Keith Wyness interview – 8th September 2006

The last time we met Keith, he had just returned to work following a serious complication during a routine operation. Thankfully he is much better this year, although he did inform us that he had just come out of hospital again, after having the smile surgically removed from his face after the Spurs win, although the day after this interview, an even bigger one was installed as Andrew Johnson and Tim Cahill scored the goals which swept Liverpool out of the way in the 204th Merseyside derby.

When we met last year, we talked about the plan that you had for the club. How are things progressing within that plan?

I still think there are three major areas which we need to work on, one is the new stadium, two is the new academy, and three is the whole re-development of the business itself and how we actually run the club. I think all three are progressing quite well.

If I can get the new stadium issue sorted out quickly, and I hope to have some announcements about that towards the end of the year, we’ve got the new training ground coming, we’ve re-organised the business, and I’ve not been here 2 years yet!

There’s a lot going on, and there always is, and my long-term ambition is to get this club right to the very top where it should be. We need all those things to happen to make sure we get there, and I think we’re building a very stable platform on which to build, and to attract the investment we’re going to need to move forward.

I love the club, I’ve only been here a short time, but it does get into your blood. I’m a passionate competitor and I want this club to go forward.

We’ve broken the questions down into a few main categories, and the first one we’ll get straight into, and that’s the issue of investment. Perhaps with the performances on the pitch in recent seasons it’s not been at the front of everyone’s mind, but it is something that is still in people’s minds. What sort of figure do you think would be needed to bring Everton forward to be able to compete with the likes of Manchester United?

I wouldn’t like to put a number on it, but to try and answer the question in a different way, what we’re doing in those three areas that I mentioned is to make us an attractive investment opportunity, and unless we get those three right, we’re never going to attract the kind of investment we need.

The stakes are getting raised every day in football, with the likes of Chelsea, the new takeover at Aston Villa, other potential clubs such as West Ham, and if we are to find the right partner we’ve got to make sure we’re doing all the right things and are running the business well. That we’ve got the right stadium plans, the right academy, all those things are important.

In terms of a number needed, it’s more a case of having a sustained investment over a period of time as opposed to a one-off lump sum. Do we need as much as Roman Abramovich? Do we need as much as Randy Lerner? It’s hard to put an actual number on it, but you do need an ability to invest quite heavily.

So we are still actively seeking investment partners?

Very active. The whole football market is now back in focus as you know, there’s a lot of effort from our point of view.

With the likes of West Ham and Aston Villa receiving large investment recently, what do you think they had to offer that Everton couldn’t?

Erm….I don’t think they do to be honest. What West Ham may have is geography and the London market, and they can sustain a bigger corporate market than us at the moment. But certainly Aston Villa, I can’t think of anything. People do talk about the debt-free nature of Aston Villa, but our debt is very manageable, and I think we are a better buy than any other club in the Premiership.

[newpage=More on investment]

What do you think, in their minds, made them invest in those clubs rather than Everton?

I think Randy Lerner is on record as saying he has been a lifelong Aston Villa fan, I think the West Ham situation is to do with the London aspect, and the opportunities that are going to arise from the Olympics there in 2012, but there’s still a lot of mystery around that.

Have you spoken to the people who invested in either of those clubs?

I can’t say anything about that.

It was mentioned in the media that Paul Gregg was speaking with Randy Lerner, can you tell us any more about that?

I don’t know where that has come from.

It was mentioned in an article in the Independent newspaper last month….(-click-)

I’ve no knowledge of that.

We spoke about a share issue last year, is that something that is still on the agenda?

Yeah, I’ve been speaking to three different advisors on the potential for a fans’ share issue. The key thing for that is timing. The last thing you want to do is go out into the market and not succeed, timing really is the key.

I think once we’ve made a decision on the new stadium issue will be a better time to look at that, it is certainly on the agenda.

It has been suggested by some fans that Everton Football Club may be waiting for the new stadium to come to fruition with Tesco, and use the financial benefits that may come with that rather than seeking direct investment. What would you say to those fans?

I’d say that we’re certainly looking at all the options just now, and there’s nothing really to add.

[newpage=Stadium and Training Facilities]

You mentioned the new academy and training facilities, can you give us an update on how they’re coming along?

