|Chris Thomas- CEO, London Wasps & Wycombe Wanderers|
|Profile of the week|
Thursday, 19 January 2012 12:05
Would you say one sport is harder to operate in than the other?
Certainly on the football side, the fan base is much more local. Being a League One team, you’ve got a core loyal support that comes to the games regardless of the team’s position or how the team’s playing. It doesn’t seem to make a difference on how many people will turn up. They will come week in week out and support the team.
With Wasps now, over the past the three years where we’ve struggled a little bit to where we were a few years ago when we were winning every game, we’ve found that it’s more difficult to keep those fans coming in. Apart from the core support, it seems to be more of a discretionary purchase for rugby supporters. The core support is a lot smaller in rugby than it is in football outside of the big traditional rugby heartlands.
With the current economic climate, do you feel you have to invest more on marketing to attract more people to the games?
It’s difficult. I think you could spend a lot of money marketing and still not get anymore people coming in. We’ve done quite a lot of research with people to understand why they’re not coming to games or why they’re not coming as often. We just get one answer and that’s they can’t afford to. They want to come to as many games as they can afford, but it is an expensive thing to do. With disposable incomes very much reduced over the last couple of years, it’s difficult to justify coming to watch rugby or football four or five times a year.
Marketing has becoming a lot easier with the growth of social networking. Are you able to exploit this trend at all?
We do. We have a new media manager, Alison Donnelly, who joined us just over a year ago. She is very strong on the social marketing and has really taken that on for both clubs and increased the presence we’ve got on there. London Wasps have got one of the highest profiles on Facebook and twitter out of all the Premiership sides and we are active on places such as Youtube and Flickr and Alison very much drives that. Of course our players are also extremely active on these furoms and with the right guidance they can also strongly support our marketing functions.
The last I heard, Wasps was looking for a new stadium, with the Olympic Stadium being mentioned as a possibility. With Steve Hayes looking for a buyer, what is the latest on the stadium front? Has it been put on hold?
Wasps have to move in terms of a stadium. At Wycombe, its not a big enough stadium to allow us to grow and compete with your Leicester’s and Northampton’s, who have got the much bigger stadiums and have got the capability to generate more non-match day revenues. The key thing is that you not only need to be attracting the 10,000–12,000 supporters every week, but also need to be able to generate that non-match day revenue, your conferencing revenue and have functions in your stadium that can generate quite a lot of extra revenue.
Steve Hayes is saying: “I’ve taken the club as far as I can and want someone else to take it on to the next stage”. We now are really dependant on when the new owners come in, where they want to move to and what their strategy is. It’s a ‘wait and see’ on that stadium, but you really need to have a bigger capacity to be able to compete.
Has the search for a new owner affected the club and has it proven much of a distraction?
A few things you need to do are on hold. We’ve heard that a couple of the potential buyers would like to move the club back to London so if they want to do that for next season, they need to make that decision before the end of March when we have to nominate the ground for next year. Until we know that, we can’t really start planning i.e. season tickets, campaigns, do we have to market a new ground?
When the ownership situation is sorted, where do you envision and hope Wasps will be?
We know we’re in a period of transition. Last summer we recruited Dai Young on a four-year contract because we recognise that it was a long-term fix. This year, we’ve told Dai to get his foundations right. He’s got a very good nucleus of young players coming through alongside some of the more established players. There aren’t short fixes. You’ve got to get the right infrastructure in place and the right processes. If you look at Harlequins now and the success that they’re having this year, it hasn’t been overnight. They’ve got the right structures, the right coaches in, they’re building there players through their academies and that has given them foundations for how they’re playing now.