Blog: The Great American Opportunity

Blog by Jacob Greenwood

Mention investment to football fans, especially at their club, and it’s likely they’ll be day dreaming of an open chequebook policy and back-to-back promotions. Sometimes it works, but other times these ambitious projects can fail and leave clubs further from where they started – just ask Wigan, Blackpool or Portsmouth fans, and they’ll tell you to be cautious when ambitious owners or inverters are lurking.

Supporting Woking means that you probably aren’t expecting a takeover that will lead you to the Champions League in six seasons (as was famously done by Jay Cartwright) – however, we do see sides at our level benefit from investment and the most thrifty have cemented themselves in the Football League – a dream for many Woking fans.

We’ve seen false dawns. I won’t run through them in this blog, but in recent years everytime we have embarked on an ambitious project we’ve found ourselves getting relegated within 12 months. However, there is a new twist in what seems a familiar tale with John Katz and Drew Volpe showing interest in the club. Both are now on the club board and appear committed to leading the club to the Football League within the somewhat cursed timeframe of three years. So, what can we expect in the next few years? If you think we’ll splash the cash and sign an all-star squad, you might be disappointed – but there is plenty to be excited about.

At the top end of football, we’ve seen an increase in American involvement. From the Glazer and Kroenke families to the Fenway Sports Group there is a clear interest in the Premier League brand from abroad, but in truth this means little for sides such as Woking. So, what is the relevance of the nationality of both Katz and Volpe? The stark differences in how clubs are run in the USA and the insight of both investors could be enough to transform Woking from a club of plucky part-timers to a sustainable, thriving business with real aspirations of a Football League future.

John Katz, Chairman Rosemary Johnson and Manager Alan Dowson – Woking FC Facebook

When comparing UK and US sports one of the most important differences is on the other side of the pond they are franchises with a strong focus on marketing their brand and reaping the rewards financially. It’s a long way from the National League where you’d do well to find any club even close to breaking even on a consistent basis. Although franchises are scoffed at here in the UK as some sort of fake/phony brand – it is important to scratch beneath the surface of what makes them successful at a local level in the US and see how this can benefit us at Kingfield.

In 2018 I spent three months in the US and got to attend a lot of sport, both at a local and national level. The lengths both go to involve fans and local businesses are a recipe for success. I’ve been attending Kingfield on a regular basis since around 2006 and the story has been pretty similar throughout my teenage years and then adult life – you pretty much turn up to the ground, watch the game and leave. Sure, you can go for a Cardinals Gold if you can stomach the outdated bar and long queues or indulge in some overpriced standard food (this doesn’t include the pies – they were brilliant) but the fan experience for old, young and those in between has dwindled. It’s this that the investors are looking to bring their experience to.

It’s a different ball game – but what can we learn from US franchise sports?

In our recent chat with John on CardsCast he highlighted that providing facilities and a reason for fans to spend more time in the ground is key. With the stadium redevelopment plans now uncertain, we could find ourselves back to square one on that front. Either way, now is the time to provide an infrastructure at the ground that allows fans to enjoy more than just 90 mins at Kingfield and in turn generate more revenue for the club. For those that like their food, drink and live sports – just take a look at club bars at Bromley and Fylde to name a few, very impressive places you’d consider visiting on non-matchdays too.

Although clubs in America can be overly commercialised, with pretty much everything being sponsored – from certain periods of play to sin bins – it is also noticeable that a lot of local businesses provide valuable revenue. With a wealth of local businesses in Surrey, tapping into this will be gold. It is already encouraging to see deals being struck with local businesses such as Prince & Sons Butchers. Although this is for internal purposes, it is important for both local businesses to be at the heart of what we do to attract much needed revenue and you never know, maybe services on match days.

So don’t expect there to be a magic money tree with the new regime, although there will certainly will be an increase in funding, but by all means prepare yourself for the club to take itself to the next level off the pitch and then be able to invest more heavily on the squad. Whatever happens next, the good news is I think we will be right at the heart of it.


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