Jon Stemp is a man in demand. During our meeting, we are interrupted by a smiling Patrick Vieira – “a huge, huge acquisition and a great asset to the club” - and by a phone call from the club manager – “that’s Roberto, we need a new bus for the first team”.
So why is he so busy? The club’s chief infrastructure officer is, in effect, the first port of call for any member of the City team – on or off the pitch – who requires help to make their job that little bit easier. So whether it’s Brian Marwood, or Roberto Mancini, or whether it’s the girl that runs the laundry, Stemp’s door is always open.
“I’ve got to know what they need and make sure they have it, and make sure that it works better than they could possibly have imagined,” he says. “Because if we get those little improvements in everything we do, it can only benefit the team and the way we work as a football club.”
Brought in shortly after the ADUG takeover three years ago – and coming from a previous position where he knew the new owners relatively well – Stemp has certainly had a lot on his plate.
“There were no offices, the training ground wasn’t fit for purpose, retail was a mess, customer service was a mess, the stadium was a mess,” he recalls.
Since that time, Stemp has completed around 35 new infrastructure projects for the club, not only in Manchester but various locations around the world. So when City decided to put a football pitch on a rooftop in Spanish Harlem, New York, it was his team that carried out the work.
It also means that Stemp is front and centre when it comes to future development, not only of the Etihad Campus, but on the actual stadium itself.
There has been frenzied speculation on City forums about what the club plans to do with the Etihad Stadium in the future, particularly given that the ground was 96 percent full over the course of last season. With the club sitting on top of the Premier League with half the season played, demand for those seats are only going to get higher.
“We’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking in this area, which is another example of us doing our thinking and planning in private,” he smiles.
The real question, according to Stemp, is more about actual ‘experience’ than capacity. He compares the stadium to the various classes of an airliner, with different segments – first, business and economy – matching the various types of seats. Again, it’s all part of a strategy that has been developed by carrying out due diligence on tens of other sports stadia experiences around the world.
“This club’s doing things in slightly different way to other clubs, in that we’re trying to understand the service we want to offer our customers by segment, and build an experience behind each of those tickets that is incredibly powerful and unique and bespoke to what people want,” Stemp adds.
But at the same time, the club is adamant that the matchday experience should remain just as powerful and affordable for the vast majority of its fans who aren’t affluent. Some of the club’s season ticket rates are priced particularly reasonably; for example, children are able to watch every home game in a season for £95 ($152).
In fact, there's no doubt that City have worked especially hard to continue to attract the traditional backbone of their support. Part of that drive included the construction of City Square, a dedicated fan area next to the club's revamped store. For the recent home game against Norwich City, bars and cafes around the square opened at midday, while crowds were entertained by celebrity City fans and a local band.
In addition, the club also set aside one area of a stand last year designed entirely for families, with lower urinals and serving kiosks.
"We've really thought about making football a great experience for families," says Stemp. "And we've also thought about dwell time - where people can go and have a great experience pre- and post-game.
"City Square has 5,000 people in there sometimes. It was an early concept and it wasn't cheap, but, again, it was another example of the club trying to innovate."
So the club’s strategy is to ringfence large swathes of the stadium for normal ticket-holders, but look for new ways to improve the experience for those who want to pay that little bit extra.
Currently, Stemp adds, the club is in discussions with other industries, such as airlines, about how to build the experience behind a ticket sale.
“We’re already the number-one Premier League club in terms of matchday experience,” he indicates.
“But, that said, we don’t just measure ourselves against other Premier League teams. We measure ourselves against world-leading companies, such as airlines, because we need to innovate beyond the normal boundaries of what we would describe as our competitors"
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