On Tuesday night, Norwich City’s Executive Committee – Ben Kensell, Zoe Ward and Stuart Webber – gave us 90 minutes of online reporting and Q&A.
Fan groups logged in from across the globe (and Peterborough).
As well as learning that Zoe had cut Stuart’s hair – it’s OK, they’re partners – we were given a comprehensive update of the club’s financial, social and football position. Everyone’s questions were answered, whether submitted in advance or (like mine) posted during the event.
As usual with our club these days, the answers were characterised by openness and honesty.
Before getting into financial and football matters, it’s worth a quick recap of the club’s social actions during lockdown – a programme focussed on supporter engagement, support for the most vulnerable in the community, and backing for NHS and Care staff.
Some 7,000 calls have been made to older Season Ticket holders, including 300 by first-team players (we’ll come back to an interesting sidebar on this). Around 1,500 food parcels and other essentials have been despatched and delivered to the vulnerable across the county. And some 700 surgeries and care facilities have received packages, including cakes and City souvenirs, from the club.
Norwich City hasn’t exactly been idle.
As Mick Dennis recently shared with us here, there’s a massive challenge to the club’s finances from the enforced lockdown of football and its repercussions.
Our budget for this year was a breakeven one, with expenditure matching expected income. Covid has blown a horrible hole in it. The impact on matchday and commercial income of losing our expected attendances is a shortfall of £9 million – no getting around that.
The big, and still to be finalised, impact relates of course to TV revenue. If the season didn’t resume, Norwich City faced a potential further shortfall of some £25 million, bringing the total Covid hit close to £35 million.
Unlike others in the Premier League, we don’t have an owner who could shrug and write a £35 million cheque.
Thankfully from a financial point of view, the planned resumption could bring that figure down substantially. With other measures in place and deferring unnecessary spend, the immediate hit may be only £12-15 million.
That’s still a rather big ‘only’. I’ll come back to some wider implications that were discussed.
Meanwhile, we’re now planning to play football. Apparently, the mindset of the players and management is completely positive. The players kept themselves in “outstanding” condition during the enforced break. All are fit except Sam Byram, who’s recovering from an operation.
With matches coming thick-and-fast when the league (and of course Cup) resumes, the squad will be needed – perhaps including one or two younger players who were on the edge of selection before the pandemic.
We know that character has been a key criterion in Stuart and Daniel’s recruitment of players. It seems that character is not only showing through in their professionalism; they were also committed to, and touched by, the calls they made to supporters and the help they were able to give.
A focus of the club’s current thinking is the atmosphere for games at Carrow Road, and how we can help the players despite the lack of fans in attendance. Playing of On the Ball, City, flags and other visuals in the stands, artificial crowd noise – all these and more are under consideration, and there’ll be further consultation with fan groups.
Two conditions are attached to that planning: whatever we do needs to be a genuine help to the team, and it’s not for monetising. We won’t be charging fans for cut-outs to be placed in their seats, as a couple of German clubs have done.
Back to the wider picture, we’re of course not as financially resilient as Premier League clubs with super-rich owners. On the other hand, our careful stewardship means we’re not panicking about huge debt or wage commitments. And we’re much better off than many teams below the Prem.
This has important implications for transfer dealings. The club doesn’t fudge or hide the possibility that, especially if we go down, we’ll sell one or two players in the next transfer window. We shouldn’t stand in the way of players who have the prospect of a big career advance, and want to take it.
Any such sales, however, will be on our terms. We’re not financially desperate as we were a couple of years ago.
Against that, there are bargains to be had from financially-challenged clubs in other divisions. It’s not our intention to exploit such clubs’ weakness and leave them without compensation; there may be deals, though, of strong mutual benefit.
Much more was covered, but let me finish by explaining my headline.
The club is begging us to stay away from Carrow Road, especially on matchdays. Not because they don’t want our support – far from it. But the league is imposing strict limits on people in and around grounds. If – and this is the big point – those restrictions are breached or threatened, then the club will be fiercely penalised.
To help our club, we must (just this once) stay well away from it.
martin penney says
Excellent stuff all round.
C’mon Stew, what was your question?
I think we should be told 🙂
Stewart Lewis says
Actually, my question didn’t get a long answer – probably because it was premature. I asked whether they anticipated pressure – as mooted by the FA – to change the parachute payment system.
martin penney says
Premature? Maybe, but a sound and totally relevant ask nonetheless.
I’ve heard the rumblings from the FA too but I think this would be the very worst time for them to attempt to amend the parachute payment system given the current circumstances. That’s my view anyway!
