Commercial fortunes on the rise at St Albans City but boss urges caution on playing budget boost
- Credit: GAVIN ELLIS/TGS PHOTO
Ian Allinson has called for patience from St Albans City fans despite the club enjoying an upturn in financial fortunes.
The deal for naming rights at their home of 114 years, now to be known as the Mozzarella Fellas Stadium at Clarence Park, is the latest in a string of successes that have helped boost the coffers, all aside from the run to the FA Cup second round and the increase in crowds.
It has led to some hoping for an improvement in the playing budget but speaking in his role as commercial manager of the National League South side, the City boss believes the work they are doing now will help the club in the long term, and by logical extension the first team as well.
"The prime example is Billericay," he said. "They invested heavily into the playing side and they have been relegated.
"We are investing in people to get this place to the level it needs to be and once it gets there and we know we can get investment in on a consistent basis, that will allow us to put money into the football side.
"If we ploughed all the money into the football structure, there is no guarantee it would work.
"We have to get the infrastructure behind the scenes ready and in place. There is a lot of stuff we things before we can say ‘lets throw a load of money at the first team’.
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"I understand what the fans want but we have to concentrate on other areas first and foremost, knowing that will bring finance into the club.
A tractor for the ground is £15,000 for example, the machine to water the ground is £5,000 and that money would equate to one player for the season.
"But the benefits they bring will help."
Allinson has now been in the role for a little more than three years, but was faced with all the problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic inside the first 12 months.
Last season was his first chance to get stuck into a full season and he says the improvement in the media at the club, with social media now sending the club's name direct to a 35,000 following as well as reaching two-million individuals a month, has all meant his job has been made a whole lot easier.
He said: "The support from the media side has been invaluable to me in getting our name out there.
"The FA Cup helps obviously but it all came at the right time for us because there is good revenue to be made.
"But we have to be giving our partners something back for what they are doing for us.
"We can all take but you also have to be seen giving something back because we want them to come back year after year.
"It’s been tough, the first two years had the lockdowns, but the media side of the business has taken us to a different area and we’re out to 35,000 people on a regular basis of what we can show them.
"It is a great way of advertising your business.
"I spoke to KP Waste and he still has the video of the game against Forest Green where his signs are in prime view next to the dugouts and he values that as a partnership as he has something back.
"It is just about us making people aware of what we can do. When I came in, I was given one sheet of paper and was told ‘there’s your sponsors’.
"I won’t say the figure we’re bringing in now but then we were getting £37,500 and a lot of that was contra deals.
"We weren’t getting any payment for a lot of the boards around the ground and so the first thing to do was take those boards down and get ones up for people that will support us.
"The FA Cup and the increase in crowds and the media side has made my life easier and made sponsorship easier to sell.
"The two FA Cup games went out to five-million people which is a great return on your money.
"It’s about building relationships with your partners and building trust so that they get what it said on the ticket."
They could have made even more money from the FA Cup game against Forest Green Rovers as a company wanted to strip out the existing sponsors and replace them with their own choices.
However, Saints chose to stay loyal to their existing customers.
Allinson said: "We could have took down every one of these sponsors and gone with one and made a lot more money but because of loyalty and the support we have been given by these guys, it was only right we stuck with them.
"It was good to give them a return on their investment."
Another new deal is with Mad Squirrel Brewery, who own and run the Mad Squirrel Tap next to the Cathedral, and they are bringing equipment and ideas to help with the new bars that have sprung up inside the ground.
The boss said: "We had a walk up to the Mad Squirrel pub and met one of the owners, Jack, who bought into what we were telling him.
"The bars that we have put up, although they have been fantastic success, they were put up very quickly.
"Jack listened to our concerns and what we wanted back and then came up with some fantastic ideas.
"In hot weather they were never going to be successful in dispensing the perfect pint. You have to get the temperature down and they have done that for us.
"All the equipment, the refrigeration and cellar cooling will allow us to serve a lot more and a lot quicker.
"Saturday was out first home game and compared to where we were last year, we were up.
"That’s an improvement and we are trying to work out what our customers want and make things right for them.
"We’ll find out more over the next few games against Barnet and Arsenal."
More is still to be done, such as getting a regular and almost daily income from use of the clubhouse, as well as looking for sponsors for a various number of things around the ground like stands.
But truly long-term deals are not currently on the table as the club look to secure a move away from the park.
Allinson said: "[The naming rights and bar provision] are three-year deals and the good thing is we are not just signing up for one year. It gives us an opportunity to relax and build the relationship with an eye on maybe extending it.
"We don’t know where we are with the new ground, nobody knows how long, so we have to be careful what contracts we build into and not go over three years.
"I’m not saying the ground will be here in three years, that has nothing to do with me, that’s down to [owners John McGowan and Lawrence Levy], but nothing has been put back to us to say don’t plan for this because we don’t know where we’ll be.
"We could be in the National League too.
We are planning for now but any deal beyond three years is probably too long."