No regrets over the Barwell stand says Saints chief as club faces challenge to break even

Club chairman Tony Hewitt says Saints will need to focus on improving the match-day experience and playing 'attractive' rugby, if it is to fill the revamped Franklin's Gardens.
Club chairman Tony Hewitt says Saints will need to focus on improving the match-day experience and playing 'attractive' rugby, if it is to fill the revamped Franklin's Gardens.
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The chairman of Northampton Saints says he has no regrets in expanding Franklin's Gardens even though he has conceded the new capacity is proving a challenge to fill.

Yesterday the Aviva Premiership club announced a £1 million shareholder investment amid a difficult financial year, which has seen an increase in the player salary cap.

The Barwell Stand was built using a 6 million borough council loan.

The Barwell Stand was built using a 6 million borough council loan.

Club chairman Tony Hewitt said the club now has to focus on filling Franklin's Gardens, which has 1,900 more seats since the Barwell Stand was opened in February 2016.

But with the club facing its toughest challenge to break even for the first time in 17 years, he said he has no regrets in borrowing £6 million from Northampton Borough Council to pay for the revamped stadium

He said: "It was a decision we made at the time because everyone wanted us to expand Franklin's Gardens.

"If we had not built the stand, we would have had to spend money on upgrading the Sturtridge Pavillion for our corporate customers.

Tony Hewitt by the old Sturtridge Pavillion.

Tony Hewitt by the old Sturtridge Pavillion.

"What we know was, if you were in Franklin;s gardens before, it was very very tired.

"It was the original building here, we weren't attracting corporate people in the way we wanted."

Mr Hewitt said the loan to Northampton Borough Coucil, on a 25-year term, is being paid without difficulty.

Though he said increasing match day income would be key to breaking even in the coming years.

The playing of occasional home games at Stadium MK, Milton Keynes, is "being reviewed," he added.

A large part of increasing gate receipts will come from playing "winning attractive rugby." The £1 million investment will help to combat a series of disappointing results on the pitch, he said.

But it will also come from improving the match-day experience.

"It is something we are working hard on," he said. "This year we changed out caterers to try and improve.

"We now have a contract with Compass Group, the largest contractor in the UK."

But as to what the strategy would be if the club were to find itself in a similar trading position next year, he said: "Like any business, we will have to review it (each year).

"We are not making this investment as part of a series of investments.

"We are making it as a one-off and we are hoping we will not need to again next year."