AFC Bournemouth: Solving The Puzzle
AFC Bournemouth President of Business, Jim Frevola explains how the club intend to solve a huge puzzle involving a new stadium and training ground, plus introducing new fans to their ground while trying not to alienate current matchday goers.
AFC Bournemouth’s President of Business, Jim Frevola has one of the most profound challenges in football.
Drafted into the club by owner Bill Foley in December, he has a huge task that could literally secure and elevate the club’s prospects for the next 100 years.
Hailing from New Jersey, Jim arrived from the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning, where he served as Chief Commercial Officer.
Not a seasoned traveller, he had only been to London once before moving here – to watch Chelsea with his son in January 2022 – but he has settled in quickly on the South Coast and even professes to liking the unpredictable British weather.
Jim and Foley previously worked together at the Vegas Golden Knights and the lure of working with Bill proved too strong to resist. That said, an initial tour of the stadium left him feeling underwhelmed.
“When I first came over, I thought the ground was so small and run down, not what you expect coming from the US, where arenas are on a different scale,” he admits.
“My wife told me to give it time and we explored the town, the beach and Sandbanks. We arrived at a match that evening and the energy and passion of the fanbase was immediately evident. We scored three goals and beat Everton 3-0. I thought ‘this is English football, this feels right’.”
There are similarities between Bournemouth and Las Vegas, where the pair built a club from the ground up and formed a connection to the community. The major difference is that Vegas was a new club, while Bournemouth has been around for 120 years.
“Bill said football is the biggest sport in the world and we’re in the biggest league in the biggest sport in the world. The entrepreneur in him also spotted a really good business opportunity, in that he saw value in the purchase price and sees the potential for growth,” he enthuses.
“He is committed to the club. He is a serial acquirer of businesses, he doesn’t sell. He wants to win, and he wants to do right by the town,” says Jim.
As the club’s first ever President of Business, Jim is responsible for driving all revenues within the club, as well as expanding the club’s community presence and fanbase.
“Bill has been very complimentary about the old owner Max Demin, he did a great job. But Bill says they didn’t really focus on the business side, they let the business stagnate. They didn’t put the resources in, didn’t put the staff in, the stadium was not really kept up very well. It has needed a lot of TLC.”
When Jim arrived, the commercial team consisted of two sales staff and two service staff, including Rob Mitchell. He has added three positions and opened a sales office in London. I will be there back and forth; the sales staff will also be there. Two extra staff have also been added on the servicing side.
“The pair of them were servicing 180 clients. That was insane. We have really good people here, but they needed more support and resources allocated to them,” he says.
“Marketing-wise we have added some bodies, we have also added staff to the ticketing team. We needed to service the fans better, we need more people day-to-day touching the fans, communicating with them. We had just enough staff to survive, but not enough to service.
“That also includes the hospitality side, we are now calling in on fans. My view is don’t let them go to Twitter (X) with any complaints, build a relationship with them so they come to you directly. If they have an issue, like a ticket doesn’t work, make it so that they know who to call in the ticket office. Simple exercises that we weren’t doing before because they weren’t given that resource or direction.”
Jim is looking to drive a change of culture behind the scenes with the club’s sponsors too.
“We are giving sponsors some new opportunities. Before, we would give sponsors a board around the ground for a few thousand quid and give them a couple of tickets in the restaurant on matchdays, now we are giving them a partnership platform and trying to help their business.
“Now we are asking ‘what is your goal, what are you trying to get out of this?’ We are getting people thinking about their own business and what they want out of it and then we customise and tailor our offering for them.
“As an example, we have a deal with Uber Eats. We spoke to the local businesses under their umbrella, who told us they wanted more business. We launched a clean sheets programme. If we get a clean sheet, everybody in the stands gets a discount on orders, using a code we give them. We are doing more things like that to get people to drive customers to partners’ products.”
The club have created a regional partner programme, which has already grown local business partnerships by 30%.
“Our regional partners are really happy. We have given them some new stuff, TV coverage, cleaner and bigger signage, new LEDS, promotions and so on. We are evolving.”
Away from the stadium, Bill has already committed to a new £40m training ground, which is set to open in October 2024. The move will kick-start a domino effect that will potentially shape the club for the next 100 years.
