Interview with Chairman John Wardle

Some months back your McV team were pondering what to do for the 1000th edition of MCIVTA, and now here we are. It is almost 10 years since Ashley, Svenn and Paul launched MCIVTA and the MCFC Supporters website ( respectively. The newsletter brought ‘Why Blue’ stories, City news, views and opinions to mailboxes worldwide; one of the first internet football newsletters and City websites. It has lead to many friendships amongst far flung blues, and now has a regular subscriber list of nearly 3300.

In addition to the exclusive Questions & Answer session with our Chairman John Wardle, MCFC and Shaun Wright-Phillips also agreed an exclusive interview to mark our special anniversary issue.


(Monday March 22th 2003)

Q: What does the club practically do to improve its brand image? These days money talks and the likes of Manchester United seem to earn the lion’s share of money coming into the game. Clearly this stems from winning trophies but it must be important to think of other areas to earn money and brand image would appear to be the most important avenue for revenue growth.

Craig Bennett, Watford

(Wardle): The Club is always exploring new opportunities to promote Manchester City. Whether it’s through third party promotions, which we think will benefit and be of interest to supporters or through exploring opportunities in new markets such as China and the USA.For example, we’ve recently re-launched the City credit card with HBoS, which offers £40 vouchers to spend in the CityStore to those who successfully apply.

In China there are six CityStores dedicated to Manchester City, and at present we are exploring opportunities in other markets around the world, such as Russia that you may have read about in the press recently.

At all times we protect the ‘brand image’ through ensuring our literature, merchandise and everything associated with the Club is of the highest possible quality.


Q: Do you agree that a lack of stability in the club at all levels has been a major factor in us underachieving in the last 25-30 years? What is being done to ensure that the club is given this stability going forward?

Jim Hayward, London

(Wardle): Perhaps you are right on this Jim, but equally that could be said of many clubs over the last decade or two.All aspects of our club, First Team, Reserves, Academy, City In The Community and all the vital behind-the-scenes departments must have a stability that I believe is fundamental to our future success – but this takes time.


Q: On a commercial level, how are the club doing in their push into China? I recently spotted a Chinese tourist in Sydney sporting our home shirt with SUN on the back. I’d like to know what the current value of merchandise and TV rights in China is to City and what are the go forward plans?

Matt Spence, Australia

(Wardle): The Far East is a market into which the Club was moving long before the arrival of Sun Jihai. You only have to look at the astronomical viewing figures for the City vs. Everton game, in which both Jihai and Everton’s Chinese international Li Tie played, to get some idea of the potential of this particular market place – the game was watched by some 300 million Chinese football fans. The TV rights are currently tied up in the deal struck by the Premier League on behalf of its members, but this is currently under discussion and clubs are likely to be able to negotiate with individual broadcasters when the current deal expires.The Club is building a strategic merchandising approach in China. We already have six stores in three major cities, Beijing, Shanghai and Dalian, which sell a range of City kit and merchandise and that are proving very successful. We will soon be starting the second phase of this operation, working closely with our kit sponsor Reebok, to open more stores across the country and to hone our distribution procedures. We have also had enquiries from Walmart China for stocking our merchandise. With China’s equivalent to the Premier League beginning next month, this is a great time to have a strong presence in the Far East.


Q: What is happening about the current loss of form and Kevin Keegan? Please can you/the Club take affirmative action with regard to the current situation and categorically deny all Press speculation about Mr Keegan’s future and the lack of recent team form. City have in the past been too quick to make rash and hasty decisions, and while Keegan might have his weaknesses, his strengths far outweigh any of his shortcomings, and all that is needed is a little patience through this period and of course all our support, in strength.

Simon Kennedy Rose, Atlanta

(Wardle): Thanks for your support Simon. Press speculation is simply that – speculation. I publicly supported our manager six or seven weeks ago.The last three games – a very comfortable win at Bolton, being robbed by Chelsea but playing very well and the crème de la crème with the 4-1 win – have shown we are in a position to move forwards and up the table with 10 league games left.


