Norwich City’s Chief Operating Officer Ben Kensell spoke to Canaries TV on Wednesday afternoon to update on a number of topics.
Read the full transcript below:
Thanks for your time, Ben. First of all, can you give us an update on the overall health of the club at the minute in relation to finances?
“It’s been a difficult six months, but we are positively looking forward. The deficit we have to deal with is £12 million pounds and ultimately that will continue to get worse as and when we continue to struggle with our finances and getting people back into the ground. What we have to do is turn it into a positive. I’m really pleased with how clear and concise we were in going out with the rebate scheme, we were applauded and commended by other clubs in the Premier League and Championship for being one of the first to go out. The three options we gave were effectively: fans were entitled to their rebate and they could take it, 80% of the 36,000 took that up, 10% chose to donate to the academy and a further 10% donated to CSF (Community Sports Foundation) – that for CSF is a meaningful amount and we’re so blessed with the work they do in the community for us. Moving forward, we’re a club which obviously wants to be open and transparent about what happens for next season. Our view is that we want to try and get fans in for next season into the stadium as safely and quickly as possible. We will be able to do that hopefully through test events but if people cannot attend for whatever reason, we will honour those rebates and we will do that through our ‘on accounts’ system on the basis that people can go online and take their money or use their money in other areas at the football club. We’re quite clear and obvious around that we want to continue with the same rebate scheme that we’ve had, if people are not able to attend matches. We’re also looking at a potential live streaming opportunity for both home and away games for our iFollow package but we’re waiting on some confirmation from the EFL on whether we can actually offer that on Canaries TV. We would love to offer that to our 31,000 members and season ticket holders because we feel that support, albeit through Canaries TV, is vital to follow the team. We’re looking to propose and try that but ultimately from a rebate perspective, we’re going to be clear and concise on fans that can’t attend matches will receive a rebate.”
Tell us a little but about what fans can expect if and when they return to watching games at Carrow Road…
“Firstly, we’ll only bring fans back when it’s safe to do so. We’re phenomenally blessed to have 22,000 season tickets signed and sorted for next season. It’s an unbelievable support base we have here, especially when those supporters have been paying since March during that period of time of hardship. I find it exceptional, I’ve not seen it at any other club. We’re massively blessed to have that, it’s been very much the lifeblood of the football club. We’ve clearly missed them, on and off the pitch, and that engagement that we want to have with supporters. Fixture list comes out on Friday, August 21 as well as the draw for the Carabao Cup which is due to be played on Saturday, September 5. So, following the fixture release, we’ll be communicating to all season ticket holders, hospitality clients, members on how we’ll be bringing fans back into the stadium in a phased approach. It’ll be 6,000 initially but we’re trying to push for more in the guidelines and we’re working with SGSA [Sports Ground Safety Authority] and the safety advisory group. Things that fans will have to consider: we’ll have to go contactless so we’ll remain that way as a cashless stadium moving forward, there’ll be bag searches and temperature checks on arrival. We’ll have to do ID checks because as fans choose their seats, they’ll be able to do so with friends and family in their bubble but ultimately that will be subject to ID checks on their way into the ground for the selected fixture that they have. All information on how they can do that will come out via the communication through the club channels nearer the time, but we need to get the fixture list out first.
How do you view things moving forward in terms of the club’s finances because of the ever-changing situation with COVID-19?
“Well we’re a proud self-financed club, which means we have to work harder and be smarter. Ultimately, it means we have to cut our cloth accordingly, but we’ve already done that with a lot of our budgets. We’ve been really efficient with cutting costs out of our business, that perhaps were nice to have rather than essential. We’ve looked to grow revenues where possible and we’ve grown them on a lot of the areas we needed to in order to be successful, but ultimately it comes down to three things: our club-controlled income, our player trading and our parachute payments. We need to be creative with them parachute payments and ensure we are as competitive as we can be on the pitch, by generating as much money and being as smart as we can be off the pitch.”
