|Nick Blofeld - CEO, Bath Rugby|
|Profile of the week|
Friday, 24 May 2013 15:30
Nick joined as CEO of Bath Rugby in September 2009 after nearly 5 years at Epsom Downs Racecourse where he was MD and part of the re-development team that built a new Grandstand plus a 120 bedroom hotel adjoining the famous racecourse.
On leaving Loughborough University (Politics and Economics) Nick joined the Gurkhas on a short service commission, following this with a Cranfield MBA, before spending time in marketing at Procter and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson and Dunlop Slazenger.
When did you join Bath Rugby as CEO & what were your aims for the club when you arrived? Have you achieved them?
I joined the club as CEO in September 2009. Back then the aims and ambitions were to revitalise the club and get it back to the top of the pile. That is both on the field and off it. There were significant challenges with The Rec (the stadium) and the business side of the club, but the performances on the pitch needed to improve. We are now moving in the right direction and that takes a big commitment. All great sport organisations are great on the pitch and off of it.
Current owner Bruce Craig came into the club in 2010. How have things changed under his ownership?
Quite significantly. We had a clear vision of our strategy and then it is about trying to execute that. We have learned as we have gone along that it is a bit more complicated than we thought when we first talked about and drew up our strategies.
There has been huge long-term investment with the new training facility at Farleigh House being the most significant. That is a massive commitment and statement of intent. We wanted a top class facility for the playing side but also a location that brings the whole organisation together. We were scattered around the city before and this makes a huge difference.
Is that important, not just for convenience, but to also to have unity and a one club vibe?
Absolutely and that was one of the key reasons we did this. It is for performance but also one organisation in one location making us one big team.I try to get the whole organisation together once a quarter because it is important that the rugby Head Coach presents to the non-rugby team and I present to the rugby players, so everyone understands the bigger picture.
There is a lot of talk of redeveloping the stadium and Bruce said it could be open by 2015. Does this still stand and can you explain some of the legal hurdles you need to get over?
That was the original ambition to do it for 2015 which will be the World Cup year and also our 150th anniversary. We may struggle to hit that date, it is more likely to be 2016.
There are three outstanding challenges. One is the charity commission approving a ‘new scheme.’ That would be us getting a bit more land down at The Rec, which is about 30 metres. In return we allow them to use Lambridge which is our old training ground. That legitimises our use of The Rec and gives us a bit more space and hopefully put in a more appropriate three sided arena.
Then there is a restrictive covenant that dates back to 1922 which if enforceable limits the amount of commercial activity anyone can do at The Rec and we have been challenged on that. We have written to the neighbours and said ‘if you believe you have a legal right to enforce this, please let us know,’ and a small number of people have written back with legal representation. Hopefully we can work that in parallel with the charity commission and that should be done by the end of the year.
Finally, a few months ago somebody put in an application to turn the ground into a town and city green, somewhat similar to what happened with Bristol City FC. It is a different situation however and we think we are in a far stronger position than they were but we have employed lawyers and are working with the City Council to reject the bid. It has been formally rejected but an inspector has been put in place and that could take a few months to sort out.
I am optimistic that these three hurdles will be out the way by the end of the year and we can move forward.
How do you see the stadium changing? Will it be a pure revamp of the seats and structure or will there be improved facilities?
It will change quite considerably because effectively we will have three permanent sides to it. The IPL stand won’t change significantly but if we get the extra land then it may be extended somewhat. The key focus is putting a gorgeous grand stand/pavilion along the riverside. That is the critical part that will make a big difference. We will be able to put in more covered seats, better hospitality and some extra boxes. Then on the riverside we want to create a lovely café society and the club shop, which would be open all year round. The match day hospitality area would be used to host events during the year as well so it then starts working as a venue far better. At the moment we do a very small amount of business out of a pretty grotty old club house that was built in the 1950s or 60s!
The northern side of The Rec would probably see the club house come down and more covered seats added, with the changing rooms and functional facilities below it. We will hopefully get an arena with three permanent sides, holding around 17-18,000 people and a slightly smaller temporary stand on the east side.
The club missed out on securing Heineken Cup rugby next year. How important is it for the club to be playing in the competition?
We are very clear where we went wrong and in particular there are a few away games where we didn’t get over the line. It is a big frustration, it is not absolutely dire but it is disappointing. Financially, it doesn’t make that much difference, except the home crowds will be weaker for weaker opposition. In terms of profit and turnover, it probably makes a few hundred thousand pounds difference.