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.