A chat with Pompey's engagement manager
PFC So how are things going?
MH I genuinely doubt things could be going much better off the field. We are winning the battles to turn the club around. By we, I mean us, the Pompey fans. The fans have given us their trust and their money and we are building a new club with it. You give us the straw and we are making building blocks with it.
PFC Are you happy with the launch of the third kit?
MH Hardly! The launch could not have gone much worse. As a club and a team we delivered two fabulous kit launches. However, with the third we shot ourselves in the foot. We win as a team and lose as a team. We made mistakes in terms of the ways in which the kit came into the world. We want everything about Pompey to be classy.
PFC Do you think it affected sales?
MH Well, as we sold out in less than two hours we can only say that sales could not have been any better! Demand is very high and while the kit polarises opinion – that is the idea. All the manufacturers wanted us to do luminous yellow or green for a third strip, but we just didn't think it was right for the first year.
PFC When can people buy it?
MH Ah, the million dollar question! We expect more in during the next three weeks. We are still fighting against the timescales. Bear in mind that we are actively working on next season’s kits already – September/October is the time when you start nailing kits down. We ordered ours in mid-May, eight months late. That was unavoidable considering the battle to get the club into our ownership.
PFC Are you happy overall with the Sondico deal and relationship?
MH It's a marvellous deal for Pompey and for them. We found exactly the right partner. Given the late timescale, Sondico were the only people who could guarantee three kits during the summer and that's what they delivered. From what we know that has simply not happened in anyone's memory, and Kev the Kitman has been here for 15 years! The other key point is that the deal was the best one financially for the club and the backing from Sports Direct has meant our shirts are on sale in 10 stores across the south. Sales are superb and Sondico have a lot of confidence in the way they are going. They peg us as effectively one of the big Championship clubs for orders.
PFC Talking of shops...
MH Yes, it's all sorted. Within the next few days we will release the opening date and things are gearing up right now. There will also be a new Sports Direct Pompey website to replace the temporary one that Sondico put together in record time.
PFC Lots of people have asked about whether it’s better for the club to buy shirts in Sports Direct or at the club?
MH The answer is that the more shirts sold the more the club benefits, wherever you buy them. I obviously can't lay out the internal specifics of our contract, but please trust us when we say it’s always immensely helpful to the club when you buy a shirt. And the fact that so many thousands have been sold has helped the club and Sondico develop the deal to all of our benefit.
PFC How is this new club website going?
MH The figures are starting to come in and we are now one of the big club websites out there with massive volumes of traffic out of all proportion to our status. People should remember that even by reading though our website they are helping the club earn money and attract sponsors. We received well over half a million page impressions in our first month.
PFC What about Pompey Player, how's that going?
MH We are closing in on our first thousand subscribers. It's less than £40 a year to subscribe and has an incredible amount of content, so it's hardly surprising people are joining up in great numbers. The commentary team are starting to develop a bit of a cult following and the video quality just keeps getting better. And just wait for the new feature we've got coming up – it's hilarious! I can say no more.
All the revenue goes into the academy, so it really makes a big difference when people subscribe. I know there have been some internet radio streaming systems around for years, but what people need to remember about those is that they deny the academy funds. Of course they are also illegal, but our primary concern is that the club needs that revenue, it's our product. It's the same as climbing over the wall to watch a match for free, it just takes revenue out of the academy.
PFC The new programme has attracted a lot of press coverage for its interactive elements. Did you expect it to make such a splash?
MH We hoped it would. We have a clear digital vision that we are patiently working towards. It involves having little or no budget and a lot of help, but we have already managed to steal a march on the rest. The programme is now profitable and all of that profit again makes a significant difference to budgets over the season. Buying the programme means signing players. We reckon it’s a good hour’s entertainment and as a collector’s item, it's unsurpassed. My favourite bit is the Nelson and Mary Rose kids cartoon!
PFC Isn't that the bit you write?
MH Moving on...
PFC There’s been lots of discussion about the refreshment kiosks at Fratton this season, both positive and negative. What has changed?
MH We have quite simply gone to town on them. Renovated and in some cases rebuilt them, installed new till systems and electrics, hired new staff, brought in new products... you name it.
PFC And has it worked?
MH The profit from the kiosks, like the programme, is becoming very significant to the business. It can have an effect on the pitch. We are selling more products, more cheaply and to many more people at a far greater profit. That's some achievement. When fans ask what they can do to help, the first answer is to come to games, the second is to buy a programme and your refreshments at the ground. Seriously, it is beginning to really make a difference in terms of the budgets. It's not been a stately progression and we've had to work hard, but every single match the feedback improves and the figures go up.
PFC What about the hospitality lounges?
MH We were completely full for Oxford and Chesterfield and about 90 per cent there for Morecambe. Again, it's a completely new operation – nothing is ever perfect first time out, but the feedback has been amazing from people, not just about the food and the service, but the whole welcome. We are working on it all the time and have great people running it. Steve Hudson is doing an amazing job and is a pleasure to work with.
PFC How are the relationships with our sponsors?
MH Well, we have sold all four stands to sponsors, front of shirt, back of shirt, we have a new mobile partner in OneCom and we have sold all of our player sponsorships (unless we sign some more players!). Having said that, we've still got some great opportunities for local businesses to get involved. From £2,500 you can be a partner with us, but even if you've got a million pounds to spend we will find a way to fit you in! Just call the club on (023) 9273 1204 and ask for Tracey or me and we will be happy to work with you.
We could not have done what we have without the help of our sponsors. Look around the ground and remember these are all fans and local business, and when you go out to spend your money or your company’s money, please remember the investment our partners have made in our football club.
PFC Are you pleased with our gates?
MH Delighted. We had to open the Milton End versus Chesterfield which was a really positive sign and the average of 16,200 or so is brilliant. Every thousand on the average has a massive effect on the clubs bottom line. We work with what you give us, the more straw you give us the more bricks we have.
PFC On a personal level, are you enjoying it?
MH Everything except the games! Since coming to work here I've just been an absolute bag of nerves during the matches because you work so hard during the week. Fortunately, we've got a great team and a great manager and they work just as hard as the rest of us. When Yassin chipped that penalty I almost fainted, though!
PFC So what is your final message to fans?
MH Keep coming to the games, buy the programme, buy the food, buy the shirts. Most of all, have fun. The whole club is about having a good time and enjoying ourselves. We want to see people smiling when they come in and smiling when they go out. Everyone at the club is working so hard to try to build the club for the future, please just keep supporting the way you are.
PFC Thanks Micah
MH Thank you – and Play up Pompey!