Q: Please can you tell me why we have to be 65 before we get reduced prices on our season ticket? From a personal perspective, I retire in December and whilst on a pension, I will still have to pay full price. It does seem unfair!

Dot Keller, Manchester

(Wardle): Dot, new Equal Opportunities law means we have to treat men and women in exactly the same way when setting any prices. We have set the concessionary ticket level at 65 and have noted that this is now the national retirement age for both men and women. 
Q: As the season has now turned into a failure, out of all cup competition and 5th bottom of the league, how can we be convinced to renew seasoncards? Does the board budget with a limited number of seasoncards, or did they expect the whole number to be taken up?

Martin Ford, Manchester

(Wardle): The loyalty of our supporters can never be called into question and the fact that more than 25,000 have already renewed their seasoncards emphasises the faith that they have in our club. This figure already exceeds our season ticket capacity at Maine Road and we are well on the way to matching the 36,000 seasoncards we sold this season.After the April 16 renewal deadline has passed, the opportunity to buy seasoncards for next season will be opened to those on our waiting list.

We hope the full allocation of seasoncards is taken up and I would like to place on record my sincere thanks to all our fans who have continued to support the club and the team throughout the recent poor run. We will never take our fans for granted. We know our points haul has to be much better next season.


Q: As soccer fans in America, it was hard to escape the buzz surrounding Manchester United’s and Blackburn’s pre-season US tours. Can we look forward to Manchester City making any extended intercontinental visits in the relatively near future, especially to Asia or North America, in order to promote the club and extend its fan base?

Matthew Semisch, Omaha

(Wardle): We are currently looking at a number of options for pre-season fixtures but as yet nothing has been confirmed. The Club is always looking for new avenues with which to develop links with our fans around the globe but cannot, of course, be everywhere at once. Whilst the development of an international fan base is of great importance to us, our focus must remain on what is best for the first team’s preparations for a new season.It is worth noting that senior club officials, including our Managing Director Alistair Mackintosh, have visited the US, China and Russia already this year with the specific aim of expanding our profile worldwide.


Q: After the success of the opening game at The City of Manchester Stadium against Barcelona, are there any plans to hold further pre-season games at home against top class European opposition? Last year’s pre-season was excellent, and we should still continue to help out local clubs like Oldham and Rochdale with pre-season games at their grounds, but one top class home game pre-season really gets us looking forward to the season.

Phil Roe, Oldham

(Wardle): We are still formulating our plans for pre-season Phil, but will try to strike a balance between playing big clubs and helping out some of our smaller neighbours. We are planning to stage a Marc Vivien Foe testimonial game at the City Of Manchester Stadium. Watch our website for more details. 
Q: Why are there so many VIP seats empty in the Colin Bell Stand each home game? If these are not being filled then could they be offered out to Card holders on a lucky draw type raffle at no charge to the winners? And how about the return of “Kids for a Quid” for Cup games to get the youngsters interested?

Simon Curtis, Preston

(Wardle): Simon – I am not aware of a large number of empty seats, but I will take a look at the situation. I will also examine if we can utilise your ideas, as they look excellent. Thank you. 
Q: For the early UEFA and FA Cup games ticket prices were fixed at one level; clearly by the attendances this gesture was not enough. How about a more realistic reduction for next season (say £15) and particularly for youngsters in the hope that this will encourage more to attend instead of seeing the stadium only 2/3 full.

Gary Jackson, Manchester
Dave Barrow, Glossop

(Wardle): I believe the prices we charged for the UEFA and FA Cup were good value but we will look into these ideas. We attracted very good attendances at the C.O.M. compared to other games in the competitions. Live TV has a big effect on games.I am also looking at approaching local schools and youth organisations to offer seats for matches when we are clearly going to be below capacity.


Q: When the loyalty points scheme was introduced, were loyal season ticket holders of over twenty years not given a greater points allocation, as without them the club would have been finished.

