvement and from top down we are all hungry and committed to be the best we can be for Norwich City and its fans.”

But the structure seems to be providing the club with several commercial benefits, aside from the clear achievement of reaching the English Premier League.

“Our commercial revenue in partnerships has doubled. Our club-controlled income of £33 million plus has grown and we have seen good growth in retail and memberships after overhauling previous structures and we are sold out home and away for the majority of our games thanks to the phenomenal support of the fans. We are maximising every opportunity we have to work in an innovative way with partners and its certainly paying off.

“We have made a seven-figure investment in our new training facility and secured a lucrative long-term sponsorship with Lotus cars taking the naming rights of the training centre and academy. That’s on top of money that the Norwich City fans themselves have invested through the Canary bond, which we facilitated.

“We have improved fan experiences around the ground and in the city centre with our new Fan Hub. And in all that time we have worked to make sure Stuart [Webber] and Daniel [Farke] have the budget they need and the player development structure they desire to take this club forward on the pitch.”

Whilst various changes have been made it is still extremely important to communicate efficiently with fans, to get them back onside. This was a core focus for Ben, Zoe and Stuart once the executive committee was created at Norwich.

“We have firm short, medium and long-term plans in place whatever happens on the pitch. We are in a financially sound position but just as important is that our fans and everyone in our community understand the decisions we are making and buy into it.

“That’s why we work hard on our fan engagement and broader communication. We try to involve the fans through clear and concise communication in every stage of our thinking about the future of this club, we want them to feel very much part of the plan and proud of doing it the Norwich City way. Sometimes people are not going to like what we plan to do, but we make sure they understand our reasons for that.”

Ben adds: “You rarely hear a Norwich fan call for us to get the cheque book out to make a big-money signing. That’s because they have bought into our sustainable plan of being self-financed. They know through previous experiences that breaking the bank can lead to tough times for the club they love and equally, they know from what we tell them we are not willing to play that lottery again, either. We are investing in the stadium and training ground because then we will have something to show for the monies the Premier League brings but we know it’s a balance in everything we do as we want to remain competitive.

“They also know we are spending money on the club infrastructure, whether that be improvements at Carrow Road or on fan engagement zones – it is clear what we are doing.”

As the Premier League does attract a global audience, Norwich have profited through deals with the Tampa Bay tourism board and Philippines-based Dafabet. However, the club promises to stick to their roots and do things the Norwich way.

“We have to build our commercial expansion plans carefully to ensure we stay true to our club values and ways of doing things. We are making a name for ourselves by doing things differently, we are growing and have impressive numbers to show from a club-controlled income perspective compared to our peer group clubs, but we can, and will, continue to grow whilst never losing sight of our doing it our way.”

A new Canaries Fan Hub in the centre of the city has recently opened, with fellow English Premier League sides interested in the development. Kensell is extremely satisfied with the progress of it so far as it promotes the club’s identity further, as well as being commercially rewarding.

“It’s been a massive success and a real game changer for us; you can purchase everything there from retail to tickets to special events. It’s a true one stop shop but more importantly is that it has loads of fans and kids just coming in and playing on our penalty shoot-out simulator or going on the iPads or taking part in some of the cool experiences within the Hub.

“People come in to just watch the exclusive content whether it be interviews, highlights of the game, training across our giant screen or playing on the PlayStations. We have seen turnover rocket since it was launched in August and I am delighted with the performance of it in every aspect.”

With room for growth and plans to expand Carrow Road on the agenda, Norwich City FC are in a good place to continue to thrive.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game. Follow him on Twitter @PhilipPanas

3G pitches to help clubs in a post-COVID world

As football clubs around the world deal with the COVID-19 health crisis, the future use of more artificial pitches could help organisations navigate around these financially distressing times.

That is at least the view of former FA technical director Dan Ashworth, stating that the FIFA-approved football turf provides opportunities for clubs to host various events and pursue the development of their own academies.

