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.