Exeter City have announced considerable plans to improve St James Park, whilst buying the building next door to the stadium, which houses their bars and conference facilities.
The building is currently owned by a company called OTR (Old Tiverton Road) and is rented by the Grecians, as it also houses their club offices.
By purchasing OTR, the club will now own the building, called ‘The Park’ which in turn will give them their own facility and enable the club to generate more money of their own, without having to pay a rental fee.
The club, in conjunction with owners the Supporters’ Trust, have also announced plans to significantly renovate the St James Park playing surface and install a huge electronic scoreboard/video screen in time for the start of the 2021/22 season.
The cost of both will run into several hundred thousand pounds, while there will also be improvements made to the club shop.
Nick Hawker, chair of the Supporters Trust, said: “All of these items have been explored in full and both boards believe the time is right to make these investments. We are confident we will see rewards, each in a different way, from these activities.
“All of our major financial decisions are robustly examined. We believe each of these items is as important as the other for various reasons, and each will continue to stand us in good stead for the future.
“We often hear requests and discussion from our fans regarding a digital scoreboard and it is something we have been exploring for some time, so we’re really pleased to be able to inform people of that decision. On their return to the park, fans will also have an improved experience in the shop, thanks to a number of planned internal improvements.”
The club have not given a figure on how much this will cost, but obtaining ‘The Park’ buying a state-of-the-art scoreboard and significant investment in the pitch must be close – if not over – the £1 million mark.
In such uncertain times, some may see it as a risk, but the Grecians did receive a significant financial windfall in the summer of 2020 when Academy graduate Ollie Watkins transferred to Aston Villa from Brentford and Exeter received a sizeable sell-on fee.
Julian Tagg, club president and director of external affairs, said: “I think the club have been very sensible. Everyone – to a man, individually or as a business – knows there is significant amount of uncertainty and that remains. It does look like things are going in the right direction and we are preparing for that.
“The club is in a good position because of that, but it still needs to behave in exactly the same way as it did before to make sure it doesn’t return to what so many people still remember.
“At the same time, it is important to use that income to improve the facilities, not only for the fans, but for the staff and the players and the management team.”
City trialled a 16-metre square LED digital scoreboard in a league game against Mansfield Town back in 2016, but Tagg says the new one will be much bigger and better.
“It will be similar but it will be fixed and much bigger than the one we trialled. It will go up somewhere along the away end, but it has been an aspiration for a long time,” he said.
“It will help with advertising and I am sure our sponsors will enjoy it and it is very difficult to make pay, but we will of course try to do that. It’s really about the supporter experience and improving that.
“It’s a hugely expensive piece of kit running into the hundreds of thousands, but the fans want it and we want to provide it.”
Going into more detail on the pitch, Tagg said: “The cost of a new pitch is somewhere between £750,000 and £1 million and while that remains an aspiration, we have engaged experts and there are newer solutions available to us.
“It is going to be very expensive and will run into the hundreds of thousands of pounds, but it gives us the best option of providing the best possible pitch for Matt (Taylor) and the team.
“The pitch has suffered a lack of investment, not through neglect, but in three out of the last four years, we have been involved in the play-offs, and that loses you three or four weeks of opportunity to work on it in the close season. That remains a concern for this year as well.”
City are considering asking the EFL if they can play their first league game of the new season away from st James Park, to give them enough time to get the work done and allow a new pitch to settle.
“It is something that we can ask, but you have to be careful that you don’t rely on something that is not a fact. It has been done successfully before, but I think the bigger issue is the (Carabao) Cup game and if we get drawn at home,” he said.
“The best way to do it – and what we are aiming at – is to complete the work within the timescale, as tight as it may be, but maybe ask for the opportunity to extend that period.”
However, it is the purchase of the old school building next to St James Park that is perhaps the biggest purchase. It gives the club a significant on-site asset that can be used to generate money going forward as St James Park itself remains in the hands of the City council and rented by the football club.
“The bottom line is that it has always been an aspiration and has been an aspiration of the club directors that bought into it in the first place and the Trust constitution states that when the club wants to buy it – and is ready to buy it and can buy it – they cannot stop them from buying it and that was the intention right from the outset,” Tagg said.
“Those directors didn’t gain anything from it, there was no profit involved and the rent goes towards paying off what mortgage there was.
“There has always been a lot of suspicion about it, but there really was no need. It was done for the right reasons, now the club is in a position to purchase it and that’s great.
“It gives the club a facility to generate its own funds and if they want to make alternations, they can do so autonomously. Talks have already begun on how we can improve it, make the supporters’ experience better and that is a major intention behind it.”