When people think of making purchases for a football club often, their immediate thoughts are: players, kits & footballs. However, when you also factor in the need to purchase goods and services for the training ground and Academy – well, that’s a whole new ball game!
Football is a funny business! You get 8 weeks a year during the close season to complete your big projects; plan & purchase for the upcoming season and renew contracts. For most businesses this work would be a steady flow, spread over 12 months, whereas for a sports club, the majority of work is achieved during the summer break. The stadium will be repainted every year, a new pitch is installed at the stadium as well as new pitches re-laid at the training ground, corporate areas are upgraded and redecorated, new equipment installed – this year new floodlights were fitted and a new PA and CCTV system installed. Maintenance checks and safety certification are required and once fixture dates are released, hotels need to be booked and travel arranged for both players & fans.
Each home match involves the input of various departments to coordinate several services and facilities. Health & Safety is paramount on match days. Both East Midlands Ambulance Service & St John Ambulance are present on match days as well as the Police to ensure the fans safety and security. At high category matches where security is a principal concern security dogs are even required. Away games also take a lot of organisation - from arranging couriers to deliver the away ticket allocation to the opposing club, to arranging food for the players after the match as well as organising coach travel for the fans.
There are many factors that make a Procurement Manager’s job for a football club a very challenging role, especially as you need to integrate with all the different areas of the business. A new manager will have new ideas and will want specific items purchasing or changes made. The performance from the previous season will affect finances available to the club and will have an effect on the marketing & media strategy as well as ongoing success during cup tournaments & league matches that will bring additional purchasing needs and requirements throughout the season.
Back office processes are vital in supporting both the first team and the Academy to achieve success. You need to be adaptable and flexible whilst working to tight deadlines and limited budgets. Significant savings can be made through correct procurement management as well as adding an overall value to a club. It is one of the few roles where you need a broad sector knowledge over various categories: from medical to IT, from horticulture to security, from print to catering. This can be made easier by the professionals you are lucky enough to work alongside.
The downside of working within limited timescales for procurement means you don’t always have time to get the best price because the purchasing process was rapid, you may miss out on the value of bulk purchasing and end up paying excess for deliveries. While you do need to consider long term strategic planning, the majority of your focus will be on the upcoming season and the requirements needed to ensure the team is playing at their best and the fans get a great experience visiting the stadium. Quality is essential especially when it comes to players’ medical treatments, training equipment and the surface of the pitch. However, it is not just the players that benefit from smart sourcing. You also have the coaching staff, scouts and analytical department: from top of the range software to medical supplements, the quality has to be top notch. This is where strong cost management comes into play. You don’t need to pay top price to have top quality. Negotiation is an essential factor and working closely with key suppliers can reduce prices as well as increase quality and service levels. Spend analysis and price benchmarking also play a vital role here.
It is also essential to support local businesses especially in a city where football is very important to the community. It is crucial to maintain good relationships with suppliers, not only to achieve best value and quality, but to strengthen community involvement in the club’s success.
Discovering new suppliers is another key requirement. Procurement managers find sales calls tiresome and often won’t take calls or respond to emails. With a football club being highly visible, they are often contacted by new suppliers asking for a meeting or trying to quote for work. When you are busy it can be tempting not to take the call, however by taking the time to engage with that supplier you may find they have the solution to your problem. In a recent example, a supplier who speculatively called was actually able to meet our needs at short notice and at a competitive price, when an existing supplier was unable to do so. This demonstrates whilst the majority of the calls may not be worth your while, there may be that one who can assist at short notice and then lead to a valuable long term business relationship.
Maintaining the stadium and training ground is one of a club’s biggest expense. Football Clubs are governed by several health & safety laws, council regulations and the Sports Ground Safety Authority. During the summer months we have to arrange safety certification for power systems, water supplies, structural surveys to name a few, whilst ensuring all the licences are in date to enable stadiums to operate and allow access to the public.
Our Training Academy has been awarded a Category One status which is the highest ranking for Academies under the Premier League’s Elite Players Performance Plan. As well as the day to day running of the Academy, the club has had to invest heavily in its facilities and infrastructure. The procurement and purchasing to complete this has been a heavy undertaking. From the concept and design of the facilities, to the tendering of the different services, to awarding the various contracts, has taken considerable effort and communication. To enable to maintain this high award will involve sustained dedication and determination which will continue into the future. Plans for various projects to improve the facilities at the training ground and Academy are continuing with a state of the art pitch complete with undersoil heating that will be an exact replica of the pitch at the stadium.
To make work even more complex; the year end also falls within close season. This involves working closely with Accounts to ensure that all invoices received are on the system, all outstanding orders placed before year end are accrued for and all new orders for the following season are separated so not to be calculated with the previous season’s figures. Departmental budgets also have been to drawn up and issued which is where having a clear overview of spending in the previous year is vital - it allows departments to accurately forecast expenditure for the upcoming season. To assist the accounts team, purchase orders are coded to the relevant department at the commencement of the order rather than when the invoice is received. This allows for better control of departmental budgets and overview of committed spend.
Working in procurement for a football club is challenging, exciting and will stretch your abilities & skills as well as teaching you new ones. You will learn something new and diverse every day, from knowing the best grass seed to purchase, to the latest software on the market. Each day is a new adventure in football procurement!
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