Steve Williams, Holmes Chapel

(Wardle): The loyalty points system was introduced for the 2001/2002 season with the aim of rewarding those who most regularly attended our fixtures. At that time we had 24,000 Season Ticket holders, of whom 22,000 were ‘regulars’, in other words, they had held a Season Ticket for a minimum of five years. Whilst many fans will have held a ticket for substantially longer than five years we had to choose a starting point and this seemed a fair reflection of enduring loyalty. 
Q: The upcoming England internationals and concerts at the stadium show how big a venue the City of Manchester Stadium has become. But will the club receive any money from staging such events, or will the City Council as landlords keep all the revenue from staging such events?

David Scally, Manchester

(Wardle): The club will receive fees for staging these events and the revenue will be re-invested in the club. 
Q: Judging by the excellent league crowds at Eastlands/CoMS are there any plans, or is it even logistically possible, to increase the capacity of the ground?

Graham Keller, Manchester
Geoff Pettengell, Cheshire

(Wardle): We are happy with the size of the stadium. It is perfect for our current needs and I don’t think we would need to look into a feasibility study to see if the stadium could have an increased capacity. 
Q: What can be done to make the players and supporters feel more at home in the new ground? It would seem that neither really feel at ease with the place yet and this could realistically be cited as one of the reasons for a below par showing in the league so far this season. Is it simply a matter of time, a matter of a few wins under our belts or does something else have to be done?

Simon Curtis, Lisbon

(Wardle): Sunday’s atmosphere was fantastic and I think it should help us enormously for the future. We have been working hard behind the scenes to help improve things. The combination of this work, and a few more home wins, should do the trick.Any ideas from supporters are most welcome. We have already used some – such as bringing back Blue Moon when the players come out of the tunnel.


Q: What plans are there to “personalise” the stadium, painting? Seats spelling out MCFC etc., or faces of City legends, and will we have another scoreboard on the opposite corner to the existing one?

Simon Curtis, Preston

(Wardle): Our lease from Manchester City Council is for 250 years so the Stadium is, to all intents and purpose, our home. However, as the City of Manchester Stadium is a public facility we are somewhat restricted in the ways in which we can stamp our identity on it. We have enjoyed a very good relationship with the Council so far and feel confident that over time we will be able to further ‘personalise’ the Stadium but at the moment we are limited in what we can do. That said, we have already named all of the approach roads to the Stadium and are close to unveiling a fitting memorial for Joe Mercer on the walkway named in his memory, which links the North Car Parks to the Stadium.With regards to the scoreboard, there are currently no plans to add one to the North West corner. We have to prioritise where are funds are spent and the position of the existing scoreboard serves the majority of home fans.


Q: The away supporters have been given a very large and prominent position in the ‘South Stand’. This seems to be the area where many of the old Maine Road North Stand regulars sit but clearly they are unable to sit ‘en masse’. Can the board not reconsider (certainly for next season) where the away fans are seated, perhaps more to one of the corners leaving both ‘ends’ to home fans?

Dave Barrow, Glossop

(Wardle): The layout of the stadium, in particular the turnstiles and general access issues, mean the South Stand is the safest area to position away supporters. We will continue to evaluate all aspects of our new home Dave, but if the safety advice we get recommends that the away fans stay there, we have to listen to it. 
Q: If you could sign any player, past or present, who would it be?

Rich Fenton, Northwich

(Wardle): Colin Bell. He had style and could play. He had a passion about the game and our club, and he still does now. 
Q: Do people at the Club read MCIVTA?

Dave B, Manchester

(Wardle): Yes, it is read by a number of people at the Club, as it is a great way to gauge the fans’ views on all matters pertaining to the team and to the Club as a whole. It is circulated throughout the club. 
If I have not answered your particular question then please accept my apologies. Time factors have meant it is impossible to answer every single one. Thanks to all of you who sent them in.I would also like to place on record my gratitude to you all for continuing to support our wonderful club.

John Wardle