How will the club try to tap into those hugely lucrative markets in Asia and North America that the Premier League will open up?
Paul Barber (PB): We have got to walk before we run. We always said first we have to dominate Brighton, then we dominate Sussex, then dominate the South of England and then we talk about becoming a household name nationally.
What the Premier League does is accelerates all that for obvious reasons, internationally as well, but at the same time we have still got to remember where our core business is.
What we can’t do is to take our eye off the ball. It’s very easy again for newly promoted Premier League clubs to think that they can dominate China. I was at a very big club [Tottenham Hotspur] and we couldn’t dominate China. We tried. It’s difficult because these are huge markets and they tend to go with success so there will be a lot of Chelsea fans in China next year and previously there had been a lot of Manchester United fans and before that a lot of Arsenal fans and they are the same people.
We will inevitably make an impact on those markets just as Japan doing fantastically well at the Rugby World Cup here made an impact on Japan.
We will gather supporters from around the world and those numbers will grow but we can’t expect that we are suddenly going to turn all of those supporters into real assets for the club in terms of making money for the club because it doesn’t work as easily as that. It would be nice to think it does but from my experience it is much harder than that. And there are a lot of Premier League clubs out there trying to cultivate the same markets so we have got to be ourselves, we have got to be focused on what we do and how we do it domestically and then hopefully if we can consolidate our position at that level over the years that follow you look at opportunities to expand and grow outside of your own market.
Apart from TV money, where else can the club expect a significant boost to its revenue by being in the Premier League?
PB: Sponsorship revenue will go up because of the wider exposure that the Premier League’s TV contract gives to brands, means they are willing to pay more for that exposure. Whether that is on our shirt, on our perimeter boards, on our stadium, we have built in clauses into our sponsorship contracts that gives us a lift-up.
But also we think the sale of merchandise will grow because a larger number of people will be proud to wear the shirt which is great.
When it comes to match days, Martin [Perry] created this culture of ‘come early, stay late’, and the great thing is when people do that they buy food and drink, they perhaps spend more at our stadium than they would at others that they go to. We believe fundamentally if you make people feel welcome, treat them well and with respect, the more likely they will do what you want them to do, which is behave themselves, stay longer and spend more.
In some ways it’s not rocket science. If you treat people badly, they won’t stick around.
What scale of revenue uplift do you envisage from the Premier League?
PB: We came from a modest background so our sponsorship contracts relative to Manchester United or Manchester City are going to be pretty small.
But for us growing them is important and the Premier Leagues gives us an opportunity not just to increase the ones that we have but expand the number that we have and into areas we haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to do before, whether that’s international brands looking at us because we have international exposure or whether it’s more national brands who see us as only one of 20 elite clubs.
There are very few opportunities to get into the Premier League as a sponsor and suddenly we are one of the only clubs that can provide that. Already that has generated interest from companies that haven’t previously talked to us and next year we have another sponsorship asset which is a sleeve sponsorship which is a new thing the Premier League is introducing next year. That’s another piece of inventory that we can sell and that has a market value which is significantly higher than it could possibly be if it was in the Championship.
It’s not going to transform our profit/loss account in the same way that TV revenue will but it will have a positive effect.
Clearly for us that is all valuable particularly when we are trying to keep ticket prices at a level that fans can afford, not massively increasing ticket prices so that the people who supported us through difficult times are priced out.
We’ve held our prices within a few per cent of the current level regardless of whether we were in the Championship or Premier League and I think the vast majority of fans really appreciate that. Yes we will have fewer home games so technically the increase is a little bit bigger in numeric value but they will also be seeing some of the biggest teams in the world and some of the best players in the world and that obviously comes at a different price.
Will the match-day operation be similar in the Premier League?
PB: It won’t change because the stadium is pretty full already. We have had more sell-outs this season than we have had in the club’s recent history, certainly for 30 or 40 years, so operationally we’re geared up to working at capacity level. There will be a slight difference in the make-up of the crowd because Premier League clubs are entitled to 3,000 tickets for visiting fans rather than the 2,000 the English Football League requires so there will be a slight change in the dynamic of the stadium.
But then many times this season we’ve allowed up to 3,000 visiting fans in anyway so it’s not going to change too much. The trains are the trains, the buses are the buses, the park and rides are the park and rides and the car parks are limited because Martin had to do that deal to get the planning permission in the first place. We have got more supporters committed to using public transport and sustainable transport than anyone else in the country.
Martin Perry (MP): 80 per cent of our supporters come by sustainable means, 20 per cent by car and that stays the same in the Premier League.
PB: That is the beautiful thing about where we are and where Tony Bloom’s vision and foresight was well beyond anyone I have come across. A lot of clubs get promoted and then have to use the money they receive to create the infrastructure and environment to play at that level. Tony has had the foresight to create the infrastructure and environment so that when we do get to play at that level, the one thing you have got to worry about is the players and the points to stay at that level and that is a very different mindset to a lot of football club owners who have done it the other way round. Some of them, through no fault of their own, they just happened to progress very rapidly and their success has overtaken their desire to build the infrastructure but some are in a position where they haven’t thought it through as well as they might.
Tony had a vision from the start, Martin delivered that vision with the stadium and the training ground and now we are trying to achieve the next part and get to that top level and stay there.
Demand for a Premier League Albion is going to be huge, could the Amex accommodate any more fans?
MP: Tony’s philosophy is it is always much, much better to play in front of an absolutely rammed stadium every week than play in one that has 10,000 empty seats and I think the atmosphere when that stadium is full is just rocking.
PB: Put into the context of the Premier League, the stadium is bigger than Bournemouth, it’s bigger than Swansea, it’s bigger than Crystal Palace, it’s bigger than a lot of the bottom third of the clubs in the Premier League already so from that point of view Martin and Tony got it absolutely spot on. The atmosphere in the stadium, and the size of the stadium relative to size of the city is perfect. And when it’s full, when there’s 3,000 away fans there and 27,000 Albion fans, it is a cauldron, it has an incredible intensity to it and because it sits in the valley and the way the stadium has been designed, that sound stays in and in the Premier League that could be a big asset.
Will securing promotion three games early and without going through the play-offs help the process to prepare the club for the Premier League?
PB: Martin has a huge amount to do. There is also the fundamental practical things like ordering steel. These things don’t just sit in a warehouse at B&Q, this is big heavy lifting gear that is coming in so the earlier we achieve what we set out to achieve the better Martin’s life is and the more I will sleep at night knowing Martin has more time to complete a huge project.