Venky’s: A Year On

They say that twelve months is a long time and certainly for Blackburn Rovers fans the last twelve months have been a long, hard slog since Venky’s London Limited finally completed the takeover of Blackburn Rovers Football Club on 19 November 2010.

Let’s rewind twelve months. While not having the financial resources to compete with the Premier League “big spenders”, Rovers as a club were widely regarded at the time as a “model club” by the Premier League. The club was well managed by the likes of John Williams and Tom Finn, it did everything by the book and was run to very high professional standards. On the pitch the club had finished 10th the previous season and was on course for another good finish in the Premier League. So when Venky’s took over, many fans were looking forward to having new owners who wanted to continue the traditions of the club and provide funding which would allow the club to compete in the transfer market.

Today, twelve months later, that well-run club is now looking to be in chaos; the professional management team has been dismantled and on the pitch the club avoided relegation last season only on the final day and has continued that poor form this season and is now firmly entrenched in the bottom three. There have been protests against the manager, who Venky’s still refuse to sack despite only 6 wins in 32 league games, and now supporter anger is starting to turn towards the owners. Both on and off the pitch, the situation is the complete opposite to what it was twelve months ago.

At the time of the takeover, Venky’s were party to an agreement that included an undertaking to maintain the stability of the club in the form of explicit assurances made to the Walker Trust’s holding company, BRFC Investments Limited, which had a 99.9% controlling stake in the club. These assurances given by the Venky’s Board in the original Shares Offer statement provided as follows. (See this 23 November 2010 article for details of the original document.)

(a) Venky’s “will commit funds on a consistent and systematic basis to future transfer and/or loan activity”.

While the level of spending has been greater than in previous years, the figures quoted for the sales of players, in particular Phil Jones and Niko Kalinic, and the figures quoted for the players brought into the club suggest that the net transfer spend is covered by sales.

(b) Venky’s “intends to continue to support the existing management team and staff, and that it is committed to the future development of, and investment in, the Club’s academy and youth infrastructure”.

Within one month of taking over, the manager (Sam Allardyce) had been sacked; within three months the chairman (John Williams) had left; and within nine months the managing director (Tom Finn), finance officer (Martin Goodman) and secretary (Andrew Pincher) had all left the club. Thus, within just nine months of the takeover, virtually all of the “existing management team” had left the club.

(c) Venky’s “will continue to support, promote and extend the Club’s local community and CSR activities”.

Venky’s have continued this work.

(d) Venky’s “will seek to extend the Blackburn Rovers name and brand into India, the rest of south-east Asia and beyond”.

This has perhaps been the biggest success of Venky’s ownership. Blackburn Rovers’ brand is now recognised in India and the recent visit by the team to Pune was a huge success in PR terms.

(e) Venky’s “will seek to develop and improve commercial performance across sponsorship, the Club’s kit deal and general merchandising activity”.

Rovers’ kit sponsorship was donated to a charity (Princes Trust), so the income from a kit deal was lost. In addition, revenue from matchday corporate sales has fallen.

(f) Venky’s “will seek to enhance the fan experience at Ewood Park itself on match days (and non match days) and to maximise season ticket sales and any remaining match day ticket sales”.

Season ticket sales for this season have fallen and matchday attendances are down. Due to the team’s performance and protests against the manager, many fans would argue that the fan experience on both match days and non-match days has not been enhanced.

(g) Venky’s “intends to improve the Club’s media platforms (for example the Club’s TV channel) and to become more active in the social media space”.

The club’s media platforms have largely remained the same as they were twelve months ago.

The above comments on the assurances made by Venky’s at the time of purchasing the club quite amply illustrate that our new owners have not abided by certain key undertakings during the twelve months of their tenure of the club. Their failure to do so raises the question that is on every fan’s mind: Where does Blackburn Rovers Football Club go from here?

Despite what manager Steve Kean says, on the pitch the club is in big trouble. Rovers now face a battle to retain their Premier League status with a manager who thus far has proved incapable of consistently winning football matches. There are 27 games left this season and Rovers would need the points equivalent of at least 10 wins to stand even a chance of surviving. The omens do not look good. With Kean in charge, the previous 32 games have resulted in just 6 league wins, so to even have a fighting chance of survival Kean would need to improve his games:wins ratio rather substantially. So, that leads us to the next question: What should Venky’s do?

My advice to Venky’s would be as follows:

  • Sack Steve Kean with immediate effect. He has proved over the last 11 months that he is not capable of managing a football team. In his place, appoint a manager with Premier League experience. The likes of Martin O’Neill, Mark Hughes and even Carlo Ancelotti could be tempted by the right project.
  • Once the manager situation is sorted out, get the off-the-field situation under control. Appoint someone who has the requisite skills to run a football club as chairman or chief executive and give this person the full authority required to run the club. Preferably ring John Williams and Tom Finn and beg them to come back to the club. Then task the chairman with bringing back professionalism in the running of Blackburn Rovers Football Club.
  • Talk to the fans, explain to them the “real” vision that you have for the club, and be honest and open about this. You will find that Blackburn Rovers fans respond well to being told the plain truth rather than being fed PR snippets.

If Venky’s follow the above advice and take the necessary action, then perhaps they can start to rebuild the club and rebuild the relationship that they have with the fans. Even if they did all of the above, however, it would still take a lot of hard work to repair the damage that has been done to the club over the last twelve months. The consequences of not doing the above, however, does not bear thinking.

Twelve months ago today, Venky’s took charge of the Rovers and on that day Mrs Desai, the chairperson of Venky’s, made a statement full of promise:

“We are very proud to be associated with Blackburn Rovers, a team with whom we share many values and ambitions. Going forward we plan to focus on leveraging the global influence in establishing Blackburn Rovers as a truly global brand. We will absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remains one of the best run clubs within the Premier League. We are particularly pleased that the deal has full support of the Walker Trustees, the Chairman and the management team who will of course remain in place with our full support.”

For many Rovers fans this leaves a very empty feeling.

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