Stephen Cleeve Questions & Answers With RedPassion.co.uk
Stephen Cleeve, a potential bidder for Wrexham Football Club, approached RedPassion wishing to speak direct to fans. I agreed to this, on condition that fans questions could be placed direct to him. The following questions have been constructed by me based on posts on
RedPassion.co.uk by users , general views of the fanbase plus a
few thoughts from myself.
Questions were emailed over on Saturday 12th March 2011 and replies given a day later on Sunday. The format is 'Qs' by myself and Mr Cleeves answers follow, based around four areas: Personal, The Club & Ground, Fans Involvement and Others.
Feel free to re-use & quote, however a link to RedPassion.co.uk would be appreciated,
rob @ redpassion.co.uk
Q - Why have you chosen RedPassion.co.uk as venue to open information about your bid rather than the local press or facebook etc?
I have always said that I will only make my bid if the majority of the fans are in favour of it! Red Passion is a site run by Wrexham fans for Wrexham fans and so it is a logical place to unveil my bid. It also seems to me that fans always come second in finding out what’s going on so I am trying to change that.
Questions about you:
Q - The BBC reported on a company called European Land Sales, that it says you were a 'main partner' in, that 'convinced investors to pay above the odds for sites that have little or no development potential' and a customer is quoted as referring to it as a 'con'. Can you comment on this?
This will be a long answer but it needs to be to address the issue.
I was the main partner in European Land Sales which later became Commercial Land. Both businesses no longer sell land or accept any investments whatsoever and have not done so for a while; although we remain committed to getting our own retained land rezoned. The business involved finding land that we believed we could get into the next LDF, keeping some of the land and then selling the remainder to other investors. Values of land are very hard to ascertain, agricultural land is worth around 7,000 per acre whilst development land can be worth millions per acre. Wrexham fans will know that themselves as a B&Q superstore the Racecourse was worth 19 million without it no more than 2 million. Simply if you are buying land that has a real chance of getting change of use you can either buy cheaply with an uplift paid to a previous owner or you can buy them out upfront which essentially means that you are paying a lot for hope value, if it never gets rezoned then you lose money however if the opposite happens then you do well. To get land rezoned you have to wait a long time usually at least 7 years often 15 years and in that time government’s change and strategies change which means that what is policy one month can change the next so it is a high risk business. Additionally there are huge fees to pay for rezoning, surveys for example, traffic studies, environment surveys etc. We offered clients a one stop shop and because clients never paid any professional fees for the rezoning as we only rezoned our own retained land (which was adjacent to clients land) clearly we could not sell at cost. I have to hold my hands up and say in our early days we made mistakes the BBC exposed one and there are a further 2 sites which are not looking good, however these were caused by naivety and lack of experience not because we wanted to con anyone. Clearly if we wanted to con someone we would have just sold the land and cleared off without working our land through the LDF, as an example my planning fees last month were nearly 7,000.
I did pay back some investors significant monies when I was able to fund this (six figures) and I am donating all of my retained land into a hardship fund to be used to help any investor who loses money from any of their dealings with me. Additionally 3 of our sites may become solar parks, if they do all clients if they choose to accept this should make a guaranteed 300% and still own their land, my retained part will again go into the hardship fund to try where I have made mistakes to make matters right. One of our sites is doing very well and I hope it will make the LDF within 24 months and 3 others are also looking good.
So, taking a medium view I would hope that 4 of our sites will get rezoned, 3 will become solar parks and return reasonable amounts to investors and 3 will be flops. Clearly there has also been a property crash since we sold our sites and it is not fair to hold me responsible for this.
Q - In the same article it mentions you have previously been banned from being a company director for eight years, why was this?
I had a business that sold champagne as an investment before the millennium. We sold 2 brands Dom Ruinart (owned by LVMH) and Cattier (the only brand today in BA’s Concorde lounge their premier lounge). We sold clients mainly vintage champagne which accounts for only around 10% of champagne production. Clients owned the champagne but it was left in the Champagne house maturing (once the cork goes in Champagne starts to deteriorate) until the client wanted to sell it or drink it. We sold at the same price as the retail price at the time minus vat and minus duty as this was not payable until it was moved from the champagne house. Most clients said if the champagne did not go up they would drink it. I understand that the vintage champagne did go up by around 37% in 2 years or so and given that the return is also tax free is a good return. Our company was taken to court by the DTI for ‘not being in the public interest”, there had been no complaints from anyone at all however we were in the high court for several weeks. Essentially their complaint was that we were making too much money.
