By Jason McKeown
Since David Baldwin joined Bradford City in 2007, he has been instrumental in driving significant change around Valley Parade. Having become something of the public face of the club in recent months, David very kindly agreed to meet me in his Cullingworth local on Monday night to discuss a wide range of topics.
We enjoyed a fantastic two-hour chat, the results of which will appear on Width of a Post this week in a three-part series.
So here we go…
How did you come to join Bradford City?
My background is that I sold a company in 2001 and moved to Spain full time to retire. It had been a stressful few years before that.
I’ve been a City fan all of my life, and I was on the books as a schoolboy. I’d made associations with the club through players. One of my friends is Mark Ellis, and while I was in Spain I did a charity fundraiser for some boys from one of the inner city colleges in Leeds, where they came out to Malaga and trained on the pitches there. We did a bit of fundraising for that, and they opened up the synthetic pitch at the Thomas Danby College, where I played in a charity match against the college team with Mark Ellis, John Hendrie, Stuart McCall, Terry Dolan and Mark Lawn.
And it came about that Mark Lawn was a mutual friend of Mark Ellis, and they had known each other for many years. I got chatting to Mark Lawn and said to him ‘I’m in a position where I’ve got time on my hands in Spain, if the club ever needed assistance I’m always happy to help because I’m from Bradford’. And basically Mark Lawn flew out to Spain, prior to taking up the reins at Bradford City, and we went for a coffee. He told that he was looking to buy into Bradford, he knew a bit about my background and felt that I could apply my skill set at the club. He asked me to come over for six weeks in order to provide a fresh overview of the commercial side of things.
So then he arrived virtually the same day Stuart (McCall) arrived and I also arrived. My brief initially was just to take a look at how we could generate more commercial income for the club. Because with the best will in the world, that is what pushes the club forward. The more income we can get, the more we can put into the manager’s budget. This revenue is not used to reimburse anybody, we have very few full time staff members at the club. We operate on the lowest budget that we can off the field, so as much money as possible can go on the playing side.
How did that develop into joining the club full time?
After six weeks, I completed my review and made some recommendations. I spent some time speaking to previous corporate customers, either people who used to have a box or who have sampled the match day hospitality before, and just started a dialogue with them about returning.
The season ticket campaign was running for the first time around this time as well, so I spent time communicating this to the wider fanbase and to the public, to tell them how this was such a good deal and that they should get involved. And we saw a lot of lapsed fans return to the club. So that was good.
At the end of the six weeks they said to me ‘what can we offer you to keep hold of you?’ I turned round and said ‘nothing’. I mean I couldn’t work for free indefinitely, but I guaranteed my services free for another 12 months. There would come a time where, for my own sustainability, I could not afford to do it for free. So then in January 2008, both the owners sat me down and asked what it would take to keep me, and from the middle of 2008 I started receiving a remuneration.
I’m a qualified commercial pilot, so when people ask how much I am being paid at City I always say that ‘if I flew for four hours per week, I would make more money than I do working for the club’. And I do 60 hour plus weeks at Bradford City! I just wanted to make sure that I was in a position where it wasn’t costing me money to go to work and also that I’m not a financial burden on the club. I have had other offers to be Chief Executives at other clubs, Championship clubs, where the remuneration package was five or six times more than what I’m currently on, but it doesn’t interest me.
What interests me is to support the club I care about and to endeavour to deliver as much funds as possible to the manager so they can build the best team possible, to give everyone the feel good factor of trying to get out of this division.
What’s it like working with the Board?
The one thing about everyone working for the club is we are pulling in the same direction. We all have very different personalities. The two chairmen, Julian (Rhodes) and Mark are chalk and cheese. But the one thing that unites everybody is that we want what’s best for the football club. No one is wanting what’s best for themselves. The club comes first and we come second, as individuals. The club is there for the fans. We are fans, and our reward is to deliver success and enjoy it as fans.
And most of the time the job is enjoyable! Sometimes it’s not enjoyable and very stressful. But it doesn’t mean you’d change it.
How has your role evolved over the years? It seems this season you’ve become the public face of Bradford City?
It’s not a conscious decision to do that. It’s not as if someone has said ‘let David be the person who blows the horn’. In my second year my role was to look at the infrastructure that sits behind the commercial stuff. So things like how can we streamline the operations of the club? How can we make the running of the building more efficient? How can we reduce our operating costs? And then other projects like moving the office block along – it’s taken us over two years to get to this stage with that. I was also looking at other commercial aspects of the club, such as the shirt deal with Nike.
