A question that has been asked of us at the Trust over the past few years has been “Where do we go from here”? How should we be looking to progress over the coming years? What are our aims and objectives? That is something that isn’t just asked of us as a Trust but also the Club as well.
Last season’s 8th placed finish by the Club was described by some as “as good as it gets”, with the Premier League having traditionally been a place where the top 6 sides pretty much pick themselves – you just need to worry about what order they finish. There are also other clubs with big(ger) budgets than we will have and they also have a “name” that attracts sponsorship and players who want to play for them. Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle spring to mind. Swansea City has a worldwide exposure these days but not one that has yet spread long and wide enough for it to be as well-known as those clubs. Will that ever happen? That is open to debate but there is a long way to go on that score.
One of the clear objectives we had as we gained our Premier League status was to build a club infrastructure that not only we can be proud of but also that is essential for us to be able to attract top quality players, to develop the stars of the future and also benefit the Club in the long term (regardless of the division we are in). Make no mistake that a club training at the Glamorgan Health and Racquet club and using public shower facilities will not attract the quality of player that we have seen through our doors in recent years. The facilities at Landore and Fairwood are ones we could have only dreamed of but for me (and us at the Trust) they were essential to ensure we can compete at this level. Excellent progress has been made in these areas, but even more is needed.
There is very much a Catch 22 about the Premier League. The moment you get into it you are talked about as having a pot of money that you could only dream of in the Championship. The challenge for a club that was (is) in our position is to balance the budget between remaining competitive on the pitch, ensuring that you have the facilities off the pitch to ensure the long-term prospects of the Club and also looking after the interests of our fan base. We all know that the wage bill will always take up a massive chunk of the budget (e.g. almost two-thirds of all income in the 2014 accounts) and individual wages of £2-£4m per year as a minimum are almost unavoidable even for squad players if you want to keep your competitive status.
An additional issue for us is that we are tenants in one of the smallest grounds in the Premier League, therefore our ability to raise money through gate receipts etc. is limited without impacting on the fans. Our small stadium capacity puts us at a competitive disadvantage to pretty much every other team in the league. This, along with growing our fan base and ensuring all Swans fans young and old are able to attend on match days, is why we have been talking about expansion pretty much since the first season in this division. However, with an eight figure spend needed just for the first phase of expansion, it would be a massive undertaking so we have had to prioritise alongside ensuring our Premier League competitiveness and building up the infrastructure of the Club.
All these factors have a major impact on the money readily available to the Club. There is generally an assumption across the fan base, media, general public etc. that Swansea City is awash with cash and can go out and spend £15m on another striker without a second thought. This may be the general consensus however the reality, sadly, is very different. Once you factor in all of the above, there is precious little money readily available for all the other things we’d love to see.
There is an argument next year that with the increased TV money, we could put aside, for example, £10m immediately to start the expansion. However other clubs will use that £10m to finance 1-2 decent purchases so we are at a disadvantage. This is one reason why the Club have looked for investment but it also creates a question that we then have to answer as the custodians of the fans shareholding in the club. Any investment/borrowing by the Club has to be in our long term interests and not put the future of our club at risk. As a Trust we will always seek to ensure no decisions are made in this area that we do not view as in the long term interests of the Club and the fans, as demonstrated during the recent American interest.
It is often said that the Swans being in the Premier League has a massive positive impact on the local economy. Over 500 people are employed by Swansea City Football Club, many purely on the basis of our Premier League status. An extra 6,000+ seats would bring at least an extra 6,000 people to the city on a regular basis, many from across the globe, and the associated spend that goes with those visitors would soon build up.
Supporters Director Huw Cooze said:
A study by Cardiff Business School estimates that the Swans have brought £58m every year into the local economy since joining the Premier League, a figure which the Club believes to be conservative. Either way, the Club’s Premier League status clearly significantly benefits the local economy and that benefit would only increase with a bigger stadium.”
So how do we progress on the issue of stadium expansion? For me, the Council have a huge part to play in this as our current landlords. We know that they want to sell the stadium to ease their own cash flow problems but they need to recognise that the Swans are not the cash cow that can achieve that overnight.
In my opinion there are bigger priorities for the Club in terms of finishing the training facilities and stadium expansion. However I think stadium ownership is a long term aim the Club should be looking at. Again, the Council have a part to play here. If the Club doesn’t buy now but chooses to expand (assuming the Council provide their consent) then an agreed purchase price for the future should be put in place. It would be wrong for the Council to perhaps suggest that the purchase price would go up in the future due to an expansion paid for by the Club.
Ideally, the Club and the Council need to work in harmony to transfer ownership to the Swans in the long term. A logical solution would be to spread payments over maybe even as long as 15/20 years so that the risk of Swansea City losing their Premier League status because of the extra expense is minimized. This would still allow the Swans to complete the other projects which are much bigger priorities to the Club and fans.
Back in 2001 it is widely accepted that the Club was saved because the whole city was behind it. We all pulled together and moved in one direction and it worked. That needs to happen now and that includes owners, fans and Council to ensure that we get to the stage that we need to be at.
It has been widely reported that Cardiff City council were very accommodating, both financially and otherwise, with their local football club in ensuring the Cardiff City Stadium was built and then expanded and now is the time for Swansea to shake off the “Graveyard of Ambition” tag and demonstrate the same level of commitment. The Club and the Council working in unison could make a difference to this Club and indeed city, and could increase the legacy of both but it has to be a joint effort.
We as fans have recognised that the Club is not awash with cash and can also see that money has been invested over time in the right places. The lack of expansion since gaining our top flight status in 2011 has cost us over the past few years in terms of income, ensuring future generations are able to watch the Swans etc. but the balance has been hard to get right but I think we have done a pretty good job in doing what we have done with the challenges that we have faced. Those challenges will not disappear, with or without expansion, but with it (and even with stadium purchase) they become easier as we open up other income streams that can help the Club and therefore also help the local area.
I am sure you can see the challenges that we face but can we get the support that we need to overcome them? That is the challenge for all of us – Fans, Trust, Club and Council.