We won the case.
The DTI appealed and we won again. At this point I ran out of money paying high court fees, legal costs and not being able to trade and still having to pay employees is an expensive business. The DTI went back to court and changed the petition from “not being in the public interest” to “running a company whilst insolvent”. Clearly they swapped horses mid race and they alone had caused our insolvency through the court action. I was outraged I went to court but Judge Walker said that I was not a barrister and members of the public cannot represent limited companies in court such is justice. Clearly the business was insolvent but so would any business be in the country with the same conditions occurring. The plea was changed I accepted a care craft settlement which essentially meant that I accepted a directors ban and then all proceedings stopped. The DTI being unreasonable insisted that they would not allow the judge to decide the length of time that my ban should be instead it had to be no less than 8 years to a maximum of 13 years, if I did not agree then no care craft and more months in court.
The judge gave me an 8 year ban and said that I did not deserve such a long ban, I got an enormous legal bill which I paid and I walked away. The ban finished a few years ago but I have not been a director since. Had I never been a director the DTI could not have taken me to court as they use an act under the companies act, clients would have made money or drank their champagne and I would have been a hero, as I did not need the limited liability I wish that one of my overpaid lawyers had pointed this out to me. Newspapers often misreport the above as they don’t do their homework or chat to me first.
Q - Which school did you go to - as RP'ers have spotted mentions to
Stowe & Eton on the internet?
Stowe I have tried to get the Eton part taken down but have failed as I do not know the email address that the entry is linked to!
Q - People have alluded that you look like Dracula, Nick Cotton (Eastenders!), Blackadder, Ian McShane aka Lovejoy and the Child Snatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, does this put you off the fans or is it fair banter for someone running a football club? (any preference?!)
Blame my parents, my fiancée likes that look so that’s all that matters!
Q - You are based in London, do you see the distance causing a problem for you running the club?
It is one of my biggest issues, however I will place a CEO at the stadium and other than the summer months when all the planning needs to go on and I will need to be there 5 days a week once the systems are put in place I shall be able to work from london a lot.
Q - Other 'bids' for the club are based around consortia, are you
self-funding or are there backers, silent or otherwise? If so, can you
I have 2 different plans, one is just me, the other is as things improve I hope to bring in an investor or two. However most investors will not take the risk whilst the club is in its current state so I will have to go it alone although I am bringing in a marketing director and a finance director in from day one, salaries that I will pay.
Q - Without being morbid, if as owner you get hit by a bus the day
after buying the club, what would then happen to your holding?
I would leave my holding to the directors that I bring with me and would instruct them to continue with our business plan.
Questions about Wrexham FC & Ground:
Q - How do you intend to turn around a debt ridden loss making club with charges on its stadium into a profitable business in the black?
Essentially the business has been very poorly managed off the pitch and I think Ian Roberts and Geoff Moss would be the first to admit that. I would review everything on day one from where we get our photocopier paper to corporate hospitality. Clearly we need to increase revenues and reduce costs. Commercial revenue is very poor; it is so bad I would hesitate to use the word commercial.
Hospitality areas need to be upgraded (I have a fabulous plan in mind) and the commercial offering for corporate guests needs to be vastly improved. If we get this right we can raise prices in the corporate areas by giving a first class product that companies would be proud to be associated with. I would bring 4 top salesmen from London (for June and July) to hit the streets and bang on lots of doors. Wrexham has one of the largest industrial estates in Europe it’s a massive plus but we need to use it. We need a database of all fans so we can communicate with them, we need to set up affiliate marketing programmes which gives fans better deals and revenue going back into the club.
The stadium needs to be used far more than a 25 day a year business, its close to the university and we should be running student nights and other events in the centenary club which also needs to be upgraded. I would bring in a facilities manager to sort out the best usage for the stadium of the existing facilities, for example the police have the best box in the house, they should be moved into a corner purpose built unit and their unit will become a top suite for sponsers etc. I would bring in 4 “Wrexham FC Partners” these companies would pay a chunk of money on an annual basis but they would be able to sell their products to supporters have mascot opportunities for their staff, good advertising, Seats at the game and real interactive sponsorship for example their logos on the interview boards as well as email campaigns etc.
