A 10-point plan for the new owners

May 3, 2012 9 Comments »
A 10-point plan for the new owners

When — if — the new owners come along, it’s not enough to just to carry on as things were, or to bung money at the problem. We need a plan…

In a recent series on The Seventy Two, the question was posed ‘what do you want from your club?’. My thoughts, as it turned out, barely scratched the surface. What do we want from Nottingham Forest? The obvious – success – means nothing on its own. How do we define success? What is realistic? Can anybody actually agree on either of these points?

After 13 years in the ‘wilderness’, and I don’t just mean the Premier League, it’s only right that, new owners or not, we have some grasp on what’s gone wrong and how we might go right. We’ve lurched from one manager to the next; we’ve spent big money, albeit in an irregular fashion; and we’ve managed to over-perform and underperform but never really just ‘perform’. So here’s a 10-point plan for the future:

1. A footballing philosophy
From top to bottom, the club needs to be preaching the same message. Why have we invested in one of the best academies in the country if we’re not carrying through their talent or the philosophy that Nick Marshall is instilling in them? Can anybody draw a lineage between Colin Calderwood, Billy Davies, Steve McClaren and Steve Cotterill? The ‘five-year plan’ might have been ill-conceived marketing but we need a real medium-term strategy; we need to join the dots and develop a strategy.

2. Contracts
We don’t sell our best players. Or so we were led to believe. We just give them away. Last summer one of our most expensive signings in recent years walked away for nothing. Granted, Robert Earnshaw was 30 and had put in a good shift. But we paid £2.65m for him. Kris Commons went for nothing as did Kelvin Wilson, Nathan Tyson, Paul McKenna et al. In the same breath there are certain players on healthy wages who are clearly surplus to requirements. With a wealthy benefactor you can get away with this but it’s still very bad business practice. Either we tie players down to new contracts or we sell them at the peak of their value — ignoring the sales of Wes Morgan and Patrick Bamford this season, James Perch is the only noteworthy sale in years.

3. Transfer policy
As mentioned previously, this needs to be integrated with the Academy as well as a footballing philosophy. Our best players this season have been Joel Lynch (£250,000 from Brighton), Garath McCleary (£20,000 from Bromley), Andy Reid (free transfer) and Adlene Guedioura (loan from Wolves). We don’t need to spend big money; Reading didn’t exactly buy their way to the championship. But we should get used to selling players and maximising their value – losing Patrick Bamford to Chelsea potentially saved us from relegation although he might have been worth more had first team chances come his way. Similarly we have an excellent scouting network that isn’t being fully utilised, managers need a relationship with the Academy and scouts to identify value for money.

4. Youth
Both Watford and Crystal Palace, among others, have both fielded teams featuring a majority of players from their academy in recent months. Quite why we haven’t seen more products of the Academy coming through is much discussed but bringing through the young players must be a priority if we are to sustain the level of investment required to attain Category B status as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP). Either way, we should be saving money on transfer fees or making money on transfer fees.

5. Sustainability
Boost revenues, be clever in the transfer market, maximise player sales… with the advent of Financial Fair Play we need to makes ends meet — but so does everybody else. Wages cannot remain the same, especially as a recent survey showed the average weekly wage in the Championship was £4,059. We could half our wage bill by simply paying players an average salary — and that would more half our losses.

6. Revenues
Which leads on to our income. Our revenues are lower than several other Championship teams in a similar position – Leeds, Norwich (before promotion), Ipswich, Leicester… Again, while losing £12m is ‘sustainable’ with a benefactor it doesn’t really make any sense. Commercially we need to be smarter – and that doesn’t mean fleecing the supporters — with sponsorship and advertising income hundreds of thousands, if not millions, less than it could be. And while we don’t own the land the City Ground sits on (which makes it more difficult to leverage potential revenues) it’s not an excuse for not maximising income.

7. The City Ground
It needs a lick of paint and some TLC but, more importantly, rebuilding the Main Stand would seem to be the most viable option of modernising the stadium — boosting capacity and revenues. With the World Cup bid having failed, the development of the last ‘old’ stand was part of the club’s plan if it reached the Premier League. But most fans would agree that the rest of the ground could do with an update regardless. A capacity of 37,000 is more than enough but it’s the potential for corporate events and conferences that will bring additional money. And are naming rights something to be thought about?

8. Level of expectation
Everybody associated with the club needs to accept and appreciate the realities and demands of modern football. We are a provincial club in the Championship; we might have had a glorious past under Brian Clough but there is no divine right. But let’s also be pragmatic; Reading, Norwich and Swansea are in the Premier League while the likes of Wigan, Fulham and Bolton remain there. Newcastle are a big club and fighting for a place in the Champions League – but they too were in the Championship two years ago. Like Leeds, the Sheffield clubs, Middlesbrough, Leicester et al we have a fighting chance of achieving promotion — with the right approach.

9. Fan engagement
This is where the club has really let themselves down in recent years. ‘We’re serious about promotion, are you?’ being the worst example. Any new ownership needs to have a little respect for their loyal ‘customers’. A lack of transparency has alienated fans and there is a desperate need to feel engaged rather than exploited. We might not be shareholders but we are stakeholders and, crucially, much of the club’s income is reliant on its fans.

10. Strategy
Ultimately, this is critical. What kind of club are we? Where do we want to get to? And how to we want to get there? FFP dictates we need to be sustainable — which can only be a good thing — but how do we go forwards? It might be easy to cite Norwich, Swansea, Blackpool, Reading and Southampton as prime examples but if we don’t attempt to emulate their success then we can’t say we tried and failed.