Yeah, we’re still on schedule to move in there next June, and we’ll be in there for when the players come back for pre-season next year. We’re having a big open day for the press, where we’ll be making more announcements. If you were to go along there now you’d see a lot of steelwork sticking out of the ground and the building really taking shape.

People have to understand that there is a lot of work before the building work can actually start, and when we spoke about the pitches being prepared, what we meant was the work that goes into levelling and preparing the ground, rather than laying the pitches themselves. That work can take 12 months, as it did at Finch Farm.

What’s the latest news on the stadium plans?

We’re in the evaluation process now to review all the options that have been put to us by various people, and it’s getting to the stage where we’ll have to now decide to follow one in more details and depth.

What’s the club’s preferred option?

Well, there is no preferred option as such. We’re just at the stage now of evaluating all the options that are available.

If we do leave Goodison Park, what will happen to the site?

That would be up to the planners. Obviously for us to realise the full value, it would have to be retail, otherwise it would be residential. A lot depends on what happens across the park, and we still haven’t ruled out staying at Goodison.

Staying would be a very difficult project to finance, but it’s something that can be done, but you haven’t got the sale of the stadium to fund it.

So how viable would it be to put another tier on the Park End?

Well, as I say, if we’re to redevelop Goodison you’d have to rebuild 3 new sides, put on a second tier at the Park End and extend the Park End as well. It’s not feasible to, it’d cost over £20m to put a seconds tier on the Park End, and you’re not going to get that sort of return in the short-term, so it’s got to be a long term commitment to staying at Goodison Park to do that.

Rebuilding the whole of Goodison is an expensive situation, which would be very difficult to finance.

The new ticketing system at Goodison coped very well with the crowds against Watford, and seems to have allayed fears many people had.

Yes, the people who developed it for us have said it was probably the smoothest of any club they’ve installed the system at, and I’ve got to say a huge thank-you to the fans who heeded the pleas to turn up early and were fantastic in their co-operation, and we hope we can do the same for the derby game – as we’ve got two massive tests of the new system very early on in the season.

We’ve done all we can to make sure people know about it, and it’s a simple system, but when you put large numbers of people with any system there can be problems. The key thing is the change in people’s habits of going in any turnstile, which is hard to break, but we think our fans will cope with the change through the season.

The last time we spoke, we discussed the new corporate seating at the front of the Main Stand, and people’s disappointment about being displaced in favour of these new seats – does it disappoint you to see these seats empty for a lot of matches?

It disappoints me to see any seat empty at Goodison, I want to see Goodison packed every weekend if we can, but it’s important that we try and grow the corporate market. And, just because the seat might be empty doesn’t mean it’s not been sold. The nature of the corporate market is that people don’t always turn up. But that area has produced a great deal of income for the club, and while I understand the wrench it was for people to leave their seats, and the attachment people have with tradition, it’s a very vicious financial battle in the Premiership right now and I had to maximise that side of the business.

The new catering company have been brought in now, and have had a season to work on the half-time serving, but we still get a few complaints about the speed and service – are there any plans to further the improvements that have already been made?

You say there are complaints, but there has only been very minimal numbers, and overall they’ve done a great job. They have brought in the super-quick pourers for the beer, and we’re trying very hard to get the service levels up to speed, and we’ve simplified the menu’s to help that. The Watford game actually produced record takings, and not just by a small amount either and this shows that we were serving a lot more people to a more satisfactory standard.

It’s very hard though, to run a very large catering operation which only really operates for 15 minutes every 2 weeks, but Sodexho are the experts, and things will continue to get better as the season goes on.

We’re looking at a machine which can pour multiple pints at once, and in around 12 seconds. We’re timing everything, and we’re doing everything we can to try and make it as quick as possible, right down to installing new till systems to speed things up.

It’s been asked that if we move from Goodison Park to a site outside of Liverpool, how can we continue to style ourselves as The People’s Club of Liverpool?

I think we’ve always said “The People’s Club” of Merseyside and not Liverpool.

David Moyes’ words were that Everton was “ probably the people’s football club of Liverpool, the people on the street support Everton”

Well, the people on the streets of Merseyside support Everton, and I know it’s been said before, but Kirkby is the spiritual home of Z-Cars. And Kirkby is very much Evertonia, and I don’t see any problems with that at all, and any move could only enhance our position as “The People’s Club”

With regards to the Howard Kendall testimonial, does the club not feel that it might have been better to lower the ticket price and get more fans into the ground while raising the same amount of money?