Attendances need to rise and I would need to look at promoting the club far more actively in the community this is something that fan groups could help with, maybe group bookings with the group organiser going free and everyone else in the group getting a small discount in exchange for minimum of 12 tickets being purchased. The marketing director is going to look at every area and see if we can do things differently.
The stadium needs to be promoted as a conference venue at events that conference organisers attend, surely it’s a great way to launch a new product followed by drinks, lunch and a great game of football, the police box really lends itself to this. We will also provide the catering for Crusaders and make a profit from this as well as receive a monthly rent from the rugby club.
Clearly we need better management reports and a new CEO would be responsible for bringing this in and running the club like a proper business, it needs to be self supporting as quickly as possible it’s the only way to guarantee the clubs survival and make the club attractive to other investors
Q - Are you looking to keep the club and ground together, if so how are you going to achieve that?
Yes. I have no interest at all in developing the stadium other than trying to work with the university to build in classrooms into the stadium to help with rental income, clearly the KOP needs to be redeveloped and I see the University as an important link into making this happen.
I intend to divide the pitch up into small squares and sell them off to supporters for 100 pounds each. By doing this we can raise the money needed to buy the stadium from Geoff Moss and we will protect Wrexham FC’s future as there can be no development on the pitch, the shares will not allow this. I would need to spend some time sorting out the legals but in essence its one shareholder one vote irrespective of how many shares you own and the football club can only be moved out of the stadium if the majority agree. If the club is moved out it can no longer be called Wrexham FC unless the majority vote in favour of it. We would hold dinners and events to raise money for this under the banner Save the Racecourse.
The technicalities need to be ironed out but it can be done, Chelsea did it pre Abramovich although they needed to raise a lot more than we will.
Q - If the club owns its own ground, do you think this is prudent considering its precarious state?
This is a double edged sword as having the stadium on the balance sheet helps the club but equally if Wrexham FC was ever to become insolvent in the future then the stadium could be sold. I think that’s why it’s so important to protect the stadium by ensuring that it cannot be redeveloped. I would need to look at what’s best for Wrexham FC here and would need to take the right advice and listen to fans feelings. I think it maybe best to have a dedicated company that owns the stadium out of the way of any future creditors but if this was done it needs to ensure that the stadium is there for Wrexham FC and the profits made from it need to be returned to Wrexham FC.
Q - Is Colliers Park involved in the purchase?
Yes I have agreed a price for it, it is a championship training ground and essential to attract quality players to Wrexham FC
Q - Have you seen plans of the ground for what you are actually
buying, specifically the area of ground around the Kop stand and
NO but I have asked for them
Q - How do you plan to secure the Racecourse Ground against future non-sport development?
Q - There is a feeling with fans that since 2006 the club has not had a multi skilled board of directors, and the club has suffered as a result, how would you tackle this problem?
I think it needs a good property person, a finance person, a marketing person, a chairman and someone with good football experience but this could be a non exec. I also think the fans need a board seat, after all without fans the club dies.
Q - Are you looking to have a 'hands on' ownership style, or are you bringing in a team? If the latter, do you have further information on them?
I am good at getting things done. We need to promote the Racecourse ask lots of non Wrexham fans and I guarantee that not even 10% will know it’s the oldest international football stadium in the world, this is clearly something that should be promoted. I can see myself acting as a steering committee and pushing things forward and listening to new ideas but I would need people to do their jobs I cannot be everything to everyone.
The Marketing director is called Barnaby Wynter he runs the Brand Bucket which is an interesting look at the way brands work and interact. He has years of experience with some big advertising agencies.
CEO not yet recruited but I do have someone in mind, he has good football experience and commercial knowledge but I better ask him first before I tell you.
The Finance Director, well you have already seen a picture of him (the 2 asian gentlemen) in Bickertons now famous directors box photograph, we may use both.
Q - Which Wrexham player impressed you most against Crawley?
