In case you missed it, the Open House is one of several fan engagement initiatives implemented by the new board. They are quarterly meetings with the goal to involve fans, sharing progress on the initiatives that are taking place across the Club, all designed to help us to deliver on the exciting ambition that our new owners and Board have set.
The idea of the initiative goes beyond the boundaries of the pitch, inviting fans to step into the inner sanctum of the club. As the club opened its doors to supporter groups and admins of the biggest Birmingham fan sites and channels, the grounds of St. Andrew’s Stadium transformed into a forum for dialogue, ideas, and shared desires. In this blog, we will delve into the heart of Birmingham City’s Open House, exploring the moments that define the event, the stories that emerge from the interaction between the leadership teams and fans, and the initiatives that strengthen the ties between the club and its community.
The night as a whole shined a light on the remarkable efforts made by Tom Wagner and co to engage, empower, and inspire the fanbase. It also showed what a remarkable job they have done in the past four months to make us proud of our club again, whether that be a lick of paint or the improved match day experience. The Open House was more than a just meeting; it was a testament to the power of shared passion, a commitment to inclusivity, and the enduring spirit that makes Birmingham City more than just a football club – it’s a community.
Here’s how the night played out:
Tom Wagner web link
The night was introduced by Tom Ross before handing over to fellow Tom, Tom Wagner, who joined via weblink from the States. The message right from the start, before making a canny joke about how we’re now 1 and 0 starting from last Saturday, was simple; Knighthead came in when the club was on its knees and now they want to transform the club in a beacon for the city. The plan in place is much bigger than just the club, its a transformation of the city as a whole.
Tom then proceeded to touch on their plans for the academy and women’s team and made it known they won’t be left behind again. He spoke about the heavy financial investment which is needed to get the to the level required (WSL). The investment in the women’s team has already shown with five wins on the bounce and the players that they were able to bring in over the summer. Seasoned internationals and the staff that they’ve got behind the scenes has improved and they’re also continuing to work on the facilities at the football club.
Welcome and Introduction by Gary Cook CEO
Gary then took to the stage to echo the thoughts of Tom Wagner and went into more detail. Four key headings popped onto the screen; Football, Commercial, Community and Infastructure. Gary touched on how season ticket sales are above their expectations for the season and seasonal hospitality is sold out until January. He also mentioned the new alliance lounge which is available for corporate sale and that retail sales are up 100% year on year.
In terms of the first team, Gary mentioned how this is the first year in many years where we’ve actually invested into the transfer market since Bellingham left. He then made it clear there is investment coming as long as they keep to FFP ruling, as well as pointing out the facilities at the Epic Training Centre being vastly improved since they arrived following The Wasps’ departure. They are currently building a new grass pitch next to the one that they’ve got with underground heating so that in the winter there’s no problems around training.
Gary then expanded on profit and sustainability and parachute payment clubs the club are competing with, saying:
We’re talking 50 plus million difference to the lowest parachute club, the top non-parachute club revenue is 35 million pounds. We’re at 19million, that’s a 15 million pound gap that we as a business need to try and reach. We need to bring that down. This kind of gives you that little taste of how far we need to go to get there, but we have the plans in place, we have ambition in place to bridge the gap between where we are now and where we need to be to compete at the highest.
He then mentioned that every member of staff have their role to play before wishing everyone a good evening and letting everyone know what was in store:
I expect that every single member of this Football Club that is employed to know there is no way to hide anymore. There is no where for anybody to stand off and not make a brave decision. We need to be brave, we need to make big decisions, but we will and we know where we’re going so enjoy this next couple of hours. But do me a favour one favour, take a look at it through a different lens, don’t look at it through the lens of three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. If you can honestly said if you were standing here in April and we made these promises to you on all the work that we would have achieved you may not have believed it and it doesn’t end there.
6 Break Out Sessions
1. Alliance – Fan Engagement
This session lead by Jeremy Dale and head of marketing was all about how the club organises the loyal supporters in one room and rewarding them for their support. Jeremy said they can’t be dealing with 12 different supporters groups of all different shapes and sizes, they need one loyal group where most of which will be based on geographical location and some based on specific groups so it could be that there’s the LGBTQ, the disabled group, the junior Blues group, the military vet group etc. For the geographical groups, Jeremy says he wants them to travel together to watch and socialise together saying:
We know that when you do things together you’re more likely to keep going and doing it and so we want to build that sense of family between the various clubs.
The official supporters group will be launching in January as apposed to two months ago because there isn’t sufficient digitalised infrastructure. Jeremy then went on to outline the purpose of the official supporters group saying:
We want to work together with you on strategic conditions so this is where we will appoint someone as the fan representative and we’ll have a club representative and they will take on one of six key initiatives strategic initiatives that we want to work on together. We will then look for those two people to recruit more fans with relevant experience in a particular field of work on something these working groups will come back every quarter that and for example we want to work on about six initiatives each year. We want to focus more on how we grow the attendances, better match day experience, and we’re also approaching club’s 150th anniversary so we want to work with the fans on how do we celebrate that.
