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Ashton: Over the Next Few Weeks Portman Road is Going to Be a Building Site
Thursday, 16th May 2024 18:50

Town CEO Mark Ashton has revealed that around 750 season ticket holders will have to relocate their seats this summer due to the changes Portman Road will undergo ahead of the Blues return to the Premier League after 22 years away with safe standing, new camera positions, a new media area, a gantry, floodlights and a new Sky studio among the additions.

Ashton and the club as a whole has quickly moved on from the delight at having won promotion to the serious business of preparing for the top flight with multi-million pound works already under way.

The Blues CEO previously worked in the Premier League with Watford in the 2006/07 season but says a lot has changed since then.

“Myself, [chief operation officer] Luke Werhun and [chief financial officer] Tom Ball were in the Premier League’s offices yesterday looking at Financial Fair Play, looking at rules, regulations, a lot of compliance,” he told TownTV in the second instalment of a two-part interview.

“We had three or four hours in detail with them and that was good because we need to know the detail because it’s the detail that catches you out, if you’re not ready.

“The landscape has changed since the last time I was in the Premier League but because of my relationship with the EFL and the EPL, I think we’re fairly up to speed on a lot of it, but we need to know the detail.

“The whole football club has formal induction next week on what’s going to be required. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

But preparations began some months ago, he recalled: “Back in January under Section K rule of the Premier League, the Premier League visit and audit a number of football clubs who they think have the opportunity to maybe be promoted to Premier League that season. We were one of them.

“Out of that audit came 15-plus major infrastructure projects that we have to start to prepare for in January, February and March this year.

“We have to get the orders in place, we have to have the work set so that when you are promoted, you hit the button, you haven’t got two or three months to do your preparation, you’ve got to be ready to go and you have to prove to the Premier League that you are ready to go.

“Those infrastructure projects are going to start now and, to be honest, some of them have already started.

“What I would like to say to the fanbase is this. Some of these projects that we’re going to go through will have an impact on fans.

“These projects have been thought through in detail. We have challenged ourselves, we’ve worked with the local authority, we’ve worked with key stakeholders to come up with what we believe are the best solutions.

“With any team that performs on the pitch, there is a team that sits behind the team here at Portman Road that works tirelessly, whether that’s in ticketing, retail, operations, media, comms, finance etc.

“That team is stretched right now and they are working tirelessly to make sure we are prepared for the Premier League.

“The one thing I’m going to ask the fans to be understanding of why we’re making some of the changes.

“That may mean that you have sat in a specific seat in this stadium for a long time, but you may not sit in it next season because we are going to have to move some people. There is no choice.

“So please don’t complain to the staff that you’re having to move seat, that decision has been made and it’s been made for a reason.

“Again, I would ask the fantastic way the fanbase has approached change in the past to do the same again because these are changes we have no choice other than to make.”

The club was looking at introducing safe standing even before the takeover and Ashton says it will finally happen this summer.

“We’ve talked about safe standing for a while internally and we are going to introduce some safe standing for the start of next season,” he said. “That will be in upper Cobbold.

“We have a challenge in upper Cobbold because the rake of the stand and having discussed this with the local authority and the Safety Advisory Group (SAG), it is the most logical place for us to test safe standing.

“A number of the seats in the upper Cobbold will change to safe standing and that includes A Block and where the majority of the away fans currently go.

“We have debated whether we start this in the North Stand, the South Stand, the West Stand and this is the logical point for us to test it, and if it works well, we will then communicate with fans and explain that, but we will have some safe standing in for the start of next season.”

Many of the seat moves will be caused by the increase in away fans: “We will have circa-750 season ticket holders who will be relocated to other places in the stadium. Why? We currently give, under Football League rules, circa-2,000 tickets to away fans. That now has to increase to 3,000.

“Again, we’ve looked at the different options, the increase from the 2,000 to the 3,000 will be predominantly upper Cobbold and S Block in lower Cobbold.

“What I would ask fans to do is just breathe, please do not contact the ticket office or customer services trying to get ahead of this. We know who you are and we will be in contact with you really, really quickly and we’ll give you alternatives.

“But it doesn’t matter how long you’ve sat in that seat, you will be moving. And respectfully I ask you to understand why. We have no alternative.

“In addition to that, there are camera spaces around the stadium that need to be put in place.

“In the Championship, we had a six-camera feed. We now move to a 46-camera feed in the Premier League, plus VAR.

“There will also be moves for some supporters in the upper West Stand because camera points will have to be put in. We have no choice.

“These have been debated internally and worked through with the Premier League and, again, please don’t contact us, we will contact you very shortly and work this through with you. Again, major moves for the stadium.”

Regarding other changes, he added: “There’s a whole new TV gantry that needs to be put into the upper West Stand that overhangs part of the central executive boxes above the directors’ box and again more camera points. We have no choice, that work has to happen.

