By Jason McKeown
Following on from part one.
On the Arsenal game, the online ticket system seemed to work really well…
Yes it has, in the main. We have a situation where 9,000 have bought online, and I think in total there have been less than 150 queries. Now that’s still a lot for us to get through resolving, and for those 150 people it can be frustrating. But if you take the measure of 9,000 people transacting and the vast majority of people finding it worked perfectly fine for them, that’s not bad.
It was definitely a learning curve and we did learn one or two things about the system and we could have been clearer about a couple of things, such as the fact every season ticket holder was automatically enrolled to use it. But in the main it has worked well.
I keep a log of every problem that ever occurs at the club, to ensure that we review and learn from it. Because repeating the same mistakes it what really upsets people. Are we perfect? Not by a long shot. Could we do better? Yes if I had the money and resources to do so. Do we do as well as we can within the resources? For the main, yes. Do we make mistakes? Of course we do. But most people within the club are effectively having to do the job of two people, that is their normal working day.
We could do more…but only if we were to sacrifice the football budget. And I’m not prepared to do that.
Are you prepared for the Arsenal game?
It’s going to be a really long, hard-working day, and the game itself will probably wash over me because I will be so conscious of the operation, and making sure things run as smoothly as they can. It’s not going to be easy to go from 10,000 to 21,500 fans.
We are going to have to hire extra staff, and with the best will in the world I don’t know any employer who has got the best out of their employees on day one of their employment. And we only get them for one day! So I hope that people are tolerant towards realising that it is an anomaly to the norm. In terms of the seating arrangements, the vast majority of people have understood why we had to do what we did. I wish I could please everyone, but I can’t. Fortunately most people are happy.
There are a lot of other considerations we’ve been working through, which people might not think about. Such as where do we house all the photographers? Is there enough room for all the media outlets who want to go? What do you do about car parking when you’ve got extra sponsors? What do you do about the fact Sky need to take over a car park for their equipment? How do you build a TV studio in an area of your stadium? Are your floodlights strong enough to be picked up by HD? What about police costs?
I hope that, from a football side of things, we can give a good account of ourselves. But then again that’s what we were saying about Wigan! We can all dream as well. I’m not being negative when I say it’s more hope rather than expectation of achieving the next round, but funnier things have happened!
Do you and the Board keep in touch with supporters’ mood? You no longer have the OMB…
Yes we do keep an eye on message boards and things, and as you know I sometimes send you comments when I have read articles on Width of a Post. I actively encourage supporters expressing their views.
With the Official Message Board, we needed to take a step away from having it. And it has been proven that people can set their own ones up. With message board posts, you go from the sublime to the ridiculous. With one statement you think ‘what planet are they on?’ but other people will make some really valid comments. It’s the sifting through to find them which takes the time.
At the same time as taking the Official Message Board down, I’ve become much more of a public communication front for the club, with the Twitter side of things and my email address is in the public domain. We’ve also increased the club’s Facebook capabilities. We’ve made sure that – for what we have given up with losing the Official Message Board, and no longer providing a platform for supporters to post views and criticisms which they want us to see – we are more accessible to speak to.
And how are you finding the Twitter experience?
Most of the time it is enjoyable. I put something up recently saying that I was offline for a little while and that, if you have any queries, to put them in email. It lessened the flow of queries, but they still came through!
That was at the height of the Arsenal ticket situation, and it was very intense responding to all the queries. But I felt it was essential, and a lot of people made really positive comments about it. The positive comments are what keep you going. It’s not ego-stroking, but just a case of when you are feeling fatigued and you are working really hard, and one or two people turn round and say ‘I had a good experience and thank you for that, it changed my perception of what the club is like’. Well to me that is mission accomplished. Long may it continue!
How are attendances holding up against expectations and financial forecasts?
We are on budget. The break-even budget from Stuart’s first year in charge was a £1.4 million budget, and it was the same in the second year. We are now at the point where, in the sixth year, our break-even figure is £1.1 million. So if you look at the spectrum of income across this period, the break-even point has reduced by £300k for a season compared to 2007.
So every penny really counts. If you buy a season ticket or if you pay to come to games, the manager gets more money to spend. It’s that simple. Because we make sure that all of the other revenue pays for all the club’s running costs. We find other ways to reduce costs, to make sure that what comes through the turnstiles pays for the players. And now we have over-spent the budget, it is only paying for two-thirds of the players. The rest is getting topped up.
Now I wish I could be in a position where I say ‘the manager has a £1.7 million budget, and that’s the break-even figure’. But we’re not. And if we stuck right to the policy of only having a budget that fits the break-even figure, we would probably have a team that’s sitting in 16th-18th.
It’s like a perpetual motion. The less you pay on the product and the poorer the product, the less people who will want to come and watch it. So we have speculated to accumulate a little bit this season.
I talked before about the four variants we have to bring us to the break-even point. Well the fifth variant is ticket sales. If we have a good Christmas season ticket uptake, or if we’re doing well in the league and attendances increase, or if the Flexi-card scheme is utilised by a lot of the holders, then we can boost income for this season and also the budget for next season.