Blackburn he was immense solid as a rock
Q - How important do you view promotion?
It would make life an awful lot easier, it would fund the youth, bring some away support for once, give a monthly amount currently around # 36,000 to the club clearly things would be a lot easier. It will probably all come down to one game in May. If we don’t get there we have to ensure that we are promoted the following year at least we will not have to worry about big spending Crawley.
Q - The value of the ground has been touted as £750k-£2million depending who you listen to, what do you see the true value as?
This is an area that I am getting independant advice on.
Questions about fans involvement:
Q - Would you be open to the Wrexham Supporters Trust having a stake in the club, if so , what percentage shareholding stake would they get for say £250,000?
Yes I hope they would support my plans to stop for once and for all the development of the Racecourse ground. I would ask them to earmark a large percentage of any investment into an escrow account that can only be used to buy the stadium from Geoff Moss, any revenue towards running the club would be very welcome. I think if they were to give the club money it should be used for a specific purpose i.e. refurbishing one of the corporate areas as by doing this they will be helping the club stand on its own 2 feet quicker and they can see where there money has gone.
In the future I would like to bring in investors so clearly I need some equity to entice them so I need to keep back as much as I can but having said that if the WST invested a significant amount I would happily give them 10% and a blocking vote on certain issues that are of importance to them.
Q - Would you offer them a place on the board?
Q - Supporters Direct suggest best practice for Supporters Trusts to have two board places, to enable proposing and seconding of motions , would this be something that is doable?
Yes I think we should have one WST board member and another selected by the fans who is the “head” of a fans forum which rotates on an annual basis. It is also important to have total transparency between the board and the fans we must all work together.
Q - Most other bids seem to have failed due to time and/or funding issues. Do you have timescales in mind for completing short term purchases, and if there are staged purchases, what ballpark terms are these under and what timelines?
I am away for most of March, if I am to be involved I need to complete the deal in April as otherwise I will not be able to sort out everything for the start of next season and if I can’t do that the losses will be terrible.
I have done a deal with Geoff Moss that I get some grace to buy the stadium and Colliers Park , that leaves current debts and cashflow most of which I can clear in April if they are what I am told they are. Exact figures are confidential but I will be putting in £400,000 of working capital. There will be another £40,000 worth of legal and due diligence to pay but its important that we get the deal right.
The problem at the moment is that Booth, Wynn and now Ward are all still around mostly working against each other, if my bid is wanted and is to succeed then they must either jump out of the race or get behind me. If Geoff is assured by the fans that they are happy for me to buy then he will sell to me but if there is only a small percentage that want me they I will stand down as someone needs to sort this out quickly whilst there is still a club to sort out.
Q - If you are successful what would your first three priorities be?
1 - Conduct a Review of every area of the club
2 - Sort out new commercial strategy for next season
3 - Appoint a CEO
Q - Why would anyone want to invest in a business that is in such a mess, what is in it for you?
I will only make a return if I can make Wrexham FC successful. If I can help get Wrexham FC to the Championship then clearly Wrexham FC will have a value far above what it is worth now. If I can’t then I will not make anything actually I will lose money.
I love football, I am a football man and I would relish the challenge of making Wrexham great again, I would like to be able to point at Wrexham in years to come and say I had a part in that. If I fail it will not be for the want of trying.
Q - Fans have been greatly mislead in the past, and present by various parties, why should they trust you?
I know they have and I understand why they are so suspicious given recent history. You can only judge me on my actions not what I say so of course until I get started and they can see my results they probably will not trust me.
All that I ask is that I am given a chance, there is as we have already discussed no money in it for me in the short term, I will not take a salary and all the directors that I am bringing in other than the CEO I will pay from my own resources not from Wrexham FC income, I am therefore doing all that I can. If we wish to make this club successful then get behind me as I need your support as much as you need mine.
Q - Anything further you wish to add or mention?
Yes I need volunteers if my bid is accepted. If you have any special talents accounts, IT etc and you fancy helping please let me know. If you haven’t I need help counting turnstiles, selling event tickets etc so if you are keen to help in anyway send me a brief email as we are going to need all the help we can get.
End of Questions.
As above , feel free to re-use & quote, however a link to RedPassion.co.uk would be appreciated.