“I think one of the interesting projects that fans will be intrigued by is in the tunnel area where the team comes out. Directly above that tunnel, you have the safety office with a great big pane of glass, I always think it’s probably the best commercial box in the world.

“Above that where we have the pitch roof, the roof will be taken off and a third level will be put onto that building. That will be Sky broadcast facilities overlooking the Portman Road pitch. It’s expensive, all of this work is costing several million pounds but has to be done.

“Infrastructure and cabling work around the football club is immense. We’ve got to upgrade to Premier League standards. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Even the Blues’ floodlights, improved following promotion 24 years ago, will be further enhanced.

“Our floodlights are currently around 750, 800 wattage and we’ve got to go up to around 1700, 1800 wattage for the whole stadium for the inner bowl and we’ll move to an LED system,” Ashton said.

“Again, the whole stadium is going to look very, very different under lights, but these are minimum requirements.

“This isn’t something we have a choice to do, we have to do it and we have to do that work now because 1) we’ve got to be ready for the season and 2) once the season starts, you can’t get the cherry pickers onto the pitch, so all of this has been timed through and that work has and will be taking place imminently.”

The CEO says the club is going to be like a building site in the weeks to come with work also taking place on the land the club bought where the old Staples and Better Gym building stood.

“We’ve gone into formal planning now for increased and official car parking for the long term on the old Staples site, but part of the Staples site is what we call the OB compound and that is going to need to be the compound for broadcast,” he added.

“All our games are going to be broadcast worldwide next season and more changes, more work to be done at a substantial cost but we have no choice.”

Renovations also continue at the training ground: “We’re doing major works this summer. The big work on the pitches was done last season. We’re extending the gym facility, we’re quadrupling the size of the current gym facility for the players, which should be ready for pre-season.

“And we intend to be in full planning probably in August for the new build and then want to be on-site as soon as we’ve got that through planning.

“Whilst the facilities are OK, they’re no more than OK. The training ground facilities, as with some of the stadium facilities, have been so left behind the times. They need substantial infrastructure.”

The £105 million the club received from Bright Path Sports Partners in March will come into play.

“We’ve got substantial investment coming in from broadcast revenue, Premier League commercial revenues, but we’ve got to spend a chunk of that on infrastructure,” Ashton explained.

“With the investment money that we’ve got coming into the football club from the investment from the new shareholders, we can mop a lot of that, which helps me to have the fire power for cash to spend on players on the pitch.

“So that balance is key and it’s another reason why us raising the capital from the shareholders was important.”

Importantly, Ashton says the way the club is run with the US ownership allowing him and his staff to run the club will continue as previously.

“We had a board call on Friday of last week. They want everything to stay the same,” he said.

“Our super-strength is this calmness. The shareholders in essence own the capital of the football club but they allow management to run the football club.

“That stability, the ability under pressure for them not to interfere, not to want to be at the training ground, in the dressing rooms and we all hear disaster stories at other clubs where these type of things happen.

“We don’t have that here and that gives me the oxygen to do my job, which ultimately gives me the ability to give Kieran the oxygen to do his job totally unhindered. Same with me, totally unhindered. Our hands are firmly on the steering wheel of the club and we’re so grateful for that.”

Photo: TownTV

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jonju11 added 18:24 - May 17
Fantastic all the improvements on the ground & facilities. However, I think that this announcement of season ticket holders having to move elsewhere could have been announced at the same time as applications/renewals to forewarn. Additionally, just how long will it be before we can move back to our seats & is there likely to be a price differential in the alternative seats for those tickets already purchased?

Linkboy13 added 18:52 - May 17
Yippee all very exciting but not if you are one of those who's having to move seats. The club is completely blameless for this and once again it's Sky not caring two hoots about the fans. I just cannot understand all the drastic changes it was perfectly good enough in the championship but i suppose they have to keep all their arm chair subscribers happy.

AlanG296 added 19:43 - May 17
Sad that people don't read the article or watch the interview before posting. Increasing away capacity is nothing to do with sky and the rest of the moves are for changes that have to be made to meet the Premier League's requirements. Ashton has said anyone affected will be contacted directly, no doubt they will have the option to cancel a renewed ticket. Just need to be patient and anyone that really wants their old seat back later should hope we get relegated. That's the only way that might happen!

dirtydingusmagee added 20:25 - May 17
never thought id get to see all thats going on in my lifetime. FANTASTIC TIMES .jUST NEED TO KEEP KM. Survival ,anything above relegation will do me next year .

MVBlue added 11:21 - May 18
These 2 interviews were very impressive and good detail was shared. Those stadium lights are going to be so powerful

Portman51 added 16:40 - May 18
One bit of additional technology we could do without on the back of promotion to the EPL is the ridiculous "Spidercam". In my opinion, this is a major distraction for players and spectators in the ground which really adds nothing to the TV viewing experience because it is not a natural viewing angle. A classic example of something which shouldn't be done just because we can. Sadly, if Sky want it, no doubt we'll end up with it.

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