My priorities were to restructure and rethink the football operations. In the first three weeks I extended 14 contracts on the football operations side, and created a video analysis, data, scouting, medical and sports science departments.
777 Partners, the US investment firm, made its move this month, installing Carlo Taldo as Sporting Director of Genoa while, as expected, the Public Investment Fund, the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia that owns Newcastle United, wasted little time in dismissing Manager Steve Bruce.
A new Sporting Director and Manager are now priorities for the suddenly cash-rich Premier League club.
With the process of change under way at both clubs, here’s a look at some items on the agenda of investors during their first three months in office.
1. Have a strategy… and stick to it
Mis-steps made by new investors during the first 90 days can jeopardise a club’s success. Have a business plan, and stick to it.
Paul Conway, who heads up Pacific Media Group, which owns six clubs across Europe, told a TransferRoom Virtual Summit earlier this year: “Investors go wrong by not having a strategy. You need to have a strategy. Clubs will say ‘we’ll get promoted,’ ‘we’ll win the league’, or ‘we’ll play attractive football’. That's not a strategy. You need a clear defined strategy of how to grow and how you are going to balance your budget.”
2. Act quickly
New country, new surroundings: 90 days goes fast, so you have to act accordingly, particularly if you are in a transfer window. Take decisions and stick to your convictions. Being a successful owner means making difficult, often unpopular choices.
3. Evaluate club assets
Does club leadership have a well-thought out plan? Is the sporting staff making the right decisions when it comes to squad planning, recruitment and scouting? Is there enough support staff?
Damien Comolli, who became President of Toulouse FC when US investment firm RedBird bought the club in early 2020, told a recent TransferRoom Virtual Summit: “My priorities were to restructure and rethink the football operations. In the first three weeks I extended 14 contracts on the football operations side, and created a video analysis, data, scouting, medical and sports science departments.”
4. Control costs
It’s all too easy to come into a new club and over-promise and over-spend. A full cost analysis must be done, including looking into how players’ contracts are structured. Simply, are you spending too much money? Prioritise expenditure.
“It’s easy to bleed to death as an investor,” one told TransferRoom.
5. Align cultures
Do you really have to change everything? As an investor, efficient due diligence should have been done to ensure your philosophy and way of working is aligned with the club.
But circumstances change and decisions need to be made for the best interests of the club.
At Toulouse, relegation to Ligue 2 in the 2019-20 season after a curtailed, Covid-hit season had hit some players harder than anyone originally thought.
“I thought we could change the culture without changing the players, but soon realised early on that the trauma of relegation meant we would have to change the personnel to change the culture,” said Comolli.
6. Be on the ground
Don’t lead from afar. Takeovers can be unsettling for staff, players and fans, so be visible. If necessary, appoint a representative to be your eyes and ears at the club.
7. Get recruitment and data right
Getting a team younger and the wage bill down can have an immediate impact on the balance sheet. While investing in data tools to achieve that costs time and money, doing it right can have significant rewards.
Luke Bornn, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist at Zelus Analytics, and Executive Vice-President of RedBird, told a Soccerex seminar in the summer: “Most clubs have revenues under $10m. The headline clubs making $100m-plus get all the headlines, but the vast majority of clubs around Europe are tiny and so for them it’s really hard to say data is a good approach when you think about the cost of acquiring data, of getting insights from it.
“If you have revenues of $1m or $2m a year, it’s maybe not a good return on investment. But if you are a larger club all it takes is to impact one transfer to then have an impact of tens or potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.”
8. Improve fan engagement
Football clubs very often sit at the heart of their communities, helping to build identity and make a significant contribution to the local economy. In essence, they are the ultimate community business and club owners must act as custodians for the real owners - fans.
Bornn said: “We approached Toulouse not just as a business, but as a community asset. It was important for us to be ingrained in the culture from day one.”
If you can successfully become a community asset, fan engagement can ultimately lead to more club revenue through ticket and merchandise sales.
9. Adopt a uniform style of play (if a multi-club model)
Use the powers at your disposal.
The clubs in Conway’s PMG - Barnsley, FC Thun, AS Nancy, Esbjerg, Oostende and Den Bosch - all play a similar brand of high-pressing football. That means players can move between clubs and hit the ground running.
What’s more they all rely on data to recruit young players, meaning there are significant synergies between the clubs, in terms of software and personnel. Fewer overheads equals a better balanced budget.
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