Q&A with Blackpool FC's new managing director Ben Hatton

Blackpool's new managing and executive director Ben Hatton sat down with the media this afternoon for his first interview since joining the club.

Thursday, 7th March 2019, 6:37 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th March 2019, 7:58 pm
Ben Hatton is Blackpool's new managing and executive director

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Here's what he had to say:

How are you settling in to the new role?

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“I’m settling in pretty well I think. That’s thanks to the support I’ve received personally and the support we’ve received collectively as a new board that have made the settling-in process as smooth as it could have been.

“The local businesses, the community, the fans and the staff particularly, we’ve been well looked after by them all.”

Why have you come to Blackpool Football Club?

“Why me? It’s not just me, Paul Cooper has put together a board that is diverse in specific experiences while having a common foundation in football.

“I’ve been in football a long time, Michael Bolingbroke has been in football a long time, Ian Currie has a background in Blackpool - we’re all financially-based people as well.

“I think Paul has looked at the relative skillsets he’s needed and he’s brought three people together that could fulfil those requirements.

“A fantastic thing for Paul to have done is put a fans voice on the board, which I think is really important and demonstrates Paul’s commitment to this football club.

“Why have I done it? This is a fantastic football club. The scale of the challenge here from an intellectual, personal and emotional perspective is enormous.

“I’m excited by it, I think there’s huge potential now. Whether I’m still here to realise that potential, who knows, that will be a question for the new owners.

“But in the short term what I can do is put in place practices and processes and at least start that ball rolling to get us back onto a sound footing and put the business back to where it should be.”

What were your first impressions when you arrived at the club?

“My first impression was: what a great football club.

“We hadn’t been here very long when those messages of support and offers of help started coming in, so it was clear the community was behind us.

“It was a baptism of fire to some degree, as these situations tend to be, but our overriding view on Monday morning a week ago - it feels a lot longer - was one of ‘what a great team of people’.

“The staff here are fantastic and have been hugely supportive and have rallied round to do things that would not ordinarily be part of their jobs and they’ve done it with a smile.

“The facilities here are great, it’s a fantastic place. It’s a one-club town and everyone in the town loves the club.

“My week and a bit has been busy and there have been long days, but it’s really exciting and there’s no doubt in my mind about how much potential there is here.”

What is your message to the fans?

“I think our message has been fairly consistent: welcome on board, we’re happy to see the change and we’re looking forward to seeing things get better.

“All we can do is attempt to deliver on that.”

Have you followed Blackpool’s fortunes from afar?

“I think if you’re a football person I think it’s hard not to have seen what’s going on.

“I’ve been fully aware of the fans’ protests and the reasons for those protests, so yes it’s fair to say I’ve seen what has been going on.”

What is your role?

“I’m the managing director of Blackpool Football Club, so it’s my job to run the business in the same way any other managing director would try to do. I will try and seek to do that to the best of my ability.

“I need to make it clear it’s not my main focus to sell the football club. My main focus is to run it, that’s it, to make sure it starts to reach its potential.

“While I am here to help support Paul Cooper in his endeavours to sell the business, I’ll be as involved in that ultimately as much as he wants me to be.

“But I don’t think about that at all on a daily basis, I just think about running this football club, how can we maximise revenues, how can we start to fulfil that latent, undeveloped potential that has been here for so long but for one reason or another has not been able to be fulfilled.”

How have you been received by the fans?

“The fanbase have been fantastic this week. We’ve seen that from the moment we took over, the excitement and the passion the local community has for this club.

“Everybody loves the club, there’s no doubt about that.

“The one message this week has been very clear and very consistent and that’s: how can we help? And what do you need from us?

“You saw that with the volunteers, we’ve probably had 200 coming to clean the seats this week which is incredible.

“These are guys that have just come in to offer them help and we gave them buckets of water and squeezy bottles of soap and off they went - it’s been terrific."

What plans are in place for Saturday?

“This building is full on Saturday, 16,000 fans or so, so that’s about five times the normal operating level of this building.

“We’ve had to staff-up for that, we’ve had to become operationally ready for that and the staff have had to become ready in a very short space of time.

“There’s only a handful of staff here who have ever seen this building operate like that and know how it operates.

“So we’re asking fans to enjoy the carnival atmosphere but recognise we are all learning on Saturday as well, so forgive us if there are some bumps in the road but we will get those right as the season progresses.

“In terms of what we’re doing, we’re going to honour all those fans that enjoyed coming here before the protests started but can no longer come here because they’re no longer with us.

“We’ve got a lot of former players, about 30 or 40 or so.

“But the most important thing, well almost, is we’ve got the Nolan sisters, which personally I’m very, very excited about.”

Is it going to be a sellout?

“My view is it will be. I think we’ve got about 1,500 tickets left.

“If you want to come, buy a ticket because the general consensus if it’ll be a sellout.”

What things has Terry McPhillips asked for?

“Terry has been fantastic and will continue to be so.

“The team have done well and the play-off places aren’t out of reach, as Terry keeps reminding me. It’s a stretch but they’re not out of reach.

“Terry has not asked me for anything. He’s sat down and he’s told me what his priorities are and I understand them.

“I think it’s clear the pitch is his priority and we understand that. We will work with him to work through those priorities as the season progresses and during the post-season and pre-season period.”

Can you help Terry plan for next season?

“I guess it’s a dilemma for all football clubs.