Image: Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • SouthernForestFan

    Seriously, am I the only person who reads these articles? Never any comments!

    Some good ideas (using youth, sorting philosophy and getting contracts sorted) , but also some very poor ideas of which there is very little depth to the argument or research done. As much as I would love to see a renovated ground or even a new one, what’s the point when we can’t even fill this (or afford to drop the price of tickets enough to do so)?? Not a lot of point and if want additional revenue streams what are they realistically because live concerts etc are not going to do it now there is the ice stadium in Notts and the corporate facilities need a lot of investment to get anywhere near the level to make some serious money.

    One thing I think it ridiculous is the club merchandise; why do we not have forest shops all over the city centre or at least one in the city centre. All these visitors coming to notts for Robin Hood and we expect them to come all the way out to the forest group to get a shirt?? Typical arrogance of our club thinking they don’t have to do anything to get fans, well wake up and put some effort in to spread the name not just locally but globally. How about more tours abroad or arranging a local tournament like the Arsenal do with the Emirates cup inviting teams from other nations? Forest are still big enough, with a great pitch and good enough to attract overseas clubs to come and play us in pre-season. We never tend to do anything to attract a hype about the club and then come out with ill thought out rubbish like the ‘serious about promotion thing’ to dupe us fans into buying season tickets.

    • Over 1,000 views in four hours and you’re the first to comment!

      It’s more of a wish list and if I was focusing more on individual points there would, obviously, be more detail. If an owner comes in with some money and a plan then the City Ground should be part of their thoughts — at the moment it’s clearly not a priority. Other clubs have substantial revenues through corporate/hospitality without concerts, events, etc.

      Signing the deal with Kitbag is a step in the right direction for merchandise, clearly there’s more that can be done. We are still known across the world, despite our diminishing reputation, and there is huge untapped potential to revive our once great brand.

      In terms of financial analysis, I would point anyone towards the Swiss Ramble: http://swissramble.blogspot.co.uk

      • SouthernForestFan

        Pleased to here how many views it’s had as it’s good to get the discussion going.

        Did you ever read the article on swissramble about Torres’ transfer and the fact that the £50m fee was paid back through shirt sales within a few weeks? I realise Forest don’t have the audience that Chelsea do, but we are also dealing in much lower costs of players so we should be looking at shirts etc to pay a significant amount towards things like transfers (albeit indirectly of course), but to do that we need more coverage.

        I recently came back from working in Brazil for a year and wrote to the club to ask if they would provide some shirts for a local Brazilian football team I played for which (after passing the buck a few times) the club ignored me. Instead I bought a shirt and did a shirt swap with a Brazilian mate for his team shirt (Atheltico Minerio btw) and to me that’s what football is about. OK, it’s unlikely that we’re going to get a massive fan-base in Brazil from one lad in a Forest shirt, but now there’s a lad wondering around Brazil wearing a Forest shirt and when people ask he tells everybody all the whole story about back to back European cup winners and from the home of Robin Hood etc. (What’s even more random is he recently went on holiday to Canada and one of his mates there was also given a Forest shirt). OK, my point is that if the club looked at things like tours, sponsoring more amateur teams and generally getting the name about again etc, the Forest brand would definitely grow and whether that means more shirt sales or not from these countries, it still adds media coverage and a sense of pride to us local fans that people in Brazil or wherever also know who we are and follow us a bit.

  • I think it’s a good summary of what a new owner needs to consider and it also reads like a list of charges against the previous administration. I still can’t make my mind up about Doughty – he no doubt kept the club going, but he also treated the fans like s*** (or at least allowed those working for him to do so) and let the day-to-day running of the club go to the dogs. When I went to sign the book of condolence for him, a quick glance around the press room and other bits of the Main Stand and my thoughts were ‘What a dump.’ A new strategy needs to look at improving the standard of corporate facilities and that doesn’t even need a new stand buliding, a lick of paint would go a long way! With FFP coming in we need to start doing this or we’re going to losing money and points!

    • Somebody once said ‘Doughty ran the club with his heart not with his head’, and that goes some way to explaining a few of the issues. With the advent of FFP we can’t sustain losses at the level we have in recent years…

  • The sad thing about the Doughty era is that he could have achieved at least as much without spending anywhere near the amount of money if he had just been a bit more structured in what he did. He needed football men he trusted to lead but he kept the decision making too close to himself and seemed focused on personality and status above a settled club philosophy. He should have appointed Frank Clark at the start with a strict and sustainable budget to work to and a brief to build the football structures of the club – academy, scouting, coaching etc – but he didn’t. The next owners should learn from that mistake and the monumental missed opportunity that resulted.

  • blubberboy

    Number 1 priority, send them on a trip to Australia again.

  • Joe

    Forest’s youth policy has been contradictory in recent years. We have a first class academy that is the envy of many clubs yet, with one or two notable exceptions no young players have broken through at Forest. Billy Davies wanted to spend big to achieve promotion and developing players isn’t really part of his make-up. I’m not saying that was right or wrong, it was just his style of managing, but when he scrapped the reserves there wasn’t really anywhere else for them to go other than the first team and that didn’t happen. Steve McClaren was another cheque book manager albeit all so briefly. And aside from Lascelles and Bamford making very brief appearances Cotterill was loathe to throw youth into a relegation battle.

    He may not have a choice next season.

  • redrob

    getting shot of Marhtur who has mismanaged the club in detail for years
    will feel like a new lease of life …whatever uredssss