“THEY’LL be dancing in the streets of T-N-S tonight!”

 

jeff_stelling

That’s one of Jeff Stelling’s favourite quips on

Sky TV’s Soccer Saturday – referring to ongoing

successful match results for the Welsh Premier

League champions.

Joking aside, The New Saints of Oswestry Town &

Llansantffraid Football Club, has a very fruitful business

model which incorporates both

football and off-the-field income streams.

We spoke to Ian Williams, who has been involved with

TNS for 10 years as Chief Operating Officer and General

Manager. He began by tracing the recent history of a club

that has shot to prominence in Welsh football.

“In 2003, a merger took place between Llansantffraid

FC and Oswestry Town FC,” said Williams. “At that time,

Oswestry had been in financial difficulties and were playing

at Park Hall, which was under town council ownership on

the English side of the border. So the Oswestry directors

approached Llansantffraid – a village club eight miles away

in Mid Wales – and an amalgamation took place with the new

team continuing to compete in the Welsh Premier League.

“We originally played under the name of Total Network

Solutions, which reflected main sponsor Mike Harris’s

company. Then when Mike sold his business in 2005, our

club title changed to The New Saints.

“The initial plan was to work with Oswestry Council in

providing a combined new leisure centre and stadium at

Park Hall. But we had to move quickly due to UEFA club

licensing criteria, so the council gave us the opportunity

to purchase the facilities and we spent two years totally

redeveloping the site.”

The Park Hall Stadium has been transformed extensively.

As a consequence, it now provides TNS with a magnificent

base to operate from.

Williams said: “The project cost £3.5 million. It was mainly

financed by Mike Harris, who owns the football club as sole

shareholder. In addition, we received a grant of £445,038

from the Football Foundation. Our main building contractor

was local company JR Pickstock Ltd.

“In the stadium itself, we have a state of the art 3G ‘FIFA 2

Star’ LigaTurf artificial pitch.

“There are 1,000 spectator seats – which enable us to host

UEFA matches in the early rounds – and we are currently

installing a new TV gantry. We have planning permission for

a total of 3,000 seats, which will form part of our medium

term plan to continue upgrading the facilities.

“The 3G surface allows us to run a thriving football

academy catering for more than 200 players from the age

of six upwards. There is also a scholarship programme

in conjunction with the local college where 55 players

aged from 16 to19 are on a combined education/football

programme. They use the pitch considerably throughout

the week for coaching sessions and matches.

“Further activity sees 24 small-sided amateur teams play

evening games here in a local league. We also host a number

of national and regional events and festivals on the 3G.

“Pitch usage alone produces in excess of £100,000 per

annum for TNS. In fact, we have plans to further expand the

playing surface provision to meet demand.

“Away from the football, our on-site amenities include

a 10 pin bowling alley, children’s soft play area, a bar and

eatery, a gym, plus an events room which caters for a whole

host of activity from Zumba classes to wedding parties and

business conferences. We set up a leisure management

company to oversee the running of these facilities which we have

marketed as ‘The Venue’. That is itself creates a significant turnover

with more than 1,000 visitors per week.”

The New Saints are the only full-time team in the Welsh Premier

League. They have clinched the title five times during the past

decade, leading to some memorable European adventures which

Williams believes are the icing on the cake.

“When we qualify for Europe as winners of the WPL, we go into

the second qualifying round of the Champions League. If you lose at

that stage, you are guaranteed solidarity money of 330,000 Euros

from just taking part in the competition.

“In European qualifiers over recent years, we have defeated Irish

clubs Cliftonville and Bohemians. Our most famous ties have been

against Liverpool, Manchester City and Anderlecht,

which brought huge commercial and sponsorship revenue due to

the incredible exposure we received.

“The ultimate target for TNS is to reach in the group stages of

a top UEFA club competition. Shamrock Rovers from Dublin did

it and came away with more than a million Euros plus

additional commercial/sponsorship monies despite not winning a

game in their group.

“I would like to think we can realise this objective within the

next five years. I don’t feel TNS are too far away from

accomplishing it, as Shamrock Rovers are of a similar playing

standard to ourselves.”

The New Saints has certainly enjoyed Jeff Stelling’s whimsical

mentions. But they continue to prove that they are a serious football

club with achievable ambitions according to Williams.

“It has been nice to get the extra publicity from Jeff. He has

definitely helped to put us on the football map in an amusing way.

“However, we are deadly serious in running a business at Park

Hall which generates £1.3 million a year. We are working towards a

sustainable strategy based on what we have already created with

the success of our football team, the Academy and the community

aspect as a whole.

“Our aim is to continually engender a variety of revenue streams

to ensure that the football club can survive without financial

backing from a major benefactor. We are proud of the uniqueness

of playing in the WPL from the English side of the border. Being part

of that Welsh system gives us a direct route through to the best

club competition in the world – the Champions League.

“We are on a journey and we are getting closer to reaching those

UEFA group stages, having had success in the qualifying rounds in

recent years. Indeed, the whole infrastructure of The New Saints is

continuing to improve because of our European involvement.”

 

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