“On the one hand, we’re all looking week-to-week from a business perspective. But on the other hand, there are decisions that need to be made going into pre-season and next season.

“That’s simple stuff like kit designs and production of kit for next season, which needs to be done this week or next week. That’s a priority.

“Making hotel bookings for whatever Terry wants to do for pre-season, that needs to be done sooner rather than later because places will fill up.

“There are medium-term decisions that need to be made now as well as making those short-term decisions that are fundamental to what we’re trying to do.”

What’s your involvement with new contracts and buying players?

“I haven’t talked with Terry about that yet.

“There’s plenty to do and so much that needs to be done in the short term, it means we’ve also got to start making time for the medium term.

“We didn’t need to sit down with Terry last week or this week and I don’t really need to speak with him about players next week either, but at some point we’re going to have to do that pretty soon because it suddenly becomes a priority.

“We will get to it and we will go from there.”

How are the club's finances looking?

“That’s a difficult one to answer at this point because we’re still understanding what we have and what’s here. We’ll have a far better picture of that next week probably. But at the moment we’re still rebuilding.

“Commercially the interest has been enormous. From the day we moved in we’ve been fielding enquiries, whether that be for sponsorship, advertising, corporate hospitality, those enquiries are coming in thick and fast and on a daily basis.

“On the football side, Saturday it should be pretty close to being sold out and be as full as this building has been for four or five years.

“What we are convinced about is that this is a great football club with a great future. It’s got great potential and should there be interested parties, they will be buying into a fantastic opportunity."

Is there cash in the bank to sort things straight away?

“We are working to understand the financial position of the football club and the wider business.

“At this point, that work isn’t complete and you will have seen the EFL put their statement out after their board meeting.

“We’ve seen the EFL this week and they’ve been enormously supportive, as supportive as they could possibly be.

“We’re doing a job of work for them to deliver what they need, which is a financial picture of the club.

“What is clear is that the more sellouts we get, the easier that job becomes. We have to fill this building and that’s what we’re going to try and do.

“I don’t think it’s a sensible expectation to think we’ll fill this building every game until the end of the season, but what we’re hoping for is Saturday’s sellout and then see an increase in fans in the remaining games.”

Are you hopeful the EFL will look favourably on Blackpool?

“It’s a difficult one because I don’t think they are setting a precedent. Their rules are quite clear that they have the ability to impose a penalty which is a deduction of points, but it’s not a mandatory penalty, they don’t have to do it.

“They are going to ask themselves one question and the only thing we have to answer is whether or not we can demonstrate with some certainty that this club will fulfill its fixtures until the end of the season.

“If we can do that, then I think we’re going to be in good shape in terms of satisfying the EFL’s requirements. That’s the only question that matters to them.

“We will be able to get the information together, but we can’t second guess what the EFL will do with that information.

“We know we can produce that information, it’s a job of work, it’s a series of cash flow forecasts.

“But how they interpret that and conclude that, we don’t know.”

When do you expect the EFL to make a decision on the points deduction?

“The process is clear, the onus is with us. We owe the EFL information and we need to paint them a picture of the financial position of this football club between now and the end of the season.

“That’s what we are working on. All the priorities have some ranking but that really is top of the list.

“For sure we expect to get it done this month, there’s no question we should provide that information."

Are you looking to recruit more staff?

“We’re going to have to.

“The football club has to operate as a grownup business, we have to have the right number of staff doing the right job at the right time.

“That certainly has to be a priority.”

Are the proper regulations in place for the East Stand to operate safely?

“Absolutely. One of the things that will always be uppermost on our priority list is the safety of the fans and other occupants of the building.

“There are no doubts at all that the safety certificate is in place. Everything that needs to be here, insurances, are in place.

“That’s something we take very seriously and I’ve spoken to the council and the police. All the things you’d expect grownup football clubs to be doing, we’ve done.

“So there’s certainly no issues with the safety of the building.”

Are you planning to work with all the different fan groups?

“There is one group of fans here and that is the fans of Blackpool Football Club. I think that’s really important.

“My objective as the managing director is to run this football club as best we can for the benefit of the fans.

“I think it’s important to note that Tim is on the board as an observer on behalf of the fans, Paul Cooper hasn’t selected Blackpool Supporters’ Trust as being a favourite group and therefore chosen one of their members.

“He’s selected wisely I believe, Tim has been fantastic as have all the different fan groups. It’s just been phenomenal.

“We’re running this for the fans and honestly, I probably couldn’t even tell you all the names of the various groups. It’s not something I think about.

“If they are fans of Blackpool Football Club then they are important to me."

How important is it the fans fill the ground to show potential bidders how great the club can be?

“It’s fundamental. The protest has been going on for so long, there’s been a clamour for change and now that change has happened. We’d love to see the fans respond accordingly.

“Inevitably it will be gradual, not least because there’s an army of fans presumingly have found something else to do on alternative Saturday afternoons. That will take some time to unwind.

“I have no expectation of the ground being full for the five games after Saturday, but I would really hope the fans keep coming back and ultimately when we put season tickets on sale for next season that we see a massive uplift.”

How difficult have Owen Oyston and Natalie Christopher made life for you?

“From my perspective it is what it is, I’m here to do a job and I’ve been asked by the receiver to do that job.

“The receiver has appointed a new board and our focus has to be running this football club to the best of our ability and doing all the things that grown-up businesses do.

“What’s gone on beforehand, I’m really not that interested in. This is about the future.

“It’s really important people understand the future of this club is really bright.”