2. Identity – On The Pitch
Darren Carter, Hope Powell, Craig Gardner and Wayne Rooney then greeted us into the press room for the identity session. They each took to the floor to lay down their existing blueprints and why they think their new philosophy’s are working. Of course, Darren Carter’s side have won 5 in a bounce so it was easier to see what he has been trying to implement as he has finally found a winning formula.
Craig Gardner then outlined how most teams that make the top six have a high possession percentage per game and showed a dark contrast of the last eight seasons where Blues have been in the red for stats that you need in order to get promoted from the Championship.
The Technical Director couldn’t have been more technical before handing over the reigns to Wayne. Mr Rooney was very calm and confident as he showed contrasting clips on the monitor of when he first came in to now. Although its still very much a process, he showed just how the players are starting to implement his playing style through high pressing, fast paced passing to unlock defences and how high his defence are playing higher up the pitch so that we are containing the play in the opposition’s half.
This was a great insight into things you may not notice in real time. The videos backed up what he’s trying to install into the current crop of players and reiterated that it’s going to take time and hopefully he can strengthen the team in January to get better suited players to adopt this system.
Many in the room were quite shocked at how Rooney presented himself to his audience and were fully on board with that he is trying to implement. I personally left the room thinking ‘this may actually work’…
3. High-performance – Infrastructure Plans
Next up was Nick Smith to talk infrastructure in the brand new Alliance lounge. Looking over St Andrews to our right, Nick touched on a lot of projects that have already been built and those that are yet to be installed. He started off with the pitch by saying its Premiership ready – over £1million was spent when Knighthead took charge of operations and with new grow lights and heating, it’s ready for all conditions. Then he touched on the dugout by saying it has been pushed back right into the fans. Also, the dugout comes with heated seats (for home players only of course).
The biggest project of them all was of course the lower tiers. £4millon has been paid to get fans back into the lower KOP and Tilton and Nick even made it known that Tom Wagner and co paid the previous builders from Buckingham Group double to come back and finish the job, which in turn has saw us be ahead of Liverpool and their home at Anfield.
New things that are soon to be installed are:
- A new sound system
- New floodlights
- Super fast Fibre WiFi
- Two LED screens to go either side of the Main Stand to replace the existing scoreboard
- Two new Blues fan parks outside the Tilton and KOP
- Club shop expansion
- New ticket line
- More space, entertainment and food etc outside stands
- New fit for purpose dressing rooms for the women at Wast Hills
- New gym and dining rooms at Wast Hills
4. Partnerships – Revenue Growth
We then made the short trip to the club shop. Managing Director, Ian Dutton said Knighthead’s investment has changed the game completely for our football club and the interest from global brands is unprecedented. He continued by saying:
I’m having conversations as we speak right now as they’re intrigued by our story and this is creating new conversations that I’ve never ever been able to have as there has been no story to tell until now.
The last half of this session was very stat heavy and social media focused. After a short video, they then went on to state that there has been 24 billion impressions on social media since Knighthead came in.
Ian then said countless brands want to be part of this journey as they see the excitement and everything that’s due to come. He mentioned that the retail experience in the next 12 or so months will be unrecognisable to what it is currently. They then moved on to the new proposed deal with Nike that was announced yesterday saying: “We’re working alongside them to make sure the fans get exactly what they want.”
5. Lifeblood – power of the Academy
Liam Daish has only been at the club for 4 months but already you can see a blueprint being made for the academy to get it back to where it was before. He started off by saying:
“Although we want our boys to make the first team go on to be footballers we also wanted to be part of who they are as well. We’re going to be investing in our education and safeguarding.”
The spotlight then turned to academy product Brandon Khela who was full of praise for the academy and is very happy to now be featuring for the first team.
As for the women’s academy, more staff have been employed to make sure the development is correct from a young age. Gemma Lawley took the mic to share her experience of coming up through the ranks and starting for the Women’s first team.
Overall, it’s great to hear that investment is being put back into the academy as a whole and even when players don’t make it, how are the club pointing them in the right direction to make a career in something else was one of the biggest takeaways from this session.
6. Connections – We Are Birmingham
Finally, lead by BCFC Community, this session was all about how the club are now giving support to the wider community projects. Anthony, who is the spearhead for the organisation said:
I’ve been here for years obviously when it was bad bad really bad whereby we had zero support from the club so we were deemed a separate entity and an independent charity with no support. Now we have a presence and that presence inspires people.
This is another example of how the new owners see the bigger picture and by investing in the wider community you in turn bring in more Blues fans of a younger generation. When young people in the community see our badge they know its a trusted organisation and they are proud to be on board with the various projects in place. He continued:
It’s more than football, that’s the key message to come out of today. Birmingham is on the rise socially, economically, and culturally. We’re going to be seen as the key stakeholder that the council require to deliver to meet the needs of communities moving in to the next year.
Talks that followed were from a BCFC Community mentor and coach and headteacher of a local school in Frankly. They both gave great insight into how much the club are doing to support the wider community and how its beginning to change lives in what is one of the most deprived areas in the country.