Thanks – appreciated.
Jim Davies says
Very good point about staying away, Stewart. We should for our own benefit of course, but if there’s a threat of financial or points penalties, then that is another reason. The threat of penalties needs to be widely publicised (though not in parts of Birmingham, Leeds, Brighton, Watford, etc!!!)
Stewart Lewis says
I like that last point!
Alex B says
An interesting read
At this present time city are one of the few as you say without oligarchs as owners but there are people out there looking to invest and a few weeks ago the Mail did an interview with a company that trys to put so called investers with clubs looking for invester and it was said 14 premiership clubs have been intouch with them.
So you can count out Everton, Arsenal, Spurs, Livarpool, Man C & U so have city put out the feelers only time will tell.
Are we looking forward to the restart I am not really sure on a personal level the season finished in March and I am missing cricket and other summer sports.
On the safety side all the footballers are being tested twice a week but on Sky yesterday the testing of Refs hasn’t yet been mentioned, The Ref’s Association hasn’t but any results out so are these official actually being tested.
Onwards and upwards
Keep safe and well
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks – a number of good points. I hadn’t thought of match officials.
Yeah an essential ingredient to have at any football match unless they will do it remotely via VAR, now that would impact on the length of games
Thank you Stewart.
Some excellent points.
However, we must have a very aged support if they have made some 7000 calls to older season ticket holders. Other than Gary’s dad (who was justifiably impressed), has anyone else had one??
O T B C
Stewart Lewis says
Actually, I did!
As it happened, I missed the call. Thankfully in that regard, it was from a club official – I’d have been upset if I’d missed Tim Krul.
I guess there’s time then….and Krul, Klose or Webber will suit me fine!
Jim Davies says
My wife and I are both in the “older season ticket” category, and neither of has had a call, and nor has my mate, who is older than me. I was looking forward to a chat with Emi, and trying out my very limited Spanish!
Derek Piercey says
So, all being well, 2 weeks today it starts up again.
There have been many occasions during this pandemic that I couldn’t have cared less about football but now I’m impatient for it to resume.
I keep imagining just how good it would be to get the points needed to stay up. And, I genuinely do still believe we can.
I would be very happy to, next season, that we never once asked for a voided season, that we insisted on playing our way out of trouble and that we succeeded. Hopefully, at the expense of West Ham!
Keith B says
All clubs are clearly going to plead with their fans to stay away, and the majority will take note.
Clubs can put up barriers to stop fans accessing areas around their grounds that are club property, such as behind turnstiles. Although in doing so they have to be careful about allowing access to emergency vehicles if they are required and not stop people in the ground for legitimate reasons leaving if evacuation is needed.
But clubs cannot close off the streets nor police them. That is up to the authorities.
It would be totally wrong for any club to be penalised for gatherings that are not on their property just because there is a match on. That would be like prosecuting those in charge of a beach or a park for people clogging up nearby roads just because it happens to be a sunny day.
Stephen Godbold says
Ref our potential loss of £9m of income for 5 home games. Last season our average income (excluding TV) was just over £1m per game, of which almost half was gate receipts, for which the vast majority was in season tickets. The club don’t yet know how much of the ticket refunds are going to be claimed, but even if all of it is, to lose almost double what we took in last season is a stretch, especially when the cost of season tickets didn’t change.
That £1m per game last season includes about £250,000 income per game from catering – that’s income, not profit.
Plus, we have furloughed 150 staff and supposedly saved between £1m and £2m by doing so.
There will be costs incurred in putting the games on but also savings in staffing, policing, catering supplies etc. I suspect that the figure of £9m is a little misleading.
Martin MacBlain says
Hi Stewart, a great summary – I happened to be invited to that as well and my ears pricked up at your question. I was representing South West Canaries, one of whom asked the haircut question…
It was refreshing to see how down to earth Ben, Zoe and Stuart were. It was a frank and honest presentation, as were the responses. What shone through was that we are all in this together, the club need us as much as we need them and that everyone has been affected, from the most ardent supporter through to the back room staff to the players. But everyone is roaring to go and wants the season played out on the pitch. Any hint of automatic relegation will be sturdily fought.
As you’ve said – we MUST stay away – sanctions look like being very severe (although specific penalties weren’t mentioned) so much so, the club have asked the Holiday Inn not to let out the rooms facing the pitch!
Good summary and I hope you enjoyed the evening as much as I did.
Stewart Lewis says
Thanks – I certainly did, and endorse everything you say.
Excellent question about the haircut…