Owls supremo embraces technology

26 February 2009 12:40
Strafford, co-founder and former chief executive of internet service provider PlusNet, sold to BT for a reported £67million in 2007, took charge at Hillsborough at the turn of the year to help prepare the debt-ridden club for major new investment.

The 36-year-old, who has helped restore his club's feelgood factor almost overnight, has urged the game's administrators, club owners and fellow chairmen to start putting fans first if they want football to retain its historic and far-reaching appeal.

Strafford, inspired by the blueprints laid down by Middlesbrough and Aston Villa, said: "Football's got a massive opportunity because of the global audience, because of the internet, because of iPhone.

"Tomorrow is all about the iPhone generation, it's all about broadband, it's all about content on-line and the kids are really into that.

"So where we lost the kids in the 1980s through the 1990s, I think we're going to get them back again, but we're going to get millions of kids.

"Football is universal. You used to have to go to the grounds to watch a game of football, then you were able to watch it on TV and next we're going to be arguing about it, talking about it, transacting it and watching it live, with clips etc, all on-line.

"It's going to work and it's going to be cool."

Strafford and the Owls' new chief executive Nick Parker recently reached an "outline agreement" with the club's bankers, the Co-op, to restructure their £25million debt and pave the way for new investment before a March 31 deadline.

The pair have quickly healed deep-rooted rifts between the board and fans and have boosted dwindling crowds that had fallen to an eight-year low by slashing ticket prices, allowing schoolchildren in for free and offering discounts to the unemployed.

Strafford has also followed Villa's lead by gifting the club's shirt sponsorship for the next two seasons to charity.

In Wednesday's case it was to the city's Children's Hospital and in public relations terms the move has proved a masterstroke.

He said: "What bigger statement can you make as a football club than by saying, with the club on its knees £20-odd million in debt, that the community is more important than the club by giving the shirt sponsorship away.

"Villa did that. It's a brilliant thing they did. I'm a huge fan of what they have done there.

"There are two clubs I look up to, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa. Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough has prioritised his fanbase, he hasn't de-prioritised them.

"Randy Lerner, coming in as an American, prioritised his fanbase. You've got to. If you have integrity and you get involved in a sports business how can you not prioritise your fans?

"It's ludicrous not to. Football for too long has taken advantage of the notion that the fans will turn up no matter what."



Source: Team_Talk