By Jason McKeown
It is just shy of one year ago since I met with David Baldwin in his Cullingworth local for an in-depth interview for Width of a Post – and it’s fair to say that plenty has happened since.
Two trips to Wembley – not to mention the respective two-legged semi finals that preceded them – and promotion has brought the club huge amounts of joy but also major workloads for the staff. Holding the title of Head of Operations/Chief Executive, no one will have felt this side-effect of the club’s success more keenly than David. Even now, long hours are a regular part of the job, rather than an anomaly.
As we meet again at 8.30pm in the same pub the evening after City’s pulsating 3-3 draw with Coventry, David is fulfilling the last duty of a working day that began before 7am. He won’t return home from our chat until after 10pm (“I’ve not had my tea yet”). At the weekend he is travelling to Spain to meet officials at Real Sociedad, mainly in relation to RIASA (“There might be some Spanish players that the club can look at”) and then it’s off to the Court of Arbitration to stand in the witness box for the hearing into Mark Stewart’s Falkirk transfer fee.
“I have definitely aged a bit in the last year,” chuckled David. “My poor wife has put up with some really long working days away. But at the end of the day, it’s my club and I want to do the best for my club. She is fully supportive of that, and that’s very important. I couldn’t speak more highly of her.”
Reflecting on the personal successes of the past 12 months, David immediately points to the way that the club handled the unprecedented demand for tickets for games like the League Cup Final. “What’s nice is when people come up and thank you. When they say how the organisation of the Wembley tickets was brilliant, for example. We know that we are not going to get everything right. But when I looked back at the stats for the Capital One Cup Final, we sold 27,000 tickets in less than six hours.
“We introduced an online ticket system a year earlier, because we had to move into the 21st century. The implementation of that was costly to the club. In terms of did it pay dividends? Without a shadow of a doubt, with the Capital One Cup.
“So that side of things I took a great deal of personal satisfaction from, knowing we implemented that. And it was nice to get good feedback from fans on it. Those who did have problems, we got them sorted really quickly.”
The scale of this achievement is further emphasised by how few full-time members of staff the club employs. David said, “I think people think we have a huge amount of staff and we don’t, certainly not away from match days. The actual day-to-day running of the business is done by a dozen people on a full-time basis. That’s not a lot of people to run a 25,000 seater stadium.
“The reality is that every penny you spend off the pitch, to improve things, is a reduction in the manager’s playing budget. And the feeling is we want to give as much budget as possible to the manager, to get the best possible product to rise up the divisions.
“In the month of the play off final, we received 33,000 calls. So it was all a mammoth task. A big thank you to the staff for that. It was a real team effort.”
The here and now
As the club establishes itself in League One and currently finds itself in the mix for a second successive promotion, David’s focus has quickly shifted to building on the successes of last season and providing Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff with the tools they require.
“The key thing is it is about making forward steps,” revealed David. “Take the training facilities. We are still in the process of developing a second pitch at the training ground, which is coming along nicely. Come next season, we will have two pristine pitches for training. We have a new full-time ground member of staff, based at the training ground. That’s an investment.
“That’s your forwards step. Last season, the forwards step was developing the relationship with Woodhouse Grove (who own the land where City’s training facilities are based). We have invested in gym equipment. Nick Allamby was very specific about some of the equipment he wanted, and we have found the budget to provide him that.
“It’s step by step improvement. Then, when you eventually look back, you realise we have made quite big strides. We haven’t just jumped; we have built upon things that are sustainable. I think that’s key. It’s no good having a go one year and then it collapsing. It’s putting improvements in place that will be seen year after year.”
Much of this has been funded by the League Cup windfall, so how was this revenue split between on and off the field matters? David explained, “I think some people think we have got this big pot of money just waiting to be used. It’s been well-documented that, in reality, there are three facets to the way the cup money is being used.
“Step one was the fact we had set a speculative budget last year to try and get out of the division, so there was already an overspend to make up. Step two was Mark Lawn having a loan in the company to be paid back, and step three was that we wanted to give the manager a decent budget if we got promoted. So the manager already has a budget this year that is greater than the break-even point.
“The position we ideally want to get to is that, come the end of this season, we have a controlled deficit. We don’t want to have massive debts, but we want to have given the manager a budget to have a go. There is quite a sizeable difference between break even point and the budget we have given the manager, but we are now a third into the season and in and around the play offs. That wouldn’t have happened with a lot less budget. The aim was to see if we could compete in this league.”
David continued, “We are very close to all the Capital One Cup money being gone, but we are sustainable as a club. Come the end of the season, we will be back to that position of needing to determine how we can continue to have a sustainable budget going forward. There are all sorts of ways we can do that, you look at the young lads coming through who we might be able to capitalise on. You look at the existing squad and decide whether to let someone go to freshen it up. Those decisions are for another day.”
