More than 1,500 Portsmouth Football Club (PFC) shareholders and Pompey Supporters Trust (PST) members congregated at Portsmouth Guildhall yesterday (Thursday 4th May 2017) to hear Michael Eisner present his vision for the future of Pompey.
The takeover has been greatly talked about in the media over the past few weeks, but with little detail and comment from the Eisner family as to what their plan is for the club, and how they will make the club’s associated brand profitable in the future.
After so many failed and damaging ownerships over the years, Pompey fans are understandably nervous of anyone showing interest in their club — especially those who stepped up and invested hard-earned cash to save it from the brink of extinction.
Following a brief introduction from an emotional Iain McInnes, who told the watching crowd that “togetherness will move us forward,” Eisner took to the stage to present his family’s masterplan. The talk focused heavily on how Eisner managed to mastermind the turnaround in fortunes of one of the world’s most recognisable brands — The Walt Disney Company — saving the company from stockbrokers who were slowly dismantling Walt Disney’s legacy. An association was drawn between Disney and Pompey, citing their incredible history, solid foundations, and most importantly, their passionate fan base.
“We nurtured the foundations that were already at Disney, and that’s very much what we’d love to do with Pompey to help it grow”
Eisner came across as an extremely likeable, family-orientated man, with a savvy polished business side that comes with an extensive track record which Pompey fans would do well to research.
Eisner went on to praise the efforts of the PST and the unrelenting work that was put in by everyone involved to save the club. This was met with rapturous applause from the crowd.
Particular focus was given to the PFC heritage, with key members from the current Pompey setup being installed to protect the image of the club and brand — a matter that’s been a big concern for many Pompey fans who are worried that, by giving up their shares in the club, the way would be paved for a ‘Mickey Mouse Stadium’, a Simba-inspired logo rebrand, or a Mighty Ducks-inspired kit redesign.
Fratton Park would see an immediate upgrade in the form of essential safety and general maintenance works, something that the PST have openly admitted they’d be hard-pressed to finance, with an estimated five-million pounds of input needed. Eisner and his team have been quick to employ one of the country’s best surveying teams to assess the old fortress, with long-term expansion in mind for the coming years should his bid be successful.
Pompey fans who are more skeptical of foreign football owners — having watched the demise of many great football clubs over the recent years — pushed Eisner for an answer as to how he expects to turn a profit from Portsmouth Football Club.
Eisner’s answer was twofold, focusing on how he’d look to protect the PFC brand and work with kit providers, advertisers, and merchandise resellers around the globe to bring Pompey to the masses.
A strengthening of the club’s youth programme was also discussed: Eisner aims to bring in locally-sourced talent and ensure that they develop with the best possible coaching team, with the goal of producing a long line of future stars, and with the hope of finding the next Harry Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo to be sold on for gain to larger clubs nationally and internationally — a model that has worked well for the family at many of their current and past sporting ventures.
Portsmouth fans love to support their own homegrown talent, something you can witness at Fratton Park every match day as Connor Chaplin or Jamal Lowe take to the pitch. There has been very little local talent to cheer on over the past years, bar for a few. The current club staff setup is certainly addressing this issue, and making inroads, but just how far the academy can be developed under PST ownership remains to be seem in the long-term. With Eisner’s financial input, the possibilities are exciting.
“The last thing I want to do is Americanise Pompey”
Taking questions from the crowd, Eisner listened patiently and answered all the questions he was fielded with honesty and precision. He explained that he approached Pompey after an extensive three-year hunt around European football leagues, looking for a club that the family felt had the ethics to fit their way of operating. He went on to listen to the supporters’ concerns over money and how the club would sustain itself on the journey back to the top tier of English football, and explained in no uncertain terms that the only way to get back there was with large-scale financial investment — the sort that he and his family are offering.
During the evening, Eisner reiterated several times that he is looking to run the club with his family as a long-term project, for the next 60 to 100 years and beyond, and that they are not looking to make any kind of short-term profit from the club.
I want to work with my kids, and their kids further down the line, to develop a fantastic sports club with a family ethic at its core
There was an overwhelming atmosphere of pride in the Guildhall auditorium. Firstly, because PST members and shareholders had done something that many thought was not possible, but also because this man, with a long history of successful business ownership, had shown a genuine interest in our club, and that he clearly had the club’s future prosperity at the centre of what he wants to achieve. This was nicely summed up by one fan, who took the mic and spoke directly to Michael Eisner:
“This is the first time that any potential owner has come to the club and presented to the fans — I just want to say that your plans for our club are truly illuminating!”
Eisner and his team also quashed any concerns that the club’s stadium would be relocated out of Portsmouth, a stickling point with many shareholders, due to the Eisner bid containing a comment about possibly relocating within a 15 mile radius, which could have potentially seen the club located within a Southampton postcode.
As we all know, Blues fans expect 100% from every player that steps out onto the playing field wearing the famous Armed Forces-inspired blue, white, and red kit. Eisner echoed this sentiment by saying he would expect nothing more than 100% commitment and effort from every single person who works for Portsmouth Football Club, from the coffee sellers to the lucky players who get to represent the team week in, week out.
Eisner and his team were treated to a standing ovation as they left the Guildhall stage. Could this buyout be the fairytale ending that many Pompey fans have been waiting for?