|Ian Lenagan - Chairman, Wigan Warriors|
|Profile of the week|
Tuesday, 01 September 2015 10:42
Ian has more than 40 years’ experience in the computer sector, with a reputation for innovation and creative thought-leadership in designing standard solutions which increasingly meet customers’ requirement.
He also acquired Oxford United in 2006 reflecting his 30-year commitment to Oxfordshire and the involvement of his sons in Football. He served as Chairman and Chief Executive in 2014 when he attracted significant investment to allow the Club to challenge its potential as a sustainable Championship Football Club.
As part of the new investment Ian instigated a management re-structure and now focusses on delivering a new stadium for the Football Club and the Community.
Can you tell us about your background and how you became the chairman of Wigan Warriors?
I’m a ‘Wiganer’ by birth, I was born and brought up in Wigan until I was 18 and went off to university. My family’s a working class family but who believed in education and with university and grammar schools and the opportunities that were around in the 50s and 60s.
I was fortunate enough to do well and I formed a software business back in the 80s which floated on the Stoke Exchange in 2000 and I’ve always been a Wigan fan, I never thought I’d get the opportunity to own Wigan, but buying Wigan from Dave Whelan was a great event for me and my family.
You were also the chairman of Oxford United FC from 2012 until 2014, how did you combine the two jobs?
I’d actually owned the club since 2005 and I enjoy running Oxford. I had moved to live in Oxfordshire about 35 years ago, I still live in Oxfordshire and my sons who were both football fans believed that it was the right thing to do to buy the football club to set it on a new journey and we did that and enjoyed it immensely.
I did the two jobs as you mentioned for two years, which was too much for anybody but I enjoyed doing it and Oxford did well and Wigan did well. But in July 2014 another man came along who I regarded very highly and who I knew of through business and he bought the majority of Oxford United from me at that time. I remain a director, I love Oxford United and I’m delighted to see them going forward even further.
What expertise were you able to bring from one club or sport to another?
First of all it was a knowledge of sport, I’m a businessman who’s always been a sports fan of every type, whether that’s tennis, rugby, football or anything, rugby being my prime passion and football my second one. But having been a fan and understanding sport, I then had 35 years of business experience both working for big companies and working for myself and knowing how you run small and big companies.
So I was able to bring first of all to Oxford United and to London Broncos, which I owned for two and a half years, the disciplines and the strategies of business generally into sport. Is there any great difference between a football club and a rugby club? No, not really.
The fans are slightly different, a bit harsher in football than they are in rugby; rugby is very much a family game and a family audience for the games. But it was bringing business expertise to Wigan particularly who were losing £1 million a year when I bought them and is now profitable, that’s what you bring into a different sport.
Coming back to Wigan more specifically, the club changed both kit supplier and kit sponsor in 2015, how did the two deals come about?
Sponsors and kit suppliers are both very important tactically as far as the club is concerned and financially. There are a number of kit suppliers around within rugby and football and some of it is a bit of a merry-go-round.
But having been through two kit suppliers with Wigan that did OK, we were fortunate to come across an Italian manufacturer Errea, who were trying to get into rugby particularly in the UK and other sports, who have proven to be a very good supplier from our view point in as much as they can deal with vagaries of the design and the sport and some of the small volumes that need to be manufactured, rather than the massive volumes of the far east manufacturers, so that’s how that particular change came about.
The last five years of economic depression have not been good in terms of sponsorship and big sponsors are ever more demanding and we’ve worked very hard over the last few years on the sponsorship side of our business and last year was particularly successful with two very good names coming in.
Coral being the prime sponsor and they’ve done well for us and who we hope will continue with Wigan because as a national brand they’re very right for being associated with the Wigan Warriors brand. But you never know with sponsorship you always have to keep looking, you always have to look for bigger and better amounts and bigger and better companies and we’re very happy where we are at the moment, but you’ve got to keep your weather eye out for the market place.
In terms of sponsorship, do you want to work with local businesses and local companies or do you not see this as a necessity for you?
We have a mixed view of sponsorship, in other words it’s a blend, so that what we do is have about six or eight different sponsors of different levels.
If you take local companies, they can’t afford the large sums that are involved in the prime sponsorship of a big sports club, but we’ve had some companies who have grown with us very well over the eight years that I’ve owned the club, who start off small and they sponsor maybe the side of the shorts, or the collar of the shirt and gradually if their financial record can carry it as well as they grow from the benefit of being a sponsor of Wigan.
Then we in fact can allow them to grow in that sponsorship to bigger levels and we’ve a number of companies that have done that where by coincidence they’ve grown as we’ve grown.
So yes we do very much have local sponsors and there’s a fine blend between them as far as Wigan is concerned, but you also have to have the national recognition of major brands as well so it’s a combination of the two.