Bowden's balancing act
DEREK Bowden has the Devil's own job as Ipswich Town's chief executive, looking to make insatiable fans happy, while keeping the wolf from the door.
DEREK Bowden has the Devil's own job as Ipswich Town's chief executive, looking to make insatiable fans happy, while keeping the wolf from the door, writes Derek Davis.
With chairman David Sheepshanks taking more of a back seat when it comes to the day-to-day running of the business side at Portman Road, Bowden's profile will increase significantly this season.
The former Saatchi & Saatchi executive, who ran offices throughout Europe and the Middle East, and was also Adam Crozier's former boss, is striving to find the balance between getting to the Premiership and not letting the club find itself in such a precarious financial position as it did after its last sojourn to the promised land.
The 46-year-old's first football love was Tottenham Hotspur after his dad regularly took him to White Hart Lane, but he is now hooked on Ipswich and admits while he won't let his heart rule his head, he does have a heart.
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He said: “The role of a chief executive is something of a devil's advocate because there will always be an emotional drive in football clubs to win and be promoted
“That doesn't mean I'm here to maintain mediocrity because that is no fun and no good for anyone but I am here to ensure we don't over-stretch and we make the right choices at the right time. We want promotion and all the excitement that brings for the fans but at the same time I have to ensure the club survives.”
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Bowden shares the return to the Premiership ambition but not at all costs and believes those with the club's interests at heart should have its long-term ambition in mind.
He said: “It is a difficult balancing act. Ambition is a word sometimes used erroneously. All clubs have ambition to win, to get promoted and to excel but equally nowadays they have an ambition not to go bust or go into administration.
“The last year has been very cautionary for a number of clubs that have to balance ambition to succeed but not over-stretch going for promotion because if that dream is not fulfilled you end up in the law courts.”
As the running of Ipswich Town switches gradually over from the administrators back into the hands of the club - Bowden expects everything to be run from Portman Road by next month - creating extra revenue for the future and not just paying outstanding bills, goes back top of the agenda.
That means Bowden will start doing the job he was brought in to do and be less of a financial fireman.
He said: “We need to focus on other commercial income. That is what I need to concentrate on more now and we have been diverted by recent events.
“There is a lot we can do in the off-field side of the business. We are still running at about 15% occupancy on non-match days and there is a lot we can do there to improve what we offer and ensure people come back time and again.”
Akin to winning the lottery for the club would be if the Gaming Act is changed and the new law allows Portman Road to be used as a casino, with permission from Ipswich Borough Council.
“We need to sweat the asset; the casino idea is one which could be good for the club if it were to happen but there is a long way to go on that yet.”
It would also be useful to Town if Kieron Dyer were to be sold as Ipswich get a hefty percentage from a sell-on clause.
In the meantime more tangible income sources dominate Bowden's mind.
He said: “Box holders are renewing, more sponsors are coming through the door and corporate sales for match days are going very well. Powergen have been very supportive and have good plans for this season but there is still a lot we can do.
“Planet Blue is doing very well considering it only opened halfway through last season but already the takings were in excess of those from the club's store in the Premiership season.
“We have great ambitions on the retail side. We have opened a new store in Bury St Edmunds with more space, and the Buttermarket store is getting a wash and brush up.
“There is a lot of business we need to get back to, things we would have done a year ago if we had not gone into administration.”
Having England at Portman Road could earn the club around £200,000, not a massive amount in the big scheme of things but a cheque Town would welcome as it is a bonus not included in this year's business plan.
Bowden admitted: “It won't make a huge about of money as about 90% of the take goes back to the FA. But non-England merchandising we make money from although it is not a great money-spinner for the club.
“From a prestige point of view it is fantastic as we can put so much more into the community. It is great for East Anglia, great for the borough and great for the town.”
While player business is handled mainly by the chairman, and manager Joe Royle, Bowden keeps a close eye on the pennies and the club's commitment to creditors.
He said: “We have a commitment to the creditors via the CVA. We have to be in a position where we can make payments to those creditors over the next four years.
“The CVA plan had a number of components including player wage reduction by moving players out on a free, income from player sales, a share issue loan stock and debenture sales, which would make us secure for the future and ensure we can meet those commitments.”
But he is also keen to back the manager with new players if necessary.
Bowden said: “Joe wanted three players and he has got them, he has got what he feels he needs to get us back to the Premiership. Now we have that we are committed to managing the business in a financially prudent way.
“By the end of August, which is a critical time with the transfer window closing, we want to be in a position where if Joe needs additional resources to strengthen the squad then he will be able to do that.
“It doesn't mean we are going into the market to buy players we don't yet need just to have a big squad; that would be foolish.
“We want to be in a position where there is some leeway. I would much rather have a contingency plan in case we do get a spate of injuries or suspensions.
“On the one hand we need to balance the books but on the other we need to be able to provide emergency funds. That has to be the prudent way.”
And there should be little trouble attracting players once they have spied what has been built at Portman Road and the Academy training centre.
Bowden said: “Walking down the drive here is not like walking into many other First Division clubs. We have fantastic facilities at this stadium. Playford Road is fantastic. We have 18,000 season-ticket holders and you just need to look around here and you can see it is a Premiership set-up. If I were a player and I had to choose then I would go for the club which looks like a Premiership club.
“Good people can smell other good people and they know when they are in the right place to deliver the right opportunity.”
And the underlying message from Beelzebub, sorry, the chief executive, to supporters. “Stick with us. There is a plan and we know what we doing.”