Often Partisan

Birmingham City Staff

The Kevin Smith Interview

Yesterday (Thursday) I was lucky enough to get to interview Birmingham City’s Head of Commercial Operations, Kevin Smith, and talk to him about the challenges that face Blues commercially over the next twelve months.

Kevin has been at Blues for twelve months, having held senior positions at the Rose Bowl (Hampshire County Cricket Club) and Southampton FC. I’ve met him a couple of times before at fans forums and he’s always struck me as a charismatic, likeable, switched-on chap – which isn’t really that unfathomable as you can’t get far in sales if people don’t like you. However, what struck me most about him today is that he’s clearly a fan of sport too. I expected to see the signed shirts on the wall – they’re de rigeur in a sports office – but what I also saw were two framed collages of tickets. Not prawnie tickets either; but tickets to the “cheap seats” of many differing sporting events, all put together on the wall as a display of where he’s been – something I did as a younger fan when I went to more stadiums.

I asked Kevin about how he felt the relationship between the club and xtep had gone so far, and he replied with honesty that there had been teething problems. Whilst there was the well-documented late arrival of kit, which was badly affected by the floods in China, there were also issues regarding communication with the Chinese company. Previously, all queries etc regarding xtep were dealt with via the BIH offices in Hong Kong, meaning messages went through intermediaries before getting to the kit suppliers, which gave rise to problems of messages getting garbled. This has been ironed out now with St Andrews dealing with xtep directly, which hopefully should mean that problems get sorted out quicker and correctly.

With all the anticipation surrounding the new kit, Kevin wasn’t going to let me into the secret as to what it looked like – I got a quick look at the sneak peek to be shown today on bcfc.com, but as I’m partially colourblind I’m afraid I can’t tell you that much. What I can tell you is that the players had a lot of input into the kit this year; which is only fair as the most important people to be wearing it are the players. Whilst many fans have particular thoughts about how they think the kit should look like, and replica kits are an important and valuable revenue stream, it has to be remembered that the kit is worn by the team when playing and thus it has to suit that first and foremost.

What is most pleasing for me is that Kevin told me he’d been reading the site – and thus the feedback that had been already generated had gone straight to him. He told me he was impressed with the idea of curry sauce for the chips – he said it was a “no-brainer” and he would be looking into implementing that in the new season, and the idea of bringing in Chinese food was also an excellent one. Kevin was at pains to talk about how important it was to connect with the local fans as well as expanding the brand in China; and that constructive feedback was incredibly important as it might highlight an area he hadn’t considered. For instance, he related that although the recent Father’s Day carvery at the club had been incredibly successful, the most important feedback he received was stuff like the woman who emailed him to say that there was no baby changing facilities. Kevin hasn’t got kids, so he hadn’t thought of it – but when it was put to him he agreed that the club should have been prepared for that eventuality and he’s glad that someone pointed it out to him.

As Kevin said, the club aren’t in competition with anyone but itself. If people don’t go to the football at Blues, the likelihood is that they won’t go to the football anywhere else. Thus it’s down to the club to ensure that people feel that they’re getting value for what they paid for; not just intrinsically in cost for the match ticket but also for the intangible things. He related a story where he was told by ex-box holders that under the previous board they felt that they were being gouged by the club – the words used were “held upside down, shook by the ankles until the wallet fell out of their pockets, and then shook some more until all the change came out to.” I have to admit, I can empathise with that feeling, and it’s taken a long time for me to feel once again like the club care about me and my spending there.

Last year for Kevin was about fixing the basics; making sure food was served hot, that the kiosks didn’t run out, and that the corporate catering wasn’t reminiscent of Grange Hill School Catering. Kevin feels (and I concur) that they have succeeded at that, and so this year is going to be about improving on the basics; bringing in a slightly extended range of food, improving on the 1875 bar underneath the Tilton and introducing things to make people want to spend more time at the ground. It’s a long, methodical process but it’s one that augurs well for the future.

I know that Blues of old wasn’t the nicest of clubs, but I honestly feel things have changed under the new board. The mantra of “we are family” seems to have permeated throughout the club, and I’d actively encourage people to talk to the club if you feel something is wrong. Things aren’t perfect now, but they’re much improved and I think will continue to improve.

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