You have recently released a statement on the club’s finances. Although it’s great that, for this period, there is an overall profit, it does leap out that much of this is to do with selling two youth players. How much of a part of a strategy will this be going forward?
If I was to give you an example, we didn’t want to sell Andre Wisdom. But when the big clubs come knocking and you are in the fourth division, the reality is you are not going to keep them. So if you’re not going to keep them you may as well protect your financial interests.
It would be different if we were a Championship club with a fairer platform, because you would then fight tooth and nail to keep them.
The new Elite Player Performance Plan makes it harder for us, because it’s been designed in a way where you only get a fixed fee from the buying club. But there are ways, if you can tie the player down earlier, and we have to start thinking of tying players down from 14-18 instead of doing 14-16 and then 16-18.
There are ways of protecting your financial interests and we are very astute at Bradford City in this regards. We don’t have an active policy to sell youth players, but we have an active policy to develop young players, and either keep them and get them into our first team or, if they are of such an ilk that bigger clubs take an interest, eventually sell them for a good deal.
Sometimes a player might move on to a bigger club but not quite make it, but if we’ve always been good to them and not stood in their way, they might one day return to us because of how we treated them. In the meantime they probably wouldn’t have been near our first team, because they need to develop physically as a player. Take George Green. With the best will in the world he wouldn’t have been in our first team because he was only 15 when we sold him. If we had have thrown him in the first team, he would have been bullied in League Two. You know he has the potential, that’s what Everton bought into. But if George got to 19 and he hasn’t quite made it at Everton, then I think the relationship is still there that, if he was on an exit trial, we’d keep tabs on that.
You mentioned earlier the four variants to get us to break-even, one of which was potentially buying out the contracts of these youth players, can you elaborate on this?
When you sell a player to a club at 11-12 years of age, you try to put various trigger points in the contract along the way. The first is a signing fee, then you’d get another fee when they sign their first apprenticeship contract, then another payment when they sign their first professional contract, and another when they sign their second professional contract. You might also have clauses for if they become an international, and then a sell-on clause and an appearance fee.
Now not all player sales of this type will have all of these clauses, our job is try and get as many of these within the deal as possible. But these are seven possible points in the player’s contract which would trigger a fee.
What then happens is you look at each of these deals we’ve got out there now – for example Tom Cleverley, Andre Wisdom and Fabian Delph – they have further trigger points on their contract. There is nothing stopping you from going to the club and saying ‘these are the various trigger points. If all these things happen, these are what it could be worth; therefore we’d like to suggest a final settlement for that contract’.
That’s something we could look to do as a backstop. We don’t want to do it, because these deals are always going to be worth more if you let them run their course – as long as the player continues to progress with their development. Andre Wisdom making appearances triggers more money for us as a club, at certain trigger points. If we had done a deal last year on that contract, all of this would have disappeared. Though we might have been able to strike a deal that pays around the same amount we are getting now.
So it’s a calculated risk. All we know is that these arrangements have a value, and it helps you when planning your budgets. Because if you’re going to have an over-spend, you need to look at what things you have in the back to call upon if we need to.
So is it something you are looking to do?
Not at this moment we are not. We would rather let the deals see through their course. But we are keeping the dialogue open with these clubs. One reason for this is they want to know if we have any more players like the one they’ve signed. It’s in their interests to maintain good relations with us.
That’s one thing that Archie did very well. He knew how to take an arrangement with one player and make sure he maximised it by presenting that option to other people, in order to make a decision. That’s something I really take my hat off to Archie about, he really knew how to drive a deal.
That financial summary also shows that the club is still aided by Mark Lawn’s £1 million loan, which Company House records suggest currently attracts 9.5% annual interest…
That summary was designed to give supporters a picture of where we are now. Over the period of 2007-2012 the total is £3.7 million losses. But of those £3.7 million losses, £3 million is shared capital – the three owners (Mark, Julian and David Rhodes) have each got £1 million of shared capital. That brings the trading loss down to £700k, accumulatively.
With Mark Lawn’s £1 million loan in there, it means we have spent the £3 million in shares, and we have spent £700k of Mark’s loan, and there is £300k of working capital at the start of the season. The loan isn’t showing as trading income for the club, so when we talk about break-even points and losses, the loan is simply a fluctuation of money left over to help with trade.
So the point is that between the time Mark Lawn put in the £1 million loan and now, £700k of that has gone and £300k of it is left. If someone walked into the club and said ‘I would like to buy Bradford City, how much will it cost to buy it and get rid of all the debt?’ The £3.7 million is how much it would cost to bring the club’s balance to £0.
Are there plans to pay Mark back?
There’s no demand from Mark for return payment. It was done to give us a trading position. In relation to the loan, it is not a capital repayment loan it is an interest-bearing only loan, with no demand to pay it back.
Is there a pressure to sell players in January? Nahki Wells is rumoured to be attracting significant interest…
I think it goes back to what we said earlier about the variants. Instead of ambling through a season with only a break-even budget, we have set a higher budget to try and get us out of this division. That is the objective. Therefore, in order to get out of this division you want to retain all the assets available to you to do it.