Not a club issue. That was a decision made by the testimonial group, we offered the team and the ground, but we had nothing to do with the running of the game.

[newpage=Outsourcing of retail etc]

Moving onto the another area which seems to be a key part of your plan to move the club forward, the outsourcing of various departments to third parties. The catering, retail outlets, and the programme production have all been outsourced, is anything else next?

No. I think that’s it for now. You always look at the areas in which other people can do better for you with their specialist skills, and I think those three areas were ones which needed specialists involved in.

JJB are already well up on sales figures for the first three months, and are getting a handle on the e-commerce side of things, doing a great job of selling on the high street.

How does outsourcing make the club money once the initial payment for the contract has cleared?

It’s not all about making money, it’s also about stopping us losing money. On retail, we proved over the past 4 to 5 years to be terrible shopkeepers. We’re in a pretty competitive market, and buying is a crucial skill to have in retail, and it was one which we didn’t have, and in the end we bought badly. That then translates into a loss down the road. Now we have the experts of JJB, who have the skill of being able to buy in bulk, and have a lot more knowledge of the market than we do. We also receive a guaranteed sum from them every single year, plus a royalty on money over a certain target. So it’s turning a loss into, already, profit for the club.

The programme was all about trying to stop the decline in sales, really. The Echo have a lot more access to better distribution networks so the programme can be out on Friday night and Saturday morning, and already we’ve seen a big increase in sales. Plus, to be able to use their own design team and printing cuts the cost down as well.

What is the benefit for Evertonians to spend money inside the ground or in the Megastore if the money is no longer going straight to the club?

The money does go into the club. We have fixed guarantee of a cheque that these companies will give us every year, plus, as we go over their targets we get more money from those companies. The whole idea was to give Evertonians a better service, and I can assure them that more revenue than ever before is coming into Everton, and we’ve improved customer services at the same time.

You’ve closed the Megastore in the City Centre now, what was the thinking behind no longer having the big Everton presence on the high street?

The retail side was a loss making situation for us, and with JJB having a big retail presence in Liverpool, they can work with us to expand the Everton brand within Liverpool, so we have to wait and see what happens down the line.

The aim was to rationalise the business and turn it into a profit making business rather than a loss-making one.

It didn’t make sense to keep the Megastore with JJB having such a big store, and they’ve expanded the whole Everton section in the JJB store, and as I say, we’ve got to beat the neighbours.

There is a vast improvement in the range of merchandise available in JJB, but my only complaint is that the Everton stock is stuck away in the far corner of the store.

Oh, when I was in there last it was just to the right as you go up the escalator [which is where it was when the store first took Everton stock] but it’s in their interest to sell as much as they can.

I’ve seen some of the stuff they have planned for future merchandise too, and it’s very impressive, which shows that with a good strong buyer you can expand the range well.

It’s good to see that we’re getting our shirts into more stores too…

Yes, that’s the key thing for us. We’re actually now able to collect data on every Everton fan who buys an Everton shirt anywhere in the country which we’ve never been able to do before, so it helps from that point of view as well.

[newpage=The Everton Collection, transfers and Anderson Silva da Franca!]

Another topic on people’s minds is the David France Collection. How much has been raised for that so far?

We’re closing in to around £400,000 – and we need to get to £800,000. We’ve got Alan Ball now who’s come in as patron of the trust, we’ve got the whole re-launch of the appeal coming up towards the end of the year, and we’ve got a very strong lottery application in and we’re pretty confident that we’ll raise all of the funds.

I personally think it’s a hugely important thing for us to do in saving our heritage. You talked about investors earlier, in a nightmare scenario, what if we got a Russian come in and dispose of the heritage by selling it off. I want to make sure this collection is safeguarded for the fans within the charitable trust, as well as making it available as an educational resource which we can take forward.

How much of the £400,000 has been raised by the fans?

I think there’s been around £25,000 raised by the fans now, and I’d urge everyone to try and help us as much as they can to safeguard this piece of our history. You’ll be seeing a lot more fund-raising events taking part, and I don’t want to give too much away and steal the thunder of the charity, but you will see a lot of events coming up towards the end of the year.

