Taking over from James Brent, Simon Hallett inarguably has a tough act to follow. Brent left the club in a stronger position than he found it both on and off the pitch, so maintaining the steady financial and footballing progression that was achieved will not be easy. Yet there are also places he can make major improvements.
As obvious as it may seem, the football team, firing on all cylinders is what we’re really here for, isn’t it? Financial stability and a good matchday experience are of course crucial metrics when it comes to qualifying success but ultimately it is only the on pitch product that will entice fans through the gates in any large numbers. Hallett has momentum from Brent to build upon here. Whilst this season will almost certainly see an end to the trend, James Brent’s spell in charge of Argyle saw year on year improvement for each full season that he was the owner of the club. That’s no mean feat and there aren’t many clubs who can say they’ve done it for six consecutive seasons.
When this transition is over, and Simon Hallett has a chance to put his marker down, achieving anything approaching six consecutive seasons of on-field progress would surely see Argyle on the verge of returning to the second tier of English football. Hallett will need to make many of the same decisions that James Brent did. He’ll need to make the right appointments for the roles of manager and CEO next time the positions come up. Brent’s use of a set of ten criteria for the board to consider when appointing Derek Adams certainly worked out, producing a manager in-line with the board’s financial desires yet able to produce the most out of the subsequently limited budget. Hallett should do the same rather than fall back on the same managerial merry-go-round of old faces if he wants to see success continue.
The area in which Hallett has the potential to really differentiate himself from Brent is by being a little less risk averse at crucial junctures. Derek Adams has frequently intimated in public that Argyle’s budget is not particularly high for the league in which we are in. With the massive benefit of hindsight (Argyle entered January 20th and finished it 9 from the play-offs despite having played at least one more match than every other side up to 5th) one cannot help but wonder what may have happened had Argyle gambled a bit more in January of last season. If Hallett can find a way of increasing revenue and pumping that back into playing budget, then it is more likely than ever that Argyle could find themselves in the Championship over the next few seasons.
Target: Promotion to the Championship within five years.
We all want a successful team on the pitch (and we are naturally going to get more excited about that than we are about accounting) but Argyle can’t exist unless it is a sustainable financial business. The bottom line is that Hallett cannot ever let the club sink into the abyss like it did in 2010. Argyle made profits of £19,930, £196,104 and £31,887 in 2014, 2016 and 2017 respectively (with a loss of £118,029 in 2015), while turnover climbed to £6.200,000 in 2016. We are unable to access the profit/loss accounts, but these figures seem healthy from a season-by-season approach. However, there is no doubt that the club will need to increase it’s wage budget to challenge for promotion on a consistent basis.
Ramping up the expected wage bill to around £4,000,000 – seemingly lowest required to challenge on a consistent basis – would set Argyle back on the path to financial ruin. Unless Hallett is willing to underwrite the debts the club would incur by spending at this rate, the only way to sustain a wage budget of this level is to increase revenue. This will be partly achieved once the Grandstand project is complete, but will also need an increase in sponsorship revenue and attendances to meet this target. Hallett has already introduced Jane Chafer to the board to work at improving marketing and communications, so steps are hopefully being taken to improve the way the club attracts fans to the ground.
Target: Club turnover to reach at least £8,500,000 by 2022.
The elephant in the room so far is, of course, the redevelopment of Argyle’s grandstand. Perhaps the most natural way of marrying these two awkward bedfellows (team investment and financial sensibility) is making sure the execution of Argyle’s grandstand plans is flawless. The financial accounts of Exeter Chiefs revels that in 2017 and 2016, the club made brought in £1,500,000 in revenue just from the conferencing, banqueting and events facilities in their Sandy Park stadium. As well as increased comfort for supporters, Brent’s plan for Argyle’s development of the grandstand has something similar in mind.
Argyle’s new Grandstand has been estimated (by Brent, I should add) to produce up to £1,000,000 in additional revenue, and after costs (staff, food, administration etc), that should see – and this is a very provisional estimate with no financial basis, so take it with a kilogram of salt – an extra £500,000 added to the team’s budget. It is important therefore that the project is overseen correctly whilst building works are still in place and is completed to a high standard as fast as possible. Argyle need to build bridges with the corporate world to ensure Home Park is seen as a serious events venue in the South West. Further progress here could see ‘Stage Two’ of the development actioned, filling in the corners to increase the capacity of Home Park – surely a necessity if Argyle were to win promotion.
Target: Complete the Grandstand redevelopment; generate £1,000,000 of additional revenue, reinvest profits into the playing budget.
As we all know, Brent’s many strengths as owner did not include full transparency into the financial affairs of the club. Supporters of Brent will say that his competent management of the club precludes this from being necessary, however, Argyle were one of the best run clubs in the country in the early to mid 2000s and we need not mention what happened next. It doesn’t mean the same will necessarily happen again, but it shows that nothing can be ruled out.
While most clubs are forced to publish full annual accounts due to their turnover, total assets or staff numbers, many still opt to publish in the name of transparency, such as AFC Wimbledon. It would be a big step forward for Hallett to also do so, and it would tick some of the ambitious targets that Brent initially set for himself in the iconic guildhall meeting of early 2012.
Additionally, Hallett could do more to build up relationships with supporter groups. The ‘Plymouth Argyle Supporters Board’ (a coalition of all of the major fan groups) disbanded itself in 2014, citing a lack of useful information being divulged from the meetings. An attempt to rebuild this coalition but with more transparent and useful information would go a long way towards building more trust. It would also be great to see Hallett further explore the possibility of fans investment in the club: Brent first suggested this with his 20% share offer to the Argyle Fans Trust, but it never materialised due to the terms of the deal.
There’s also a lot Hallett can do to reach out to ordinary match-going fans, not affiliated to any supporter group. Hallett’s first ‘Chairman’s Chat’ feature on the club’s official site is encouraging with regard to this. He identified the matchday sound-system, stewarding, and the clubs marketing and communications as legitimate areas for improvement and promised to work hard to improve upon these over the months to come. With regard to communication, he has already made a great start with the appointment of Jamie Yabsley, who has proved extremely popular with Argyle’s twitter fan-base for his straight-talking approach and his informative answers to supporter questions on the social media site.