New owner should concentrate on off-pitch affairs

New owner should concentrate on off-pitch affairs

In his latest blog posting, OVF founder Rob Fielding says he hopes that the club’s preferred bidder, Keith Ryder, will make off-pitch finances a priority. Rob argues that increased financial income will benefit both the local community and Micky Adams’s transfer budget, to boot…

Concentrate on the off-pitch finances, Keith…

Rob Fielding, April 10th 2012

Since the news that Keith Ryder has been named as Vale’s preferred bidder, there’s been an awful lot of wish lists for the new owner circulating. So, with no further ado, here are my thoughts…

Some fans have said that they’d rather have an influx of new players than, for instance, the completion of the Lorne Street stand and Robbie Williams.

I have the polar opposite view. I hope that Keith Ryder concentrates on the off-pitch finances and here are some reasons why…

1. Missed commercial opportunities

Football may be undergoing an economic boom, mainly as the plaything of rich owners, but in its simplest form, Football League football is unsustainable.

Here’s a quote from the influential Deloitte Football Money Review 2011 that emphasises the importance of off-pitch revenue and the importance of completing planned developments:

“Clubs who have recently completed stadia enhancements, or moved stadia, have shown the competitive advantage that can be gained on their peers. It is critical that clubs complete developments that are in the pipeline. Although the economic climate remains challenging, innovative pricing solutions and corporate hospitality offerings can help clubs maximise these more controllable revenues.”

Port Vale own a whopping great chunk of land – Vale Park – but in essence it brings in its only significant income once every fortnight, for nine months of the year.

Yes, I know that Port Vale has a business centre, conference facilities and so on, but in my view these areas can all be developed further and the revenue increased from these areas.

For instance, completion of the Robbie Williams suite could double corporate revenue during matches and from conferencing, weddings and the like away from matchdays. I would say that it would pretty much pay for itself within a few years.

I also hope the new owner looks into further development of Vale Park – perhaps through developing the Railway Stand and the land behind it – or even more radically following the approach of Leyton Orient (incorporating housing into the stadium) and Bristol Rovers (linking up with the local university for their new stadium). Both those clubs have come up with radical, but economically sensible proposals to increase stadium income. The Orient and Rovers’ plans may not suit Vale, but I applaud both clubs’ ability to come up with radical, “thinking outside the box” ideas. I would hope Vale would follow their lead.

We’re really fortunate to have so much land to play with. Yes, it’s not in an ideal transport location, but there is massive untapped potential in my book. For instance, one thing I thought that Valiant 2001 did get right was to concentrate on building a community resource.

Now there are better relations between club and council, I think there are big opportunities for the club to expand its foothold in Burslem. One simple step would be to talk to the council about bringing the market back – which I am sure would be welcomed by many people who are not even Vale fans as a way of getting people to visit and shop in Burslem. But there are plenty of other activities that could enhance Burslem which Vale could champion – fitness classes, health clinics and education facilities could all be housed in the Vale Park complex.

These sort of facilities are a two-way street. The council gets rewarded for its support of Vale through the club helping its own local community while Vale get increased respect for “giving something back” and at the same time gain another revenue stream.

For the “I’d rather have the money spent on the team” lot just have a think about this… how much impact could rental income from flats or a hotel, doubling the conference income, a Vale Park market and community facilities have on Micky Adams’ future transfer budget?

2. Players are temporary, off-pitch revenue is sustainable

Yes, a big transfer splurge could turn us into next season’s Swindon Town – but equally it could be another Martin Foyle’s debacle. Remember the big-money purchases of Shane Tudor, Paul Edwards et al to fuel a promotion push? The big money signings ended up getting relegated.

If an owner has to dip into his pockets to fund an ambitious transfer programme, he may be discouraged if it doesn’t work first time. That’s why I would rather have a sustainable income stream that generates more and more money for the squad each year. Then you can increase the quality of the Vale squad without the gamble of spending beyond your means. It’s a simple long-term plan and a sensible one, too.

And remember – financial restrictions are increasingly being introduced. Clubs are being discouraged to spend more than their means – so if transfer budgets are to be increased, the natural way to do it is to increase the income elsewhere.

So, come April 18th, when he addresses supporters, I will be hoping Keith Ryder leaves matters on the pitch to the manager and will be explaining his plans to take Vale forward off the pitch…

Rob Fielding has been a Port Vale fan for 31 years although some days he says it feels like considerably longer…

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