In the UK, Maidstone United were the first ever English club to build a brand-new stadium using the highest quality 3G artificial surface.

That was in 2012, and since then, other notable clubs in the non-league divisions including Sutton United, Harrogate Town and Bromley have all made the move (in the National League) and installed 3G pitches.

The English Football League have considered allowing 3G fields in League 1 and 2, however, a vote in 2014 on the matter was tied.

This means that any club playing on an artificial pitch has to remove the surface if they want to be promoted into the EFL, even though 3G fields are allowed for the Women’s World Cup, Champions League and many other professional leagues in Europe.

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Joint-owner of Maidstone United Oliver Ash believes Dan Ashwoth is right in saying 3G pitches should be a prominent option for EFL clubs impacted financially by COVID-19.

He told fcbusiness: “With this terrible Covid-19 crisis affecting so many people and damaging so many football clubs, which are vital to their communities, we have to think outside the box if we are to avoid financial meltdown.

“Going forward it will all be about sustainability. Clubs will have to find ways of making their businesses sustainable in the interests of their supporters and their actual survival. One obvious way of achieving this is by installing a 3G pitch.

“We have now had five years’ experience of 3G pitches in the National League. We have seen supporters and players embrace the change in playing surface; we have seen that the highest quality 3G pitches encourage good football but also allow physical players to get stuck in; we have seen no particular injury problems, a welcome absence of postponements, and local people coming in their droves to watch and play football at our clubs seven days a week. It’s been life-changing in a totally positive way.”

Ash estimates that those clubs who decide to use 3G fields can generate a further £400,000 worth of income a year. This is the case because of direct pitch-hire revenue as well as indirect earnings from supporters coming into the club. Savings are also made on maintenance and postponements.

Using his own club as an example, Ash explained Maidstone United have registered a profit every season since the pitch was installed eight years ago.

“We know and respect the fact that some people still prefer to play on natural surfaces, even down in League 2, where pitch quality is inconsistent,” he said.

“However, the benefits of 3G pitches are so massive and the problems facing football so huge, it would be irrational not to give League 2 clubs the option to install them without delay and take advantage of the opportunity to transform their clubs into sustainable businesses capable of surviving this crisis and thriving thereafter,” he concluded.

Maidstone United, Sutton United, Bromley and Harrogate Town are the leaders in advocating for change in the EFL.

With leading experts in the game looking to restructure football in some capacity, what is generally the norm may be no more.

One day in the near future, these clubs could have access to the EFL without having to give up their 3G pitches.

On a local front, are 3G pitches a suitable idea for NPL and A-League clubs? Get in touch with us via email or our social channels.

Katholos and Spanoudakis – Players who know best

In this age of uncertainty, Australian football faces great challenges to maintain prosperity in the professional sporting environment.

The decision makers would assure the football fraternity,  the right decisions are being made by the  people who are responsible for the governance of the game.

However, the history of the game is highlighted by the failure to provide former players the opportunity to contribute  in their life after football.

Many of these players have succeeded in the business world but have never been sighted by the hierarchy.

In 1992, the former Socceroo great, Marshall Soper, commented the game was all about administrators, not players.

Two former players who have succeeded in the business world are former Sydney Olympic team-mates, Peter Katholos and Manny Spanoudakis.

Katholos commenced a business in the manufacture and supply of football equipment while still playing professionally, has applied his electronics background in telecommunications and pursued extensive property and development interests.

Spanoudakis’s specialty was in electronic engineering with Unisys and is now General Manager of Sales for global technology company, Cisco Systems, in the Asia Pacific region.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Katholos and Spanoudakis provide their insights into Australian football.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

With the restart of the A- League, what are your views on the current state of the game?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Like all fans, I’ve missed the game and it wasn’t before time that the League was recommenced.

Ironically, the pandemic is an inflexion point for the stakeholders to reassess the existing status of the key areas of operational, technical and administrative procedures, and to implement necessary change.

