Exclusive: Powerleague chief on price rises and making the ‘tinder of grassroots football’
On the eve of the World Cup, grassroots football is the focus for Powerleague boss Christian Rose, who has dragged it out of red and through pandemic with a metaphorical Cruyff Turn.
The CEO has been in post for four years after being brought in during 2018 when the company was “not in great shape.”
Asked by investors to “bring the business back”, he put it into VAC (Company Voluntary Arrangements), and went about turning it a profit-making machine, familiar with every football fanatic on cold weekday evenings.
Time for City A.M. to sit down with Christian to find out how he did it, whether it’s still recovering from the pandemic, the controversial Qatar World Cup, and why prices are going up.
How bad was Powerleague doing when you took over, and what does it look like now?
When he got involved it was at a “fairly significant loss in 2018”.
While he wouldn’t go into exact revenues for 2022, he said this “year we’re forecasting will be record profits.”
“We’ve invested about nine and a half million pounds since 2018, and the results have been phenomenal.”
The businessman, who has been at the helm of five companies as CEO, said Powerleague now has what he called “super peak utilisation” between 5.30-9.30 on Monday-Thursday. In this period, usage has gone up from 45 per cent to between 85-90 per cent.
Rose said this year there will be the “best ever EBITA” (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), and that Powerleague UK had “already beaten our budget” forecast.
There’s also been a rise in price. With the cost of living crisis, how can you justify this?
“Last year, we increased our prices on average by 3.7 per cent” he said.
This is mainly driven by “cost pressures” but the company has “hedged our energy prices to protect us.”
“Clearly our wage bill has gone up and we are keen that we pay a fair wage to our colleagues. We appreciate what they do for us every day, come rain or shine.”
Saying a three per cent rise is not “extraordinary” he said there is a chance “in some clubs there’ll be further increases next year.”
“We’re always really mindful of our customers’ needs and we certainly wouldn’t ever dream of trying to take advantage of the inflation figures to get higher prices through”.
How did Powerleague survive the pandemic, and how did it impact people’s appetite for football?
Coronavirus was “obviously an absolute nightmare” with its facilities shut and vast majority of staff furloughed.
“We couldn’t get any of the government loans or anything like that, because the company was still in CVA”, but it had “great support from our investors” and we needed “very little” assistance, as its clubs were shut.
He spoke about the pandemic sparking people’s love of social football, saying it “was fascinating that customers were breaking into play.
“The passion, the desire to play football” was there in lockdown, despite the firm “strongly discouraging” people from breaking in.
“One of the fundamental shifts in the psyche of our customers, is I think, the pandemic really demonstrated people’s desire and want to play the team sport”, both for its physical and mental health benefits.
He added the pandemic also led to a spike in “social games” and a slight fall in more competitive league formats.
How is grassroots football changing?
He said with price rises, the focus must be on “offering value”.
“We are sensitive to the fact that everyone is going to come under financial pressure” and a raft of changes are coming to improve the playing experience.
Rose said we’ll be “launching later this year, a complete overhaul of our customer digital experience.
“We’ve invested over a million pounds in a new booking engine, new web site and new app which we’ll be launching back end of this year.
“And will bring all sorts of features that we know customers want.”
“We’re also creating the tinder of football. So if you’re travelling, and you fancy playing, you can put your name in, and we’ll get you a game, you put in your standard.
These changes will “make the experience a seamless and frictionless as possible.”
With the World Cup starting on Sunday, Powerleague is running a number of initiatives to celebrate the tournament. How does he feel about this given concerns over Qatar hosting it?
He said the firm “thought long and hard” about how Powerleague UK handled the World Cup, saying ultimately “we are a football company.”
“We clearly are showing the games and we want England” to do well, as he listed a number of venues showing matches at their facilities.
Amid concerns about the treatment of LGBT people in Qatar, he said for UK footballers, “I think the most important thing for Powerleague perspective however you wish to express yourself – we will support and encourage and welcome you to play with us.
“Whatever goes on in other countries, it is their business”, and that it’s not right for Powerleague to have a “political stance. We are inclusive and always will be.”
How else is Powerleague marking the World Cup?
Amid reports that a third of Brits would copy their favourite footballer, the company has has teamed up with Sheldon “HD Cutz” Edwards,, the ‘unofficial’ barber for the England team, famous for giving forward Phil Foden his famous trim.
The famous barber will bring his team of stylists to Powerleague’s World Cup 5’s National tournament, brought home by Burton on Saturday 19th November, where fans can get a trim.
After the Lionesses’ success in the Women’s Euro’s earlier this summer, what about young girls and women playing football?
Saying football is “absolutely not” just a sport for boys and men, with even the haircut initiative being open to young girls, Rose called the “growth of women’s football extraordinary.”
“We’ve seen a massive upsurge in interest from women. Notwithstanding that we’ve been driving women’s participation in the game for the last three years.”
He added that Powerleague also has a women’s ambassador and has previously implemented measures to ensure women’s safety in its facilities, even partnering with Uber to get women home for free.
“When I joined the company, I think we recorded about a 4 or 5 per cent participation” for women playing football. “It’s still way too low. But we’re near 17 or18 per cent right now, which which is a great movement.”
He also added that “42 per cent of our workforce are women” which gives a sense of the welcoming environment.
“It was always seen as quite a blokeish game. But we we encourage anybody from from any diverse background that wants to play.”
Powerleague is made up of synthetic pitches. What’s the environmental impact of that?
“The pitch manufacturer that we work with as a very high environmental standards”, he said. While it is synthetic and “made from hydrocarbon, so there clearly is an impact there; our pitches lasts between seven and 10 years. It’s not as if we are changing them every two or three years, and creating more pollution.
“The rubber crumb that goes on top is based on the type of rubber in car tires, or tires. We are looking at other options. In Amsterdam site, we’re trialling a wood shaving product to see if we can use that”.
What does the future hold with the cost of living crisis?
“At the moment, we’ve seen no drop off at all in participation.
We’ve got another eight pitches that we can open up in the next 12 months, there’s still huge demand.
“I was talking to some of our customers last night up in Manchester – and to a man and woman, they were saying ‘I’m never giving up football, I love football is the one thing that I won’t do.”