So what of January and the transfer window: will there be money to spend? In August, Julian Rhodes told Width of a Post that the club were committed to 55% salary-of-turnover, with the maximum allowed by the Football League 60%. Since then Caleb Folan and Matthew Bates have been recruited, suggesting Parkinson will need to move people out to bring people in. “There’s a financial review of the wage cap due by the 8 December,” said David. “What you do is analyse whether what you projected for your income is up or down, and you make adjustments accordingly. So far, in terms of income and budgets, we are a little bit ahead of the game, although not by a lot.
“In terms of ticket income, we are probably slightly ahead of the game at the minute. By nature of the flexi-card system, positive results do improve attendances. If we had a run of bad results, that group could shrink down again. It’s a big pendulum swing.
“In terms of cup revenue, we are nearly on budget. We budget to go out of the first round of each one, but we had two good first round draws in Huddersfield and Rotherham from a revenue perspective.
“The commercial, advertising and catering side – those numbers are where they should be. And running costs are also where they should be. The adjustments that we need to make in the December report will show we have a slight improvement that may release a bit more money, but not a huge amount.
“Fundamentally I think you have to accept that to bring someone in, it could involve other players going out on loan to facilitate that.”
One longer-term money consideration is tying down James Hanson – out of contract in the summer – on a new deal. David confirmed that talks have been held with the striker, “Dialogue is still ongoing. It’s important to retain good players and we want to. Ideally, the club would like to retain his services and I think every fan would say that also.”
Although recent form has not been great, David is still pleased with the team’s progress this season, “I think you have to realise that teams will have dips in football. When you lose two of your most influential players, Andrew Davies and Nahki Wells – one at the back and one up front – you are likely to leak a few more goals and score less. So we have to be philosophical and treat it as a section of time.
“If you take the marker point of the first round of the FA Cup. Last summer if someone had said you will be in a play off spot come the first round, you’d think ‘that is successful’. There are a good dozen teams who could get promoted this year, at least.
“The Coventry game was against the most in-form team in the league, and we went 2-0 down after seven minutes. Yet we got back up off the canvas and came back, and I think that says a lot about the spirit of the club – on and off the pitch.”
The 2012/13 legacy
With the club firmly in the mix to challenge for a place in next season’s Championship, the board potentially face a dilemma over the future of season ticket prices. Do they continue with the cheap initiative, or will that change as crowds continue to increase? “The ethos is there to try to remain as competitive as possible with season ticket prices. I think that it is important that we make them affordable.”
Will there be another Christmas campaign? “Allowing the season tickets to run through last year was successful in terms of people buying, so we have no immediate plan to look at a Christmas campaign this time. Things can change very quickly in football so I’m not going to say we don’t do one, but as it stands we are concentrating our efforts on potentially having an early bird offer later in the season. There are a lot of factors we need to consider.
“Even if we don’t run one. If people wanted to buy one for Christmas for a loved one, I am very happy to create a voucher that can be used to get money off buying a season ticket when they do go on sale. If anyone wants to do that for a loved one, please email me direct (email@example.com)”
I asked David about the legacy of last season and the huge amount of interest the club’s exploits generated from the city of Bradford – how can this be maximised on? He pointed to the club’s understated community efforts, which he is clearly proud of. “We outreach to over 2,000 children a week, in and around some very deprived areas. We offer the ability to be coached, and not just football, but rugby and cricket. There are links to Yorkshire cricket and Bradford Bulls as well as ourselves. That’s one of the things we have worked quite closely with the charity One in a Million on. We signed one of the first partnership agreements with One in a Million.
“That is very much at the heart of what I believe in doing, as an individual. We have a responsibility to allow our collective community of the people of Bradford to feel part of something that is about much more than 11 guys who play football on a Saturday. I think the evidence is there to see. Through One in a Million and also Football in the Community, our links with the Bradford City disabled team, and the Bradford Positive Life Centre. These are not things that have been happening the last six months, but in many cases the last eight years. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of our partners.
“We don’t massively blow our own trumpet about the things we do, because I think there should be some modesty about it.
“I was at an awards dinner for One in a Million a week last Saturday as a guest of Wayne Jacobs, to present an award. And I have to admit that, sitting in a car park at Rotherham at 5.30pm, it was the last place I wanted to go to. I wanted to go home and hide. But I went and, by the end of the night, I left feeling really inspired by it.”
In part two, David discusses recent controversial issues, plus the Supporters Board, RIASA and future objectives of the club.