He explains: “Once they move out of the current training ground, which sits on the corner of the stadium, that is the land that they are talking about building a stadium on.
“In the short-term, the pavilion where the guys are training right now, turns into office space for us, which will mean we can move all our folks over there, we are jammed in here like sardines.”
He adds: “Maybe we can make some more opportunities for supporters, some more lounges. We are working on that right now. We have some ideas for more bars and lounges in the East Stand. We don’t have the first-class experience for people that they deserve. They deserve to come here and not have to stand outside in the rain to get a pint.”
The club have hired architects to draw up plans to renovate the current ground and plans for a new stadium. Construction of a new stadium is estimated to take 12 months less to complete than a renovated stadium.
“We can only renovate two stands, as we have housing behind the other two. It is a three- or four-year project that will take our capacity to 18,000-20,000 immediately, with extended capability if we need it relatively easily, so that will all be incorporated into the designs.
“We don’t want a clunky old bowl, we want something with soul, that is exciting for fans to go to,” he adds.
Jim has taken inspiration from several other grounds.
“We love the TV compound at Brentford, that is phenomenal. The more times you are chosen for TV, the more you earn, so why not consider your TV partners. We have also stolen some ideas from Tottenham and Brighton such as the tunnel walk.
“We have looked a lot around hospitality, that is what ultimately builds the development of these buildings.”
A section of fans have been slow to warm to the idea that the club are adding hospitality opportunities this year. Moves by the club have caused tension with sections of the fanbase. As a result, Jim has a delicate balancing act to keep fans onside while enabling additional fans access to games.
He explains: “Last year we had 250 hospitality seats, which represented 2.5% of our capacity. Boxes are another 120 seats. About 3% of our seating is hospitality. Most Premier League teams have 15%-18% of their seats dedicated to hospitality.
“This year we have added some, so we are about 6%. We have created a new restaurant and new seats. It has been interesting. If we can’t sell 600 hospitality seats, how are we going to sell 2,000? And if we can’t sell 2,000, how are we going to build a new stadium?
“It is one thing to survey people, but it is another to have people pay for it. So over the next year or two, I am in a position where I am going to try new things.
“It is going to make some folks uncomfortable because they are used to paying £36 for a ticket. But maybe they will pay £136 for a hospitality ticket. I need to find what their comfort levels are, it is not about the money today, it is about whether you can support this kind of product. And if you can’t, can the fans that can’t get access to tickets today, can they support this kind of product, because we have to know.
“We can’t just spend £150m on a new stadium and hope. We have to figure out a waiting list. Once we commit to a new stadium, we are going to have to have a sales plan in place.
“We don’t have a paid membership; we have a points system. I need to know I can get 14-15,000 season ticket holders, so we are holding back some seats on a match-by-match basis.”
The club launches a £139 hospitality ticket for a category A game against Arsenal this month, which includes a South Stand ticket, admission to a new marquee outside and an all-inclusive section before the match for two and a half hours, with stadium food, beer, wine and spirits.
“People on social media are saying we don’t want this. However, fans are buying the tickets, while others are saying I want a ticket, but I don’t have points in the system to get access. But because people with points and access are not buying them, it has become an opportunity for us to develop the fanbase.
“Some fans are defending us, saying we don’t need to go 19 times, I don’t mind going four times and paying a little bit more to have a better experience. Music to my ears!
“The challenge we have is we have 10,000 seats and 19 home games – 190,000 seats – we had the same 10,000 people buying those seats each game last year, as unique customers. We have amazing, dedicated fans, but that is scary as hell when you are trying to build a new stadium, because we don’t know how deep the demand is.
“I need 20,000-plus people buying tickets and that is making many of the 10,000 uncomfortable, because it means they may only be able to come eight or nine times this season.
“I ultimately want them to all come to every game, all I’m trying to do is prove that we can fill a new stadium, then all fans can come 19 times a season.
“There may be some growing pains for a few years while we build and grow the fanbase. There is even a risk of alienating some fans, but we aren’t trying to alienate anyone. Just the opposite.”
The stakes are massive. If solved correctly, the ginormous jigsaw puzzle will secure the club’s future on the strongest footing it will have ever enjoyed. It will also secure Bill’s investment and legacy.
Words: Alex Miller
Images: AFCB / Getty Images
Article from fcbusiness issue 152 – Subscribe here