The football club’s owner joined us to debate the stadium’s future, which is now effectively shared by Kirklees Council and the Huddersfield Giants.
Terriers chairman Kevin Nagle has gone on record to outline the club’s long-term position on assuming possession of the John Smith’s Stadium amid ongoing talks between the football club, the Huddersfield Giants, and Kirklees Council.
The stadium is currently owned and operated by the three parties under Kirklees Stadium Development Limited, in which Huddersfield Town and the council each own 40% and the Giants control 20%. However, the council just announced that they will not be investing any additional funds in the stadium’s ongoing operations.
Since Nagle bought the club from Dean Hoyle in the summer, Town have expressed a renewed interest in taking over the stadium – here’s everything the American businessman had to say about the John Smith’s Stadium, the current situation as he sees it, the obstacles as they stand at the moment, and what the club expects to happen next.
Yorkshire Live Huddersfield Town writer: Steven Chicken We’re sitting in John Smith’s Stadium, and there’s a lot of buzz about the ownership situation right now. There have been a lot of reports, both from you and the council; could you give us a synopsis of the situation and what the next steps might be?
Kevin Nagle, the council’s chairman: “Yes – really what it is is the council wants to transition, in time, away from certain aspects of their various enterprises, and obviously when it comes to the stadium, there are two other very significant parties.”So we’re having discussions to figure out how to achieve a smooth transition over time. They also have a business at the very end with the pool and weights, as well as the sports programs. We’ve indicated to them that we believe there is something we can achieve; we simply need to figure out how to negotiate the necessary terms [for the stadium as a whole].”
SC: On the face of it, it seems like it should be fairly straightforward: the council have said they aren’t going to put any further funding into the stadium, and the Giants are limited in their capacity to do so. It seems like you as a club are willing to come in and say ‘we’ll take it on’. So it seems straightforward, but I imagine it isn’t – what are the obstacles there?
KN: “Some of it is really just the bureaucracy and the legal requirements we’re required to go through. We’re prepared, under the circumstances, to assume control of the stadium, because in time what we would really do is upgrade facilities for the club and I really think for the stadium at large, so we can better serve our constituents here, our community and our fans, and at the same time offer a better product also for our players on the pitch.
SC: There’s capital expenditure that needs to be made, there’s ongoing liabilities…are you and the club willing to fund those short and long term?
KN: “I think what we really need to do is assess. There’s been a couple of assessments on what capital investment requirements there are. I will say this much, we will never compromise safety and we will review what the priorities are. The priorities obviously are health and safety, but at the same time we want to make cosmetic changes, such as modernising restrooms – bathrooms, toilets – and other facilities that I think will make it a more desirable place to work, live and play.”
SC: The council’s position seems to be that they want to keep the land the stadium is on. Would a deal like that work for Huddersfield Town?
KN: “I think that’s all under discussion. Frankly the way I look at it right now is frankly it’s not serviced very well, and I’ve signalled to them that one of the first orders we would do is really clean it up and make it look presentable. There’s a cost associated with that, to keep it and maintain it, but I think that comes with the total package.”
SC: The funding for that, would that come from your end or is that something that maybe would have an impact on other costs in the club?
KN: “I think that would be a negotiated part that we would have to determine how to proceed forward, but our goal is really to make the asset at large really something better for the community.”
SC: You’ve mentioned community a few times – would looking to put it in a community trust tick a lot of boxes as far as you and the council are concerned?
KN: “I haven’t really looked at the legal structure of what we do yet. I would think what we would do is we would look to separate it out but I think that’s something we’d have to take advice on from our lawyers here in the UK.”
SC: You’ve voiced some frustrations on social media about how it’s going. I know from watching the Wrexham documentary, the owners there were surprised at the level of bureaucracy in the UK. Has that been your experience as well compared with working in the US?
KN: “Candidly, it hasn’t been as bureaucratic as I thought. I’m used to bureaucracies in the US so maybe I assumed it would be one and the same, but it hasn’t been an impediment in my mind. I know those chaps, they live in the same state that I do in the US, which tends to be quite bureaucratic – but I can’t see them as being too different from one another.
SC: Do you see the stadium as potentially being a money-making enterprise for Huddersfield Town, or is it more for the fan experience that you want to have it under control, and being able to make the improvements you’re talking about?
KN: “I would say in order, we want to improve the fan experience as number one. We’re actually even right now making some investments that it’s hard for people to see – we’re doing some basic painting and some work on other areas that I think can kind of create efficiencies.
“I think we can really improve the community experience overall: [for example] increasing the capacity to have people attend certain events like what we had today with the Women’s Empowerment programme, I’d like to see that room enlarged so you can get more people in it.
“Secondly, in time I think you figure out…you don’t want to lose money, and if you make money a little bit I think that’s great, but stadiums by their nature aren’t really huge profitable ventures. It’s really an asset for the club – or whatever clubs there are – and fit them all together so you can make it work.”
SC: You mention the improvements you’ve made so far, and that’s things like you’ve trialled the self-service beer, you’ve improved the sound system…what’s the feedback been to that, and do you have more things like that in the works?
KN: “Yes. The feedback I think we interpret as being good. We want to send out some surveys, but we heard a lot of negative communication when we first got here about the need for certain things. Now what we’ve done is we’ve addressed those, and we haven’t heard anything.
“I think new speakers, for example, may be too loud for some people, but they’re not saying they’re not clear.” Some of these will be changed. We will first identify the deficiencies, then correct the deficiencies, and then build some additions.
“You can also see our fan experience programs (the matchday fan zone) expanding: I believe match one had 500 people attend our fan experience as an introduction, and I believe our last match had over a thousand.” So we’re boosting that, grabbing people’s attention, giving them a cause to come to the stadium a little bit before game time, and perhaps, in time, staying a little bit longer afterwards.”