Why was the decision made to use a private PR company for the fundraising rather than use Everton’s own communications department?

Well this isn’t a club venture, it’s a separate charitable trust and the charities commission who approve everything won’t allow us to use in-house departments. We also wanted to include the fans in this, and we’ve done that, we’ve got a steering committee and involved a lot of fans in that. As that’s what this is meant to be, for the fans, by the fans.

Are the plans to display the collection the same as originally discussed?

Yes, they will still be going in the records office and be available for everyone to see. We’ll also be doing special tours around the area with the collection, doing special exhibitions, as we want to guarantee total access to the collection. For educational, historic, and academic research and let all the fans have access to it as best is possible.

It is the most important, and best, collection of it’s type in the world. I can’t underline how important this resource is, and I think it’s very important that we make it available to the fans.

Is David France prepared to wait?

I believe so, I’m seeing him today.

If we can move onto transfer activity at the club, David has spent over £40m in the past 2 years, which demonstrates a good backing form the board – is there money to continue backing him in that way?

I know, I sign the cheques!

But we’ve pushed the envelope, as you’ve pointed out, pretty hard, but without stretching the club financially and working within our operating system for targets – but there isn’t a lot more left, certainly not for big-money signings and we’ll need to see about moving players out before making any more big signings such as the nature of the Andrew Johnson deal.

By pushing envelopes, you don’t mean spending money we haven’t got? Rather utilising the different deals available for transfers, like Bill Kenwright said “You don’t need £5m to buy a £5m player”

There’s that, yes certainly, getting the best deals possible and making sure you work to the limits of your cashflow, which does take some skill and negotiaion, and a lot of planning to be able to do it.

The deal to take Kevin Kilbane away from Everton, was that just a deal that Everton couldn’t afford to refuse?

It was a very good deal. We signed an agreement with Wigan though not to release the actual fee, but it was a good deal, particularly for Kevin himself. We’re always sad to lose a player of Kevin’s ability however, and the club recognise that he always gave 100% to the club, but sometimes players have to move on.

You mentioned that we’d have to move players out to bring others in, is that going to involve selling some of our big names?

If you’re talking the kind of deals such as Andrew Johnson then certainly. There’s still room however to talk about loan deals or players at the lower end of the price spectrum. But we’ve invested heavily in the squad, and I think people can see that.

Absolutely, no-one can accuse you of not backing the manager with the money you have done.

I think for a club of our size of turnover, I think we’re about the fifth biggest in terms of spending, while we’re probably still the 8th biggest in terms of turnover, so it shows we’re backing the manager and that’s what the fans want to see.

There’s two key things. Firstly, this is not the year to have problems like getting relegated, as the TV deal from next year will be very lucrative for us, and secondly, it’s not been discussed much, but Sepp Blatter and FIFA have been making noises about making an 18 team Premiership, which could lead to 5 teams being relegated next year.

As I say, it’s not been discussed much, but I think it’s something that people should definitely be aware of, and now is the time to invest in your squad and make sure you’ve got as strong a squad as possible.

There was talk of a few different ideas tinkering with the Premiership…

Yes, there will always be talk of new ideas, but football at that sort of level is very resistant to change.

I think that the Premiership is proving to be the most attractive league in the World, the viewing figures show that, and people keep on going to football matches, so if it’s not broken, don’t try and fix it!

Back to transfers, Anderson Silva da Franca, what’s the story with him?

We acquired his economic and competitive rights, not his registration. It’s a very complex issue, and we can’t really go into details. Negotiations are continuing with the club in Uruguay, but it is a very complex issue but we’re working our way through it.

I really don’t want to say anything more as we’re in the middle of discussions, and without explaining the complexities of it, the deal wouldn’t make a great deal of sense.

Is he playing football for anyone at the moment?

No.

There have been mixed reports in the press as to whether we’ve got the option to buy Tim Howard next season, can you shed any more light on that?

It’s subject of ongoing discussion with Manchester United.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Keith again for his time, and his open and honest answers to our questions, and re-iterate how refreshing it is to have a good open channel of dialogue between fans and the club.

Thanks also to the Everton Communications department liaising with Keith to arrange the interview, and their continued help and support to NSNO.co.uk

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