|Neil Doncaster- CEO, Scottish Premier League|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 18 May 2012 10:33
Neil Doncaster is the Chief Executive of the Scottish Premier League.
Having started his career as a solicitor, Neil came into the game when providing legal advice in relation to Bristol City and Bolton Wanderers. In 1997, he joined Norwich City as Company Secretary and, within a few years, became their Chief Executive. During his twelve year spell at the club, the Canaries received numerous awards for community, business development and innovation as the club re-built its reputation with supporters and consequently, season ticket numbers trebled to 20,000.
He was also elected to the Board of the Football League (2006) and subsequently to that of the Football Association (2008).
In 2009, Neil departed Norwich City to join the SPL, where he administered a growth in income for Scotland’s premier football clubs through a combination of new broadcasting deals and centrally negotiated commercial partnerships.
Currently, he is leading the process to restructure the whole of the game in Scotland.
You began your career in football as a solicitor, how did you progress from advising to managing football clubs?
I had been with Burges Salmon Solicitors in Bristol for four years. I ended up on secondment at a large PLC in London as an in-house company lawyer and I thought that actually going in-house was the way I wanted to be. Then, I saw an advert for a company secretary in-house lawyer at Norwich City. I went along for the interview and became absolutely bitten by the attraction of working in-house within football and was fortunate enough to be offered the job. I turned up in November 1997 and three weeks later, Delia Smith announced to the board that she had the bought the club.
During your tenure at Norwich City, the club mended its relationship with supporters, which resulted in a huge rise in season ticket sales. What was the key?
I think there are a number of different factors - transparency, accountability, being seen to work for the benefit of supporters, working to fill the stadium through innovative family-friendly promotions and policies. There are a whole numbers of things that contribute to the rise in season tickets sales. But, fundamentally, the values of Delia and her husband were spot-on, as community-minded people and family-minded people. Those values then came through with the policies that the executive team at the club implemented.
It’s important for clubs to sort out businesses into an entity that is sustainable, but the reality remains that most are accustomed to taking hits financially. Is there a business model that clubs can adopt that has them breaking even or better?
I think the Championship division in particular, it’s difficult for such a model to work because the vast majority of clubs in that division are funded by owners who are happy to buy what they perceive to be a better chance of getting promotion to the Premier League and that means if you try run on a break-even basis, even if you are extremely successful at selling season tickets, inevitably the player budget you’ve got available is going to be relatively uncompetitive. So, I’m afraid that increasingly the owner-funded player budget is a fact of life particularly in the Championship.
Are you still in favour of financial fair play and salary caps in the Football League?
Absolutely, financial fair play is certainly something that Brian Mawhinney was a big component of and now Greg Clarke at the Football League. So, I think financial fair play has a big place in football. Certainly, UEFA seem to think so and indeed ourselves up here. I think financial fair play generally does have a big future within football, whether that translates into particular rules such as salary caps, that’s for individual leagues to decide.
What impact do you believe the introduction of financial fair play will have on football across Europe?
Well, UEFA are driving financial fair play and I think that’s a very worth objective. We can all disagree about the different methods that are taken to implement fair play and the break-even requirement that UEFA has in place. It will be very interesting to see how that actually turns out and what impact that has on ambitious clubs who grow using funding that comes from owners. So, I think the jury is out on how that will work in practice.