PETER KATHOLOS

The restart was critical because if the League wasn’t to be completed, it could’ve potentially led to its premature demise.

Some players and coaches haven’t returned and without a competition, there was no publicity and the League became a distant memory.

However, the game probably required a reset so it could come out stronger at the other end.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What was your opinion of the playing standard before the halt?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Watching overseas football with no crowds over the last few months has given me the opportunity to reflect and compare against the standard of the A League. Whilst the tempo, skill and intensity overseas is more advanced than the A League, turnover of possession and defensive frailties even at the most elite level are still there to be seen. That said, the standard of the A League still has significant scope for improvement in order to be compared with most European leagues.

PETER KATHOLOS

There are a couple of good teams in the League but it’s far from exciting as there is an absence of creative players.

I watched Leeds United v Stoke City a few weeks ago in the English Championship and it was breathtaking.

It highlighted the speed, technique and intensity which is lacking in our game and the bottom line is broadcasters woudn’t be pulling out of A-League coverage ,and subscriptions wouldn’t have been declining so consistently in the last few seasons if the product was better.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What is your view on the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, recently released?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

The document is voluminous so it’s better to consider the main points.

Point number 1 refers to the requirement for a strong brand and identity. I believe the Socceroos and Matildas already have a strong affinity with even the most casual sports fan across Australia. However, at the domestic level, promotion and marketing of the A League is almost non existant.

The awarding of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will certainly increase awareness of our sport across all demographics and we should look to leverage this great event to amplify the A League at every opportunity.

PETER KATHOLOS

To improve the identity of the game, there has to be consistent marketing for the benefit of the sporting public.

People are aware we qualified for the last four World Cups which we should continually market to the masses.

Personally, I was pretty disturbed by the total lack of coverage when the A-League and NPL competitions ceased at the start of the Pandemic.

ROGER SLEEMAN

On that note, what are your thoughts about the viewing audience last Saturday for Central Coast v Perth of 9,000 compared to NRL of 804,000 and AFL 978,000.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Before their seasons recommenced, the other codes launched their publicity machines and people knew what was happening.

Honestly,  I wasn’t aware that Sydney FC played Wellington in the first match of A- league until I saw the score the day after.

Also, I didn’t know about the Central Coast match so the message is, there has to be some money spent on promotion because I didn’t see any advertising for the A-League.

PETER KATHOLOS

The figures don’t lie which suggests the A-League isn’t exactly capturing the imagination of the sporting public.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Point 3 of the Principles highlights payments in the transfer system.

Your thoughts about player transfer payments.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

In order to stimulate the football economy, the most immediate focus should be for the establishment of a transfer system across all levels of football in Australia.

For example, I remember in 1989, Zlatko Arambasic was an up and coming striker playing for Canterbury Marrickville Olympic in the NSW Super League. Blacktown City was in the NSL and paid a $50,000 transfer fee to secure his services.

If NPL clubs can generate revenue from developing players, they can reinvest in better facilities and coaching which sustains the football economy.

PETER KATHOLOS

We need a vibrant and sustainable development system so the NPL clubs can be rewarded via a transfer system which provides the resources for them to continue to churn out quality players for the A- League and the national teams.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Point 5 in the Principles refers to creating a world class environment for youth development.

Your take on this.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

The whole youth development system needs to be revamped and a funding structure established.

In order to improve the end product, we need a 5-10 year plan which entails developing better youth coaches and investing more in player education.

Parent education also has a key role to play in assisting youth development because up to 80% of the player’s available time during the week is at home.

Consequently, nutrition, fitness levels and private practice of technique and drills have to be of the highest order.

PETER KATHOLOS

Our major objective should be to develop better players who can boost attendances and bring more money into the game with the help of companies and the government.

In the 80’s, when I played at Sydney Olympic, our star local players attracted crowds of 10-15,000 without much promotion.