Q&A with Gary Cook and the Leadership Team
As the evening came to a close everyone took their seats back in the Jasper Carrott Suite for the main event – the Q&A.
Unfortunately no hard hitting questions were asked about the timing of the Rooney appointment or through the roof ticket prices as the event had already gone over by an hour and a half. However, Gary did admit the ticket prices for the Sheffield Wednesday game were a mistake, hence their 50% offer for Rotherham and Leicester. That meant all of the questions that were submitted by each group were merged together and rather than individual answers. It was more topic based than anything.
That being said Gary Cook continued to install belief in everyone in the room by answering very confidently and in a cheerful manner while the leadership team watched on either side of the stage. Asked about the owners long term strategy and the challenges ahead, Cook said the evening provided ‘only a glimpse’.
The ambition (from the outset) was very clear. We will be a beacon for Birmingham, worldwide. We are not Birmingham City Football Club just playing matches every week – men’s, women’s, Academy. We will be the biggest brand in Birmingham, if we are not already, but people around the world will want to know about Birmingham. They will want to know about Birmingham, they will want to know about Birmingham City. That’s the destiny. That could take seven, eight, nine, 10 years. First thing we have to do is fix your football club, our football club. Everything needs fixing. Nothing works here. The heating doesn’t work. The coffee machine doesn’t work. The carpet hasn’t been replaced for 12 years. We need people to fix that. Think about it as a 1-2-3. Fix the club. Compete at the highest level you possibly can. Eventually change the landscape of Birmingham.
On the prospect of a new stadium, Cook kept his cards very close to his chest, saying:
What we do know is that in the modern day, revenue is the most important thing in sport. And it going to be very difficult to maximise where we’re going out of the property we are in. So within that 10 year journey – there are obviously lots of rumours and lots of discussion – as soon as we do get the opportunity to share with you (our plans) we will. If we are to be very, very honest, this is a lovely old ground and means an awful lot to many of us. But where we are going, I think we are probably going to have to rethink how we can grow our revenue out of this football club.
The ambitions of the owners is remarkable. We are very lucky. It is here (lifting his hand high to the ceiling). Which is great. Try being the CEO when it’s here (his hand low to the floor). They want it instantly, they want instant gratification in our modern world, and we’re trying to get there. I don’t think you have to be a rocket science to figure out . . . an American owner has wonderful ambition and they are very committed to this football club. And I have worked for some bad ones. Believe me, we have got a great one. And we should support that and be together in supporting that because I don’t think anything is impossible with them.
Cook was asked to expand on Tom Brady’s involvement.
Having Tom Brady was an interesting one. One thing about football clubs or people in the sports entertainment industry, they want to put a name about the door and all of a sudden you’re expected to go ‘wow, that’s great’. Tom has a real purpose. What you will find, the greatest athletes in the world – and he was one of them – there’s something a little different about them. Tom Brady has this myopic focus, this unnerving focus about recovery, nutrition, the body, athletes – how they perform, why they perform, when they perform. So what Craig Gardner has done is embrace that. If you are going to ask somebody who has won seven championship rings in the NFL what did he do, you might want to listen. So what Craig has done is brought some body coaches over from America under the TBRx brand and they are now sitting and working with the physios, sports science and sports medical team. And there is a new way of thinking. It doesn’t mean to say it works. Doesn’t mean to say it’s right. Doesn’t mean to say it’s wrong. What it is, is change. And if you are willing to change and willing to throw it in, then it might work and it might make us better. Because in this Championship, making yourself five per cent better is a massive difference. So that’s what Tom Brady brings. Tom Brady isn’t here just as a bit of a gimmick. And I think that’s important for Blues fans to know. It’s not a toy. I think we are blessed to have someone of his stature. There are a lot of soccer teams in the world, a lot of football teams and he picked ours. We should be thankful for that.
Gary was very adamant that only the ambitious are welcome at the football club and the club shouldn’t have to settle for less.
I don’t bemoan anybody who had to live throughout the last regime of ownership. Very difficult circumstances. Very difficult to get decisions made. There’s a guy cutting the grass, couldn’t get his lawnmower. Got no white paint for the lines. Your stadium is half-closed. Difficult circumstances to live in. So when we arrived we decided there would be a relentless pursuit of excellence. And we use that term all the time. It is excellence what we are searching for. Not mediocrity. A culture of ambition creates a winning mentality. Wayne Rooney will tell you that. And all of his coaches. You have to be ambitious. You have to be brave if you want to win. And if you don’t want to win, you shouldn’t be here.
You can watch full Q&A here on Blues TV.
Overall it was a very insightful evening and eye opening experience. Had a neutral fan walked in they would have thought that this event had been a regular thing. It was so well put together which made for very engaging breakout sessions around different parts of the ground. I don’t think any club in the country has given this much transparency to the fans and it’s certainly great to see.
We need to remember we as a fanbase have never had anything like this before and we now have winners covering every aspect of our club. Strap in Blues fans as we’re in for a ride!
Be sure to listen to our podcast episode on Friday where we will be giving our live reaction to the night, as well as the game tomorrow against Blackburn.