Talking to my Da just last week, he was saying that he’d heard that Portadown FC (the greatest club side in the world, in case you are interested) had gathered up 75% of the funds necessary for the next stage of Shamrock Park’s redevelopment. The reality is that this 75% – if it exists at all – will be part of a public / private funding package via Sports Ground grants available currently.
In the past few years, ‘the Ports’ have removed the Stock Car track from Shamrock Park, built a ~900 seated stand at the Chalet End, and most recently a ~1,800 seated stand on the Brownstown Road side of the grounds. Both of these stands were funded in part by the Sports Council of Northern Ireland. Future plans also include the relaying of the pitch to remove the 6 foot slope which exists at Shamrock Park today.
The next phase appears to be the replacement of the ‘old’ Grandstand with an almost identical ~1,800 seated stand to the one on the Brownstown Road side. The current ‘MET Steel’ stand houses the changing rooms, board room, and other essential (well, as far as UEFA are concerned) items like drugs testing facilities, and toilet facilities for spectators. The question remains though what will the ‘new’ Grandstand do for the club apart from look pretty and occasionally hold some people?
Chesterfield recently redeveloped their entire set up by leaving their old stadium Saltergate and moving to a purpose built ~10,000 b2net stadium and are reaping the benefits from the move. Attendances are up (double in fact) and day to day revenues are now around the year… as compared to the 40 odd days a year at the old grounds. The clubs plans are ambitious, but not silly ridiculous – they want to be the premier Conferencing Centre in the region of the city for example, not the whole country, and on the footballing front, they seem to have realistic expectations too.
Portadown don’t get the same crowds that Chesterfield used to get at Saltergate, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be aiming for them when the ground developments are complete. The ‘new’ Shamrock Park will have approximately 4,500 seats and whilst the 900 ‘away’ seats won’t be available for ‘the Ports’ home support, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to fill their own seats. Portadown have the added advantage of having the possibility of European Football on their doorsteps if the team pull together right so revenue opportunities are wider at Shamrock than perhaps even Chesterfield might imagine!
So what’s the key?
In my mind, the new stand represents a significant opportunity for ‘the Ports’ to engage the community better. If the stand design is ambitious enough, a regular stream of people who perhaps have never darkened the Club’s door before might be on the grounds, either at a restaurant, or a gym, or sitting in a box watching the game as a guest of a local business.
Imagine a stand with 10 corporate boxes for sale at £5,000 a year – and 10 boxes wouldn’t necessarily have to take up the full length of the stand… remaining room could cater for a restaurant which overlooks the playing surface. With the right chefs and the adequate parking that the grounds afford, the place could be a success. I only have to look at loads of restaurants around my home county of Fermanagh, which in the middle of rural farmland thrive. And the ideas don’t stop there… a gym which the clubs own players could use, alongside the local community could generate revenue. A crèche could operate out of office / commercial space in the stand if it’s ambitious enough. The grounds themselves could be used for town car parking space as part of a park & ride scheme for the town centre.
Engaging the community in this way, will help to create a sense of ownership amongst the people, for their club. And that should create a greater likelihood that people will go & watch the team.
The club themselves have plans to create a 3G playing surface at the Clounagh end of the grounds for training purposes which will also be open to the public creating revenue stream, so business acumen is being used… the question is ambition. Is it properly aimed, not at the stars, but at the very least at the sky?
It will be interesting to see how this one develops in the future months bearing in mind the Spending Review’s impact on local government funding and indeed the ambition of Portadown FC.