If you raise standards, more money will naturally flow into the game and also players can be sold overseas providing another substantial revenue stream.

ROGER SLEEMAN

There is a severe absence of past players involved in the game.

How can this change?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

As a corporate manager, I believe you need football people in the key positions of financial,  operations and marketing.

Historically, the CEO role was awarded to a non-football industry candidate but times have changed and James Johnson’s appointment was a positive one and quite timely.

The previous CEO’S had a lack of emotional connection to the game so at least giant strides have been made here.

PETER KATHOLOS

There are enough football people and former players available to be involved in all areas of the game like in Europe.

When the FFA started, their executives didn’t know who we were.

The skill set of former players should be utilized in coaching, mentoring, marketing and administration.

I applaud the selection of the first eleven but the key issue is, some of these current and former players may have little business experience.

Undoubtedly, there are many former players who have succeeded in business and willing to make a contribution to the progress of the game.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Is the administration hanging its hat on the success of the Women’s World Cup bid?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

This is a fantastic victory for the sport as it promotes gender equality and it should be an amazing tournament.

During the difficult times, a better good news story couldn’t have happened to the sport.

PETER KATHOLOS

This was a real success after the failure of the Men’s World Cup bid and hopefully it will encourage a large commitment to building better infrastructure for the sport.

Frankly, I didn’t follow the women’s game closely until the Stajic saga prompted me to take interest.

However, I believe the players like our men, have to improve the technical side of their game if they’re going to be a threat in the tournament.

Football NSW’s NPL.TV continues to make its mark

Football NSW has announced that all National Premier Leagues NSW Women’s and National Premier Leagues 2 NSW Men’s matches will be live streamed, exclusively on NPL.TV when matches commence this weekend.

Prior to COVID-19 halting all competitions, NPL.TV was launched as an exciting new destination for fans of NPL NSW to view games. The landmark streaming service is a key partnership between Football NSW and leading sports media and data agency Sportradar.

On NPL.TV, the platform will be fully broadcast including complete commentary for all NPL NSW Women’s and NPL 2 Men’s matches throughout the 2020 season.

NPL.TV will also stream top-tier NPL NSW Men’s and NPL NSW Men’s Under 20’s when they are due to recommence later this month.

The platform is regarded as an OTT service capable of allowing content to be streamed from mobiles to televisions via Chromecast or Airplay.

NPL.TV is free for those in Australia and accessible on all web browsers, with the option to purchase a ‘premium’ Full HD package at a small monthly cost.

Football NSW has confirmed the following opening round matches can be viewed live and exclusive on NPL.TV this weekend:

Round 1 NPL NSW Women’s

Sunday 19 July

3pm – Blacktown Spartans v North West Sydney Koalas – Blacktown Football Park

3pm – Manly United v FNSW Institute – Cromer Park

3pm – Emerging Jets v Sydney Olympic – Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility

3pm – Sydney University v Macarthur Rams Womens – Sydney University Football Ground

3:30pm – Northern Tigers v Bankstown City – North Turramurra Recreation Area

7:05pm – APIA Leichhardt v Illawarra Stingrays – Lambert Park

Round 1 NPL 2 NSW Men’s

Saturday 18 July

7pm – SD Raiders v Hills United – Ernie Smith Reserve

7pm – NWS Spirit FC v Bonnyrigg White Eagles – Christie Park

7pm – Blacktown Spartans v Central Coast Mariners – Blacktown Football Park

7pm – Northern Tigers v Newcastle Jets – North Turramurra Recreation Area No 1

Sunday 19 July

3pm – Hakoah Sydney City East v St George FC – Hensley Athletic Field

Football NSW’s move from social media streaming to Sportradar’s innovative OTT platform will allow the organisation to control the content, allowing for more in-depth and data-driven insights into the area of viewer behaviour and can outline how this can tell more engaging stories to these fans.

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