5 May 2009

One of my passions is following Norwich City FC who have just fallen into the third tier of English football for the first time in my lifetime. Much has already been written about their demise but I thought that I would look at it from a business perspective to analyse the problems that the club faces.

The Board: With any business a period of sustained decline over a number of years has to come down to the failings of the Board of Directors. A Board has several duties and responsibilities but its major role is to set strategy, empower and monitor progress. Under all of these measures the NCFC Board has spectacularly failed to deliver. There has been no published strategy other than a few meaningless platitudes such as “Prudence with Ambition” which point to a preoccupation with a marketing spin rather than any solid and workable business plan. There is an argument that the Board abdicated responsibility rather than empowering which has resulted in the current run down of its assets. Monitoring of progress should have been the easy bit but unfortunately there has been a weakness in not making the appropriate decisions at the right time – resulting in delay, confusion and a demoralised workforce. It would be easy to blame Delia Smith for all of the woes of the club but this is patently unfair. She has invested heavily in the club and recognised that she is not a natural Chairman and so did not take up this post. The mistake that she made was not to build a strong Board around her. Instead she has a decidedly substandard team which has been unable to meet the demands placed upon it. To rectify this Delia should be insisting that the Board is replaced with credible business people and a smattering of football experts that can take the club forwards to the next stage. Change is needed at this level before implementing the next stage in the clubs recovery.

The Executive Team: This is actually a hard one to call because apart from Neil Doncaster, the CEO, the rest of the senior team are almost invisible to the public eye. Any CEO who has overseen such failure must be at risk and Mr Doncaster is no exception. Unfortunately we have become used to carefully constructed “non phrases” emanating from this direction which amount to more spin rather than any desire to rectify the obvious failings within the club. Allowing key members of staff such as Andy Cullen to go without any adequate replacement has contributed to the spiral of decline. A club has to live within its means and as such every aspect of the business has to be looked at with a view to efficiency and unfortunately this does not appear to have been the case at NCFC. A strong team needs to be built to run the club with clear direction from the Board and the resources required to live within its means. Now is not the time for tinkering – the Canaries need major surgery.

The Manager: A strong manager is required at any football club. However their scope and remit should be clearly defined. Budgets provided, facilities made available and time allowed to implement change. A manager needs a strong team around them – people who fill the gaps in knowledge and ability and who can work together for the benefit of the club. As in any team a mixture of youth, experience, desire and proven success is preferred. Bryan Gunn our current manager has many of these skills in place and his desire to do well can probably never be surpassed. However is the support team up to the job? If Bryan can be mentored by an experienced and respected football figure then he could be the man to take NCFC back up into the Championship. Without a guiding hand the passion alone would not be enough but the club must stop the revolving managerial door which is destabilising and the reason why we are in our current position. This is the Boards fault. It is not my place to suggest who should fill this post – I am sure however that the track record of the current Board points to the fact that they cannot be trusted to get it right.

The Fans: In case anyone at the club had forgotten we are also known as CUSTOMERS! The support given has been stupendous despite the mediocrity that we have become accustomed to. The fans have done all that they can for the club and now it is time to repay this loyalty. I would estimate that the fans are worth £10m+ to the club in gate receipts and club related sundry expenditure alone – hence we are the most important part of the equation. No business can count upon the loyalty of its customers forever if it continues to disappoint them with the quality of its offering. Football is entertainment and discretionary expenditure even allowing for the tribal bond that links the fans to the club. There are many examples of well supported clubs losing their fan base through years of neglecting their needs. the fans are realistic – we do not expect Premiership glory but we do require commitment, entertainment and the odd moment of glory. (The average fan accepts that NCFC has one good year in ten!)

The Players: These are the employees of the club. Much has been written about how and why football beats to a different economic drum but this is patently not true. There is no need to run a football club any differently than any other business. Employee wage inflation should be halted, contracts rewritten to allow clubs to dismiss under performing players and to stop the disgruntled player seeking to leave at their whim. The culture of win bonuses should be dropped with say an end of season target resulting in a one off payment relevant to the clubs financial benefit. The argument would be that no players would want to come to Norwich if we insisted upon such contracts. I do not believe this is true. We would attract players who are keen to make their mark, can see significant reward for success and with a desire to achieve. It only needs one club to start the process and the rest will soon follow.

Relegation should be a wake up call for everyone and an opportunity to implement the tough decisions for the long term future of the club. No more talk of “sugar daddies” riding to the rescue with riches galore – despite the spin few clubs have this fallback position – indeed most would be delighted with the investment made by Delia. Run the club well and success will follow, build the right team on and off the pitch and the fans (customers d not forget) will support them forever. The first step has to come from Delia though to build a strong Board. The very best of luck Delia from all City fans.

On the ball City.

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