So the pendulum of my priorities swung from creating a commercial and greater supporter interest in the product, then creating a sustainable situation where, because the fanbase is there, commercial companies (like Nike) want to come on board because they see that their brand is going to be seen by a multitude of people. And then it was to get the club into a situation where we can look to reduce some of the operational running costs, without being sacrificial to the quality of the service you are giving to your customers.
And then my role moved into an additional support network for the footballing structure. That’s where the project like the Woodhouse Grove training set up came in; I tasked myself with getting a partnership up and running there so we could get a new training ground. Then I looked at links with the likes of the Development Squad aspect that Archie (Christie) set up through to the partnership with RIASA – the theme of which is the same, but you morph it into something that works for you.
More recently, I’ve built a close working relationship with the manager (Phil Parkinson) in terms of the signing and also the releasing of players. This really came to a fore during the summer, where I was involved with the new signings. In the previous year, I had mainly dealt with the exit contracts for the likes of Michael Boulding and Chris Brandon.
I remember during the summer that you played a key role in the signing of Alan Connell, for example…
Yeah that’s right. At the time a few people were saying on Twitter and Facebook ‘what’s David Baldwin doing signing players? Who does he think he is, the manager?’ We conducted the signing about an hour away from Swindon’s training ground and I was the only person nearby from the club. So we sorted out a picture, for the club website, of me shaking his hand.
I am simply the person who orchestrates the deal. The manager identifies a player and gets into the mindset that the player is right for him. So he has a discussion with the player to bring them in. Then there are a lot of legal and financial hurdles to overcome to complete the deal, which is where I come in.
With Alan Connell, for example, he had to agree an exit clause with his Swindon contract. There was a discussion between the two clubs over whether there was to be a transfer fee involved and that negotiation went on for a while. Then based on that, we could look at what we could offer the player financially.
When looking in from the outside, people often wrongly think there is a budget for wages, a budget for transfer fees and a budget for loan signings. It’s not. From a manager’s perspective, there is one pot of money that equates to the whole package. How that pot is spent by the manager is very much dependent on what his ethos is. If he decided to spend 50% of his playing budget on a marque signing, what goes on behind that is that the wages available for other players is reduced. It’s one lump sum. And when it’s gone it’s gone.
But when it comes to signings Phil made a very valid point – if a signing is easy, it’s probably because it’s not worth having! With signings that are worth having, you’re probably fighting with other clubs for the player’s signature, you need to get a deal that the player is happy with, that the club is happy with and where the deal is sustainable.
With Connell that was the case, it wasn’t easy. Swindon wanted a fee, and this is where I kick in. The manager doesn’t want the hassle of having to negotiate a transfer fee. He just wants to know how much he has left of his budget, if and when he has completed that deal. In the end we got a situation where we had to pay no fee for the player, and he (Connell) agreed a salary with us comparable to what he was on at Swindon.
When you are signing a player, is it a case of Phil saying to you ‘this is the most I’m prepared to pay him’ or do you have to say to Phil ‘this is the maximum we can pay him’?
It’s a two-way discussion. For example if you look at a signing halfway through the process of recruitment last summer, Stephen Darby. At the point he came to sign Darby, Phil had a clear idea of what other types of players he wants to sign and how many. So my responsibility is to look through with him the parameters of where we will be budget wise for signing Darby, and talk that through with Phil. An agent will always give you an indication of what the wage demands are, and my job is to say to Phil ‘if you do that, at that level, it will leave you with this much left to spend’. And then he’s got to think it over and consider whether he wants to sign two more players of a similar standard, or whether signing x will mean he can’t afford y, and decide what he wants to do.
It’s a balancing act. What was the key to the relationship between us this summer, was that we had a full picture of everything that we wanted, targets of who he wanted and back up targets that were a bit cheaper. And it was like a domino effect. As each player deal was agreed, each domino fell, you knew what the effect would be down the line on the overall budget. If we got them all right, we knew that we were within the package of the budget, having signed everyone required.
The real satisfaction was that, pretty much, we achieved 100% of targets, within the budget that had been set. Phil was able to bring in the quality of players he wanted and the volume of players he wanted.
How has the injury situation affected that budget?
The only permutation beyond that spending of the budget is obviously the injuries. And that’s where you make progressive decisions. No one turns around to the manager and says ‘no you’re not signing a centre half on loan because you’ve spent your budget’. You have to say ‘okay, you’ve lost a player who is out injured for a while. Do we want to compromise what we have achieved so far, or do we push the boat out a little bit extra?’ And that’s the chairmen’s decision whether to do that, upon the recommendation of the manager.
But that’s the good thing with Phil. He’s a very good thinker, and he will weigh up both sides of the coin. He will only ask for extra budget when he really thinks it is needed.