The very last variant we want to do is to sell a player. Unless we absolutely had no choice to sell a player, any player, it’s not our intention to sell a player.
As it is, we have not even been put in that position because no one has put in an offer for a player. We have had one enquiry for Nahki, and it was just a tentative enquiry, and that just drifted away. That’s not to say people aren’t showing an interest and are keen in him, which is why we were prudent as a football club and sought to protect our interest in him by giving him a secure contract.
I think Nahki is happy playing his football here, and it’s part of his development. My own knowledge of Nahki’s development goes well beyond Bradford City’s. I am the one who, through RIASA, brought him through from Bermuda. I’m the one who got him his first opportunity at Carlisle. Now you might question why did he get his first opportunity at Carlisle and not City? And the simple answer is that Peter Taylor didn’t fancy him. Greg Abbott choose to take him on, although did release him in the 2011 summer.
At that point I suggested to the manager and I suggested to Archie that they take a look at him. And in fairness to Archie, you know a few months back there was this big discussion over who actually brought Nahki to the club, it was Archie who said ‘he can fit into my Development Squad’ and signed him.
There were a lot of people who had a hand in Nahki’s progression. Mark Ellis from a coaching point of view, I watched him develop within the RIASA development programme and brokered a deal to Carlisle, and then I got him another trial here. And then from a point of view of turning him from a trailist into a signed player, the person who stuck his neck on the line and said ‘I think he’s worth signing’ was Archie.
And we have all reaped the rewards of that. It’s a good accolade to Mark Ellis that he can spot a player, it’s a good accolade for the RIASA programme that they can develop players and that this is now the new Development Squad, and it’s a good accolade to Archie for signing him. And at that time, it was his Development Squad budget that was paying for Nahki, and that budget would have been under the biggest scrutiny at the end of the year in terms of ‘can we afford this Development Squad?’
You must have felt so proud when Nahki scored that wonder goal against Rochdale a year ago…
It was a great feeling. It’s funny because whenever he has a bad game I feel guilty for the club! But Nahki’s still in his learning curve and he has less bad games these days! When he does a moment that is brilliant I am grinning like a Cheshire cat.
I can still think back to having a coffee with Nahki’s dad when he first came into the country. We invited the parents over first year, and he said ‘he’s a good lad, my lad. I think he will do well, as he is a decent player’. Obviously all parents will say something similar, and there were 25 people within the RIASA programme at the time, so I went to him ‘we’ll see, we will keep his feet on the ground’. I think very early on you could see that Nahki had a lot of potential, but as Mark Ellis said he was a rough diamond. There were a lot of things that Mark had to deconstruct from his game, in order to teach Nahki to play the game the way it is played professionally.
We have got two or three more within the RIASA programme that are eligible for UK football, who we are quite excited about. But what we don’t do is big up the players too early or start saying things like ‘look at him he will be brilliant’. There’s no need to. We go about our business quietly at RIASA.
Because Bradford is my club and the connections, City will always get first shout on these players in the same way they got first shout on Nahki Wells in the first place. And hopefully we can introduce one or two more.
So the RIASA programme has become the Development Squad, so to speak?
We’ve changed the Development Squad because we felt, long-term, it wasn’t sustainable cost-wise. The great thing about the RIASA programme is it costs the club absolutely nothing. It’s self-funding through the degree programme and all the coaching, mini bus, training and accommodation costs are all funded through the RIASA programme.
These players can train with the first team whenever the manager wants to look at them, and he can sign any of the players he wants at no cost – not even a signing fee. Because that is not what RIASA is about. RIASA is about giving international students an opportunity to showcase their skills on a platform that ordinarily wouldn’t be available to them. And what makes the programme more sustainable is if more students see it and want to take part.
It all goes to prove that the whole principle of that 18-21 age group, and finding players in a different pool, is a way of giving under-developed players a second chance.
The Belgian project (launched in 2007 by the club) was a good idea, but we had to pay a retainer, and we weren’t seeing the quality of players that we wanted to see. Archie’s project was a good idea, but you had to make an upfront commitment to costs in order to find and put these players on our books. And the danger with these is that if these players didn’t fit the criteria or the manager didn’t see them as fitting into the first team environment, then all of a sudden you’ve got all these costs and no tangible benefits. How long can you let that go on for?
The third option is the RIASA programme. So the principle of tapping into this 18-21-year-old age group has been pursued for a while by the club. But if you can do it in a way that doesn’t cost the club money, that’s going to be the best way of doing it. Nahki is the perfect example of it working!
The previous ideas have been stepping stones for the club. I look at it a bit like Windows – we’re up to Windows 8 now! Well the Belgian project and the Development Squad were versions 1 and 2, and now we are on version 3!
Have any more players from RIASA being signed up yet?
No not yet. Simply because we, as in the coaching staff, don’t feel these players are quite ready yet. So we are keeping them in our Development Squad and giving them our games, and trickling them in slowly. A bit of training with the first team now and then, and then towards the end of the season some will maybe play in a reserve game or an under 21 friendlies behind closed doors.
It’s a quiet development behind the scenes. And then when someone is ready, they drop on stage – like Nahki – and it has more of a wow factor.