Tell us a bit about the reopening of the conference and banqueting areas…
“It’s a really important area of our business, it’s another revenue generating area that we need to get opening and functioning as quickly as possible. It opens on October 1, so obviously we need the support from local businesses to use the facilities that we have. We’ve got the staff back in the building, they’re raring to go. We’ve got plans in place as to how we can really allow for socially distanced meetings and events and once again, it’s one of several areas within our club-controlled remit that we need to promote and generate as much revenue as we can from.”
There’s a lot of work being done on Carrow Road at the minute to get the stadium ready for next season, could you give us a little update on developments and how they’re going?
“Yeah of course, the priority is always the Lotus Training Centre for us and has been for a number of years now, so we did a lot of work on the pitches this summer, which is really important from an academy and first-team perspective. That’s now a really first-class facility. At Carrow Road, we listened to a lot of supporter feedback around the toilet facilities that weren’t adequate. I met with female supporters around facilities that weren’t adequate in the Upper and Lower Regency and the Upper Barclay and what we’ve done is used our workforce here to make significant improvements in them areas so hopefully, when fans do come back in, they’ll see some real improvements there. It may be small, but I think it’ll mean a lot that we’re working with Along Come Norwich in a campaign to give the opportunity to fans to choose the nets for next season, a bit of nostalgia and create a bit of a fortress for Carrow Road. It’s a bit of a nod to them because they’ve done such phenomenal work around driving that atmosphere, there is an online poll that we will support going out tomorrow that effectively gives fans the vote of if they want yellow nets, yellow and green nets or continued white nets. We’re trying to be as creative as we can to try and engage the fanbase in decision making that we do around Carrow Road and generate that environment.”
There’s a lot of anticipation around the kit among the fanbase with the club announcing that we’re releasing it on Friday, can you give us an insight into the excitement around the business and the work that’s gone into getting things ready?
“It always marks the start of a new season and the start of loads of optimism. It’s a great kit, it’s a lovely kit and I really hope that the fans take to it. For me, it’s the old adage that it marks the start of a new season and gives that level of positivity around where we’re going to go this season in the Championship and how far we can take it with that new kit. It’s been long overdue, so when Friday comes, I’m sure the intrigue will stop, and people will have a view on it. We think it’s a great kit.”
From a retail perspective, the Fan Hub has been open for a few months now and the Carrow Road store reopens on Friday, just give us a view on how the Fan Hub has been operating for the last few months.
“Obviously, we had to close it because of COVID. Since reopening we’ve seen good sales in that area, all revenue generating areas are vital for us, as we said earlier, to try and plug that gap. Everybody is working really, really hard to ensure we’ve got a healthy club as we can have financially, commercially, operationally and the Fan Hub is another entity of that. It’s operating well, our online business has thrived throughout that period, especially in retail. But, it’s not just about that, we need all of our other areas operating at full capacity to be that self-financed club that really helps generate the income we need to support the efforts on the pitch.”
Can you give us an insight into how COVID-19 has impacted our relationships with partners and the commercial deals we’ve got with other companies?
“Well commercially we’re actually in a stronger year-on-year position than we were last time in the 2018-19 promotion winning season. We’re forever indebted to our sponsors. Two things mainly, the growth we’ve seen is really unheard of in these current periods of times, especially among other clubs as well. Actually, it’s also the amount of money they left in the Club from a rebate perspective that I thought was really phenomenal. We are very impressed by the partnership portfolio we’ve built up over the last five years, it’ll probably be at the envy of other clubs and we’re very fortunate to have that level of support. I think it goes across loads of different areas of the Club, whether it be the support base or the staff we’ve got here at Carrow Road and at Colney, it’s about that togetherness and it’s about pulling in the same direction. The reason I believe we were so successful in 2018-19 was because we had that sense of everyone pulling in the same direction and the momentum that took us over the line. We need to generate that again, that comes from partners, that comes from staff, it comes from fans, it comes from the players, it comes from everyone pulling in that same direction. If we can get that, we’ve got a real chance to have a very successful campaign.”