Phil has gone out and made a number of loan signings because of the injury situation. Is this money you had budgeted to use later in the season that has been brought forward?
It’s no secret that we have overspent the budget this year, based on our break-even point. The break-even point is a tangible item, which basically means if we spent x amount, bring in y income and the operation costs are z, what’s left over is the playing budget. Well what’s leftover this season for the playing budget, taking us to the break-even point, is far less than when what we consider to be a competitive playing budget. So we as a Board, and the owners, discussed what would happen if we were to go over our break-even point and have a higher playing budget, what things do we have left over in our locker this year, where we can claw the budget deficit back?
We identified four variants for what we could do. We can sell the building (office block building) which we could gain some income from. There is the onward contracts of some of our former youth players who are in the Premier League, where we could perhaps either look at buying out those contracts or whether there will be situations occurring where various triggers occur as part of those contracts, which you evaluate as a moving stick.
Then there was the situation of a cup run, which isn’t fundamentally factored in as part of our original break-even budget forecasts. The further we get in the cups, the more it will offset our over-spend. And the final one is sale of player. There’s a reason I have put that as the final, because that is the last thing you want to do. But you have to look at all your permutations and say ‘have I covered all eventualities?’
It’s all about getting to July, the end of the year for spending, and making sure we have protected the club and not over-spent the budget, so that we are not going into the following season with a deficit to make up. Generally we set ourselves the objective of breaking even every year, and if we don’t break-even, it’s usually because we know there is a certain piece of income coming into the club shortly.
This is a plan that’s worked before?
The perfect example of that is the budget that Stuart had to spend in 2008/09. We knew that at some point Fabian Delph was going to move on from Leeds. Now it didn’t happen before July 2009 (end of the year), but it did happen fairly soon after July. So if you look at the accounts for 2008/09, we show a trading loss, but the next season we show a trading profit.
I think that this is where people have to trust the owners of this club and look at the track record. The track record since 2007 is one of not being overly cautious, with decisions made to try and go for it, but at the same time not making decisions that put the club at risk for future generations. It’s always a calculated risk, with a planned exit strategy that allows us to recover back.
Now the exit strategy from 2008/09 to 2009/10 was to reduce the playing budget from £1.9 million to £1.3 million – which was the budget we had in 2007/08. So you can see that we had a sensible budget in 2007/08, we then had a go and had a £1.9 million budget, and then we brought it back down again. 2008/09 didn’t work out the way we hoped it would do, but we didn’t risk the future of the club by running up debt.
It strikes me, from what you’ve been saying, that Phil is very intelligent at managing his budget accordingly. Without naming names, has this not been the case with previous managers?
I wouldn’t have any criticism of any previous managers in how they managed their budget. Each manager’s point of view in how a team should be shaped differed.
I think that one thing Phil does very well is he keeps us all very informed. He vocalises exactly what he wants, and when a problem occurs he is very clear about what he sees as being the solution. And he is prepared to share that information with the Board. I’m not saying the others weren’t, but the natural culture of football managers can be ‘I’m the manager, I make the decisions, therefore leave me with it’.
Phil makes a point of telling you his plans and is very transparent. He will be open to the Board about what team he is planning to pick, or why he might not be playing certain players because they have an injury or need a rest, and I think that’s a positive.
With each of the past three managers it was strongly hinted that relations with the Board were difficult, at least by the end of their tenures…
I think in any situation where things aren’t going right for someone, relationships are going to seem more strained then maybe they are. There unfortunately had to be a transitional period of time when things are not going well, to that person no longer being in a job. And that period – whether it be for a week, a month or six months – when it’s looked back on retrospectively is always going to look a difficult time.
Phil’s contract due to expire at the end of the season. Is this something the Board plan to look at soon?
I think you have ascertain how comfortable a person feels about when they want to have this discussion. Generally if the relationship of communication is good between the Board and the manager, you know when the right time to discuss it is. And if you consider that, part of it, is that you will be negotiating a salary, and it’s a bit like with a player’s contract negotiations such as the one we recently completed with Nahki (Wells). The reality is that, as part of the negotiations, the player or manager wants to demonstrate their skill set to you.
So would Phil be in a stronger position negotiating a contract as the manager of a promoted team who have gone up automatically, then he would if he wanted to have talks in February saying ‘I want to tie myself up for security’? I think that’s the fairest way to describe it. He’s not uncomfortable about it. We are not uncomfortable about it. He’s delivering results, and it’s going well so far. Results are always rewarded and maybe Phil also knows that it’s better to deliver and then have your negotiations.
The door is open both ways. And both parties feel comfortable with it. It’s nice that supporters are talking about renewing his contract, because it shows that things are going well.